The roving aspect of the Oskár Čepan Award found expression in 2016 in the organisation of the presentation of the work of the finalists in Banská Bystrica, in the Central Slovakian Gallery. The organisers’ efforts to liven up the art scene by at least temporarily decentralising it and combining the exhibition and award ceremony (in the SNP Museum) with a dramaturgically varied series of events, were very welcome.1 In this review, however, I shall not be addressing the character and course of the program and accompanying events, but trying to assess the work of the individual finalists and to provide some commentary on the artworks exhibited.
Unlike last year’s exhibition, the layout of the Central Slovakian Gallery in the Praetorium building gave every finalist equal spatial possibilities. One important consideration, which was exploited in two realisations, was the fact that the floors of the gallery were about to undergo renovation. This opened up a chance for the artists to work with the space more dramatically, and to use it in a way that would not have been allowed under normal circumstances.
Installed in the first of the rooms on the ground floor of the Praetorium building as you come from the entrance was Daniela Krajčová’s Reason to remain/Dôvod zostať.2 It is a work in which she develops a continually present theme of her work: the fates of refugees and the complications of the bureaucratic system of granting asylum or permission to work and reside. The context of the institutional “spider’s web” and the legal restrictions are exposed through the personal messages of selected protagonists. These become the primary testimony which makes the people emerge for us as particular human beings with their own family backgrounds, longings, dreams, but also fears for their future. It rescues them from the anonymity of the term “asylum seekers” and presents them to us in individualised, intimate portraits. The theme of waiting, of stereotyped tasks, efforts to integrate into majority society, confrontation with conditions in residential and internment camps, memories of family and homeland from which they were often expelled by soldiers – these are the subjects of the testimony that the artist conveys visually in the form of watercolour illustrations which she then animates.
For the final video-screening the artist picked six stories (overall length: 51 min 47 s.). The titles of the films Hesitation, Striving, Decision-Making, Resolution, Courage and Persistence are activities or characteristics that Daniela assigned to the stories of individuals. All the videos avoid the classical illustration of the spoken word and shift the work away from documentary and towards free visual interpretation. All have in common the setting of Bratislava as a city representing Slovakia as the country in which the refugees have decided to live.
The “viewing” space is created by three hanging sheets of bed-clothes that come directly from the asylum- seekers camp in Rohovce. The sheets conjure up a sense of isolation, of being closed in. They are a frail barrier, through which entry is possible, but at the same time they evoke distance. The material has associations of physical presence (a sheet genuinely used as a bed covering), but at the same time isolation (sheet used as a screen, emphasising separation). On the facing sheet there is a drawing by the artist – a graph showing the legal obstructions and the legal obligations involved in the processing of an application for asylum, and permission to work and stay. The water colours themselves are no longer finished and mounted. They are left in the form of a document, the material that was the starting point for the creation of the videos presented. In the case of the video-installation of Daniela Krajčová the message lies in the realisation that making time to hear the stories of others, time for the sensitive perception of the life situations and individual needs, is the first step to empathy.
The installation Entrails/Útroby by Lucia Luptáková is a work on the boundary between sculpture and architecture, internal space and the molded haptic surface. In this visually arresting work she has allowed viewers to look under the carpet, which she has taken up from the gallery room and formed into a sculpturally effective tangle of passages. The gesture of exploitation of material “found” in the gallery and at the same time alluding to sculptural use of textiles, foam or felt by artists of the Arte Povera movement (e.g. Jannis Kounellis) or Robert Morris, is significant. The work evoked a labyrinth or the kind of improvised hiding-place that in childhood represented the entrance into a strange kingdom, somewhere out of sight of grown-ups. Unsupervised. The metaphor of seeing under the surface of things, making visible what is usually swept under the carpet, is visualised and transposed into the phraseology of art. The route through the work takes the viewer into a corner of the room where a round convex mirror offers a view of the whole space. The artist also exploits a prothetic mirror aid to link up the installation with the public space of the town. A mirror surface set in a window reveal and a second instead of window glass makes it possible to gaze onto the street, as if round the corner, and to meet the eye of a passer-by.
Walking through the installation the attentive viewer will not miss the narrow “blind” corridor ending in a dimly emerging scene including a photograph. A lack of light and the impossibility of getting closer makes it hard to make out the object. Only as the eye adjusts to the half light does it become clear that the photograph shows a door, creating the illusion of the continuation of the corridor – of another space that it would be possible to enter if we could only open it.3 The theme of the fantastical links up with the visually formulated idea. The mirror surfaces struck me as more redundant and speculative, but in this context they refer to the more latently present message of the work, its intention as reflecting on the public, political-social environment. In view of the place where the exhibition is held, seeing “under the surface of things” or the motif of the hiding-place or bunker, could likewise be associated with the past of the town (the centre of the Slovak National Uprising), and its present, since it has become the centre of extreme neo-nationalist sentiment.
As we leave the installation we notice an enlargement of an archive photograph printed on a plastic curtain. It shows the original entrance to the room with a moving metal grille. In one piece of the carpet left on the ground in Lucia Luptáková’s installation, we can see a clear groove from the grille. We might read the message as follows: the present always bears the traces of the past and at the some time stimulates possibilities for its interpretation.
The interiors of the gallery opposite contained the complex, contextual installation by Juraj Gábor. The narrowed entrance into the room and vertically composed wooden sheet facing is an allusion to the technical frames of his recent realisations.4 The relationship between the material and technical solution, the outline, the sketch and the final realisations becomes a tool for the understanding of the complex installation. In this case I think that the work (or set of works) was quite hard for the viewer to decode and the artist’s commentary is important for its understanding. The allusion to processuality underlines the “work environment” aspect, which is proof that the installation will change in the course of the exhibition. The artist exploits the space of the gallery to uncover his own steps in thinking, to make visible the sources that feed his ideas. At the same time he changes the gallery into a studio. The gallery is not a place for the closure of ideas, but a space for their constant development.
The key to the artwork I found/Another place to shoot /Našiel som/Ďalšie miesto natáčania is an enlarged photograph of a building looming above the crowns of trees: a place found by the artist, which is connected his place of permanent residence. When looking at the photograph the reflection caused by the reflexive glass – i.e. seeing oneself in the picture, is a significant feature. The theme of construction of a house, which remained unfinished, is an allegory of art as a form of mediation of knowledge. The house is a concrete, but also a symbolic space. The relations of bodily motion – entrance, ascent, slipping down – are linked to the spatial physical change that the human being experiences. The unfinished attempt of the owner to build the house above the crowns of the trees and create a platform, a viewing tower, from which a panorama of the landscape and the meanders of the River Ipeľ opens out, is thematised in various ways through the exhibition.5 The subject of delimitation of the view, the framing of the picture of the landscape or the theme of gradation and undulation are depicted not only through the artist’s work, but also in the use of works by other artists that have become inspirations for his thinking. It is as if the conception of the exhibition was more curatorial than purely authorial. The process from the idea to its development and finalisation is reversibly re-evaluated and challenged. The installation is more conceptualised material. It is a meditation on a house that is a metaphor of habitation (settling down), but also a point of view (localisation of the view) and a place where the human being enters the landscape.
This year’s Oskár Čepan Award was awarded to the Polish-Slovak duo of artists, Julia Gryboś and Barbora Zentková. In their work they go beyond the border of classical painting into installation and sound media. The medium of painting is shifted to expanded positions and the physical experience of space. In the installation The blow of the fist on the door, which sounds all day/Úder pěstí o zeď, co zní celý den the artists respond to the demolition of the former textile factory Vlněna in Brno, which until recently housed a complex of art studios, including their own studio. The theme of the removal of industrial heritage is not only a problem in Brno. The artists draw attention to the general failure to come up with effective architectural conversion plans and the general lack of interest in preserving the architecture of the past right across Central Europe (an especially burning question in Slovakia). Fragments of material from the floor covering are used as index signs referring to the interior of the factory. In the installation for the Oskár Čepan Award these are placed on the floor and form a colourful collage, in which the linoleum itself, many times worn down, eroded by years of use, is a processual trace of time fixed in material. Memory is materialised in the surface, while the space itself is filled with an acoustic and light-colourist dematerialised effect. Six monochrome canvases serve as a sound membrane letting through a meditative wave of sound. The removal of the original gallery lighting and its replacement by the diffuse light of an LED pipe in interaction with the sound creates an almost physical vibration. The monochrome canvases that fill the window apertures (to prevent daylight getting into the room) form a vertical coloured counterpart to the floor. The work deliberately resists photographic or film reproduction. It accentuates the need for direct experience. The sound, which uses recordings from the original factory (breaking threads), thickens with new layers and gradually intensifies. But the actual sense of the place is lost in the complexities of post-production and the acoustic sound is dissolves in ambient vacuums. Barbora Zentková and Julia Gryboś’s work impressed the jury by its refusal to take up a defined attitude regarding any particular medium and its complex, collaborative and affective reaction to an environment.6
From my point of view the victory of the artists is a sign of the continuing interest in homogenous, aestheticised and clearly formulated works. In the judgment of the jury a very professionally executed and conceptual gallery-oriented installation thus won out over more appellative, associative and contextually interconnected realisations. At the same time I regard this year’s Oskar Čepan Award as artistically balanced and very stimulating for the Slovak art scene.
Ján Kralovič is an art curator and critic.
1 The rich accompanying programme (workshops, discussions with artists) ending with a “Čepan weekend”, was also a chance for the audiences to take part in excursions to Dúbravica (Periférne centrá) and Banská Štiavnica (Banská St a nica), to places that are examples of intense creative, exhibition and production activities.
2 In view of the fact that I wrote a commentary on the work of Daniela Krajčová, which is part of the exhibition and accompanying material, I will reproduce some ideas from it.
3 The theme is a photograph of a real door in the loft of the Central Slovakian Gallery.
4 E.g. the exhibition Crescendo/Gradácia (Lučenec, Priestor gallery 2014), Sight Pyramid/Zraková pyramída (Zlín 2014 and exterior realisation Súľov-Hradná 2015) Vertical Crescendo/Vertikálna gradácia (Praha, Kostka Gallery 2016).
5 For example, the author draws attention to the environment of the river by an unobtrusive blue band running along the walls of the exhibition room. The motif and models of home are reflected on a drawing board (the symbol of the work environment) or in individual details brought directly from the half built house (metal scaffolding, concrete breeze-blocks).
Julia Gryboś a Barbora Zentková The blow of the fist on the wall, which sounds all day, sound installation (linoleum, wood, polyester, cable, amps), 2016. Photo: Tatiana Takáčová.
Lucia Luptáková Innards, spatial installation, carpet, wood, photograph, mirrors, 2016. Photo: Tatiana Takáčová.
Juraj Gábor I found / Another place to shoot site specific installation, 2016. Photo: Tatiana Takáčová