A microcosm to understand the Earth

by Carlo Sala

In the accounts of the painter Jernej Forbici (Maribor, 1980) of his childhood in Strnišče in Slovenia one perceives a sort of magic realism when he tells of his home where the walls were periodically tinged with a light reddish colour caused by the polluting dust carried by the wind, and infiltration caused the water to come out of the taps in the same shade: his home  was in fact imprisoned between an aluminium factory and toxic waste landfills. This seems strange if one thinks of the road lined with thick woods and the gentle green landscape that lead to the small town of just over one hundred inhabitants. A short-circuit that is also found in the landscapes that he has painted for more than fifteen years, from which emerge a disturbing feeling because they present something that is at once very familiar and disquieting. In works like Hunger – Bitter Symphony  from 2007 a prevalent reddish colour is present, which embodies memories and past sensations, bringing back on the jute canvas the vivid sensation of those harmful materials (it is the colour of the bauxite) that characterized the everyday landscape of the artist. The most interesting aspect of these paintings is that they are derived by an environmental awareness without however falling into a stereotypical visual imagery of the environmental disaster: on the contrary at a casual glance this melancholic territory could appear cloaked with a lyrical sense. The wheat fields that often appear in the paintings show furrows from ploughing that seem like wounds in the earth and above them everything appears dry and infertile, showing the silent but undeniable consequences of man’s actions on the landscape. These rural visions by Jernej Forbici that albeit begin from a microcosm familiar to him, do not have elements that determine an immediate recognisability, because the painter wants to create an imaginary universe on the subject: his birthplace is a pretext to present a series of ethical  amd environmental reflections on the geological age of the Anthropocene period representing instances of global scope.

In Forbici’s paintings and installations a series of reflections unfold, which embrace various disciplines from science to philosophy, vivid examples of which are the two paintings from 2018 Memories I and Memories II which revolve around the Gaia hypothesis, in which the English scientist James Lovelock theorized a self-regulation of the various components of planet Earth to keep the conditions necessary for life intact. Forbici’s paintings include the Daisyworld in a vibrant depiction, the world of black and white daisies that explicates the ability of the biosphere to respond within certain limits to external agents. Another source of prime importance for Forbici’s research over the last few years (stimulated by the collaboration with the Romberg Contemporary Art Gallery in Latina) has been the Natural history by the great Latin naturalist Pliny the Elder. If it is true that «the end of the world has already happened»1 as the English thinker Timothy Morton wrote in his Hyperobjects – with the invention of the steam engine at the end of the 18th century and the 20th century’s atomic experiments (thus indicating the fundamental stages of a process of decline for the Earth) Jernej Forbici reminds us that the virulence of the anthropic intervention on the landscape has far off roots. Indeed in a painting with an evocative title («… once rich in fertile plains and imposing mountains covered with forests, water and abundant pastures, it has now become mostly barren and arid, almost completely devoid of trees with tall trunks» from 2017) there is a bizarre element with surreal features that symbolically could be the eye of history that sees everything, inserted in a landscape populated by trunks of chopped trees in a perpetual repetition of events over the centuries. In the canvas Via Appia (2017), which contains another reference to the Roman intellectual who criticised the excessive construction of roads to the detriment of the vegetation, one can clearly read the dilemma of humankind today suspended between excessive progress (noose, the poet Andrea Zanzotto would have said) and the respect of environmental equilibrium. The canvasses, albeit in a hermetic and allusive way, are bearers of a series of meditations conducted by the artist that are revealed in the installation My Studio (2018): a contemporary Wunderkammer (Cabinet of Wonders) into which Forbici has poured objects collected during years of wandering in the places (Slovenia, Italy, Germany, etc.) that have inspired his works. In the display cases small works are exhibited, rocks, flowers under resin, powders, that the artist-researcher has collected thus giving an empirical substance to the poetic content of the paintings: it is the desire to show what precedes the painting, a process that unfolds in a plurality of elements where the essence of the traversed landscapes is incarnated. The exhibition path has a fundamental stage in the installation Herbarium, Auri sacra fames (2017) composed of a series of plants collected by the author in his native land (scientifically catalogued with the help of two biologists) that are placed under resin to crystallize the features. The staging of the plant species makes it appear that a broken life is housed  within every box, as in the works of the Frenchman Christian Boltanski for example, which are often dominated by the faces of people who lost their lives in the tragedies of the twentieth century including the Shoah. The installation has a memorial function because if the factors that lead to global warming are not stopped, it is likely that in a few decades some of these plant species will no longer exist in the territory where they were cultivated. The most symbolic passage of the exhibition is when the viewer crosses a corridor covered with gold leaf that refers to a Latin quote taken from Virgil’s Aeneid, Aura sacra fames: it is an allusion to the detestable character of greed and, in this case, the reference to the idea of ​​the sacred is based on an ambiguous etymology, suspended between the concept of pure and horrid. It is certainly a clear warning as to the way humankind is behaving, in which its economic ‘hunger’ (it is not by chance the Latin expression was cited on numerous occasions by Karl Marx) is threatening the planet’s equilibrium. In this context, those who, captivated,  cross the golden corridor conceived by Forbici suddenly find themselves in front of the canvas The Final Show from 2018, where the landscape is not narrated as a placid expanse, but overwhelmed by a hurricane in which nature shows its power and shows humankind the consequences of its heinous conduct.


1              Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects. Philosophy and ecology for the end of the world, Rome, NERO, 2018, p. 18.


by Gianluca Marziani

“Simply looking at one thing does not allow us to move on. Every look turns into consideration, every consideration into reflection, each reflection into a connection. Therefore, we can say that we already theorize in every attentive look we turn towards the world.” (Goethe, 1808 “Theory of colours”)


A deep look at the SYSTEM OF NATURE

Iconographic surveys on the state of PLANET EARTH

Jernej Forbici focuses his research around ecological themes, declinated in pictorial traces and installation sequences. A metabolic and responsible process, where the subject of ethical tension is resolved through visual prefigurations, elaborated with foresight and ecological memory, portent and management of the consequences. His images are fluctuating and unstable, densely layered, on the dissolved boundary between solid, liquid and gaseous. The visual process becomes mimetic, as if the work metabolised the prefiguration and indicated the hypothesis of a plausible future. A work that turns into a visual thermometer, a sort of absorbent matrix that releases alkaline memory on the acidic imprinting of the present. Forbici’s painting is one that stratifies and thickens, lightens and expands, creates discolouration and sudden brightness, moving with the capillary methodical of the real landscape, following the events of History and the possibility of a future without history.

The artist shakes our moral conscience, showing us the iconographies of hidden danger, of excesses of presumption, and of change in planetary scales. The paintings seem to be visions of a lyseric idyll, portions of apparently peaceful landscapes that hide, under the emotional wave of atmospheric colour, a dramatically real incumbency. Nature itself, let us not forget, hides violence and conflict behind the sublime appearances of its colours, its climate change, its harmonious sounds. This is the case with the works of Forbici, with his compositions between harmony and chaos, instinct and reason, quiet and storm … the whole exhibition resembles a pulsation of warning, a red code investigating over the centuries to address the urgency of our next tomorrow.

The artist writes: At the basis of my research and of the whole project there is the manipulation of the environment, investigated along a path that goes from antiquity to modern pollution. The works and the set up of the whole exhibition aims to resume a line essentially based on 4 works / rooms, each dedicated to a series of themes and times, identified and chosen during my long research. “

Room 1_Transformation of the environment and deforestation

Room 2_Mining and land exploitation

Room 3_The Time

Room 4 To the state of things


by Peter Tomaž Dobrila

When we try to unravel the gesture, with which Jernej Forbici is painting, we have to deconstruct his paintings first, decompose his motifs and reduce the layers of his paintings to the elements. But with that we go astray into the analytical mind, which is working with components, as if it would like to find a sense of meaning in art. Therefore the best thing to do is to acknowledge that his landscapes are going to explode somewhere to find the order and with that they are all-encompassing the viewer.  The color scheme, the emptiness of nature and field inspire us to think of a solitary walk. Lonely images of rare elements that raise up to the sky from the soil, that might be fertile ground. The emptiness of the landscape gives us a sinister feeling of thorough emptiness and vacant perfection, which the fields are revealing and offering to us with false pretension of a different world.

The allegory of present time seems to mirror the existence, or it might be displaying an ominous form of new, as if the scenes from the novel Roadside Picnic written by the Strugatsky brothers, that found their way into film Stalker by Andrej Tarkovsky, would appear in front of our eyes.  As we walk the paths on the map we think about entering the Zone, that might await us somewhere behind the horizon.  We do not need the guide, we can only look for, explore or go astray into the surface, meadow or field. The paths, lines and contours of eventual journeys are outlined amongst us. Everyone is given only one, and by choosing it, we are defined. We may not be aware of it, but only doubt can be the one, that can bring us across, on the other side, behind the horizon, to the room – if it (still) exists. 

Hypnotic repetition is accentuated through colouring, where lively colours are grasping for air amongst darker shades. The red screams in Jernej’s world, where it is often used as a base or scattered around in a form of abstraction. Sometimes it is modestly used in a form of short dotted lines, where they mark parallel furrows. On other occasions he uses yellow shades, which he blends with pastels and tones down their playfulness with brown shades. When he wants to touch the nature he uses a palette of green that is quickly captured by violet-blue shades, until there is some hope shining through with some lighter shades. This juxtaposition of rich layers of paint and their interchanging  linking, where the base functions as an explosion, the formation of the universe, the beginning of it all which is transformed into a dialog between elements of the painting, colours and composition, and observer, spectator or visitor, when he urges us to enter and to go on the path.

If we surpass the artistic surface of the paintings and try to get past the visible, it seems like we look at palimpsest, where the images are faded to the colour of primary abstraction, the messages have lost the colour and we cannot recognize them, but they can form new forms. We can look at them as freedom call, but we are not able to do anything. Similarly, he works with his canvas, which he expressively prepares with colour, on which he paints forms, adds some content and the story. As we would walk from big to small, from abstract to detail, his paintings are revealed to us and wait for a walk. How it will evolve from there it is entirely dependable on us, we are there to go across the meadows searching for the room. We have to realize that we alone can determine whether we have found the room, where our wishes will come true or whether we are in the forbidden room, into which we shall never enter.


by Alessandra Redaelli

“The consensus expressed by scientists upon climate change should be a wake-up call for each capital and community. We must bravely proceed towards renewable energies and prepare for sea level rise, the upheaval of rainy seasons and the other consequences of global warming”.

Robert T. Watson, President, Ipcc

(Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)

“The best scientists are telling us that our activities are modifying climate and that if we do not act strongly we will keep on facing sea level rise, major heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and other mass disasters which could cause migrations, conflicts and hunger throughout the world”.

Barack Obama, President, United States

“Climate is a common good, of all and for all; climate changes are a global issue with serious environmental, social, economic, distributive and political implications, and they represent one of the main contemporary challenges, towards which the answer must comprehend a social perspective that considers the fundamental rights of the most disadvantaged”.

Pope Francis

Where is the answer to the most urgent issues of this historical period? Is there a viable way out? While experts declare that time is running out and heads of state try to keep the interests upon an issue which seems distant compared to the most tragic and recent upheavals of our times, everyone must focus upon these questions. 

… Jernej Forbici’s painting is not made of whispers, but of overwhelming clamours: rising tide of dense, intense, warm colours, browns and greens enlightened by blood red blazes. He too has remained faithful to an artistic theme, choosing nature as its privileged subject. However, his nature is violated and wounded. Born in Slovenia, in Maribor, as a child he used to play in the countryside outside the city. Beautiful and sultry woods and fields, as corrupted beauty is. Not far from there, in Kidricevo, an aluminium factory polluted the area, colouring the water with absurd and incredible shades, which Jernej would never forget. Nature was rotting, slowly dying into a poisonous agony, yet, as in a swan song, shining within a sick beauty. Forbici kept seeking for that kind of beauty representing it upon his huge and monumental canvases, even when their size was only 20 centimetres. Monumental due to the powerful breath they carried. Soaked within a neoromantic lyricism, his landscapes lead us towards wisdom. On the background, Nature pulsed, generating uncertain horizons which recalled the endless countryside behind the Virgins of the 16th Century. Then, slowly approaching the close-up, painting became more intense and urgent, more gestural. The upper horizon left no space to the sky, favouring the expanse of fields, some glimpses of wood and the rivers whose poisonous waters were represented through red scratches, like bloody wounds. A single enchanting painting phrasing at the basis of a rich, coherent and recognisable, yet always different production; a narration whose ending seems to be obvious and it is a tragic one. 

As if he was definitely casted out from an Eden he could not deserve, man is represented only through the wretched traces of his presence: he never appears…

…Is this the solution? Trying to be – once again – accepted to what we helped to destroy? Yes. Man can only make amends. By regaining his most authentic dimension, the one surrendering to Nature, to its free fruition…

…Upon a huge canvas Jernej Forbici shows us one of the scenarios, what scientists suggest could be our future: global warming has turned the palette into a dull, sepia, dead monochrome, the noisome colour of consumption. The poisons which seemed to enlighten the wood through a flaming fire revealed their true essence: rouge upon a corpse’s face, destined to melt within decomposition. On the water hostile forms, maybe garbage, float. Also the vibrations of the paintbrush are extinguished. Then, on another canvas, the colours reignite, awakening. They are not the acid scratches of the poison, but the first marks of a possible redemption…