Mystique of Hygiene
Regional Gallery Liberec, Hall under the Swimming Poo, Masarykova 723/14, Liberec
17. 5. – 1. 9. 2019
An international project involving András Czéfalvay (Slovakia), Juraj Gábor (Slovakia), Tomáš Roubal (Czech Republic), Anetta Mona Chisa – Lucia Tkáčová (Romania/Slovakia) and David Vojtuš (Czech Republic) will introduce the role of the body, health and hygiene in relation to aesthetics in the work of contemporary artists.
Curators: Lenka Sýkorová, Viktor Čech
production: Anna Habánová
Photo: Studio Flusser
An international project introducing the role of hygiene, body care and physicality and associated social and cultural issues in the work of contemporary artists.
In the entry on hygiene in his surrealist Critical Dictionary (1929), Georges Bataille wrote:
The man who rubs his skin with a friction-glove until it is a vivid red, cleans his teeth with an American product, or indeed takes a cold shower after some physical exercise, imagines he is acting with the sole aim of keeping himself in good health, thanks to properly understood hygiene, the admirable benefit of this century of reason. “Mens sana in corpore sano,” say those in favour of Latin tags… He hardly suspects, that clean-shaven man with his neatly combed hair, that he is accomplishing a magical rite, fit to allow him to appear, mace or lance in hand, next to primitive men.
In Antiquity, baths were not only places for personal hygiene in the modern sense of the word, but also places of complex cleaning and rejuvenation, both physical and mental. This ancient model of the huge Roman baths did not vanish entirely from the minds of architects, physicians and politicians when building their modern analogies, which began to appear around 1900 in the north of Bohemia.
The aesthetics of hygiene that to this day radiate from the architecture and decorations of these historicist and Art Nouveau buildings are closely connected with the modern cult of the Ancient ideal Kalos kagathos, which is well expressed by the trivialized “healthy soul in a healthy body”. It is constantly pushed on us in many variations and mutations by contemporary consumer culture and its visual representations in their many forms. Simply, just as our body has become commodified, targeted by many products, our health has also become a commodity. Nowadays, our body is an object of business. The perception of the body as an object that we can own and use according to our purchasing power was actually familiar to the slave cultures of Antiquity. After all, Bataille claimed that the conviction of modern society that many ritual taboos and commandments of ancient cultures were in fact disguised rules of hygiene is wrong, and that, on the contrary, our modern hygiene might be just another type of more or less rationalized taboo.
Contemporary artists frequently touch on this issue in their works in a wide spectrum, from conceptual and critical works to those that are interested primarily in the aesthetics of health, the body and hygiene in relation to contemporary visual culture. This exhibition project presents this “aesthetic” aspect of contemporary art and related topics.
The overall frame of the exhibition is created by the site-specific installation by Juraj Gábor, which is based on the concept of mental hygiene and works with the clear symbolism of cleansing with water. The supporting wooden structure evokes a water surface, referring to the original purpose of the hall, a former pool. Visitors who pass through the space find themselves between the sky - the glass ceiling – and the bottom of the pool.
The strength of the wooden waves is in their regularity and softness, which calm the mind. At the same time, this work creates the architecture of the entire exhibition, as the other works are exhibited on this wooden platform and the resulting curve of the undulation. Among the other artists whose work is represented here is Tomáš Roubal, with his object that grows out of the floor. His work points out the original function of baths as places of physical and mental relaxation, as the baths were a place of meetings to comment on current social and political issues, just as is the case nowadays with Czech pubs and cafes. Roubal’s objects thus become an ironic, almost critical commentary on our geopolitical situation.
With his objects, David Vojtuš is paraphrasing one of the most typical materials associated with the modern obsession with hygiene – the see-through plastic that allows thorough insulation and easy cleaning. Within his creative interpretation, these objects create a dialogue between the artificial and the organic, which is something that is frequently associated with the situation of the human body in a "hygienic environment". In their works, Anetta Mona Chisa and Lucia Tkáčová reflect the tension between the symbolic powers of objects and their dissolution by chemical and biological processes. The relationship between the symbol and the form is confronted with an inevitable organic nature and physicality which persecute us throughout life with our bodies. Conversely, in his video András Cséfalvay approaches the viewer primarily through his speculative examination of the roots of the contemporary world view as defined by scientific paradigms. He draws the viewer into dialectical confrontation by questioning whether these facts are really unequivocal.
András Cséfalvay (*1986, Slovakia)
Scientific examination and exploration of the world, on the one hand, and its interpretation through artistic creation, on the other hand, have been, since Galileo Galilei's time, two fields of human experience which tend in quite different ways in the two professions of scientist and artist. For András Cséfalvay and his work, however, the history of science has become one of the important sources of inspiration. He often deals with issues of the epistemology of cultural experience. His ceaseless dialogue with the roots of our civilization’s paradigms as they stem from the past is often followed by direct virtual communication with key historical and fictitious figures. As tools of narration, these are often animated with 3D computer graphics to becoming characters in the artist's videos - whether they be an intellectual dinosaur, the crusader Godefroy de Bouillon or Sir Isaac Newton. In Cséfalvay’s work, the verification of hypotheses, which is one of the basic tools of the scientific way of thinking, changes into speculative questioning directed at our own cultural memory and models of thinking. The search for the essence of human knowledge, for the forms of language in which it is conveyed, and for that which is inexpressible, is recurrent in his work in various forms, whether in the aforementioned videos, in his installations or in texts.
András Cséfalvay, a native of Bratislava, is a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts and Design there, where he also continued his doctoral studies. He is a laureate of the 2009 Oscar Čepan Prize.
Juraj Gábor (*1985, Slovakia)
Interest in unconventional visual images and spatial experience is the key elements of Juraj Gábor's work, based on drawing as a technical medium. At the same time, his has a refined taste for drawing used as a recording method to capture a given moment. He passes with ease from paper to space. He understands drawing as a tool of recording perceptions of the surrounding world on the material as well as the spiritual level. His study of works of philosophy and the theory of art helps him to achieve this. In recent years he has been attracted to monumental site-specific installations. In 2015 he realized the Sight Pyramid in Súlovské vrchy in Slovakia. He materialized the Renaissance theory of Leone Battista Alberti with his object art placed in the landscape, which framed the view and also demonstrated the theory of perspective. His 2016 Vertical gradation for Galerie Kostka in Prague thematised the changeable process of verticality and horizontality, by which the artist emphasised the horizontal line and those things that transcend material depiction. The physical ascent of the viewer created a special experience and the possibility to grasp at higher spiritual spheres. Juraj Gábor is interested in man-the-viewer, who observes, sees and perceives his work. This is why he chooses his artistic medium in relation to the given space and the particular problem. The pool hall of the Regional Gallery in Liberec and its original function enchanted the artist and inspired him to realize his long-standing artistic dream, to create a platform in the shape of a water surface that undulates through the space, creating the experience of an imaginary "sailing through space". Staying alone in one’s own head, in one’s own body, observing and being present – that is the main intention of Gábor's installation. It is that undulation that evokes the transformation of both the material and the spiritual world. The spatial situation is prepared for our otherworldly perception of the fine arts. Juraj Gábor is an intermedia artist moving freely between drawing, print, video, object, installation and performance. He is a graduate of the Studio of Spatial communication+, headed by Anton Čierny at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava.
Anetta Mona Chisa (*1975, Romania) and Lucia Tkáčová (*1977, Slovakia)
The issue of hygiene is inextricably linked with a number of social constructs associated with its development in the field of the politics of power, gender roles and institutional models. Many related moments have been reflected in the actual physical process of hygiene and body care.
In their artistic cooperation, which has lasted since 2000, the artistic duo of Anetta Mona Chisa and Lucia Tkáčová have focused primarily on the issues institutional and gender criticism, mostly in relation to the functioning of the artistic scene. Despite their principles and their seriousness, their works, mostly videos and installations, have never lacked an ironic perspective and a playful approach. In recent years, their way of expression has gained a more “artistic/aesthetic" form, connected with the value of forms and materials. However, here too we constantly meet a number of diversion strategies often directly associated with the material essence of their work – whether it be a parable presented using various chemical and biological processes, as in the case of fermentation, or a conceptual connection between the material and the theme. Works reacting to the dual essence of their mutual work form a specific line of their work.
Both artists are graduates of the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava. They are laureates of the 2006 Oscar Čepan Prize. In 2011, together with Ion Grigorescu, they represented Romania in its pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale.
Tomáš Roubal (*1982, CZ)
Roubal’s work is based on open criticism of society. The artist's style of intermedia forms is easily identified (a combination of drawing, painting and object art) and is easily understood without lengthy commentaries. In recent years, he has used a combination of metal, wood, ceramics, glass and building materials. The incongruity and brutality, often processed with the heavy welding technique, reacts to the increasing social tension (it may be, for example, an ironic commentary on the immigration crisis or the situation in the EU, or criticism of small-mindedness, consumerism and the ever-increasing pace of life). The artist balances on the verge of flat 2D and spatial 3D media, which he sometimes brings to life with audio commentary. Drawing remains the basis of Roubal's work, in particular in its clear lines. In each of his exhibition projects of recent years – Czech Diorama, Nevan Contempo in Prague, 2017; Hostility, Altán Klamovka in Prague, 2018; Café Böhmen, NoD in Prague, 2018; and the project in the Regional Gallery in Liberec, 2019 - the artist points out his unease with the radicalization of society and the aggression of our times. Nowadays we live in situations of ceaseless distraction, at the time when one click of a mouse pulls us into a different world. This is why Tomáš Roubal is fascinated by traditional meeting places - pubs, cafés, baths - which he converts into artistic forms using caricature. His opinion is transformed into a comprehensible visual message. Roubal draws his commentaries on social and political events into space using wire, metal and other seemingly scrap material. In the interior of the former baths, a place for meeting and relaxing the body and mind, this may create the almost cathartic feeling of cleansing the self of the permanent pressure and fear of society caused by the manipulation of information. Tomáš Roubal is a graduate of the Studio of graphic arts under Prof. Robert Jančovič at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava.
David Vojtuš (*1989, Czech Republic)
Our perception of space as “hygienic” is often associated with certain surfaces, their material, haptic and olfactory stimulation. Especially since the second half of the 20th century, perfect cleanliness is associated with synthetic materials, such as various plastics. Transparent, soft and washable plastics have become an inseparable aspect of hygiene, as it is nowadays perceived. They isolate or separate the unhygienic, allow the easy removal of impurities and, being pliable, pose no risk of injury. They have become a universal material in modern society, which insists on thorough hygiene in the sense of obsessive cleanliness.
For David Vojtuš, these materials mean something else, too. His work began with graphic art and illustrations, i.e. something that works with pigments, paints and liquids like Indian ink. After his radical personal re-evaluation of these media, he began to use transparent plastic material specifically in his object art, often filled with liquid. In his latest works, however, his experience with graphic art is becoming manifest as he applies ink pigment to the surface plastic. The use of this method has become a kind of synthetic parallel of tattooed skin. Thus, the insistent association of soft plastic with human corporeality is multiplied into a game with a double-meaning, switching between the artificial and the organic.
David Vojtuš studied at the Institute of Art and Design at the West Bohemian University in Plzeň and is a graduate of the Faculty of Arts of Ostrava University.