Disruption by shadow

Ivan Pinkava, Ondřej Filípek

29. 4. – 17. 6. 2022

Curator: Jan Dotřel

Archaeology is a fascinating academic subject, especially because of its directness and the possibility of studying real artefacts created by cultures and civilisations that are now long gone. It is one of the few academic disciplines not to rely on textual sources, as its subject of study is a direct referent – a shard of the past of humanity. The paramount topic that most of us mentally connect to archaeology is the
understanding of the symbolic system of Ancient Egypt. Architecture, sculpture, and other fields of fine art reached unbelievable levels during the high Egyptian era, and sedimentary layers uncovered by archaeologists uncovered for us their specific visual style, mostly based on austere modelling of the human figure.

In the case of these architectural monuments and figurative sculptures made from the hardest types of rock, their material character and form of processing allowed them to survive the weather and the ravages of time for millennia. This element of longevity – or, perhaps, notional immortality – was fundamental for Egyptian culture, as it was connected to life after death, the mental centre-point of the
culture’s thinking at the time. If we face the noble sculptures of a pharaoh or a sphinx, we will often notice they are missing important body parts. The flowing curves of a shoulder are suddenly cut off by a straight facet and in place of a hand, we encounter empty space. At this point, an interesting aesthetic process begins in the spectator, naturally “imagining in” these missing body parts, even though we consider this a beautiful object despite its natural defects. Of course, this principle is not restricted to Egyptian art – another example, perhaps better known, is the Ancient Greek Venus de Milo, who is missing both arms.

If we try to imagine her with both arms, our visual experience of this scene might be highly confusing. Turning our attention to the figural sculptures of Ondřej Filípek, we notice a similar phenomenon. His figures are often intentionally missing important body parts, partly referencing the traditional archaeological findings discussed above. The language of his sculptures is one of relentless, even brutal
urgency, forcing the spectator to accept this new form of figuration based on intentional absences. The phenomenon of absence plays a crucial role in the photographs of Ivan Pinkava. Though we could not call this direct figurative deformation, we could easily come to feel that something else might be found in the photographic image. This principle became prominent in Pinkava’s work when it began shifting from figurative to non-figurative. These still-lifes possess a particular feature – in most cases, they present residual elements of everyday use by humans: mattresses, soft foam, beds, chairs. They are indexical; imprints of particular people whose bodies have become inscribed in these temporal storage cases, unwittingly leaving behind a trace both of themselves and of ourselves, generally speaking.

The synthesis of artworks by Ondřej Filípek and Ivan Pinkava might leave the audience with a disruptive, perhaps even dark feeling. Ondřej Fiípek’s manner of figuration works not only with absent body parts, but also with directed deformation that could evoke physiognomic defects or injuries. Francis Bacon, a leading exponent of new figuration, used similar means of expression, as does the current leading figure of the Young British Artists, Marc Quinn. Similarly, in the works of Ivan Pinkava, we might find in the harmonic compositions places where the artist seems not to have fully spoken what he meant, perhaps leaving us intentionally in the dark. The objects emanate, the figures collapse or are absorbed by other materials. The work of both artists contains human finitude, but – similarly to the statues of the Egyptian kings – also an attempt to come to terms with the inevitable end and offer a path that has been with us since time immemorial: the path of visual representation.