At the beginning of every intended probe, venture onto the private territory of the artist, initial phase of examination and comparison of artworks, we can glimpse a leitmotif. Even on a cursory acquaintance with the work of Pavla Sceranková we notice a certain doubleness, represented by navigation inwards towards memories arranged in time, and also in parallel outwards into the space of the surrounding world. On deeper analysis we shall find the unifying point of departure – MOVEMENT.
In the case of recollection of past events (6 Dreams from a Mug, 2006) the theme of the artist’s work is the perception of the modified memory (Bunker, 2006). The investigation of phenomena of the interior world, based on intimate acquired experience, is grounded in the testing and comparison of the image of the past mixing with a certain part of the present and with pure memories (Grandmother’s Apartment, 2007). In the moment of its materialisation the recollection morphs into something lived in the present. The artist’s aim is to rediscover the relative distance. We are registering the activation of the observer during interaction with the work, i.e. in the actual state of his/her presence.
The kinetics of Pavla Sceranková’s objects often substitutively simulate concrete actions (Two Phases of the Carpet Stand, 2006; Mixer, 2007; Mover, 2007). The delimiting points between which the object moves refer to activities in which the absent subject is represented only by its sensations (in this case the illusion of the original sensation). Reading is facilitated by what is a certain degree of polarisation of percepts, figuratively situations: open–closed, visible–invisible, up–down (Moving out, Moving in, 2007). The deliberate transcription of the principle into the kinetic object is in essence senso-motoric, “the body is the model of the object and the object the model of the body” (Open shut open shut…, 2008; Up # 2 / Up # 2, 2008).
In a few cases the ever-present movement in the artist’s work is negated by stagnation. Stoppage, motion arrested, the jamming of matter caused by an obstacle whether mental or material renders visible the effects of a counter-force preventing movement (Umzug, 2007). The seeming absence of a way out can be overcome by a change of attitude (Constellation, 2013–14). A clinging to ideas, standpoints, unwillingness to see a problem from another point of view causes a blockage
that turns the situation into one of potential conflict – hypothetical movement (Brain Twister, 2009; Out of Love, 2009). The length of duration of the state of collision determines the consequences of the impact. Compromise is the promise of solution (Caravan of Love, 2009).
Other mechanical objects created by the artist owe their origin to an extraordinary and unexpected meeting. In these, an event presented as a schema of action (Go away. Come back, 2009; Parking Loop, 2009; I’m Coming, 2009) with a different set of time relations is re-narrated into a newly formulated action giving a report on something that could be seen and experienced in an entirely unique moment and position. The driving force here is the artist’s urgent need to capture a certain principle of viewing (Model Situation, 2009).
The artist’s interest in physical phenomena was less overt in her earlier works, but in recent years has been clearly declared. Fascination with scientific discoveries of cosmic laws – classical mechanics, coquettishly illusionist games denying the earth’s gravity (Possible, 2010; Picture from the Kitchen, 2010), playfully intoxicating projections of the absolute space-time of the simulated trajectory of the motion of parts of an object shattered by an explosion (Yes or No, 2010) – conceal a priori insights directed beyond the hitherto measurable, calculable and indeed conceivable limits of human knowledge (The Art of Immeasurable Scientific Questions I, II, 2011). We can identify the beginning of her Space Odyssey in 2005 (Small and Big Sandwich Comet). After initial cautious experiments, aware of the limits of scientific hypotheses and the possibilities of finding solutions, today she entirely self-confidently enjoys the advantages and privileges of the autonomy of the artist – the absence of limitation (Discovery, 2013; Hubble Telescope, 2013), the absence of the need to settle accounts with logic.
Inspired by Fritz Lang’s film Frau im Mond (1929), and organised in the Prague City Gallery in the spring of 2013, the exhibition Woman on the Moon represented a radical gesture of self-liberation from the earth’s gravity. In the sci-fi film Fraulein Friede represents the balancing female principle. The artist seconded a constellation of cosmic bodies made of yarn (the central spatial installation of the exhibition, Planetary System, 2013) in an unending process of regrouping – passing on energy (weaving and unweaving), in the installation Seven Seconds, 2013, with the launch of a spaceship (Lang’s film featured the first ever cinematic countdown at the launch of the rocket Friede). In interactions with the objects, visitors indirectly demonstrated by their presence the inter-relatedness of events in the universe, their position in the whole where every thought and action has the same significance as the other material and non-material events by which it is formed. In the words of the physicist Sylvester James Gates: “We and the universe are bound together in a complicated way.”
The signals of cosmic noise at the exhibition Woman on the Moon were picked up by astrophysicist Bruno Jungwiert, a researcher at the Astronomy Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences. Encountering Pavla Sceranková’s work he recognised her unusual interest in physics and astronomy. He contacted her and challenged her to step out from the solar system to the world of the galaxy and further into the cosmos. As a result of this stimulus and the chance to communicate with an expert working on the subject more broadly, her work acquired a new dimension. The change was rapid and after roughly half a year the artist produced an exhibition for the Fait Gallery MEM in Brno with the eloquent title, Old Light in the Department of Galaxies (2014). Although the dimensions into which she stepped are inaccessible to human beings, and today partially mediated to us only by the most advanced technology – in this case by the orbital Chandra and Hubble telescopes that can record the real collision of galaxies (see photograph of 2011 which shows the two extragalactic systems VV 340 North and VV 340 South) and computer simulations, the artist’s model built out of six modules with revolving heads is a machine governed by the laws of mechanics, anchored by the earth’s gravity. The objects supplementing the structure are common, personal consumer items. The mover of the mechanism is a person providing the impetus to action – the prime cause. The work itself becomes meaningful only on the basis of its functioning. The potential collision of galaxies is just one of the possible interpretations, but the work “is nourished by the truths to which it gives birth” (Deleuze).
Yvona Ferencová: In a recent interview we hit on what is a completely fundamental theme for you – GRAVITATION. Could you at least outline what it is that so captivates you about it?
Pavla Sceranková: Gravitation is a force that basically forms life. Even though it has a measurable value we are normally unconscious of its effects. It’s as if we were wearing a big stone on our heads but did not feel its weight. In my view its very definition is movingly romantic, “a universal force acting between all forms of matter… it has unending reach and is always attractive”. 1 Of course, if I were falling off a skyscraper I would be very well aware of this force (the ground attracting me to itself). A fall like that has to be an imposing experience, but essentially even when I just get up from my chair I am setting myself against a huge force. I really like the moments that happen when I don’t reckon with gravitation, and forget about it. For example when I think up a construction and then realise that I haven’t included gravitation in my calculations. Some part of my brain lives in a weightless state.
YF: Many of your works have a direct connection with your life, with what you are living through at the time. Does inspiration also sometimes come of its own accord without a personal experience or emotion?
PS: In my view that isn’t a useful distinction. Yes, I often start from my subjective experiences, but my interest isn’t in psychoanalysing them. Generally you could say that what interests me is how a sensation can be conveyed and if it can be conveyed at all. My aim is not to give information about it, but to reconstruct it. To discover how to develop the sensation into a sign (by sign in this case I mean a statue, installation, video…) and what will happen when that sign develops – for example when the viewer experiences it. Pictures that emerge of their own accord from the subconscious always enter into this process. Sometimes to a greater and sometimes a lesser extent. These are as it were matrices, which I then alter with an eye to whatever I am tracking. Their randomness makes things more exciting, but what is important is to remain precise, and not to make things up.
YF: Your works are ambitious in scale. That’s true not just in terms of physical scale. Has your original idea always been more or less bound to the proportions of the human being, or in some cases have you had to accept a smaller scale as a compromise?
PS: The scale is always part of the meaning of an artwork. You can’t adjust it to circumstances without the adjustment affecting the original idea. But I also can’t think a thing without regard to the space in which it will be exhibited – experienced by the viewer. All these factors are tightly inter-related. Every question has scale and updates itself according to the character of the imminent challenge. To work on a large scale means to construct a situation (the viewer gets inside). Objects intended to be observed (the viewer stays outside) are on a smaller scale. They have the function of a sign that refers the viewer to abstract space and the thing takes place only in his/her mind.
YF: Currently you are floating among galaxies. Has that been the fulfilment of a dream?
PS: Just trying just to think on an intergalactic scale takes your breath away. I never even dreamed that a challenge to think like that would come directly from the Department of Galaxies from Mr. Bruno Jungwiert.
1 from Czech Wikipedia entry http://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Gravitace
Pavla Sceranková (1980, Košice, SK) studied intermedia art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (2000−2006). Her simulated events freed from ready-made matrices are the results of her private research into the perception of reality (video, video-statues, actions, kinetic objects, site specific installations). In her artworks she uncovers the bonds of causal connection. The formal structure of her works assumes interaction with the public. In her projects she moves on the boundaries between sculpture and neo-conceptual art.
Yvona Ferencová was curator of modern and contemporary art at the Moravian Gallery in Brno from 2000 to 2015. Today she is an independent curator.
Pavla Sceranková Bunker, 2006 commemorative photoperformance on the armchair in the sitting room, 6 colour photographs A5, photo: Dušan Zahoranský.
Collision of Galaxies, 2014 six kinetic steel structures, porcelain, photo: Martin Kacvinský.
The Art of Immeasurable Scientific Questions I, 2011 decorative polystyrene facing imitating wood, wood structure, photo: author’s archive.
The First Woman, 2013 wardrobe, steel sheeting, photo: Jiří Thýn.
Open shut open shut…, 2008 mobile plasterboard panels, photo: Dušan Zahoranský.
Moving out, Moving in, 2007 videosculpture, 1:00 min, photo: author’s archive.