reviews & commentary


Ph.D. Pavlína Morganová-Lumír Hladík and his work    Review

(An excerpt from “Czech Action Art”, happenings, actions, events, land art, body art and performance art behind the iron curtain. Karolinum press, Chicago Press, 2014)

 “Lumír Hladík's main theme is a person's relationship to existence. He philosophically ponders his actions and the action itself is for him a means for making visible that, which would otherwise remain invisible. An example of this is the action Nikdo nebude rušit mé kruhy! (No One Will Ever Disturb My Circles!, 1976), in which on a stubble field beyond Český Brod he ran in two large circles in the presence of a photographer. His objective was to run in such large circles so that he would not be able to tell whether the circles intersected or not. The actions Mizící řada (The Vanishing Row, 1977), at which Jiří Kovanda assisted in a field near Český Brod, Můj osobní ‘nekonečný' vektor (My Personal “Infinite” Vector, 1977) and Hranice; otázka bez odpovědi (Boundary; A Question Without Answers, 1977) possess similar conceptual traits. There is even color-film footage of the next action Zmenšil jsem průměr Zeměkoule (I Reduced the Diameter of the Earth, 1977), in which Hladík dug a 73-cm-deep hole to reduce the earth’s diameter. An action captured by film is indeed a rarity within the context of Czech action art.

         Hladík created several essential actions at a time when a certain fatigue was beginning to set in the Czech body art circle. Most of these hint at Hladík's contemplated and eventual emigration in 1981. In the action Někde, nikde (Somewhere, Nowhere, 1979) Hladík was blindfolded and driven by a friend to an unknown place. His friend set him on the grass for a few moments and then drove him back to Prague without telling him where he had been. Hladík apparently still has the leaves of grass that he pulled up and took with him from the spot. Hladík’s most famous action Moře v zrcadle (The Mirrored Sea, 1980) is also related to emigration. Philosopher Petr Rezek reproduced and described the action in the book Body, Object and Reality in Contemporary Art. In his essay “The Relationship of Criticism to Conceptual Art,” Rezek analyses this action in detail and places it next to Acconci’s action Step Piece (1970). In the film footage we can see a few men preparing a large mirror on the beach. They then lead a blind-folded man toward the mirror and sit him down so that he is facing it with his back to the sea. The sitting man slowly removes the blindfold from his eyes and stares for a long time at the reflection of the sea in the mirror. When he has seen enough, he puts the blindfold back on and, with his friends' help, leaves. It is perhaps important to add that in landlocked Czechoslovakia the sea was a symbol of freedom. During the totalitarian period, most people had very limited chances to really see the sea. The fact that Hladík made a difficult journey to the Baltic Sea and voluntarily refrained from really seeing the sea strongly resonated in that period. The action also invoked additional questions and associations. From Plato’s cave, to the speculation of whether the artist saw the sea or not, we can also question the sense of this action and whether it can be justifiably called art. Yet it is indisputable that this action required a precise intellectual concept from the artist and great determination and self-denial to execute it.



(*1974) Pavlína Morganová, Ph.D., is an art historian and curator and the director of the Department of Art History and the Research Centre of the Academy of Arts in Prague. Her specialization is focused on Action art of the 70’s. She is the author of Art of Action (1999 a 2009) and an essay on Action art in the exhibition catalogue Words, action, movement, space (GHMP, 1999). She participated in the preparation of the anthology Czech Art (1938-1989) - programs, critical texts, documents (with Jiří Ševčík and Dagmar Dušková; (Academia, 2001). As a curator, she authored the exhibition “Insiders / Inconspicuous generation of the second half of the 90’s (DUMB a Futura, 2005). She is the author of the Artscape project, which, in 2007, mapped out the Czech art scene. In 2011, she published a monograph about the conceptual artist, Lumir Hladik. In 2014, Pavlína Morganová wrote a revised and expanded English version of the history of Czech action art – titled Czech Action Art, Happenings, Actions, Events, Land Art, Body Art and Performance art behind the iron curtain. Published by Chicago Press and Karolinum Press. Pavlína Morganová frequently lectures on the topic of Action art at universities and art institutions in Europe and the USA.


Daniela Šneppová, MFA    Review

During the last two decades, Lumír Hladík has waded into an unusual stream of influences: paleontology, museology, anatomy and most important of all, the Canadian wilderness. His main inspiration is, however “the irrationality of the human mind.” Lumír states that “we”, “rational” humans, claimed to have moved beyond our animal core. But often, what we call rational is our justification of outright irrational behaviour with a rational argument.”

As both a conceptualist and a traditionalist, Lumír combines old and new art forms in his work. His latest series, Symbiotic Baroque, bridges categories, skirting the border between human and non-human animal through a process of give and take. He does this by appropriating and incorporating the wild labour of beetles, flies, mosquitoes, black bears, martens, and birds. Each leaves a trace of nature that then magically mutates into culture. The sculptures and drawings entice viewers to come closer to try to grasp the mysteries held in these odd, enigmatic objects. Decay is juxtaposed against opulence: satin and fur rub up against worn-out, destroyed, repaired objects, at once adorned and abject. They seem to hint at our own inevitable vulnerability. By simultaneously exhibiting natural qualities and forged histories, Lumír hides secrets in plain sight. The viewer is allowed only a glimpse, peering between the rips, tears and gaps that both permit and prevent full comprehension. These unnatural orchestrations of animal action and human conceptualization entrance us and frustrate us in equal measure. Our vision is thwarted, as the desire for knowledge is ignited.

The Symbiotic Baroque series begins in the woods of Northern Ontario. By suspending meat filled, tubular piñatas from trees, the artist invites some form of natural intervention. The outcome is an indexical record of animal action, bearing scratches and bites that trace another way of being. This is a dream of direct contact, striving to go beyond the intermediation of human artifice. Unlike a photograph, the bear's claw marks a real presence, producing a tactile trace: here is something actually touched by both nature and culture. Yet for viewers these are equally indications of absence: there are, in fact, no bears or birds or fire in the gallery. The broken tubes are then embalmed, embellished and entombed in large acrylic display cases that refer simultaneously to religion and science, the reliquary and the museum.

The Arboreal Gothic dioramas follow a similar process of intervention disavowing intention by introducing an uncontrollable event. In a play of chance, embers from a campfire are used to burn holes in sheets of paper, which then serve as the ground for a drawing. These drawings are exquisitely executed with a range of marks and fluidity of the gestures that go beyond a mere manifestation of textures, or a simple reproduction of form. There is something else happening, as if Lumír was trying to trace, or make manifest, the invisible energy fields moving across tree-roots, rotting wood, decaying anatomy and other natural forms. It could be read as a search for some innate, metaphysical form or elemental art. The hours of labour consecrated to the drawings are ultimately hidden from view, as only some of what they hold is finally available to the observer. The drawing assemblages are a three dimensional maze of intricate layers cut and fitted together in the shape of a nest, or a cave, leaving gaps for us to peek through. It is not unlike peering down the rabbit hole, and yet we never encounter Alice. Instead, we are left scratching at the surface of a mystery.


Aleš Palán, Review

Art Monograph - Lumír Hladík; authors Pavlína Morganová, Daniela Šneppová, Lumír Hladík

Informative, intellectual, initiated

Every time we experience a frustration, we live through it as if it was an absolute event; we perceive the actual situation as if it could not get any worse.

If we had not had the chance to know who had written this sentence and, under what circumstances, we could have felt entitled to revolt against its blatant relativism. Can we, for example, ever compare an adolescent's exasperation over a breakup with his girlfriend with the immeasurable suffering endured in the Holocaust? The author of this quotation is doing just that. His name is Viktor Emanuel Frankl. This Viennese founder of existential analysis can afford to say, after he survived Auschwitz, that every evil is absolute.

In his conceptual action art, Lumír Hladík does not explore evil; he explores inimitability. Hladik's bilingual Czech-English monograph, published in 2011, represents two positions of his art - at first glance very distinguishable. But if we take Frankl's optics; the Czech "tame" countryside, where you do not encounter anything more exotic than a hare or deer; and the Canadian wilderness, teaming with "hungry black bears", then both of these are merging into one and only stage, where the same performance is taking place. Perhaps only now we see a different act ... what would most likely happen to us in the fields near Hladik's Czech birthplace, Český Brod, is that one will get one's shoes dirty. However, one may not ever return from a stroll in the deep forests of Ontario, in which the artist found his second home.

In the seventies in Communist Czechoslovakia, Lumír Hladik used to wander across early spring fields, bush land and along forest roads. Here he explored the site's boundaries, selecting the one and only lump of clay out of an overabundance, only to become aware of it for a brief moment and then letting it disappear in entropy; forever. All this activity was quiet, unassuming, with no external effects. Even when he worked alone; when he, for example, on two subsequent nights, walked, blindfolded, along a forest road in order not to cross yesterday's line of return. Even here he was exploring limits - around him and inside himself. He was searching for a little opening, which would let him penetrate the space outside of himself, and also assess how much of the "outside" may enter into us - people. Are these two worlds actually separate? And if the­y are, why?

Even at present, Hladik is crisscrossing a wilderness, this time - Canadian. He collaborates with bears, martens and insects. He lets wild animals tear his creations apart, which he then completes. Or, at other times, he lets them suck his blood. Sometimes it is himself, who becomes the very landscape that usually is the stage of his actions; some other times he only influences the circumstances ever so slightly. The artist moves the landscape's center of gravity in order to observe what happens after it returns to equilibrium.

Hladík's Art Monograph published by Czech art historian Pavlína Morganová showcases his objects and documents his action art. There can be no doubt that Hladik represents a crucial part of the Czech action art, where he stands, among others, alongside his friend Jiří Kovanda. On the other hand, the section written by Canadian art historian Daniela Šneppová places Hladík into the context of contemporary art in North America. In this manner the book fulfills its role of being informative. Through an interview with the author and curator's text the book adds additional layers of contexts and interpretations; thus uncovering its intellectual meme. Hladík's art events and activities are, however, intended to mobilize and influence his audience - and that's the initiative layer. Being able to work with wild animals as an artist, increases Hladík's need to cooperate with his audience - and let the reader choose his /her own degree of wildness, the same way the "hungry black bears" determine theirs. What would also happen, if next time, Hladík leaves behind his monograph in the bush to the mercy of the bears? Would they appreciate the hundred-page book in black, orange and white? A book, which states that "ignorance methodically obtained is actually a newly acquired knowledge?"