NEVAN CONTEMPO, PRAGUE (CZ)
Tomáš Roubal - Czech Diorama
A wise man once said the following: “The criminal, like the artist, is a social explorer.” On the face of it this seems a somewhat surprising claim to make since it paints the artist in an unflattering light. However, it also serves to remind us of a certain function that she should not forget in her work. Of course, society remunerates these two ways of going about one’s business differently. One party receives a big sloppy one from Karina Kottová and takes a sightseeing trip to New York, while the other is thrown in the clink, can forget about the weather and receives a big sloppy one from a bloke nicknamed Indulona*. This is why the rebelliousness we encounter in young artists is so often simply faked, especially if we train a television camera on them. In reality they are all well aware of what they can and can’t do, what is and isn’t tolerated, what everyone is wearing right now, when and how to attract attention, and how to camouflage everything by means of a confident one-liner that reassures their entourage that they don’t give a fuck. The problem is that even your granny can see right through this. This kind of “rebelliousness” is either an empty gesture or a sign of opportunism, and this is as common as swots lining up dutifully for their grade As. The real troublemakers (or social explorers) on the art scene could be counted on the fingers of one hand of a ninja turtle, unless they’re hiding out somewhere beyond the horizon of our interest. This is a good reason why you shouldn’t miss the slightly subversive, humorous, and sometimes downright unruly work of Tomáš Roubal (b. 1982), a delinquent whose problematic exhibition, in the best sense of the word, you can now check out at the Nevan Contempo Gallery.
Czech Diorama, a work that also lends it name to the exhibition as a whole, illustrates the opposite ends of our Czech geniality. The sharp contrast between these two poles (represented here in the name of tradition by a church and a pub) points to the ominous direction our society is heading in. Perhaps we don’t need reminding of such artificially created dichotomies as the “people” and the “café”, or the “snowflake” vs. the “Nazi”, since their garrulous representatives are to be heard everywhere. Opinions and arguments, however logical and rational, that aren’t extreme and thus lack an emotional charge are usually shouted down. Instead of defending our views calmly in that strange format we used to call dialogue, we have recently become used to hysterical confrontation and denunciation, self-definition in opposition to the other, often achieved by means of a generous dose of moral compromise and rank hypocrisy. We undermine our opponent’s opinion using ridicule and slander and by resorting to insults. And this includes statements and actions that would give anyone with any sensitivity goose pimples, to say the least. It is as though we have forgotten the history of the 20th century, during which mankind only escaped self-destruction by the skin of its teeth. There is no longer any time for analysis, introspection and other such nonsense, the attention of our surroundings is a scarce commodity that we have to fight for ... move on now, nothing to see here ... or in short, the winner is he who whips out a larger calibre.
Roubal is aware of these trends and clearly aims to provoke and elicit discomfort. He therefore has no qualms about addressing broad societal issues that are present to some extent or other in all the works exhibited here, including those in which he displays what we might call is more sensitive side, such as the more intuitive and freer series of tragicomedic vases with the elevated title Sick. This work too lends itself to being interpreted as a metaphor for a society in which something has gone wrong and for a world that is mutating strangely before our very eyes. Giacometti’s Walking Man clearly had to put a move on. His onetime elegant, hesitant gait has lost its contemplative dignity because it simply can’t keep up, in the same way that many of us have to deal with a bambillion different things under duress, as the chaotically multiplied limbs indicate. Another variation on a similar theme reminds us that the value of the artwork expressed in cash can detract from its original purpose. In 2010 the heterogeneity of meanings created by Giacometti’s bronze sculpture was boiled down during an auction at Sotheby’s and then in the pages of the press and in the eyes of the general public to “an incredible 65 million pounds”, namely an indisputable value seemingly graspable by all. One brief moment is all it takes for a work to be “evaluated” and, in a sense, to be buried, since it now speaks more through the mouth of the auctioneer than through its own being. It becomes the expression of something else and the object of a different kind of (possibly mass) interest. The movement of our society in the direction of cynical pragmatism and a greater focus on economic value also relates to Roubal’s work, in which we see a simple flipchart of the kind to be seen in every office (the model Economy). This chart is made out of materials that we could describe as solid, permanent, even luxury and therefore in sharp contrast to not only the mass production of consumer goods with a limited shelf life, but the very ideology, objectives and values of the market economy, with which we are usually confronted in the form of graphs, curves and pie charts drawn on flipchart tables. No matter how respectable and credible the visualisation of ongoing progress and endlessly rising consumption might have appeared to us in the recent past, the last global financial crisis reminded us among other things that these are equally ephemeral, fleeting phenomena, and represent an equally deranged, disjointed vision that is as fantastic, speculative and legitimate as the artefacts exhibited here.
A wise man: in this case Marshall McLuhan (1911–1980), a Canadian philosopher, writer, literary critic and media theoretician.
Indulona: its outstanding properties as lubricant make this a favourite in correctional facilities when hastening the sinner’s journey to hell, as well as in the preparation of a moonshine whose effects are virtually identical.
Opportunism: a discipline that to the great misfortune of our country is not ranked amongst the Olympic sports. Dichotomy: the division of a whole into two mutually non-overlapping parts, e.g. good and evil, success and sympathy, etc.
Bambillion: can be expressed as infinity minus an iota. Any attempt to divide an iota makes it clear why for ease of computation a bambillion is rounded up to infinity.**
Value: usually a round, thoroughly amiable magnitude. It is sometimes said that in earlier times the word was also laden with a kind of esoteric significance.
12–18 million: the reserve price for a 183cm-high bronze statue by Albert Giacometti (1901–1966), which was bought by an anonymous buyer over the phone for GBP 65 million. Sotheby’s claims that up until 2010 it was the highest price ever paid in auction for a work of art. It was put up for auction by the German Dresdner Bank, which the year before had been bought by Commerzbank AG.
Respectable: possessing the character and properties of the author of this text.
Relevant: a personal favourite of our president.
*here in the sense of foreplay obviously...