Jaroslav Varga (born 1982 in Trebišov) is a commentator on creation and destruction. He enjoys seeking out subtle details of what is lost, and systematically looks after what is just being born.
The associative topography of disappearing
When contemporary art audiences hear the name Jaro Varga, they usually think of books or bookcases. And when they think “bookcases,” then probably his largescale wallpaper of a bookcase with blank spaces on the books’ spines where visitors could write the names of any books they wanted. But for Varga, books and bookcases are a functional tool or symbol for reflecting about what interests him – the possibilities, formats, and methodologies of knowledge and learning. In his research, Varga explores more than just one field of study.
His range of interest encompasses geopolitical topography, the production and archiving of knowledge, social faux pas, and forgotten moments in history. He illustrates the various interconnections between the objects, moments, situations, or places that he finds or consciously seeks out by working with both their form and content. Worth mentioning in this relation is his emblematic ready-made photograph Fuck Your School, Fuck You! (2010–2014), an image of chalk writing on the blackboard of his old school in Trebišov, taken from roughly the spot where he used to sit as a pupil. Amidst the decline and ruin of his now-shuttered school, he has focused on an anonymous author’s subtle protest against the school, a protest that has no audience and no witnesses.
Although this photography betrays a certain amount of nostalgia, Varga’s work in general contains neither idealistic alternatives to the established order nor apocalyptic condemnations of institutional rigidity. Instead, he is interested in the invisible mechanisms that determine what we know and what we don’t know, which information we consider important and which unimportant… and in determining why this is. He then carefully considers how to break down this information using focused ad hoc methods such as the targeted reorganization or deliberate manipulation of content. One typical characteristic of this approach is that the contexts that Varga seeks out in and formulates through his works do not form a coherent narrative but instead challenge us to interpret this hypertextual associative database of incentives.
Abstraction in proportion with subjectivity
Although in his earlier works Varga presented moments from the past, in his more recent creations he has begun to explore narratives and structures associated with the future. He is primarily interested in cosmological models and the rapid changes in our state of knowledge about the universe caused by developments in modern technology. At the same time, he is fascinated by how until recently our knowledge of the universe has been expressed through writing – speculations, theories or theorems without a solid foundation in exact science and research. The subject of the universe and its exploration would seem to be a logical continuation of Varga’s interest in the principles of how the sum of our knowledge is created, including the continued failure or inability to discover how things “really are.”
Recently, Varga’s art has begun to explore subjectivity and personal history, most significantly in the performance piece Situation 50 at Prague’s Galerie Pavilon (2014). For this piece, Varga returned to his favorite book from childhood, a collection of photographs from the Bohemian Forest that his father had brought home from his time in the army. However, the photographs’ untouched, idyllic South Bohemian landscape is an important geographic place in our country’s totalitarian history – it was part of the off-limits border region that separated Czechoslovakia from the imperialist West, and many people lost their lives in these woods.
In his performance piece, Varga cut out pages from the book, carefully rolled them up and placed them in a row. The result was a new and constantly changing topographical visual landscape that, stripped of its pastorality, offered a commentary on the constructed nature of the book’s images. All this played out beneath a projection of scenes from Karel Kachyňa’s 1959 movie King of the Šumava (also known as Smugglers of Death), which itself reflected the historical significance of the Bohemian Forest’s status as a borderland. Varga edited the film into an intimate romance, thus rejecting Kachyňa’s themes in favor of his own personal expression.
Although many of Varga’s works are formulated from a critical-analytical perspective, they are reluctant to pass judgement on their subject matter. As a result, they rarely possess the pathos and hysteria that we often encounter in attempts at understanding history or predicting the future. “I found it somewhere, but I can’t find it,” says Varga in a recording when he asks the residents of the town of Martin where he might find a plaquette commemorating the Holocaust that someone has taken down. It is precisely the visible ambivalence of these moments “in-between” – between knowledge and ignorance, between success and failure, between past, present and future, between finding and not finding a solution – that is the most interesting thing about Varga’s work.
Zuzana Jakalová is a curator.
Jaro Varga (1982, Trebišov) Varga lives in Prague and is the curator at the HIT Gallery in Bratislava and MeetFactory in Prague. He earned a master’s degree and doctorate from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, and also participated in student exchanges at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, the Academy of Fine Arts in Wroclaw and Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania in the USA. He has exhibited at solo and group exhibitions at home and abroad, including Where do we go from here? at the Vienna Secession (2010), Public Folklore at the Grazer Kunstverein in Graz (2011), Delete at the Slovak National Gallery in Bratislava (2012), Vulnerable Failures at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul (2013), City Diary at the Triangle Arts Association in New York (2013), Dysraphic City at Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien in Berlin (2013), Private Nationalism at Kunsthalle Košice (2014), and Plato’s Third Eye at Meetfactory in Prague (2014). As an artist in residence, Varga has worked at Museums Quartier 21 (Vienna), Futura (Prague), Heppen Transfer (Warsaw), AIR Krems, Center for Art and Architecture ZK/U (Berlin), Triangle Arts Association (New York), and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Seoul), among others. In 2008 and 2010, he was a finalist for the Oskár Čepan Award.
Jaro Varga Untitled, 2013 photo: artist’s archive.
Jaro Varga Lost Library, 2012 photo: artist’s archive.
Jaro Varga Lost Things view of the installation for the exhibition Plato’s Third Eye in the MeetFactory, Prague, 2014 photo: Tomáš Souček.
Jaro Varga Fuck Your School, Fuck You 2010−2013 photo: artist’s archive.
Jaro Varga City Diary (Berlin, Seoul, New York), 2013 photo: author’s archive.
Jaro Varga Situation 50 View of the installation for the exhibition Tectonics of Memory in the Emil Filla Gallery, Ústí nad Labem, 2014 photo: Radek Jandera.