Echo, a mythical Oread nymph from the Mount Kithairon whose name in Greek means sound, is a personification of repetition. According to the Hellenistic legend, Echo engaged Hera in long-winded conversations to draw her attention away from Zeus’ philandering. Upon finding out this ploy, Hera punished Echo by depriving her of the ability to speak her own mind, instead leaving her with the voice that can only repeat the last fragments of sentences spoken by others. Crushed and humiliated, Echo ran deep into the forest, where she met and fell in love with Narcissus. Since she could no longer express herself, Echo emitted contradictory, confusing phrases that ultimately brought Narcissus to his ruin. Unhappy and alone, the nymph faded away until only her voice remained.
The story of the unhappy (although successful by the criteria of ancient Olympians) marriage of Zeus and Hera reflects many contemporary marriages where children often play the role of the advocate, seducing parents into “cooler” topics of conversation in which they forget their anger, in an attempt to reconcile them or to win them over for themselves. This complicated codependent relationship in which children metaphorically and literally lose their voice, repeat and copy what they hear and see, consent to the influence of the stronger adult and eventually lose themselves, is reflected in a certain sense in the paintings of Petar Mošić. By placing the observer in front of an image of silence – or rather, the quiet before the storm – one gets the impression that the artist always asks one and the same question, and receives the same answer. These images are an echo rather than a documentary representation of a concrete event, thus rendered less intimate and more imagined; their strength is multiplied by creating repetition and cool distance.
Mošić’s works are problematically beautiful. Problematic because they are beautiful, and problematic for the way in which they pose their permanent mute question. Are we glimpsing at these scenes from the point of view of the victim, the perpetrator, or the silent observer? To which extent could such images be neutral or one-sided? How would we perceive these realist portraits if they were in fact photographs – as documents of different times, or as forbidden pornography? What sort of emotions would they raise (or fail to) if the young faces were rendered as decorative ornaments wearing ‘safe’ emotions such as happiness or neutral stillness (in the manner of children’s historic portraits)? Do Mošić’s formats and detail frame and focus the low viewpoint of a child, or point at something that cannot be escaped?
Finally, it is inevitable to ask ourselves if the privileged sphere of aesthetic tradition of easel painting sanctifies and formalises violence? Does the aesthetic experience of distance created by the aura (in terms of the cultural value, as used by Walter Benjamin, but also as the esoteric aspect of an aura in the occult sense) affect the empathy of the observer, and in what way? Is the beauty “in the eye of the beholder” in Mošić’s paintings a sign of an internalised corruption, mystification, illusion, detachment?
In the following commissioned essays, the art historians Dejan Đorić and Vladimir Bjeličić deal with some of these questions. They polemically propose that we’re witnessing the sacral-mythical visions that represent the archetype of our spiritual reality (Đoric), or a methodology of mapping the political and social articulation about what it means to be a child in the contemporary world (Bjeličić). They ask the viewer to observe the works as an etude of a lost childhood, or as an individualistic and hieratic meditation on the humanistic ideal of man.
The paintings and drawings of Petar Mošić mark a silence (as a given theme or an act) and its echo (as a mimicry, survival, but also as a rebellious declaration of selfhood). Which will resound for longer?