• Interview

  • May 23rd, 2014 05.23.2014

    Profile of the Curator: Michal Novotny


    This spring, Design Cloud welcomes their first international curator in residence to MOUNT with an exhibition entitled Things, organized by Michal Novotny, Director of the Futura program in Prague. Though the title of the exhibition implies objects, there is only one physical object in the exhibition – a rock perfectly sliced in half by Denisa Lehocká. The rest of the work on view, primarily images with a few objects collaged on top, is done by a collection of Eastern European artists – from the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Latvia, Russia, and Slovakia, but also France, Germany, and Switzerland. Our conversation touched on the fictional nature of the “things” on view, the tension between images and objects within this system, and the importance of the staged affect the works carry.

    Stephanie Cristello: I wanted to start off by talking about how you chose to do place this exhibition – with a roster of primarily Eastern European artists – in Chicago.

    Michal Novotny: There is some kind of fascination with the United States I have always had. I was very much interested in the depiction of Chicago, as an image. It is a city that translates so accurately from movies – I was so familiar with its image, that my actual perception is no longer the same.

    SC: Meaning the fiction became the image?

    MN: It is a bit more problematic than that. I think the idea of the distance between the image and its fiction is always present. Chicago is basically an alias for me; it is like entering a type of mannerism. The trashcans, the steel, and the rain today are almost too close to the image I have of this city from the movies – somehow I believe it less, because it is too comparable. Sometimes there are bits of reality within a fiction that we discount in their presence because they are too real. But to return to this exhibition, even though it is called Things, almost none of these things are things. There is a tension between calling the work in the exhibition a thing or an image. Most of the pieces in the show are images; there is only one object.

    SC: Can you speak a bit more about this tension?

    MN: A great example is the piece we are facing right now, the five images of cameras hanging on the wall. Of course, the first association you could have is the exhibition that is currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago of Christopher Wool’s work. This piece plays with a similar thread of stock photography – they are pictures of the tools that are responsible for making the image. But, the other facet is that the artists did not even take these pictures, they just downloaded them off the Internet.

    SC: So it is stock photography of cameras, reproduced as photography.

    MN: Yes exactly. They had completed this work two years ago, but we did a new series for this exhibition because it was very important to them that the cameras are current – they are picturing the most expensive and avant-garde tools for image making through the simplest and most un-expensive means. But the companies who take these images for commercial use of selling the thing itself actually do a very good job on making the machine look perfect. The whole exhibition is about this impulse to style a good product.

    SC: There is a strong staging aspect to the works on view –

    MN: Yes, this is also why the fiction of representation is important. We relate to these types of compositions more and more even though the composition itself might be accidental. It is hard to decipher if the composition has been wished, or is a complete accident. The distinction between the two intentions is completely lost in contemporary art. It is something that Boris Dornbusch plays with a lot in his images, like the one of the two Heineken bottles on pedestals – where one is warm and the other is visibly cold from the condensation. It is of course an allusion to commercial product photography, but also a fleeting situation – the two bottles will lose their distinction over time. I have also shown an image of his in a past exhibition, which is of a hand that has some coins pressed into the skin, so that it left an indentation.

    SC: That last image seems like a good metaphor for the concept of the exhibition as a whole – a lot of these works have the imprint of commerciality, but resist that straightforward read as simply “products” or evidence of “stock photography.”

    MN: Yes – it is something that we cannot avoid. This studio aesthetic is very prevalent now; there is another image he did hanging next to the Heineken print, which is three red candles placed on top of one another, so that it resembles dynamite. What you see is not always what you see in his work. Many of these images were taken with his iphone, so there is this availability, or at least attitude of available means within the staged aspects of the photograph. There is a focus on materiality in the same way there is in the work of Hynek Alt & Aleksandra Vajd – their concentration is actually a complete materialization. They did this one piece in the past that was the image of the top of a paint can, but replicated 500 times on this stock paper, and stacked on top of one another so that the photograph became the can. It was pretty amazing how little difference there between the object made out of the image, essentially, and the object itself.

    SC: I like that – the documentation becomes the piece in this strange way,

    MN: Yes, there is a photograph of their in this exhibition that plays on this same  – which is a print of slightly gradating swatches of color that are separated by stationary objects (pens and pencils) that disrupt your ability to see the change in hue, so it flattens out. It erases the clear distinction between colors. They are playing with the difference in opticality between the photograph and the object, but in a very flat way and very physically.

    SC: Physicality and opticality are almost the same thing in this regard, especially in relation to Op Art – and how it has a physical impact on how you view the piece.

    MN: Exactly, and also how in a very material way, the image has the ability to alter your perception.

    SC: It is also an interesting choice in material to collage onto the image because the writing tool becomes this tool that alters your ability to “read” the image. We talked about fiction, but what about illusion in this sense?

    MN: I think the pieces do try and trick the viewer. Lately, there is so much belief in the educative potential of art – but I believe in the disturbing potential of art more. It is too easy to communicate that the photography is lying, because we all know that. It is more that instead of lying, which is the expected thing for it to do, it disturbs the expectations themselves. The difference between image and object has been merged for quite some time.

    SC: But we also expect to see many of these types of images on view in this space through a screen – back-lit. So, in many ways, the fact that these images are even printed out, that they exist in a material way – even in a flat way – immediately makes them far more object-like than their original purpose and use.

    MN: You are right. It also brings up this other type of philosophy I read, which is that the objects are not here for us; we are here for the objects. Perhaps they work on us more than we work on them.

    SC: It is a very non-Romantic point of view, which I think is correct – that the body and the mind are not these separate entities, but that we experience this kind of work in a very secular way. It reacts onto us, and then we have to deal with that impact.

    MN: Right – a Cartesian ideology for this work is wrong. Objects always represent much more than their materiality – they are animate, they have wishes and desires.

    Centre for Contemporary Art FUTURA is a private non-profit institution funded exclusively by grant applications. In the Czech Republic it operates two large exhibition spaces and a residency programme in Prague, a renaissance Castle in Třebešice near Kutná Hora, with a collection of Czech and international contemporary art and a residency programme in a three-floor building in Brooklyn, New York, United States.