The Signature of Certain Things
UHD, 2022, 15:31
Sound design: Ian Mikyska
The film essay was created on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of Gandy Gallery as a reflection the functioning of art scene in recent decades. Digital manipulation and experiments with moving images play an important role in the film, it develops a debate on the ambiguity of meanings of artworks. The questions addressed to the contradictions of art and its effects into society are commented through the formal means of production of the film itself.
Artworks are reminiscent of things around us, mysteriously reflecting reality. Institutions are also reminiscent of objects we know. They mirror the manner in which we act. The same is true of galleries, i.e. specific agents on the field we understand as contemporary art. They are a mirror of the world in which they operate.
We presume that artworks, like galleries, are similar to the world, and each image has its signature: A seal or some element that makes apparent their relation to something beyond themselves.
In artworks, we frequently search for signatures of inner and outer forms of various worlds. As if this were the only method by which to understand them.
The shape of a suitably crooked branch is a signature of sorrow or distress felt painfully in the area of the heart. Gestures of the hands and attributes held in them can be a signature of nobility, the randomness of the stock market, or the struggle against exploitation.
The gallery, through presentations of artworks, value operations, and sales, also mirrors the distribution of power and the hierarchical relations that follow from it. They are transforming libraries of signatures.
The signature is that which allows for the transition from one sign to another.
The signature is the index that points towards interpretation.
If we search for the signature of an institution as a whole, we can only glimpse it in its duration. Just as when we observe a vibrating string, we see that its signature is not a line but a sine curve in regular oscillation. We thus understand that the exhibition space observed over time is a vibrating form.
We can imagine it as a pointed ovoid, a four-dimensional object composed of the frequencies of loops.
In essence, it is a time-space composition in which the individual loops stand in for value judgements and various forms of speculation.
We can call this propensity to activity a sympathy toward the world, to its openness. It is an expression of desire for all-inclusive unity; for a universal language within the possibilities of contemporary structures of ownership. Our case study of sympathetic action is the Gandy gallery, now based in Bratislava, before which time it operated in Roztoky and Prague, beginning in 1992.
Activities are based on an open cycle of exchange:
Value judgements condition new ideas.
Ideas carry a critique of production relationships.
Production relationships are the basis of the gallery.
The gallery is an aggregate of exchange.
Exchange is the basis of value judgements.
In an interview with a Prague-based newspaper, Nadine Gandy once said the following:
– Why did you choose Roztoky?
– I liked the exhibition halls and the rent prices. Of course I’d once like to run a gallery in the city centre, but the rent there is five times higher than Paris or New York.
– Will you also open a gallery in France?
– There are a hundred and fifty galleries in Paris and I have no plans to open another. What’s more, during the financial crisis, it often happens that galleries have to close for financial reasons. I work in Prague.
– German galleries often buy from you. Does that mean they bought French art in a “French gallery” in the Czech Republic?
– I don’t find that strange at all. After all, why? I think that today, there are no real borders anymore. Art operates on universal principles, it knows no boundaries. You have to realise that there is an economic crisis taking place across Western Europe. That, too, must be taken into consideration.
It seems that the image is brought about by its stopping. We can perceive this act as a sacrifice. Stopping, paradoxically, leads back to a renewal of the movement of imagination. This brings about further stoppings and new images. Signatures are the vehicle of such a movement of thought. Their recognition allows us to sacrifice the previous, seemingly fixed images. Sometimes endurance is necessary in order for sacrifices to be accepted. We are often forced to wait for a long time.
Leaving the city for life in the country among the shepherds has always been a mark of humility and asceticism. Such a refusal of life here was seen as sacrificing it. Joachim, who left the city for the desert, sacrificed his life, which is why he was graced by the arrival of the longed-for child.
Just like God accepted Joachim’s sacrifice and transformed impotence into potency, so arrives a new image. Through signatures, the sacrifice of the static image leads to new images.
But what if no new image comes? Do we simply witness the return of the old image, as a phantasm? What if Giotto’s fresco represents not the birth of new life, but Gramsci’s idea that crisis consists of the old dying and the new not being able to come into existence? What if this image demonstrates a needless sacrifice?
No social formation will ever admit that it has been overcome. That is also true of our current formation, to which it was foretold thirty years ago that it is the final crowning of history; that no further sacrifices are necessary. It must be carried out, but it is uncertain whether something new will be born.
The exhibition programme of the gallery, represented by a pointed ovoid, is a probe into the transforming social formation. It is similar to a weaver’s shuttle, used to carry the thread of the weft yarn through the warp. The vertical to the horizontal. The old to the new. The eastern to the western. The political to the aesthetic.
The core of some archaic modes of thought is that things uncover their invisible qualities through signs and similarities. Through signs, we can learn that which is signified in each thing. The reading of signatures lies entirely beyond induction and deduction – these disturb it. Signatures, by contrast, lead only to further signatures.
Even so, if we take these chains of images seriously, then it must be as a philosophical thesis on the fact that history is the true sphere of signatures and indexes connecting the past to the present. Therefore, the history of exhibitions at this gallery is a struggle of the present about notions of the future.
The Gandy gallery is a chronicle of the transformational period that began with the collapse of the communist idea. It can be defined by the arrival of financial capital, migration, dissemination of knowledge, and an emphasis on human rights. Even though we are still living it, this period is probably coming to a close. Thirty years of exhibitions can also be considered a map of the signatures of neoliberal decades. The artists, along with Gandy, create coordinates of this map, articulating a complex question: who is contemporary art for? The most precarised individuals? The hyper-individualised middle class? The wealthiest elites? What form of astral signatures corresponds to the class consciousness that is emerging here?
In this film, signatures are also manifested in other ways: through their form. To be clear: digital images are full of signatures, particularly in their interfaces. They are expressed in binary codes, algorithms, QWERTY keyboards, and image compression. Such as here, for instance: grainy images with muted colours, the frame rate of the shots. Or errors and blurred edges. All these are signs of 8 mm analogue film, but they are not what they seem to be. This is merely a particular digital signature. New images are framed here by old phantasms. Despite the fact that they are probably manifestations of the impossibility of the birth of the new, they allow us to see the present along with the past. Perhaps the possibility of seeing new constellations whose potential is hidden away for the future.