Out of Control
text written for catalogue of exhibition at Gandy Gallery, Bratislava, 2020
A viaduct on the outskirts of the city in which I live is a kind of gate en route from the metropolis, along the highway heading to the east of the republic. Until recently, its side was adorned with a blue sign saying FOR EUROPE WITHOUT WARS (ZA EVROPU BEZ VÁLEK), displayed for all to see. It was one of the last remaining signs left after state-activist campaigns of the socialist regime during the Cold War. It was placed there some fifty years ago in order to clearly declare the anti-militarist conviction of the local community. The sign was most probably connected to the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), which took place in Helsinki in the 1970s. Thirty years ago, some prankster crossed out two letters, changing the Czech meaning to FOR CRUDE OIL WITHOUT WAR (ZA ROPU BEZ VÁLEK), humorously and symbolically expressing the dependence of European nation states on the unregulated use of fossil fuels and the fragility of their constitutions when faced with the hegemonic struggle for resources.
Nothing happens just like that – the crossed-out letter served, until recently, as a memento of the Gulf War and a reminder of the burning oil wells (not to mention the ensuing disintegration of Iraq). This year, during the second state of emergency brought about by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the Czech railway management company, Správa železnic, had it painted over with a grey hue we can produce repeatedly (and therefore name precisely) thanks to the use of oil derivates.
The light-grey rectangle, named RAL 7035 in the imperial terminology, used commonly in the Czech Republic, demonstrates the reliance of local industry on the German economy, and the adoption of German nomenclature only confirms such an allegiance. It seems that thanks to the activities of one still un-privatised state organisation, the local community has transitioned into a new era: from fears of nuclear war, through the impacts of a struggle for natural resources, all the way to a minimalist confirmation of the fact that threats remain invisible and can even be expressed in a single colour. Those arriving in the city are thus welcomed by a grey rectangle as an expression of powerlessness: Contagion is present here too.
The timing is apt – more than military conflicts and their impacts, we are terrified of the activity of all-consuming industrial modernisation. The Earth has shaken, from out a devastated rainforest somewhere in China flies, disturbed, a bat (though it would perhaps be more adequate to say that a pangolin leaped out of a heap of rubbish) and thus the planet is rocked by a first seismic wave in the form of an exponentially propagating virus. Welcome to the 21st century.
The viaduct remains a signal alerting us to current dangers and fears. It merely signals more subtly, almost imperceptibly. It is a barometer of threat, and a relatively precise one at that.
Orientational Atlas of Exomoons
Artists project their ideas through the image-ination into shapes and signs, imprinting their reflections of reality into materials and codes. They themselves are reflected in their creation as specific autographic expressions of the history of human society in time. They also learn to perceive other autographic phenomena of the world around them. Artists have always worked this way.
Some of them, like Vladimír Boudník, attempted to create consistent artistic-political programmes to crown the avant-garde with a synthesis of life and art. Boudník worked directly on the street. He completed wet stains on the walls and extracted entire scenes from his fantasy and discussions with passers-by he approached. He describes the situation himself in one of his manifestos of explosionalism: “Each of you will become an artist if you rid yourselves of prejudice and indifference. Our planet will be an inexhaustible jewellery box of shapes and new impulses.”
His political programme was imbued with post-war antimilitarism and a belief in a brighter future for humanity as a community of creative cooperation. If we follow Boudník and his methodological enthusiasm for the permeation of various layers of meanings and images, we will discover that the viaduct mentioned above, along with its underpass, is a rich catalogue of innumerable scenes inscribed in the plaster.
But how to begin? We might take a hint from the inscription FOR EUROPE WITHOUT WARS, which we could adopt as a generalising category for the entire viaduct card index of possible images. The broader context of the superordinate slogan alerts us to the un-evident nature of peace, the permanent threat of nuclear war, and the total destruction of the Earth.
The threat made present by the sign did not only concern wars among people, but also, of course, the destruction of the planet. That distant and inhuman thing we describe with the word nature is announcing itself on the battle field called Planet Earth all the more loudly and visibly, reminding us that nature was never separate from humanity and culture, nor was it anything foreign. And it is this alienation encoded within our language and manner of denoting that represents the key to the catalogue under the bridge.
With a little hyperbole, we can say that it is enough to redraw and complete the stains. Maps, copied into coordinates, are cartographic constructions of worlds no one has yet seen in such detail. Worlds similar to our own of whose existence we know only thanks to indirect proof and mathematical interpretations materialise and become comprehensible thanks to the conceptual grid we apply to them. This grid is the manner of naming things and systems. We created institutions that can create entire systems of symbolic representations. It is therefore no surprise if in the stains, we can easily see polygons for testing weapons of mass destruction.
What else do we do with freshly discovered worlds? Scientific knowledge walking hand in hand with a search for selfish advantage and a multiplication of profits. There are, after all, myriad worlds, and they can be easily ransacked or destroyed without bothering anyone. Bikini Atoll, the Nevada desert, the steppe in Kazakhstan, or other areas that we imagine as being located somewhere other than here are, it would seem, too far away, and nobody minds. So why not mark out a few freshly discovered exomoons for tests that are, from the perspective of Realpolitik, necessary? After all, we care only about our safety and the preservation of our existence! Thankfully, these are only interpretations of wall-stains for now, but we can glimpse in them serious questions brought about by the historical trajectories of human thinking and development concerning the present and the near future.