in the year 2001 manfred makra gets sent to japan by his gallery owner, has since often been in japan and tries to find a point of contact with the japanese culture. we are familiar with the concept of japanism, we know the woodcuts which have had great effect in europe. but he goes there not to see how great japan‘s image is, but he tries to penetrate more deeply. as he himself writes, he searches for a „code“ with which he can get closer to japanese culture and he comes upon the theme MA, and that is what this book is called.

with MA one can define a great deal, one can talk about it, but one can also keep quiet about it. it is the region where things come together which we europeans would always fill up. we in europe have a great fear of emptiness. all our culture has a goal, is expansive. in japanese culture it appears somewhat differently, ittakes on a somewhat different form. MA is, so to speak, the space which is between two things, the filled-in void – as makra himself writes. and these spaces between, they begin to interest the artist and he begins to work on them. in doing this he not only tries to learn the japanese script, or to recite a poem, but really to work with his very own means.

and that although makra actually paints geometric, soft, quiet pictures in his studio. but naturally they are indeed connected with this searching process. for at some point a painter has to ask himself: „why do i paint, who do i paint for, does painting itself help me – is it just for me – is the picture just a likeness, is the picture a part of my biography, or is the picture also an object which one can keep at a great distance“. and these abstractions, these minimalisations, coloured settings, are actually attempts from the early austrian bond to la brut and the group around monsignore mauer, this permanent austrian searching for the sense of possibilities – musil, if there is a sense of realities, then there must also be a sense of possibilities. how can reality look different? attempts to be free of all this and really enter this abstraction.

and in japan – this is almost paradoxical – he uses the camera. so he does not want to draw on the spot but with the camera he sketches his impressions in the manner of a diary, brings these transparency slides back with him, does not process them in the sense of making paper prints, but tries now to fill-in these spaces between – MA – by placing the transparencies on top of each other. and without being worked on these are then again recorded in the computer and the instruction for pigment-printing goes via the computer. then a sensitive artist is needed as printer-operator – christoph novotny of vienna art print – who accompanies the process and so to speak interprets it in the sense of the new picture.

i will make a quite short attempt to subject this project to a sort of contrast. just think of the european style picture and one still sees leonardo in the circle.

that is, so to speak, the european‘s defining expression, the definition which encircles, describes and at the same time excludes. pascal makes out of that the sentence or the picture „that our knowledge remains a circle and the bigger the radius, the greater the points of contact with the unknown become“. that is european thinking, this forcing outwards, the roaming, swimming or flying through. in europe it would be completely impossible to imagine creating a place one is not allowed to enter. for example a garden.

that has a lot to do with zen buddhism which the artist has also looked into. it is not a question of social activities but of meditating while seated. it is a question of finding oneself and not of always roaming around in search of adventure. and european art is also aware of that problem and we could try to find an answer with wittgenstein who says in tractatus: „what one cannot talk about one should keep quiet about“. of course there is the inexpressible. this manifests itself: it is the mystical. that would be the european answer to these in-betweens, which we seemingly do not understand.

we implant something else, we locate the mystical and would never think of entering it ourselves, of trying to find ourselves in these in-betweens – MA. makra‘s work does this in a very impressive manner – and i am pleased that this book could be published like this – because it demonstrates that by associating with other cultures, in times of globalisation with easier travel facilities and speed, we can again still learn from these cultures without having to give ourselves up. that really is the balancing act. do i imitate what we reproach the chinese and japanese artists for, or do i add to my learning in order to then be able to expand my vocabulary?

and that has in my opinion happened in these works. for you will notice that units, units of space, have been created here in which you only in retrospect or after long contemplation establish that it is not one picture but that it is two pictures, that two spaces come together and that the resulting space between opens up for you. and for you there is again this distance between two spaces, it is so to speak the third space which opens up and which you yourself must use and must fill up. you will establish that the embedding of these works is very long-term.

this is no fast art, it is not art which you can observe quickly. and that is, i believe, what the artist strives after with this series, what he wants to realise. so in order to return to our european understanding, i would like finally to quote a sentence that nikolaus dheno wrote in 1673 which connects us a little with this other way of thinking, with this search for these free spaces, with this search for regions in which we can come to find ourselves. and he says:

„beautyful is that which we see,
more beautyful that which we know,
but by far the most beautyful that
which we do not contrahend”

and this openness is present in these works of the MA book and i would just simply like to thank the artist for this splendid work.

translated by mike davies

essay I dieter ronte
on the cycle MA