Vladimír Kokolia

The Essential Kokolia

Alena Kotzmannová & Q:

The Last Footprint / Seconds Before…

Nika Kupyrova

No More Mr Nice Guy

Vladimír Kokolia / The Essential Kokolia

17.10.2018 - 12.01.2019

Fait Gallery, Ve Vaňkovce 2, Brno
Opening: 17. 10. 2018 at 19:00
Curator: Miroslav Ambroz
To see nothing
For Vladimír Kokolia painting is an opportunity to reach things that one wouldn’t be able to get at well enough in any other way. Kokolia is the type of painter who wants to really see his subject.
It might seem that Kokolia wants to be considered primarily as an impressionist, in the original derogatory sense of the term. He deliberately aims for the impossible: to be, as was quipped about Monet, “only an eye”. He does not, however, believe in a prepared innocent gaze — that would be a great affectation — but relies on an acceptance of the full torrent of visual sensations, or direct visual waste, when one doesn’t have the tools (and perhaps not even a reason) to distinguish illusion from the “overwhelming disorder of the real world”.[1]  He quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to this kind of view of the ordinary world is the knowledge about seen things that one carries in one’s head. Even the names of things are disruptive for the naked eye. Kokolia declares that information inhibits the image.
Seeing the seeing
Nonetheless, a painter wants to “see this seeing”. When seeing, how does a person notice that they are looking? According to Kokolia, this can happen only when we sacrifice meaning and simply let our view float. “I have the distinct impression that precisely such blank looking is the default setting of our vision. It is the most fundamental state, the ‘container’, the womb, the landscape, the pilot frequency, the Tao of seeing, only on account of which individual forms arise”, adds Kokolia.[2]  He believes that a lack of information brings astonishment. Truly, a lack of information? We know, after all, how James Joyce’s characters marvel at a sudden recognition of very fragile and evanescent moments, when a character experiences a sudden revelation about the “whatness” of a thing.
Similarly, for the nameless heroes in the hundreds of drawings from Kokolia’s Big Cycle, the inescapable mechanism of their actions is suddenly revealed to them at a single moment. Here, the vehicle of wonderment is an unexpected recognition of meaning. However, wonderment that is purely visual in origin is, in contrast to narrative epiphany, lacking in substance. The one who is experiencing wonderment just stares and does not actually know anything. Here, the intensity of not knowing shows the depth of wonder. It is as if the one in wonderment sees only one thing, so emptied that it can be considered null. For Kokolia, an example of such views momentarily without content are the squares and rectangles in Mondrian’s paintings. Here, they also have roots in Kokolia’s individualistic theory about cubism and in his thinking about the picture plane and “paintings within a painting”. For Kokolia, the view gradually became an independent entity in which it is possible to study only the visible content and to eliminate for the given moment both the observer and the observed thing.
Painting seeing
Why would the one in wonderment even paint at all? Isn’t it enough just to have the experience? A painter’s embodiment of what is seen is a passage from one world to another, and what was true in one world is not necessarily true in the other one. It is a completely new situation that presumes “the picture has the logical form of representation in common with what it pictures”. [3] A painting may be able to adapt to the form of depiction, but it also has its own special demands as a physical object covered with paint as well as an object with the aim of controlling how the viewer will see it. It must remain adequate, even if it has done away with the function of depiction. The same brushstroke is both a physical trace and also creates the ideal of an image that arises only with the viewer’s gaze.
Kokolia describes the realisation he had in the Hermitage Museum in 1980 while standing before one of Matisse’s paintings: “... something tells me that this is the genuine space, not the three dimensions out there; at the same time, it really and truly is on the surface, literally just oil paints on a canvas. I am looking directly at the union of the greatest abstraction and the greatest materiality…”[4]  For Kokolia, the idea of transferring images across different worlds might have its origin in printmaking. He has dedicated himself to this medium for almost as long as he has to painting (originally to be able to disseminate his drawings under the previous regime, when copy machines were under supervision). Since 1992 he has led the Studio of Experimental Graphics at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts. The themes of a matrix, an imprint and a reversal of the image appear repeatedly in his written musings. He similarly incorporates his experience with Tai Chi in his painting. Both of his Chinese teachers, Gene Chen and Zhu Jiancai, taught Tai Chi to him in a completely matter-of-fact manner, without a pseudo-spiritual overlay, and Kokolia likewise leads his brushstrokes with a consideration for the precise transfer of strength.         
Seeing painting
The concentration on direct, unprejudiced seeing and effort to see seeing was followed by the materialization of seeing in an artefact. Apart from this, Kokolia certainly does not underestimate the special moment when a viewer turns up in front of a picture. This is confirmed by the fact that at his exhibitions he examines in detail the distance between the viewer and the picture, their movement around it, viewing angles and orientation of the view, as well as the time spent before the picture.
For the sake of interaction, Kokolia occasionally resorts to popular or “discredited” forms. He styled one of his shows as a commercial sale in the course of which he lived, cooked and worked in the gallery. Another time he displayed “healing pictures” to which visitors were to “expose themselves”.
These and other strategies sought to provide viewers with sufficient time in front of pictures. Kokolia believes that the spent time itself causes that the mode of perception switches from a simple registration of visual information to abidance in a field of vision. The viewer, at least for a while, does not perceive a picture as a separate object, and the distance in the field of vision disappears. This situation can be generated, for example, by the induction of afterimages on the retina or by a view into the visual space of autostereoscopic pictures, as manifested by some of Kokolia’s exhibitions.
The image-in-itself
In interviews and texts, Kokolia speaks ironically about such common and seemingly problem-free terms as “communication”, “opinion” and “expression”. And he doesn’t even have the word “art” in his lexicon. So, if he isn’t just taking a position, what would he offer instead? I suspect that Kokolia has own sect (of which he is the only member) that believes in the “image-in-itself”. Meaning that images exist, even if they are independent of observation. Even if nobody has seen them yet. Perhaps it is this belief that helps him not to be perilously captive to changes in the contemporary context.
[1] Borges, Jorge Luis, The Cambridge Companion to Jorge Luis Borges, p. 209
[2] Kokolia Vladimír, Úžas, habilitační přednáška, 1996, Akademie výtvarných umění
[3] Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Tractatus logico-philosophicus 2.2
[4] S.M. Blumfeld, Prozření Vladimíra Kokolii, Vokno monthly, 1993, no. 27

Alena Kotzmannová / The Last Footprint & Q: / Seconds Before…


Fait Gallery MEM, Ve Vaňkovce 2, Brno
Opening: 17. 10. 2018 at 19:00
Curator: Jiří Ptáček
The idea of their joint exhibition has circulated through the Czech cultural universe for at least a decade. From time to time, it floated close to the telescopes of major art galleries, yet was never described and named by their specialists. The complications involved in its non-execution are not interesting enough to deserve attention. However, they preceded a paradox that their joint exhibition, despite the lasting interest and a suitable opportunity, is not held this time, either.
How to understand the “+” between the titles of two neighbouring and yet individual shows? Is it just a sign for a formal coverage of two autonomous entities? Is it an atavism of the original, unexecuted intention? Both artists lead us, in a certain “unified direction”, towards speculations about the last days of mankind, to visions of the end of civilisation which does not come from the outside but is a consequence of its inherent dynamics. Like with authors of fiction, films and computer games on the postapo subject, with Kotzmannová and Q: it is also possible to place their “seconds before” and “the last traces” in relation to an imminent threat of an environmental disaster, including an ever more obvious fact that for a radical change of the course a social accord, political will or simply time are missing… Under these circumstances hope, the last resort that has got mankind through so many hopeless situations, turns against its host. 
Nonetheless, the idea of two parallel exhibitions can be understood slightly better when we take into account the temperament with which Kotzmannová and Q: approach their subjects. Alena Kotzmannová takes the stance of a melancholic observer, a traveller through a scorched landscape in which the finds of the relics of the human desire for beauty and social status resemble the finds of unusually shaped objets trouvés. The figure of the last human walking through a desert with a camera can be equally well replaced with the image of an automaton which, long after the disappearance of its creators, is still running its programme, mechanically sorting out its finds for a museum that nobody will ever visit. Kotzmannová’s relationship with the current environmental crisis is somewhat looser. It isn’t written anywhere that her photographs are not “aired” from a future so distant that the extinction of mankind occurred “spontaneously”, through wear and tear, as it were.
In contrast, Q’s attitude is different: he considers “here and now”, even “seconds before” raises the alarm, challenges the existence of plan B and the possibility of an escape. A monumental model of a rocket carrying “elsewhere” a message about mankind, as well as a diorama of a desperate family of astro-settlers are, rather paradoxically, intended as suggestive sensory perceptions, fascinating last images on the collective retina of the human race. Perhaps this is exactly what a memento should be like: visually powerful in order to emerge in the memory a second before a dystopian reality becomes the present so that we will try, for the one last time, to swerve in a final attempt to rescue ourselves.
The preservation of a certain autonomy enabled by the division of the planned joint exhibition thus does not reflect a personal (ideological or relationship-wise) dispute. It enables to fully demonstrate the difference between elegy (Kotzmannová) and lamentation (Q:), the introvert (Kotzmannová) and the extrovert principle (Q:). And yet, Kotzmannová at one point can’t resist and gatecrashes Q’s display to, at least partially, cool down his zeal. Or is the supplementing of “his” exhibition with fire extinguishers a symbol of a brake needed more by the civilisation living on Planet Earth?

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