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English and Czech
A book of czech most attractive artist. Ten successful years of the first schizophrenia produced in series now in full-color with graphic design by Marek Pistora. A book that reveals art to be a ride in the clouds in skin-tight hi-tech overalls. Jiří Černický seduces us in his own texts and the colorful theoretics of Tomáš Pospiszyl and Lity Barrie fill out the book.
160 pages, 24 x 21,5 x 1,1 cm| Written by Lita Barrie, Tomáš Pospiszyl, Jiří Černický| Published by Divus, Ivan Mečl|Consultation: Karel Císař|Concept of the Catalogue: Jiří Černický, Marek Pistora, Karel Císař|Editorial Staff: Jiří Černický, Marek Pistora and Ivan Mečl|Translation: Alice and Jeff A. Buehler|Layout: Marek Pistora|Pre-press: Divus|Cover: Marek Pistora|Scanning and reproduction: Blanka Brixová|2003|ISBN: 80-86450-25-2
Psycho-sexual death in urban evnirons
The radical urban chic of Jiří Černický’s Hollywood–inspired sculpture is undercut by a Kafkaesque absurdity that immediately suggests a different cultural sensibility. The vanguard Czech artist makes quirky visual connections between his own European art history and cultural icons, Hollywood pop culture and today’s global youth culture. His classical references and trained craftsmanship are charged by the use of synthetic materials borrowed from today’s youth culture which Černický uses to construct an electric hybrid language which is filled with surprising twists and edgy nuances. In an interesting aesthetic reversal, Černický takes the vernacular and makes it classical — and vice versa.
For Černický art is not only a process of making unexpected connections between different cultures, histories and aesthetics — it is also a process of exploring the hidden connections between visible surfaces and invisible psychological depths to reveal the shared archetypal dynamics that underlie obvious cultural differences. In these sculptures, design and purpose are always at odds, suggesting the internal dangers of a preoccupation with outer perfection and external fixations. In Černický’s perplexing world of hidden angst things are never what they appear to be. Černický subtly undermines the banal superficiality of a fixation upon stars and cars with a tragicomic view of the fatal human cost of Hollywood’s artificial values. His perfect designer finishes and fascination with funky sci–fi gadgetry are referenced to the familiar leitmotifs of the L.A. avant–garde — but he underscores these seductive surfaces with a deeper psychological interest in the relationship between sex and death.
Freud theorized creativity as a conflict between the Eros (sex drive) and the Thanatos (death wish). This conflict has been an enduring theme in art throughout the ages and a metaphor for the dynamics of the creative process itself. Černický implicates both himself and his artwork within the dynamics of this archetypal conflict through the mediacy of the body — which becomes the locus for exploring the deathly psycho–sexual effects of different places on their inhabitants. Even when the body is not visible in his work it is always somehow implicated. The body might be implied through conspicuous absence from bodily accoutrements like shoes, gloves and mask–like helmets or, it might be implied through its transformation into macabre kitschy sculptured figurines, ghostly sci–fi computerized images, or strange video projections. In different ways, Černický uses the mediacy of the body to suggest the subterranean erotic–destructive psychic forces that lie beneath the surface of social order.
The body has always provided the most enduring metaphors for art because, as Gregory Battock said, “Art from its beginning was about the body of the art–maker.” Since the pre–beginnings of art can be traced to body decoration and ritual, it is hardly surprising that at times of artistic crisis successive waves of avant–garde artists have used the body to upturn the artistic conventions of their time — whether it was the old European academy, the commodification of art in the 70s, or the current institutionalization of art. The ways in which these artists codify the body defied the social restrictions of the time and place in which they lived. It is also characteristic of artists who understand that making art is a lifetime commitment to use their own body as a starting point for developing their artistic vocabulary. In an almost Genet–like way, this approach to art–making creates a highly personalized mystical connection between their own corporeal existence and history.
However, this use of the body as a site for intervention and transformation becomes much more complex in Černický’s work because he combines something of the familiar “bad boy” stance of the avant–garde with the quasi–mysticism of a Genet–like conception of the body as the site of transformation, with references to the radical chic of today’s urban youth culture — which uses body scarification, tattooing, and piercing as a sign of social protest.
Černický’s work demonstrates that the effects of Hollywood and corporate–controlled fashion and trends on today’s international youth culture are sometimes even more obvious outside Los Angeles — where simulated reality is manufactured — because the simulacra takes a more astral dimension in a global context. In urban societies mesmerized by new technologies the body has been turned into a political sign which is viewed from the outside as an image — rather than a locus for experiencing the world in a phenomenological way, from the inside out. A disenfranchised, de–spirited youth culture which feels helpless in a simulated world of disinformation, corporate control, and disassociated experience uses the body as the site for transgression — while at the other end of the socio–economic spectrum the desperately image–conscious reconstruct the body with silicone implants and liposuction to simulate a Hollywood fiction of sexual glamour.
The world of technology not only holds the body in political servitude but has also desensitized us to the sensory experience of the body and, correspondingly, to the sensate experience art offers — which is why so many contemporary American artists have turned to the abject body and its fluids. However, this is a pathetic and degraded body which is too scattered to revitalize and invigorate art in the way that artist’s have pulled strength from the body in the past — it is merely a sad and somewhat indulgent apology for the dissolution of the sensate power art once had.
Černický uses the symbolism of the body–self in a more poignant poetic way, by turning technological illusions back upon themselves to suggest the fatal unseen psycho–sexual effects of Hollywood’s superficial fictions on its inhabitants. His work shares some aspects of abject art because it addresses the same cultural ethos of body degradation, but his meticulously crafted pieces have a formal precision and pristine polish which comes from a more academy–based tradition of art education which brings a more disciplined toughness and a greater sense of history. On the other hand, he does not allow his traditional craftsmanship to override his innovative impulses or the cutting–edge quality of his work. Instead, it adds a biting twist to his choice of pop materials and thematic references to see, for example, carefully carved pimples on a punk Medusa. The care involved in this craftsmanship also prevents his work from collapsing into the nihilism it explores.
By underscoring these contradictions between pop materials and traditional craftsmanship with references to the deathly psycho–sexual aspects of bodily inhabitation in the urban world, Černický touches nerves which allow the viewer to feel his own anguished conflicts. These sculptures are filled with precariously balanced contradictions — between the scientific and the mystical, the seductive and the disturbing, the playful and the macabre — that resist any fixed academic reading and resonate at a more humane level. By borrowing the toxic materials of today’s youth culture — like foam, plastic, syringes, helmets, and sunglasses — which are as threatening as anything in the polluted environment, he implicates himself within the ills of our time as one who is “allergic” (to use a recurring phrase from titles of past works) to the toxic beauty of urban environs — while at the same time distanced by a more classical sense of history.
Art traditionally belongs to the private space between viewer and viewed which has been infiltrated by new technologies. This represents a profound loss because art is neither simulated nor cerebral — it is the immediacy of the experience of art that emotionally, spiritually and viscerally engages us. Černický attempts to go beyond the angry polemical aspects of social commentary to evoke the more ineffable “spirit of the times” through the poetry of the body and the fragile metaphors it generates. In the era of cynicism he is not afraid to express tender heartfelt emotions — although he frames them in a veneer of popular kitsch.
In Happyend Shoes Černický takes the meaning of fuck–me shoes a ridiculous step further by staging a comic sex act between two beautifully crafted pairs of white Hollywood Star shoes joined like plasma in what appears to be an absurd co–dependency. The shoes are even more amusing because there is something about white shoes that just isn’t sexy — which Černický cleverly plays upon, evoking the conflicting sex and death dynamic through their mysterious contradictory associations with old Hollywood musicals, walks of fame and, oddly, graveyard lilies. Nearby, Černický installs a disturbing background of ghostly sci–fi images — which have been generated from photographs of homeless people lying on a sidewalk. The unnerving juxtaposition of these potent signifiers of stardom and destitution explores the sex and death dynamic further. In this ironic play on dysfunction and design, the inhabitants of the shoes and the sidewalks are mysteriously implied through absence. Černický’s view of the way Hollywood idolizes fame over humanitarian concerns — while espousing kitsch pop spirituality — is filled with pathos. The haunting sense of loss created by these sculptures suggest an almost romantic yearning for a more utopian world. And yet they also suggest that there is no simple antidote to the toxic effects of our time.
In The Luxury of Grief Černický uses the sorrowful body gestures of two small chrome figures on the front of two luxury Lincoln as a grief–stricken metaphor for the undercurrent of emotional desperation beneath L.A.’s car–dominated culture. Cloud Rider is a funny yet sad pun that acts like a sound bite for Černický’s interest in the dynamics between cars/stars and sex/death. Černický suspends a small figure strangled by a blue cloud–like boa from the rearview mirror of a car. The faster the car moves the faster the figure approaches death in this spoof on the time–saving purpose of cars. Amusingly, the figure has a smile and an erect penis — suggesting its paradoxical relationship to the car, which is both a sexual symbol and an instrument of death.
Medusa is an earlier work and is emblematic of Černický’s oeuvre. This macabre yet exquisitely crafted and painted sculpture — which juts out from the wall like a ship’s figurehead — functions as a multi–layered metaphor for urban violence, addiction and toxic values. The pouting, pallid–faced woman with protruding pimples, wears heavily painted make–up and red lipstick, sunglasses and hair curlers wrapped around menacing snake–like drug syringes which threaten to dangerously poke anyone who stands too close. The ancient Medusa who embodied the drama of psycho–sexual death is updated into an ultra–contemporary urban icon of self–destruction or, perhaps a symbol of the Eros and Thanatos conflict in the artistic process itself.
Rather than sensationalizing his loaded sexual subject matter, Černický explores its deathly shadow side to suggest the complex contradictions of our time. He subtly reveals the psychic dominion of the Eros and the Thanatos which always threatens to rebel against social control. It is by embodying the tension between these contradictory yet inseparable life and death impulses that Černický’s works become archetypal and touch a chord in the viewer.
Lita Barrie teaches at Art Center College of Design
Los Angeles, 2000
Burka (spirit of the East in the West - performance, para-business), 2002, global burka)*RIDE (Sentimenthol) - 1998, (variable dimensions), dressing table, various hybrid objects*fashion exposion – detail*Pincushion, Father (daily voodoo), 1999, 14x10 cm, cloth, metal, glass*RIDE (Sentimenthol) - 1998, (variable dimensions), dressing table, various hybrid objects*FIRST SCHIZOPHRENIA PRODUCED IN SERIES - 1998
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