Tomáš Vaněk REALITY TV

11. 4. 2011

IN ANY REALITY TV program, any individual featured in the program is solely present to complete the structure, and each of their participations & actions are not to be considered individually, but for the ensemble they compose. Tomáš Vaněk (TV), who was born in 1966 in Počátky (CZ), and lives & works in Prague (CZ), is a participant who engages himself on the surface of any given environment. Since the mid 90s, TV has elaborated a meticulous & categorised process that has never failed to both share and engage with(in) reality, but more precisely to act upon the quality of reality. A large proportion of TV’s body of work is defined as Particips, or in his words ‘actions specially conceived for a certain place or situation’. And indeed, all Particips are scores or instructions to be performed in a given context (somehow very close to Fluxus), and as such presupposes the outcome of the artwork itself.
Yet if the result is very clear from the very mention of his works & their reading, it is striking to see that what ‘participates’ is neither the artist with the public (& reciprocally), but very much the work with its context. With no engagement of reciprocity, the main assumption upon looking at TV is that everything is constantly about something else, or better, that the whole works are constantly denying the fact that their main focus are themselves. These works are not actions taking place, nor instructions followed, but clearly actions for what they are.


TV’s work and material comes from reality, yet more importantly are made of reality. Temporally inserted with blatant fakeness in a given context, the artworks appear as a disturbance within the environment, as a reminder that something is not quite right. The material can be literally a piece of his reality, such as his own car, a Skoda 120, turned to pieces that were spray painted leaving their shadows on a gallery floor (Particip 18). Other material can be abstracted from reality.
For Particip n°39, TV has been gathering hundreds of sentences, simple everyday statements of situations that everyone can relates to such as “I don’t like it when people criticize me, and when somebody compliments me I don’t believe it”, “I hate menstrual pains”, “Every time I’m making a call, someone else calls me” (…). This on-going accumulation is an open invitation to anyone to send him any similar sentence (please send these to
Yet, as in any work, what constitutes the core of his work is not so much the action itself, but the context in which it is inserted, as TV is always seeking for ‘new distributive situation’.
One of TV`s symptomatic distributive situations, and indeed one of his most daring pieces, was to interlace his work with the content of a book. Within the Czech translation of ‘Temporary Autonomous Zone’ by Hakim Bey (Tranzit, 2004), taking the title extremely literally, TV inserted in this book his own zones of temporary autonomy. Randomly throughout the publication, in all parts ranging from the cover to the main text itself to the finalcrediting,sentences taken from his Particip n°39 were displayed.

Whilst reading the book one is suddenly confronted with a sentence that does not fitwith what was just read; a statement that denotes from the main text, and in doing so unleashes a sub-layer of understanding & comprehension.What constitutes an exhibition if not simply the confrontation of different works in a given space. Inserting sentences within an existing environment offers support for this work to exist, and with these new confrontations a new piece arises. The result is the de-multiplication of the original piece yet not a virus or a parasite dividing and spreading through the host, but working within the site, working the site. The environment becomes active, and the book is no longer a passive object hosting a frozen reflection,but an invitation for the reader to engage with the confrontations. The space within TV’s insertion and Hakim Bey’s original text (maybe literally the space within the letters) becomes the exhibitions space, and our engagement with these his work.
In 2006, for a Spoken Word Exhibition (Blow de la Barra, London), Vaněk replayed his work Particip n°39 in a new distributive situation as the staff of the gallery were asked to repeat these sentences. There, the sentences became what they originally were, trivial statements, the kind of conversations that you are normally only lucky to be hearing in a bar or whilst eve dropping in the street. Moments of conversations to kill time, in this context we could experience their emptiness to such an extreme.
However, when told, trivial statements becomes the opposite of triviality, as in the environment of the gallery to be told these sentences by the staff brought forward a complex level of intimacy, unreality and absurdity, all these feelings experienced simultaneously by the distance that could be felt between the one saying so and the one hearing it.
The insertion of a distant element within an established program, the distance between reality and the location, and the use of dissociation constantly reminds us that TV gives us an illusion, and assumes that this illusion is fake. Lately, TV made a binaural recording of a person’s empty apartment at night, then invited her to seat on stage in front of an audience to listen privately through headphones to the recording of her place. In this work TV blurs any possible location as this person would be both on stage and at home, and from the misinterpretation & misuse of both spaces two reality collide, however none is truer than the other.
Another level of distance on reality can be seen in for Particip n°23, where TV realised a beautiful wall-painting in throwing muddy balls of different size against the walls of the gallery. The results both perverted the clinically white gallery, and in its meticulous (yet hazardous) realisation brought forward a succession of patterns, as a playful artwork equidistant from the mud wall paintings realised by either Richard Long or Angela Bulloch.
This simple, even childish, gesture encompasses both the idea of systems, wall-painting & its history, and since the result bears the marks of its realisation, reminds us that we are in an art gallery, a place where we are to see elements frozen in time, as the result of a past action. In this slight & temporal modificationofthewhitewallstheactions that created the piece could barely be more evident.

To spraypaint a piece of furniture in a room such as a coat hanger, a light switch… in a seemingly hyperrealist manner (Instant fusion & Particip n°42), to spraypaint the shadows of the object present in the room (Particip n°49)… With these so mundane and unnecessary actions, TV insists that indeed these are extremely necessary, if not vital! Our attention is not drawn to anything, as we are not told that something is missing, nor that something is somehow wrong, but simply that something is, but we cannot see where. Disappearing from view, as each of TV’s wall paintings assumes that somehow they never were here, and how could this be any other since after the exhibition TV established as a code of conduct that he would repaint the gallery wall, returning them to their ‘original state’, as if nothing ever happened.
In doing so, TV tells us that the result is a ‘newly painted gallery’, yet in covering up one mustn’t feel that he is erasing his contribution, but to the contrary offering a long lasting contribution: how powerful is it when the marks of the artist are not to be seen, the action of repainting must be read as a permanent intervention in the gallery. In doing so, TV offers a very bold comment on what constitutes an artist practice in an art environment, in repainting the gallery to what appears to be the original state, TV contradicts the idea of labour (in doing so the galleries will not need to pay a technician to come and do this work), and infiltratesthecoming narration in adding his own.
The memory of the gallery is an emotionally loaded environment. Often when looking at the walls of a museum we can abstract what is present to see the past, and the history they bear influences any future actions. Inrepainting the gallery, TV creates a white wall painting that will be, literally, the basis for the next show, and for the one after that. We are on the surface, caressing the skin of the context. Addressing what constitutes the physical matter where art will be displayed, Vaněk makes his wall painting the permanent display, drawing our attention onto the surface, onto what normally holds what is to be held. Ultimately, Vaněk doesn’t play within reality, but strictly on the surface reality.


Tomáš Vaněk (born 1966 in Počátky) lives and works in Prague. Studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (1990-1997), several residencies abbroad (USA, Great Britain, Germany, Austria). Jindřich Chalupecký Award 2001. Member of the group BJ (Bezhlavý Jezdec / Headless Rider) with Ján Mančuska, Josef Bolf and Jan Šerých, member of PAS – Production of Contemporary Activities, together with Jiří Skála and Vít Havránek. Exhibiting since 1998.


TOMÁŠ VANĚK, Particip no. 102, spray-painted facade of a functionalist house on Antonínská street in Prague 7, 2010, Prague, Antonínská street 423/6, photo: Daniela Deutelbaum.

TOMÁŠ VANĚK, Particip no. 111, demonstration of the method “think round and act square”, 2010, Manifesta 8, Pabelon 2, Murcia, Spain, photo: Helena Čtyřoká.

TOMÁŠ VANĚK, Particip no. 116, fieldofvision,aspartofManifesta 8, Pabelon 2, Murcia, Spain, photo: Cristina David.


Mathieu Copeland is an independent curator and publisher, lives and works in London.

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