Ph.D. Pavlína Morganová, Lumír Hladík and his work
“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.
(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)
1)(*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
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.
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?”
(Art Monograph - Lumír Hladík; authors Pavlína Morganová, Daniela Šneppová, Lumír Hladík)
ARTIST’S STATEMENTS AND ESSAYS
OH BROTHER – INSTALLATION, GASK 2015
I claim that my early work consisted of small incisions into the warp and woof of existence. Quite frequently, I worked with the notions of time / spacetime. Many of my performances included conditional elements such as never, everor until death. In my current work, the theme of time, with a different spin, has prevailed. As time has caught up with my body, my time theme moved from the issues of limitations and determinism to the realm of entropy and consequently to the notions of mortality, immortality, and celebrity. The symbiotic work I accomplish with the assistance of wildlife rests on one giant premise: I consider wild animals to be saints, for they don’t have the human capacity for sin. They don’t kill for pleasure or ideology and they have not been expelled from paradise.
My symbiotic work runs in parallel with the phenomenon of Europe’s Catacomb Saints, who were allegedly believed to have held divine properties. However, there is a fundamental difference; I fabricate my reliquaries in collaboration with black bears, fishers, martens, raccoons, coyotes, birds and insects. I claim that, at the present time, because of our human arrogance, almost all living animals are martyrs. I use the naturally destructive instincts of these living animal saints, turning them into celebrities by fabricating reliquaries in order to venerate their truly innocent sainthood. Is it a coincidence that the original Catacomb skeletons’ origins were obscure and the stories and names attributed to them were made up and …were totally arbitrary? Yet, that did not stop them from becoming celebrities once resurrected.
This opens up an entire new Pandora’s box of issues…like the current obsession and fascination of ordinary people with celebrities. I believe that…the average person intuitively feels that a celebrity is closer to GOD, closer to immortality. Here, our fear of death manifests itself in the most bizarre way… death became synonymous with anonymity. Jennifer Aniston and Lady Gaga have replaced St. Ignatius and St. Benedictus.
The exhibit “Oh Brother” is nothing but a sigh. It is about merciless time, time the merciful and time the equalizer. Time the merciful makes us forget about its mercilessness. As we forget, the immediate yesterdays become distant yesterdays, eventually turning into a mass of peripheral, gray river with no shores. Where is the year 1942, when my brother was born? Where is the year 2002, when he died. Even the loving mother, who gave birth to this baby, is no more. Her memories are lost forever. The picture of the baby brother of mine, our mother was so proud of, and… which I found by accident in a trash bin, has aged and is gradually vanishing. The 21,914 reproductions of it, that can be now observed in the exhibit are but a mercilessly merciful river of disappearing moments: each of them an anonymous day. After I expire, all of it will sink into deeper anonymity still. Eventually, the layers of forgetfulness will bury all we know. Time the equalizer will erase our memories. The world will forget.
Lumir Hladik, Toronto
What drove me crazy once and what irritates me today
Excess of borders -
Excess of unpredictability -
Excessive amount of rational defense to justify irrationality
Excess of claims to immortality
Excessive occurrence of disrespect for death
What I was attracted to once and what fascinates me now...
Scope of uncertainty -
Scope of impenetrability
Scope of disorder (entropy) as a manifestation of pure divinity
As a child, I fell in love with marionette theaters and my biggest wish was to see what the marionettes are doing when not on stage. Conversely, I wanted to know what is the world up to, when I am not physically present - when I'm not THERE. I also realized that the real world is not any different from the marionette one, filled with obstinately interlocked and dovetailed backdrops and curtains: contexts in ranks - one after another, ad infinitum. And, I wanted to see beyond these contexts. I wanted to peek into areas I am routinely not able to grasp, areas that are unattainable by most. How does the triangular space underneath a carpet corner feel, when I'm away?
A little later, it dawned on me… I'm a puppet myself. I have no control over my doing, over my own thoughts, over the flow of existence. Hence my burning desire to influentiate the flow of things and time, to flip “fractal switches”. And, first and foremost, to find any. There, a stone lies in the forest ... for millions of years. I firmly believe that everything (each atom) has its destiny, be it a rock, a fruit fly, grains of sand or a toothpick. By turning over a stone, I poke the “Existential Matrix” and alter its space-time coordinates… its fate. But then, I am its fate and I am just as well finishing off what has been essentially pre-determined! Therefore, I walk the landscape and deliberately do not turn over stones. There, damn it, once again, I just fulfilled their fate in their deliberate not-turn-over-ness: curtains ad infinitum… the end is unfathomable. Nonetheless, I made some progress here. Agreed, the awareness, that pure reasoning and a deliberate execution of “no-execution” of an original intent is a pathetically miniature matter, and certainly ... I am totally powerless against the fractal flow of existence. BUT… on occasion, I may still intrude into the MATRIX ever so imperceptibly and drag some of those ephemeral switches, at least those on the edge of the edge, for a short moment, out of darkness.
I came to a conclusion, that by manipulating space-time, my thinking process and several layers of contexts, I am able to travel beyond Newtonian physics and beyond metaphysics into the realm of the ultimately uncharted and unexplored. In other words, it is possible to achieve, what used to be standard practice in fairy tales and was, with various degrees of success, attempted by alchemists and shamans.
During the 70’s I managed to flip several such “switches” and even (to use a quote from Pavlína Morganová), arranged “derailed situations.” My tools: my body, special kind of thinking that can cut through space and time or, better yet, “space time”, through the Matrix. After some time, time caught up with me. I have the impending feeling that the current world is now derailed more than ever and excess entropy is catching up with my body.
For over thirty years I keep studying the Canadian UR-forest. Here in Canada, we call it BUSH, or thicket… a higgledy-piggledy tumultuous kerfuffle, wherever you look. The UR-forest is not only UR, (ancient, genuine), but first and foremost, diagonal. Trees at all angles, from young verticals to dead, occasionally almost invisible horizontals, as they blend with earth and eventually… become earth. Death and life, clenched in one single embrace and struggle: victories and defeats. Cradles and funeral parlors, nurseries and graves, where the wounded and moaning ones lean on the shoulders of those who managed to grow strong roots. All anatomy is laid bare, ugly and yet just as beautiful as the outstretched hand of an old man. There is no opinion, no style and no history, no remorse, no guilt or innocence, the Ur-forest’s disorder is purring like a lazy cat. Yet, in all this ultimate disorder reigns utter orderliness, for there is no error or doubt, there is a complete harmony, perfection and infallibility of destiny … trillions of stories hanging on a single thread.
UR-forest taught me not only how to SEE but also how to ingurgitate time.
My tools are now THINGS and their stories, as they exist in time.
EVERY THING speaks
We imbue THINGS from the forest with meanings: we cannot help ourselves, for our thinking never goes silent.
Human things have meanings embodied: they have no choice, as their chatter never ceases.
Things may be old, secondhand, unripe, rotten, old-fashioned, rare, worthless, irreplaceable, modern, reeking, unfashionable, personal, cheesy, silly, honest, valuable, unnecessary, unique, neglected, good … they contain opinions, attitudes, zeitgeists, all the wisdoms and foolishness, absurdity and importance. THINGS are whispering, screaming and accusing and lamenting … touched by thousands of hands, covered by scales and scratches; wrinkled, marked by whips and sunrays…
Everything is important and rare. The UR-forest elevated my spatial hearing and, contextual sense of smell to a new meme. And I see, that all what is irrelevant is substantial, and even the slightest change in the ORDER of things may have dire consequences.
Translation of an article at Artalk.cz, 2015 http://www.artalk.cz/2014/12/11/lumir-hladik-pralekce/
1 (Ur - German prefix meaning “original, primitive or old”)
1976-1981 Fighting The Limits In Order Not To Win!
I was always disturbed by the notion of limits and boundaries. It all began with physical restrictions: my native country was a communist dictatorship. Consequently; I was not allowed to travel across the iron curtain. When I was 10-14 years old, my curiosity forced me to take mental trips instead. I read fiction and science fiction. I traveled America in Jack London's books, Siberia with Dersu Uzala, and the universe with Stanislaw Lem. I imagined, however, that I could eventually overcome this kind of limitation and see these places for myself. In many instances I did - after immigrating to Canada. As I grew older, however, I discovered the worst limitation of them all; my own mind. I sensed then, on an intuitive level, that we all live in a mental matrix, and that we gave into legacy imprints, that we are using our mind to interpret the world for us, but that we eventually forget that this machine exists. We trust it blindly. The machine can achieve incredible things, but it fails to share how it is done. It makes its own decisions, and lets us know later. I knew early on that I could make secret trips into the matrix, but only for a price; I learned from the Fairy tales. I realized, that I could enter the “13th” chamber, providing I would keep my eyes shut. The Little Mermaid's price; being able to dance but losing my voice.
I realized that it might be easier to penetrate the secrets of our universe via mundane, unimportant, trivial things and events. Monuments will keep their big, monumental secrets forever; too much baggage, too much history, too much attention. So I decided to open, hopefully unnoticed, secret doors of secret chambers. Pretending that I don't care if I spot anything of importance. Big secrets cannot be reached through the brutal force of effort. Effort has bones, spikes and protrusions. Effort won't slip through the safety net of contextual strainers.
Urworld dioramas; divinity in obscurity!
Fairy tales and their ambiguous sense of reality fascinated me as a child. It was a truly pliable world offering unlimited adventures for the mind. Fairy tale forests also exposed me to the mysteries of caves and hollow trees. Later, thanks to science, antique anatomy books and personal experiences I discovered wombs and vaginas: the big secret holders. Life is conceived in obscurity of cavities: inside of stars, cells, eggs, skulls, wombs and vaginas. Only when ready, and after all the divine alchemy is finished, we are expelled into the visible, outer world. Living things and their extensions, thoughts, don't develop in broad daylight and in front of gawking observers.
Devolution is evolution!
I discovered the beauty of dead old trees. I discovered entropy. In comparison, a dead human body's deterioration is rapid and it has no wisdom. Once dead, a human body has lost its secrets. An old tree's hollow interior is oozing, (invitingly), a cozy soothing death. It is full of tales. As the old trees fall apart and succumb to rotting and decay, they are opening up; revealing their internal organs and textures in an ongoing flow of revelations. They are peacefully enjoying their fate. They are respectful and are respected. As their wisdom is spreading and gaining strength, this “site” of entropy becomes a shrine. Here, aging is a beautiful event and its manifestations provide an infinite display of wisdom and insight. Their devolution turns into...evolution.