MEETFACTORY, PRAGUE (CZ)
A group show presenting works by nine international contemporary artists currently based in Prague and Berlin is built around the topic of light and shadow seen an allegory of the notion of reality and vision. Within the framework of the notorious Plato's cave, everything we perceive in our daily lives can be seen as mere shadows, while the true "reality" only reveals itself to those capable of thinking beyond tangible objects and measurable phenomena. The interpretation that serves as a possible key to the present exhibition comes from Harvard specialist in cognitive and neurological systems on the one hand, and author of an esoteric bestseller on the other: the cave can be the human skull, within which construction of the surrounding world is taking place. While a scientist quite naturally maintains that we cannot escape from this cave and that the real world around us can be apprehended only through the shadows in our head, the esoteric mind sees the way out of this cave in the so called “third eye”, which is being considered, mainly by the Eastern tradition, to be the mystical gate to extra-sensual perception. The recipes of how to open the third eye have lately flooded popular websites of global reach, offering a medley of instant spirituality, online tarot, mind reading etc.
The exhibition at MeetFactory is a constellation of works by nine artists who freely and yet consistently reinterpret both the existent reality around them and their personal or collective past and phenomena that, in relation to the above, may seem quite supernatural or at least hard to explain. It deals light and shadow as metaphors of the tension between the material and the immaterial, perceiving it from both adoring and critical or ironic perspectives. The exhibition draws on a project called Metaphysics of Discipline, which was presented in the Czech Center in Berlin in summer 2013.
I live with people I am surrounded by, among things I own, in places I get acquainted with, in a reality that I construct, and which at times slips out of my hands. What would have to happen for my personal house of cards, including all principles and relationships between its individual parts, to collapse and be built again from different elements, in order for my view of the world to turn inside out? Plato rather drastically visualized such a situation by the image of prisoners, tied by their necks and legs, with their backs toward the entrance of a cave. As they had been positioned this way since they were born (in the name of philosophy, let’s leave their physical needs out of our consideration), the prisoners naturally took what they saw in front of them to be real. Their view was actually of the rear side of the cave, which was conceived as a kind of archaic projection screen where a shadow theater took place for these special viewers. The cave of illusion was cunningly conceived by projections created with the help of light from a fire pit and a wall, behind which figures carrying puppets were hiding. As the prisoners/viewers were, despite their unenviable situation, beings with human nature, they entertained themselves by giving names to what they saw happening. They involved themselves in categorizing, predicting, and arguing about both what they saw and the importance of their relationships to it, and the like. Of course, one day a plot outside the framework of the shadow theater inevitably presented itself; one of the viewers was released from his shackles. Whilst getting out of the cave, he was almost blinded, and deeply perplexed. What he saw seemed much greater an illusion compared to the familiar shadow show. However, little by little, his eyes got used to comprehending the new realities and this viewer understood that just an incomplete, and moreover, mediated section of reality was being presented to him before. Upon returning to the cave, his eyes could hardly recognize the shadows on the stage. He was no longer able to maintain the pace with the games of his former fellows who, quite naturally, had a good laugh over him, and were certainly not inclined to hear about yet another reality. To them he was a freak who moreover lost his good eyesight. Could they have ridden themselves of their shackles, they probably would have killed him for his delusions.
There are countless interpretations and adaptations of Plato’s Cave parable, across all disciplines, from philosophy to the theories of perception. It’s clear that Plato did not really have the physical situation in mind in the cave, but rather used it as a metaphor to boost his theory of ideas as perfect prototypes of the imperfect reality we live in. Whether these ideas are just a remarkable capacity of the human brain to consider an ideal situation unencumbered with the imperfections of the material world, or a real vision of a next universe, God, or another form of transcendentalism, has occupied philosophers, men of letters, scientists and artists for twenty-four centuries, which has practically pushed this debate into the infinite realm. The interpretation that caught my attention as a possible key to the present exhibition comes from a Harvard specialist in cognitive and neurological systems on one hand, and an author of an esoteric bestseller on the other: the cave can be the human skull, within which construction of the surrounding world is taking place. While a scientist quite naturally maintains that we cannot escape from this cave and that the real world around us can be apprehended only through the shadows in our head, the esoteric mind sees the way out of this cave in the so called “third eye”, which is considered, mainly by the Eastern tradition, to be the mystical gate to extra-sensual perception. The recipes of how to open the third eye have lately flooded popular websites of global reach, offering a medley of instant spirituality, online tarot, mind reading etc. What seems to be the exit from the cave for an artist? Perhaps his or her freedom to loosely combine fragments of their so-called reality with their own imagination and interpretation related to any space-time levels. The artist’s only responsibilities being to finally “bring to light” (what a fitting metaphor) the result and confront it, in most cases, with an autonomous world of another human being – the viewer. However, it remains uncertain whether the image of some external entity commonly called “the work” would coincide with the one constructed in the viewer’s head, or whether the latter will be completely different.
The exhibition at MeetFactory is a constellation of works by nine artists who freely and yet consistently reinterpret both the existent reality around them and their personal or collective past and phenomena that, in relation to the above, may seem quite supernatural or at least hard to explain. In the beginning of the exposition, Sinta Werner presents her material version of the “Circular Marquee Tool” in Photoshop. While it is just a matter of a few clicks and certain prowess of handling the computer to pick any part of an image and manipulate it in an arbitrary way, an effort to construct a similar illusion in the material setting of the gallery space is incredibly demanding, if not almost impossible. The communication between the artist and the viewer is in this case a game of perception par excellence, as the illusion works from only a single viewpoint. Along with the viewer strolling through the gallery space, the perfect depiction of a half-transparent, rotated section of a column falls apart and we disclose how the installation was made, which is as important as the functioning of the delusion itself. Compared to the abstracted piece of Werner, which plays along with perspective and geometry, the large-scale statue by Matyáš Chochola is a figurative blow, the embodiment of a mysterious transformation of an ancient head archetype in the course of already mentioned centuries, and its current picture in the cranial landscape of this artist with whom you are never sure if he is serious or if it is a complete parody. The statue’s shape remotely reminds us of a harp, one of the most harmonious musical instruments. It was the concept of the human soul as a harmony that Plato (through the mouth of Socrates) smashed to smithereens in one of his dialogues, as harmony depends on the presence of physical body (the instrument), whereas the soul must be immortal – similar to the statue which probably sees itself with its one and only eye already in another world, or at least in the sphere of the immortal story of art. Transcendentalism or esotericism as a violent element is reflected in the project of Pavel Sterec, which is inspired by a situation created in the “Taboo” program on the Nova TV channel. The invited guests talking about socially delicate issues were hidden before the viewers in a special booth from where they could answer the moderator’s questions. Sterec used a similar situation in which he places a fictitious female character giving an account of being raped, while the rapist is not a human but a ray of light. The project thus embodies a moment of involuntariness, which often accompanies the collision of humans with leading or currently popular ideological concepts, be it a complete religious system or trivialized scraps of universal wisdom attacking us from the computer or TV screen, or bookstore counters, wherefrom colorful book spines convince us with their manifestos to change our lives, rid us from depression, teach us how to read cards, maybe even how to levitate, and, of course, clean both our body and soul from all toxic deposits.
The work of Jaro Varga is also a manipulation, but rather than concepts like coercion or violence, he opens the question of alternative approaches to history and the freedom of an artist to independently handle both its material and spiritual remains. Already in one of his earlier implementations, Varga dealt with the derelict military zone of Milovice, situated north of Prague, where four armies took turns during the last century: Austrian-Hungarian, Czechoslovak, German and Soviet. The artist proposed a project for the MeetFactory in which he intuitively and rather surrealistically complements parts of objects found in those locations, putting them in a new context. He constructs a novel vision of an ephemeral future for these relics, somewhat charged with force or even sexual connotations. Alexandr Puškin structures crushed gray rubble he obtained from drilling a well, enclosing it in an installation reminiscent of a cold museum showcase. A special material, which, despite its original deposit about fifty meters below the surface, is suggestive of a moon landscape, is lit with daylight simulating spotlights. However, false daylight seems rather inappropriate in the otherwise yellowish gallery lighting. It further underpins the artificial character of the showcase, which neatly stratifies, enhances in meaning and at the same time flattens the material of an ambiguous purpose. Iris Touliatou deals with methods of display and exhibition, memory of objects and situations. Her piece resembles a remnant of sets for an epic theater, which functioned with the principle of incessantly reminding the viewers that they are being confronted with an illusion and not real events they could otherwise identify with thanks to authentic actors’ performance and stage design. Touliatou composes her “theater” from installation materials of past exhibitions, the archive of her own works and abstracted personal objects, investigating their aura and status on the boundary between real existence and non-being.
Annika Rixen’s projection
refers to Virginia Woolf’s short story called “Solid Objects”. Its hero, a
politician with a potentially promising career, becomes addicted to the strange
magic of glass fragments he finds in the city. In the quest to discover their essence,
he gradually abandons his “rational” life. Is it a downfall into the realm of
shadows, or does his path, quite on the contrary, embody an effort to catch the
more ephemeral, hard to define straws of reality, which in the landscape of
imagination may take on much more solid contours than mundane human goals? Kirstine Roepstorff’s large-scale
installation extends within the imaginative realm, evoking childhood memories.
With the help of a fascinating shadow show, Roepstorff evokes a view from the
window of a spacy flat where a mother has covered the tables with lace
tablecloths, to the “big” outside world. For the time being, it can be grasped
without the help of concepts, looked upon with eyes wide open, perceiving the
city architecture like a picturesque stage set fit for the production of any
story, scene or act. The exhibition is symbolically concluded by the work of Roman Štětina. With both its aesthetics
and content, it takes us back to the allegory of the cave. The artist carried
out a reconstruction of an unpreserved monumental curtain, which had been part
of the so-called “stereo auditorium” in the Czechoslovak Radio Building in Pilsen
from the mid-nineteen-sixties to the nineteen-eighties. The abstract geometric
print on the curtain had been the main visual stimulus for the listeners when
approving radio dramas or testing new sound equipment. The spatial
constellation resembles the situation of prisoners interpreting a shadow performance,
which was also endowed with sound in Plato’s conception. Here, however, the
cave versus the surrounding reality becomes rather a relationship between
reality and art, or a tension between pure aesthetics and seeing into other
spheres of visual and intellectual imagination. Art then, in the sense of an
attempt to leave the cave, need not be mainly about looking at transcendental
worlds but rather about not simply moving within the strictly defined
boundaries of our own anatomy, trying to use less common methods of
communication and freely reconstructing chosen contents, not as a dogma, but as