Walking, Running, Dancing, Grasping, Fetching or Carrying…

Text accompanying the exhibition

Artists:  Daniela Baráčková, Aleš Čermák, Mira Gáberová, Radim Labuda, Jana Stanulová, Adéla Součková, Zuzana Žabková, Zdenka Brungot Svíteková – Berrak Yedek

Curator: Viktor Čech

NoD Gallery, Prague, 3.-27.4.2014


The current exhibition project is focused on the role of the physical gesture and contact in contemporary art conditions. Physical manifestations of the human body, symbolic gestures, signalled action, and actual physical interaction between individuals, all ranked among fundamental elements employed by classic art. In contemporary artistic production, however, they have tended to be present primarily in the fields of video and performance, and in parallel with these, in the field of contemporary dance. These seemingly most immediate means of interpersonal communication nonetheless also inherently bear
the entire weight of the history of the reception of the human body in visual culture.

The Rape of the Sabine Women, Susanna and the Elders, The Death of Orpheus, The Martyrdom of Saint Thomas, Apollo and Daphne, and many more mythological, biblical or apocryphal scenes recur in the pictorial and sculptural language of classic Western art. What do they have in common? The answer is in fact straightforward and simple. Namely, this linking element is physical contact. The central motif of these pictorial compositions, though, is not that of all those human bodies, mutually interconnected by way of both gestural and/or explicit physical contact, but above all the various contextually associated pointed non-verbal situations which they represent. Ever since the classical Antiquity, these scenes represent the corresponding stories, condensed under the dictates of unity of time and space, and often also convey the various messages with which they are linked. At the same time, however,their language gradually evolved into a system of autonomous visual codes.

Looking at contemporary mass visual culture, one will see that this body language filled with violence, eroticism, or indeed both, has become its key content. More often than not,however, it is devoid of the ethos of its seminal sources. That notwithstanding, just as to us today the language of Baroque clusters of bodies is more than anything else an aesthetic code, the same would actually seem to apply to the contemporary film production with its overabundance of action-packed bodies. Exploring potential links between the present-day and historical visual languages, one may just as well turn to the eccentric early-20th-century German art historian, Aby Warburg, who has lately become widely popular and who developed, in his project entitled Mnemosyne, the model of pathos formulae whose relevance has projected, as an autonomous psychological form, well into the modern-day concept of visuality. The scope of his research also encompasses the activities enumerated in the title of the present show, quoted there from his introduction to the project mentioned above. Surely enough, those above-listed expressive codes are only the most visible tip of a much broader and mostly more refined spectrum of variants of physical contact which, however, evaporates vis-a-vis their intensity. That tangle of mutual bodily interaction, where both ourselves and the others fall into the multiple chiasma of the relation between the body as an object and us as a subject, observed by modern-time reasoning in its immeasurable complexity, has rendered considerably complicated that classic unity of bodily action, identity, space and form, as embodied by such classic works as for instance Giambologna´s Rape of the Sabine Women.

Today´s fragmented experience, and the incapacity meaningfully to grasp even one´s own corporeality with complete clarity, confronts contemporary artists with a much more problematic situation. No doubt contemporary art does not link up too tangibly with classic models: while human bodies and their actions have not quite disappeared from its stage yet, it is indeed dominated by an existential concentration on the corporeality of the individual, or on the subject matter of mediality. Nevertheless, our subject does still maintain its presence within the boundaries of video, performance, and video-performance. The situation is different in the field of contemporary dance, where on the contrary nuances of physical bodily communication have become one of the key themes.

And it is exactly this sphere of encounter between the visual arts and dance that is in the focus of the present exhibition project. An exploration of the potential of a classic subject matter, albeit stripped of that powerful visual code which holds sway over the recipients of mass culture. An aspiration for a different approach, for a deflection or deconstruction of the code which has become in its self-purposed autonomy a treacherous instrument of visual dominance. These are the most obvious points tackled here. The casualness and sense of immediacy characteristic for many of these works stand in opposition to the media-generated concept of the body known from mass culture. In fact however, even here one will find traces, however transmuted they may be, of the legacy which Warburg strove to define in terms of his pathos formulae. Similarly as our culture of standard patterns of movement, our bodily interaction and tactile contacts, too, are accompanied by inherited, transmuted and continuously transmitted formulae. Given all this, nor should we underestimate their often superficially unnoticed links with an equally continuously transmitted semantic plane.

Viktor Čech