SD video, 4’14, 2007

Instruments of uncertainty

exhibition, Dům Umění, České Budějovice, 2008

Scepticism and Romanticism

text by Vít Havránek

The fact that this artist does not create new pictures is something that seems to me attractive about the work of Zbyněk Baladrán What could be attractive about this approach? It is the scepticism that the artist feels about adding more new pictures. We can understand scepticism as an attitude or a theory that is doubtful about knowledge as a whole, or about knowledge and certainty of judgement in a particular field of human understanding.

There could be a number of reasons and impulses behind Baladrán’s scepticism about the creation of new original pictures. First, a sceptic might challenge and reject the creation of original pictures if he feels he cannot separate his pictures from the world of already existing pictures, which is overstuffed and hard to make out in detail. Another reason might be doubt about whether the final picture corresponds to the plans and aims that the artist wants to articulate. This second reason is identical with the critique that brought in conceptualism in the nineteen sixties. Joseph Kossuth for example, applied it to all media images, which from his point of view seemed like secondary derivatives of linguistic facts. Baladrán’s scepticism is more of the first type. He has a critically suspicious attitude to the mechanisms of circulation and the mechanisms of the production of understanding in the spectacular world of pictures.

Scepticism for Baladrán has been a secondary reaction. It is a like in the case of vegetarians whose decision not to eat meat is motivated by careful thought about the way our civilisation treats animals in industrial farming. Baladrán’s decision not to create any more new pictures is led by an interest in understanding the way in which we create the meaning of pictures. This cultural-scholarly field, in which the understanding of paintings is created and processes generating the meanings of paintings take place, is the main sphere of Baladrán’s creative and analytical interest. In the text Ruins, Archaelogy and the Gap between Images Baladrán writes, “The difficulty of telling images apart and their huge quantity leads to an impression of overfilled space. The individual layers cover each other up, disappear, appear, are mutually exploited, participate in each other. Combinations create new wholes, while others dissolve into different images. This view evokes a city crammed with ruins.

Not, however, a deserted city, but a living city in constant movement. Individual layers of the ruins constantly change, fall lower, drop into oblivion. But not for long; they always emerge again from the bottom layers and so mould the surface. Even new images, just produced, are becoming ruins. The speed with which this happens is proportionate to the speed of the creation of new images. It is the time-space of human culture and history.” 1

Baladrán’s decision not to devote himself to producing new pictures is the result of his interest in methods of investigating existing pictures. Here it might be natural to talks a little about the methods and thought processes that Baladrán uses in his videos and his installations. But what interests me more is Baladrán’s comparison between new images and ruins, which pictures become the moment they leave their creator. A ruin is the complex of emotions and projection of identities with which we look at a building that for reasons of age or other damage no longer serves its original purpose. In defining and exploring the concept of the ruin, as we understand it today, we have to trace the expansion of the symbolic range of our relations with the past: from the idealisation with which the Renaissance looked back to Antiquity right up to the German churches destroyed by Allied bombing during the Second World War, or the Serbian Parliament in Belgrade, which the government deliberately left in its bombed out state. Ruins are monuments to our consciousness of our own historicity, which has its own historicity in its turn, and as such they are constant stimuli to romantic and pathetic views of our own past. Baladrán’s metaphorical view of pictures as ruins reveals the need not to rely on purely analytical views of the past, because even these apparently rational theories involve a deeper motivation in the background. The dissatisfaction is also typical for a whole series of his videos, which at first sight are purely theoretical-analytical in character. Baladrán’s choice of pictures and the methodology of his reading draws on poetry (Josef Hiršal), avant garde texts (Karel Honzík, Karel Teige), film techniques (Jean Luc Goddard) and manifestos (The Communist Manifesto), reception of which went through waves of pathos and political rhetoric. He relates to them as to the ruins of modernity and the avant garde.

Zbyněk Baladrán is an analytical artist, who works with personal archives, historical memory, old and new paintings/images in a rational and even a scientific way. His work refers to a whole range of artistic and theoretical positions. Despite this, or perhaps precisely because of this, here text I have been interested in touching other sides of his work, and so creating an emotional counterpoint in the framework of his ideas.

1 Zbyněk Baladrán, „Ruins, Archaelogy and the Gap between Images“, The Need to Document, V. Havránek, S, Schaschl-Cooper, B. Steibruegge eds., 2005, pptr. 179-186.