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P74 Gallery

Slovakian Contemporary Art / SO(n)DA, conceptual tendencies

Július Koller, Stano Filko, Jana Želibská, Ilona Németh, Viktor Frešo, Lucia Tallová, Jaro Varga

5 – 26 April 2018
P74 Gallery, Trg Prekomorskih brigad 1, Ljubljana

You are cordially invited to the opening of the exhibition Slovakian Contemporary Art / SO(n)DA, conceptual tendencies on Thursday, 5 April 2018 at 19.00 at the P74 Gallery in Ljubljana.

With collaboration SODA gallery, Bratislava
By Tomas Umrian

Julius Koller, Realita Comics, mixed media, 1969
Julius Koller, Realita Comics, mixed media, 1969

Historically, information about the artistic production of the Eastern Europe was often mediated from the side of Western media, through which it entered an interpretative machine that tended to distort or decontextualize numerous specific cultural phenomena. The current cooperation wishes to avoid such misunderstandings. The hosting of Bratislava’s SODA Gallery in P74 Gallery represents the first step towards a long-term international cooperation. The first presentation brings a top selection of Slovakian contemporary artists of three generations: from the legends of the Eastern neo-avant-garde of the 1960s, the established middle generation to the youngest. They represent key actors of conceptual and post-conceptual practices: Július Koller, Stano Filko, Jana Želibská, Ilona Németh, Viktor Frešo, Lucia Tallová, Jaro Varga.  

Exhibition project SO(n)DA – conceptual tendencies ” presents not only contemporary visual art in Slovakia, but also demonstrates the dynamic shift that has taken place on the art scene and in communicating with the international context in two decades. The exhibition in P74 brings a collection of works from selected 7 authors who, in addition to strong personal programs, have common post-conceptual starting points and critical reflection of the present. They prefer analytical analytical ways of thinking and inverse situations across a wide range of media and approaches. At the same time they also represent dialogue between generations, showing the cross-section and the necessary continuity of artistic thinking in Slovakia over the last four decades.
SO(n)DA – conceptual tendencies is an exhibition that focuses on one of the key tendencies in contemporary and modern Slovakian art – the conceptual and post-conceptual actions in Slovakian visual arts spanning the period of almost five decades since the late 1960s. A radical change in the development of Slovakian art occurred in the mid-1960s). The exhibition will present the powerful influence of new ideas and new non-iconic approaches that reveal new ways of coding and new areas of the media and the intermedia, giving rise to a new art and a new language of anti-art. At the same time, various political and social contexts of Conceptual art’s functioning in the previous system (as an alternative and unofficial scene) will be unveiled, accompanied by an overview of how this approach was continued and redefined after the political transformations of 1989.
The exhibition features three founding figures of Slovak conceptual art that have developed this way of thinking since the 1960s – a radical departure from illusive imaging mode to the “mental” transfer of visual data and ideas. Stano Filko (1939 – 2007) and Julius Koller (1939 – 2007) are pioneers of concept, text-art or anti-art. While Filko favored the cosmic phillosophical background and systemic chakras, spheres and elements, Koller focused more on intimate links and small “UFO-naut” announcements with a symbolic sign of a question mark at the end. Jana Želibská, who belongs to the progressive generation of action and conceptual authors of the late 1960s in Slovakia, specifically re-evaluated the impulses of neo avant-garde tendencies, French New Realism and post-Moderna. She was present at the birth of environment art in the 1960s, object and installation at the end of the 1980s and video-art in the 1990s. She openly thematizes the female body through a feminist approach which in her work blended with the characteristic period themes of the alternative scene and unofficial art in Slovakia.
This necessary dose of contamination and uncertainty, a sharp dose of abuse of stereotypes, are also brought by younger generations and encoded in their own visual reports. This is primarily about a series of spatial works – objects and installations that create a powerful image and link environment. Objects create cultural situations where metaphorically mirrors the “desacralization” of objects and meanings (Ilona Németh’s searching for Németh’s politico-geographic “center” of Europe, reflection of intellectual work, ironic and self-ironic perception of his own artistic practice – founded manipulated objects By Viktor Frešo, etc.). Németh has created a vast body of work, constantly questioning ingrained identity patterns and truths offered up by the majority opinion. She has openly engaged with her multi-national affiliation, female tone and critical political mindset, including her family background of active politicians, sociologists and lawyers. Her immediate surroundings – its objects, characters and occurrences – serve as her starting point for video and photographic articulations, alongside appropriated or manufactured pieces and site specific works, including installations in the public sphere.
There are also issues of confrontation of text and image, books, memories, personal archives of data and personal memories. Jaro Varga dedicates itself with the question of how power and sexuality shape the ways of human behaviour. And how they project and hybridize themselves in an individual by rejecting or following them. He maps the genesis of pleasure found in breaking the restriction and shows how are the instruments of subsumption fetished back. Series of works consequently oscillate between intimacy and depersonalization, gestic and symbolic, control and relief. It does softly manipulate, choose, let arise with shy sensitivity overcoming structures of desire and pleasure. And Lucia Tallová works with the subject of a personal archive also refers to the author’s collection and collection of old photographs, albums, postcards, porcelain, stones and various bizarre objects and furniture, a troublesome objects that they subsequently manipulate and transform. They are made of a working material and a tool, underlined by layering and repeating its distinctive motifs and symbols, such as the black ink, the tear of colour, the dust and smoke particles, blurred horizons, ribbons or flowers as strong symbols of femininity, nostalgia and sentiment. The female figure becomes the central theme of the redesigned story of black and white photographs. The author deliberately exploits mistakes in photographs – blurry, erroneous, blurred images, bad compositions, flaws and mistakes in making them, and the impact of time and patina on photographic papers. These errors accentuate, overlap, and transform through painting and collage.

Július Koller (1939–2007) is regarded as one of the most important Eastern European artists of the 1960s and 1970s. His work is marked by a distance to the official art regime, an investigation of the traditions of modernism and the conventions of the Western commercial art world. In the 1960s, he conceived anti-happening and anti-painting and created a playful opus, which combined a Dadaist spirit with elements of radical skepticism. His paintings / objects were equipped with his characteristic white question mark, a universal symbol of a critical view on the everyday life and reality. He connected sports (tennis and table tennis) with political questions and the demand that a game includes the rules of fair play. After the Prague Spring he began a new series of works entitled U.F.O., in which he set out to analyze the reality of the so-called cultural situation and utopia of the new cultural-humanistic society and the future.

Stano Filko (1937–2015) is one of the key figures of the Slovakian neo-avant-garde. From 1964, he created very diverse works in the form of (anti-)happenings, environments, installations, objects, drawings. In 1965, he conceived a manifest and established the avant-garde group HAPPSOC. HAPPSOC is a combination of the words happening, happy, society and socialism. In the literature we find also translations of the name such as happy society, happy socialism, sociological happening. His activities were close to the work of the new realists in Paris, they represent the local form of happening with objects. After 1968 and the Soviet occupation Filko’s practice changed and he began to focus on more personal themes and in his work included the concept of the universe as an exit to another world of freedom.

Ilona Németh (b. 1963) was born in Czechoslovakia into a family with Hungarian roots. In her practice she creates a number of works in which she analyzes the identity patterns and the truths offered by “the majority opinion”. She is interested in the themes of the everyday, which are connected to the specific local context. In her creative process, investigative in nature, she transforms the personal into the public. Her works are multilayered, in her projects she takes a critical position. As the artist emphasizes: “In the 1990s, we understood Central Europe as an ethnically and culturally diverse, open space. Today, we wish to egotistically close that space. In the Visegrád community, we see a growth of support for political and autocratic policies that should protect the European values. Just which values are we actually talking about? Christian? Solidarity?”

Lucia Tallová (b. 1985) belongs to the younger generation of female Slovakian contemporary artists. In content and poetics, she radically differs from her older colleagues. In her works, we can follow intimate stories that are monumentally presented in the media of painting, in smaller formats she creates graphics, drawings, collages and objects. In the paintings we can see an industrial landscape which is connected with decorative elements of lace, floral patterns, motifs of black ink and ashes. In her work she includes found postcards or old black-and-white photography. She is fond of motifs of water, women in wedding photographs, etc. A nostalgia belonging to anonymous people pervades her works.