24.05.2023 - 29.07.2023
Fait Gallery, Ve Vaňkovce 2, Brno
Curator: Pavlína Morganová
Opening: 24th May, 7 pm
We have worked since 2019 under the unconductive trash label, which is an anagram of our home towns - Duchcov (Michal Pěchouček) and Traunstein (Rudi Koval). This fatalism-tinged pun metaphorically expresses the internal aspects of the joint working method. Trash accumulates during every creative process and production. Trash is an important and familiar concept from the landscape of cultural values. The The retardation property of the unconductive rules out the regulation of trash and the control of the direction of creative energy. The brand is therefore our distilled manifesto - in art, we do not consider it important to finish things. What matters is the beginning of creative activity, not its completed result. The purpose of our collaboration is to remove the layers of the past and discover a new artistic identity.
The starting point of our artistic interaction is the easel painting - it proved to be a suitable and accessible means in a joint search for a new linguistic and content identity. At the core of our collaboration is the desire to shed the layers of our own past, i.e. to learn to forget our original artistic handwritings. We explore a new painterly handwriting through different materials and methods, including the space and time dimensions of art. In a pair, it is possible to discover new subjects for artistic retelling and new ordinariness. We experiment with artistic means while trying to "moderate" the intensity and interconnectedness of joint everyday activities. We include in art not only common knowledge but also ordinary experiences, situations that can be planned and experienced together. We focus on one-day and long-term challenges. We try to employ this experience of subtle everyday reality in robust wholes such as exhibitions.
The title of the current exhibition LARGELY OBSERVED is inspired by one of the terms of the European macroseismic earthquake scale. It identifies a degree of critical condition that is widely observed, but need not be taken fatally - for us it is a possible expression of the quality of the viewer's experience, the power of the inner experience of an artwork. The exhibition opens with our first collaborative works, burning daylight (2020), and continues with unconductive chronology (2023), a series of forty-eight paintings sewn together. At the centre are two extensive cycles of paintings, gold tint (2022) and virgin blue (2023), inspired by research into visual evidence of suppressed stories of the past. We have conceived the exhibition as a dialogue between two worlds: past and present, big and small. Through monochromatic work with colour and figurative detail, we attempt to tell real stories of the 20th century that resonate with our everyday lives today.
virgin blue (2023)
This installation of paintings and a monumental work close to architecture, design and large-scale relief painting is inspired by period photographs of one of England's first women football teams, Dick, Kerr Ladies F.C., which was formed during the First World War. Despite achieving considerable popularity and sporting success, the team faced strong opposition from the Football Association which banned women from playing on their pitches and stadiums for fifty years. The reason for the ban was to "protect" women who, according to the association, were not physically capable of playing football. The series of paintings thus refers not only to the pitfalls of women's emancipation but also to the period of the world wars, marked by many structural social changes.
burning daylight (2020)
The first works of unconductive trash were created as an experiment - the artists jointly modified paintings created by Rudi Koval in 2017. The burning daylight series thus captures the moment of the encounter of two artistic personalities and their incompatible handwritings. A dialogue between abstraction and figuration, the painterly approached surface and the drawing of a sewing machine, the removal of a canvas and its stretching onto a different format, the elimination of what already existed as well as the clarification of work with paint were all part of a search for new procedures and subjects.
unconductive chronology (2023)
The continuous series of forty-eight paintings is conceived as a monumental element in space and as a sequence of film frames for a motion picture. The individual canvases show an intervention that shrinks their surface through repeated stitching, thus creating volume. The fabric creases irreversibly even after stretching on a wooden frame. Unconductive trash works on two sewing machines simultaneously, with minimum checking of the result and according to specified conditions that are repeated. In doing so, they capture a personal unity in something that is both work and idleness, that is both festive and ordinary.
unconductive loop (2023)
The subject of this interactive installation is the mechanics of the sewing machine, its magical sound and its unsurpassed contribution to human civilization. It is the stepping mechanism of the machine that made the movement of the film strip in the camera possible. The driving force behind this work is the observing audience - without their presence the work wouldn’t exist.
gold tint (2022)
The gold tint cycle of paintings is loosely inspired by documentary photographs of everyday life of soldiers during the Second World War. For example, a series of reportage photographs taken in 1940 by John Topham while working in the RAF intelligence shows a home guard unit in Gravesend, England rehearsing an entertaining Christmas show - the soldiers performed in female roles and clothes. The rehearsal was interrupted by an alarm and everyone had to move to a defensive position, there was no time to unmask and change into uniforms. The whole story, including the rehearsal, is documented in several telling snapshots. They capture the desire of the British soldiers to forget the reality of war for a while, to have fun and to make present the missing female element - to let the yearning for it sublimate. The images were censored for a long time by the British Ministry of Information to prevent them from being exploited by the enemy as they placed the soldier-hero in a completely new situation.
Gender parody and cross-dressing common in the theatre are not unique in the military, either as evidenced, for example, in the book Soldier Studies (Martin Dammann, ed., Soldier Studies. Cross-Dressing in der Wehrmacht, Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2019), with amateur photographs showing scenes featuring German soldiers dressed up as women - scenes that were in direct contradiction to Nazi ideology.
The scenes in the pictures captured through specific gestures and situations symbolically touch upon many aspects of today's discussion on gender stereotypes, human desires and various forms of identities. The artists want to emphasise, among other things, that men are capable of absolute empathy and that femininity is inherent to them. The search for normality and everyday ordinariness is natural for human beings, even in the chaos of war.
macroseismic scale, 2022
A figurative transcription of the European macroseismic scale which, unlike the older Richter scale, takes into account the intensity of human perception depending on physical changes. For example, the degree of largely observed defines the critical condition that is largely observed inside buildings. At this level, no one can pretend not to notice anything. Earthquakes inside buildings are felt by many, but only rarely outside.
you have no power over me, 2023
The textual intervention in the gallery window involves the line used to break the curse at the end of the fantasy film Labyrinth (directed by Jim Henson, 1986). Here, it is intended as a possible analogy to the figures of soldiers, or rather, to their experience of chaos and their desire to get out of it.
Fait Gallery MEM, Ve Vaňkovce 2, Brno
Text: Will Bradley
Opening: 24th May, 7 pm
The Crisis of the Object Revisited
Perhaps it most resembles archaeology, piecing together the detritus of this dead civilization in the hope of understanding how and why we might have lived. It is possible to infer much about a culture from these small details: fragments of a pattern in clay, the grooves on an arrowhead or certain scratches on a flat stone. Two kinds of site contribute most to the record: middens and graves. It is rare to find an artefact in the context of its primary purpose. More often it survives where it was discarded, abandoned or buried. And here we also find, metaphorically at least, a key. The grave receives the things that will be wanted in eternity while into the midden go those that will never be needed again – there is a division and a system. But sometimes, of course, we find the same kinds of things in both places. Clay beads for example, a wooden figure, a bundle of letters from a former lover, the skeleton of a cat. It is at these moments – instances of connection or conjunction that seem to cut across the hierarchies we had begun, prematurely we now realise, to imagine – that we must be most attentive. These are the times when the culture seems almost, but not quite, ready to reveal its most important secrets; secrets that had once been sought in the well-preserved shapes of the syrinx or the silver lyre, but have since been carried away by the wind, along with the melodies the instruments once played.
For this and many other reasons, archaeology seems too limiting for a study that ranges so freely across the borders between nature and culture, found and made, and over all that lies between. Perhaps we must reach farther out, into zoology, botany and anthropology, and further in, down through palaeontology and into the rocks, into the Earth itself. We are often reminded that the fossil record is so sparse that it is little more than a history of teeth. Whatever else survives must be transmuted: petrified, encapsulated, imprinted, frozen. So the image of the lost world is pieced together from whatever fragments chance and accident have chosen to offer us: a sabre-toothed tiger drowning in the tar pits of Los Angeles; Muhammed ed-Dib hunting a stray goat into a cave full of pottery jars; these few tail-feathers set in a piece of Cretaceous amber no larger than a child's fist. It is only once the remains have been cleaned and hardened that the real work begins.
The famous slave owner Thomas Jefferson once believed he had discovered the fossil remains of a giant American lion that he thought might still exist somewhere beyond the Rocky Mountains. However, the leap of imagination required to move from these fragments of teeth or claws to the possibility of a living monster is not only a trial that sifts out hubris and hypocrisy, but a test of our individual ability to conceive of a functioning collective reality. The surviving pieces of the skeleton have been separated from the substrate and laid out on the table, but not yet brought into significant relation. And it is now, as we look again at the material and wonder once more about the value of our methods, that another approach suggests itself.
This regime of rational imagination, the question of how the wounds of the present can produce the past, is the domain, perhaps above all, of the detective – less an occupation than a meta-figure for the spiritual core of modernity itself. The detective must become convinced both that the world is trying to tell us something, and that the message will make sense and can be read. This psychotic attachment to human reason assumes, among other things, that the universe is a text that, when read correctly, will give one access to the truth. But there is no lost model to which these pieces all belong. The primary procedure here is not analytic, but synthetic. One can easily show that the potential of the analytic method is finite in a universe such as this – a universe built from identical, indivisible quanta – whereas the synthetic method may be infinitely productive, given that each permutation can itself be recycled as new input.
Alchemy, of course, is the study that has contributed most to the philosophy and practice of the combination of physical materials. We are not talking about simple chrysopoeia, but the melding and remaking by which the raw stuff of existence seeks to regain its original divine form, or by which new kinds of unity may be created. It was the alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan who first essayed, a millennium ago, the creation of artificial life; many practitioners still hold the belief that any operation – purification, corruption, eternal preservation – perfected on alchemical compounds may, in the right circumstances, be performed on the human soul itself.
We understand that, in defining the method as synthetic, we have knowingly suppressed the essential initial work. This preliminary activity is not the workmanlike preparation of a craftswoman selecting timber, not the decade-long training of the pianist who strives to reduce the techno-physiological barrier between thought and expression, nor the layered process of the still-life painter, arranging ripe fruit, fresh flowers, the carcass of a game bird or a rabbit, cut glass in the candlelight, a cascade of velvet and silver – then sizing, priming, sketching and grinding pigment in a mortar. Or, on reflection, perhaps it is not so very different to this last example. Certainly, even at the early stages of the process, one finds a sensibility at work. We can try to guess the rules, and so naturally we do. A certain range of sizes. Nothing too big to hold in one hand, nothing that moves of its own accord, nothing rotten. Nothing so coded that the code can't be overwritten. Nothing that is out of reach, nothing that was already here. Nothing that can't participate in the process, whatever the process is. But above all, ambiguity, the paradoxical sense of a decision neither made nor refused. It could be anything, but it is not; of all the things it might have been, it is undeniably this thing.
Where do they come from, these things? In the lexicon of art, they are found objects – and if they're here in front of us they can't be entirely, objectively lost – but finding implies searching, implies looking, implies purpose, as much as it has come to connote chance or happy accident. You can find an answer, find a way through, you think you've found somebody who understands, and then you find that it's too late. The process, whatever the process is, is already in motion. J. L. Borges, in his essay on Kafka, mentions Zeno, Han Yu, Kierkegaard, Robert Browning, Léon Bloy and Lord Dunsany as writers who, if Kafka had never existed, would have no common ground or clear connection, but who may now be grouped together as Kafka's precursors. My guess is that every object gathered here becomes part of the context that will trap the next, and also changes those already found, so that meaning accrues to the relationships. Which is to say that there is a grammar at work, even if, as with any living grammar, its rules cannot be simply written and need not be followed.
As it turns out, all things have names, or at least they can be named, be caught in language. Each found scrap or fragment (not all are scraps or fragments, I realise; some were complete in themselves before they became parts of a new hybrid object; some things, buttons for example, are always both wholes and parts), is named, but each is also a phoneme or a phrase in the vocabulary of the process, which has not been formalised but remains as close and distant as a voice on the radio, breaking through static as you cross the border at night, talking softly in a language you don't understand, as mysterious and real as birdsong.
André Breton, theorist of Surrealism and originator of the poem-object, spoke of "the sublime procedure which lies at the heart of poetics: it seeks to exclude the exterior object as such and to view nature solely in its relation to the inner world of consciousness". Art need not be a thing in the world; poetry can produce the impression of the thing's existence. Logic – an appropriately dreamlike logic – immediately suggests a therefore, that the impression of a thing's existence may be sufficient to produce poetry. And to achieve the condition of poetry is, as everybody knows, sufficient justification for any act.
There is an art to this art that the jeweller and the surgeon might both recognise, but it is, of course, possible to go too far: the kitsch violence of a dandelion on cracked concrete; a plastic cigarette lighter in the gizzard of a dead albatross. At some point the stress becomes too much, the sutures of reality fail, and the images consume themselves; the ability to play with this implicit threat of failure, to dance on the cliff's edge, we call technique. It is widely acknowledged that we are living through a transition (we are always living through a transition) from a world dominated by industrial production to a world dominated by immaterial labour, from the world of raw reality to the domain of pure mediation.
The new class of digital objects – bundles of attributes, metadata, meshes, textures and events – offers a way to evade our limitations, with every kind of risk-free manipulation, endless undos and infinite respawning. In particular, whatever hierarchies or types govern their interactions can always be altered to allow them to merge or intersect. In the ray-traced light of this near-future context, these sculptural conjunctions of metaphorical driftwood seem almost to touch the weightless condition of virtuality, but they can't escape what we can still meaningfully call the reality of their existence. Just as a poem might include an incantation or a prayer, so these assemblages can contain powerful elemental constructions. The Taoist alchemists only had to mix saltpetre, charcoal and sulphur to change the world forever. Our modern materiality has stricter rules, but its truths are no less in doubt.
Still there is a metaphysics to explore. These recipes, poems, reactions, morphic resonances – these things – may be aligned with deeper forces, speak an older language, and have the power to operate on a plane that touches our everyday universe only at certain privileged moments. If they are not spells whose power has already made itself manifest, we can nonetheless imagine that, beyond their potential to create meaning in the semiotic sense, these embodied texts and condensed sensations might also be employed in what was once called divination. As Lem suggested, since we are trapped in language, the future of the culture can be guessed, if not predicted, by permuting and recombining the words we already have. For example, from the possibility of the word crypto-exopaleobotany we might have expected to encounter the theoretical biologies of imaginary fossil plants extrapolated from recent close-up photographs of the surface of Mars, if not foreseen the strange pleasure to be found in their contemplation.
A strange pleasure, too, in these artworks, around which time seems to move differently, to flicker, or to ooze like poured honey. I like to imagine some future archaeologist digging through the layers of blackened desert into the buried ruins of 21st century Europe, and to imagine that, by some generous and beautiful twist of fate, the very first thing they find is not an iPhone, or a Volkswagen, or a pair of Crocs, but the archive of David Fesl.
QUINN, C. Edward. Thomas Jefferson and the Fossil Record. In: Bios, vol. 47, no. 4, 1976, pp. 159–167.
BORGES, Jorge Luis.Kafka and His Precursors. In: Labyrinths: Selected Stories & Other Writings. New York: New Directions Publishing, 1964.
André Breton, lecture delivered at the Mánes Gallery, Prague, 29th March 1935 and The Crisis of the Object, 1936
LEM, Stanislaw. The Futurological Congress. New York: Seabury Press, 1974.