Palo Macho / Jozef Jankovič: VICTIMS WARNING (AGAIN!)
We cordially invite you to the opening of the exhibition Palo Macho / Jozef Jankovič: VICTIMS WARNNING (AGAIN!) on Monday 6/02/2023 at 18:00 at NOVA Gallery. We are looking forward to you!
- NOVA gallery, Baštová 2, 811 03 Bratislava
Exhibition opening: February 6, 2023 at 6 p.m.
Exhibition duration: February 6 – March 18, 2023
Author: Palo Macho
Curator: Peter Michalovič
Exhibition design: Marcel Benčík
Anyone who knows at least a little about the history of Slovak visual arts knows that the first half of the exhibition's title is the name of the famous sculpture of Jozef Jankovič. This sculpture can be interpreted as both a monument and a document. It is a monument because it warns against any possible recurrence of a war conflict in which not only soldiers die on the battlefield, but also defenseless civilians. It is a documentary because the fate of the statue has become a barometer of freedom in our society. The restriction of freedom manifested itself, among other things, in the fact that the statue primarily became the object of ideological evaluation, and opposition to it grew in direct proportion to the restriction of freedom. For several years, it was transferred to another place, where it was not so visible and provocative. The release of the space of freedom was also manifested in the fact that the sculpture was accepted by society and primarily was once again the subject of artistic and aesthetic evaluation.
The fact that Palo Macho chose the name of Jankovič's sculpture and supplemented it with a short word in parentheses, which without redundant allusions announces that something is wrong in our world again and we should increase our sensitivity to what is happening in it . It is the right time to realize that freedom did not fall from the sky and is not here forever. Freedom must be constantly fought for, because there are always many powerful people who would like to deny it, if not to all, then at least to some social groups. The dangerous thing is not that they strive for it, the dangerous thing is that they supposedly do it for our good and in the name of values that supposedly no one can question.
One of the ways to strip these "good guys" of their philanthropic masks and show that their intentions are evil is precisely art. As an artist, Jankovič created engaging art that urgently pointed out that violence is here and needs to be constantly pointed out. To expose its bizarreness, grotesqueness, rudeness and even stupidity. He was engaged, but engaged beyond any ideology, serving only cultivated taste and critical reason.
In 2011, Jankovič agreed with Macho to cooperate, and the results of their joint efforts were presented at several joint exhibitions. It was interesting what this collaboration brought to one and the other. Jankovič was fascinated by glass as a medium. On the one hand, the glass attracted him by qualities unknown to him until then, and on the other, it resisted him. He forced the glass to accept his figures, the familiar signs of faces, hands and generally signs of fragments of the human body. It seemed to him that no matter what he did, these signs in the glass were still beautiful, and their beauty seemed to prevent them from expressing his attitude. Macho was intrigued precisely by these figures and tried to find a new context for them that would give them an unexpected meaning. When it comes to the context, it should be remembered that the context in the joint project consisted of three types of artifacts. The first were Jankovič's, the second Macho's, and the third their joint works. Each work can be perceived and interpreted separately, and at the same time together they formed a whole of a higher order, in which they "illuminate" each other and participate in the multiplication of meaning with their joint forces.
After Jankovič's death, a number of unprocessed glass and graphic fragments remained in Macho's studio. That's why he decided to process them. He adopted figurative morphology from Jankovič and intericonicly followed up on his lifelong involvement in drawing attention to violence. He tried to develop this link, to vary Jankovič's themes and to update them. What does it mean? In my opinion, above all, Macho knows well that art does not depict the world out there, it has no ambition to immortalize any event, but wants to react to what is happening in our world. And that's why Macho wants to react first and foremost as an artist and also as a citizen. In short, he wants to react as someone who is not indifferent to the current events in society. Macho with Jankovič's "help" tries to convince us that engaged art not only fights AGAINST something and someone, but is also FOR something. This means that he deliberately makes allusions to values that, as an artist, he cannot precisely articulate with words, but he can convincingly approximate them with images. With his works, he does not establish a protest movement, but wants to contribute to the patient building of a community of free people who lead passionate disputes and defend their truths, profess common moral values, who never have the ambition to negatively interfere in the lives of others. By choosing works of art, they actually defend the right to individual taste, because it does not require the approval of others. Having taste is an individual's right, and it must remain so forever.
However, the exhibition Victims warning (again!) can also be interpreted as a tribute to Jozef Jankovič. A tribute to the artist who appreciated that his works served as a stimulus that the other accepted, processed and created the need for a new creation. With this project, Macho does not continue where their joint work ended, but diverted part of the work in a different direction, which I find extremely interesting.
Macho introduced Jankovič to a new medium and helped him embrace it and expand his individual style to a new dimension. Jankovič once again drew Mach's attention to the figure. Again, because at the beginning of Mach's artistic work, he liked Jankovič's figures, but he knew that he was not yet ready to establish an equal dialogue with the master, and therefore, after 2000, he stopped dealing with them as a stimulus for possible creation. When Macho decided to work with Jankovič years later, he knew that he was now ready for this dialogue. For a dialogue that will allow him to deal with figures as iconic signs, which, if they are situated in a new context, will acquire a new meaning, and this is the result of the work of both artists. New meaning is created in the common space, because iconic signs are like words that have been spoken by someone before. When someone else says these words, they not only quote them, but also put them into a new context. The latter can either confirm their original meaning or change them. Similarly, Macho takes over and incorporates some of Janković's iconic characters into new contexts, thereby changing their original meanings and purports. Changing meanings does not mean negating the original meanings, but multiplying them, which is also why Mach's work is a continuation of the dialogue with Janković through other means. Thanks to this special dialogue, he realized that in creation it is not the final shape that is important, but the shaping, with each individual work representing only one phase of this process. Creation is not supposed to stabilize thought patterns, but to receive new stimuli capable of changing artistic thinking. When it can do that, it never gets lost, even when it doesn't know where he is. Palo Macho has the courage to change his way of thinking, although he knows that change may not lead to success, but without change it is simply not possible, and therefore one must take risks, because those who do not want to take risks will never take a step forward.
The theme of the exhibition is a certain form of cooperation with Jozef Jankovič. How are we to understand it?
I started working with Jozef in 2011. Two years ago, I found glass fragments and graphics in the studio that Jozef had prepared, but we didn't have time to work with them. I wanted to prepare a small exhibition from these segments last year for his 85th birthday, which he missed. For me, it was a challenge, how to return to our joint works after five years, how to construct new frameworks, their further interpretations. To remember the human time we spent together. At the same time, this work gives me the opportunity to create a current context that I would not be able to define within my autonomous work. From a practical point of view, my intention was to definitively process the last fragments that remained from our collaboration and at the same time differentiate these objects from the ones we worked on together. I was looking for an art form that would acknowledge that these are the last works, but at the same time not be reverent. That's why I chose glass boxes, sort of boxes for archiving. We have stored and archived important documents in the boxes and we take them out if necessary. I'm archiving Jankovič's legacy, while evolving the form. Frosted glass boxes also allow or speak of a certain censorship of what the frosted glass covers. At the same time, the boxes carry a color intervention, a comment on their surface. It's not a painting. It is a color layer. The events of the last year intensified the context of Jankovič's "archived" works and the injury of human figures became even more relevant. That's why I called the exhibition Victims Warning (Again). The victims keep warning, the word sounds more urgent again.
Through what was Jankovič's topic re-actualized?
I would not limit the topic of Jankovič's work to the period of socialism. In my opinion, his involvement is not determined by the time frame. That's what fascinates me about it. That's why our cooperation worked. He did not work with socialist symbolism, nor with the opposite symbolism. I don't think he was anti-socialist, he was non-socialist, non-communist. He conceived his autonomous program, which has not changed even in the post-socialist era. That was not the socialist figure he was working with. His shapes alienated the bodily form, turning into figurative signs, which today we can read as Janković's autonomous signs. Through these autonomous signs, he gained a distance, sometimes even an ironic or grotesque perspective.
Self-irony is also characteristic of objects that work with photographs of our characters. He broke us both, twisted and bent us. I mostly work with this motif on the exhibited objects. Jozef used to say that human nature does not change, only circumstances and conditions change. From today's point of view, his work does not only apply to the political totalitarian regime. Every regime - religious, economic, political - can show elements of manipulation, torture, humiliation of the human being. Manipulation of man by man, to deprive him of freedom, independence, dignity and thus control him, I observe as a permanent effort. Therefore, it is important to insist on free expression and thinking through art as well.
My work is not engaged in this way, do I work in a different way?
It depends in what sense it is not engaged. It is true that I have never reacted a priori to the current political situation. However, this does not mean that I do not reflect on what is happening in the world. I have respect for engaged art. I'm glad that things are talked about directly, without coding, manifesting. I understand that.
I am interested in experiments, I deliberately write attempts to unravel some secret, to confirm a general principle. I try to maintain technological and material quality, but that is not the point. This way of working provokes new solutions and postpones the proverbial last step ad infinitum. The only and true answer was not and is not interesting to me. That doesn't make sense to me when it comes to engaged art. I enjoy exploring possibilities of both meaning and material. And keep the space for polemic, innovative experiment. Figuratively speaking, as if I have placed small flashing lights on the surface or in the space - certain codes that create an abstract image. That image is never created in one moment. We see it only thanks to our visual memory. We don't need to see it either in its entirety or at once. It is enough for us that the possibility exists. This way it doesn't have to be one image, it can be parallel images. It can only be an illusion of reality. What matters is what these flashes, these images trigger in our minds.
How could this method work with Jankovič's approach?
Jozef's figurativeness and narrativity, even if symbolic, was sufficiently expressive for me, that's why I did not develop it as a co-author. My handwriting of interventions, painterly or relief comments, remained at the level of abstract painting. I worked with a destructive-constructive gesture, or I tried to integrate my signs into Jankovič's figures. I was looking for a different context for the figures, an ambiguous environment. It is true that such an alienated body form is rarely worked with today. I understood Janković's morphology as representative, but significant.
Currently, the figure is worked with more "on the body", more complexly. The author's physicality itself is desired, it is more concrete, much more intimate. And I'm not even talking about the topic of identity, that's a completely differently resonating topic. I didn't compare these approaches, although occasionally someone made a remark about the aforementioned obsolescence. If the author's/the author's admired intimacy is not placed in a general context, it starts to annoy me after a certain time. I don't need to see or know about all the intimacies. For me, authenticity, even physical authenticity, is not of primary importance. I don't care if the work is based on a real event or completely fictional. I'm not working on the documentary and I'm not sharing the imitation game. For illustration, I will mention the movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. In a glass bottle, one ABBA enthusiast kept a piece of excrement from one of the band members. In opposition, I would put Piero Manzoni's concept from 1961, when he enclosed 30 grams of his excrement in 60 cans labeled Merde d'artiste. It follows that intention is important. Chekhov says in Ivanov: "Even a horse can drink; but to drink in such a way that it has some meaning!" Umberto Eco defined it as intentio operis. And what makes sense to me is what has general validity.
I'm not looking for attraction, fun or humor in art. I look for themes and interpretations through hints, through experiment, through ambiguity. I started with texts, writing texts, and that's why texts or concepts help me. Through a certain manipulation, they evoke an impulse in me, on the basis of which I create. However, not through concepts, but through the image itself, I return to the interpretation of those concepts. This is how I also worked with texts. I carried an abstract concept in my head and looked for its reflection in everyday situations. Or vice versa.
Not everyone appreciates the "glass" part of Jankovič's work. They prefer the "Iron Age".
Building a qualitative analysis of creation on the fact that iron is hard and rusty, i.e. ugly, and glass is shiny, i.e. beautiful, is not a great discovery from a professional point of view. A remark on the same level as when someone says that they only recognize an oil painting, or only a bronze sculpture. For the material to determine the importance of the creation and perhaps the quality of the statement, that is slippery superficial. Jozef was aware of the material he was working with, prepared for it and used it. He sometimes remarked with humor that no matter how much he cut the figures, they still looked nice in the glass. Thus, the aesthetics of glass was done with for him. In retrospect, I think that Jozef transferred some of his experiences from glass to metal reliefs. Those are the plates carved with a water jet. Someone solves the aesthetics of glass all the time, but the question posed in this way is a useless problem. There is no need to be discouraged by this, an artist does not have time to wait for something to click for someone. He needs to create, and to quote Jozef again, he is responsible only to himself, to no one else. We shouldn't take everything so seriously. Not even ourselves, it certainly helps reduce big egos.
I am not taking myself seriously?
I work in all seriousness, of course. But I prefer to look at the results from a distance. I don't think there is more kitsch in glass than there is in painting or sculpture. Only this field of art is undifferentiated. Glass has strong affects and they confuse even an expert, let alone a layman. Glass confuses with craftsmanship, technologies and the material itself. The utilitarian form and design also blend into the glass, which complicates the view of this material. In the sixties, Vladimír Kopecký developed the concept of ugly glass. Today, this ugly glass is very beautiful, and we already consider other glass as ugly, which in a few years will become more beautiful, replace the new ugly glass, and so on.
Jankovič's glass was figurative, narrative, no minimalism...
I sometimes hear that the best in glass is minimalism, clarity, purity. It's such a meaningless cliché. The material and the artists themselves are partly to blame. This is usually said from the position of emotions. What do we really mean by minimalism? Empty? Clean glass, i.e. polished, preferably clear or polished? This form is not superior to anything and is only one of the possibilities. If I said that no theme automatically determines the quality of a work, no form alone guarantees quality. Jankovič's glass objects are a good example of why minimalism, even in glass, cannot be a general goal of creation. Because some topics simply cannot be visualized in a minimalist way, they would become schematic. No idea in visual art can stand on its own, no matter how important. It must be sufficiently qualitatively processed. For me, both content and form and mastery of technology are important.
Are we talking about injured figures?
I'm talking about hurt people. Jankovič's legacy and visuality can be appropriated by any wounded person, any oppressed community. That is why I am using this exhibition and this interview to comment on the state of Slovakia. It reminds me of the nineties, when politicians used the Hungarian card as a weapon. From day to day, they labeled a neighbor as an enemy or a culprit, even though until then all have lived together. Sometimes they choose Hungarians, sometimes Jews, sometimes Roma. Now they bet on LGBTI+. I understand it only as a populist weapon to gain votes and thus to gain power. They want to dictate how we should treat our bodies? From a position that absolutely does not belong to them? Although these people got into the parliament, but from the point of view of elementary morality, they should not get there. What happened in Slovakia? Why did this humble, peaceful and hospitable Slovak nation, as it likes to present itself, give them this power? They pretend to protect morality more than the Pope. It is their pride, godlikeness and desire for power. They say that LGBTI+ threaten the family? How can a gay/lesbian endanger a family? Infidelity with a heterosexual wife? Infidelity with a heterosexual husband? Do they abuse children? In Slovakia, they still confuse a gay with a pedophile, that's another problem. It is interesting that the so-called defenders of morality look at LGBTI+ mostly from the point of view of sexual practices. I feel that politicians and church dignitaries talk about these topics with a kind of perverted obsession to imagine it in detail. Why should I imagine a heterosexual only from the position of sexual practices? That is perverse to me.
I remember that some people in Púchov were devoted communists during socialism, and in Trenčín there were fervent Catholics at Sunday mass. That was the schizophrenia of the time. Such schizophrenia still remained in us. It was used as a convenient duplicity, even though duplicity is not required. A person is willing to accept a gay neighbor, but when he has to make an official statement on this topic, he does not see the gay as his neighbor, but sees the gay/lesbian as a mirage full of danger and perversion, concocted for him by politicians with the zealous support of the church.
The politicians are the problem?
Many politicians who abuse their power are also a problem. They are democratically elected by the voters, therefore many voters, many Slovaks in every town and village are also a problem. No one else is to blame for this, only many of those "good" Slovak men and women. The black-and-white understanding of the world, the division into good and bad, this fairy-tale approach that a frog turns into a prince and that a destructive psychopath turns into a constructive politician after the elections, is after all naive and immature. And Slovak society operates at such a level. By that I also mean university-educated people. When a fellow professor declares that only healthy heterosexual men should be in leadership positions, it can't even be taken as a bad joke. Interestingly, these topics resonate across society more strongly than education, healthcare and culture. After all, it is enough to compare with the neighboring Czech Republic and we can clearly see how we have fallen behind. Politicians know very well that the atmosphere they create will begin to develop among their voters.
Who fights against the gay the most?
A heterosexual can fight against a gay/lesbian when he acts from a position of superiority of his religious or fascist beliefs. This is how a careerist acts, when every "argument" to denigrate a competitor is used as a weapon. This can be afforded in a society in which such a strategy has a response, which evidently works in Slovakia. It can also be a latent gay or bisexual person, living the life of a heterosexual, mostly married, who did not express himself for various reasons and developed a complex connected with anger towards the world and towards himself. For this malice, he blames those who have resolved this contradiction and live their lives openly. I have also tracked the behavior of men and women, "males and females", who are permanently hunting and are used to a positive response. At least in the form of flirting. Knowing that there will be no response from gays/lesbians, they are constantly provoked, feel humiliated, and their unsatisfied sexual ego forces them to hunt again and again. For a balanced heterosexual LGBTI+ is not a reason for conflict.
Is it possible to live in this?
Should a young person wait until the people around learns? Until someone passes laws? Until those laws are accepted and they are not annoyed, bullied, threatened and ridiculed? Not. There is only one life and you have to live it according to yourself. If your parents don't accept you, leave them. If you feel that life should be different and you see possibilities, go for them. Don't let your right to live life the way you want to be taken away. I believe that everyone has their place in the world. You have to look for this place and fulfill its meaning. I did not ask nor will I ask anyone how I should live, who I should love. It's just my thing. I am not asking anyone for tolerance, I took this right myself. I understand that not everyone will do it that way. Not everyone wants to fight. Someone has it in their nature, someone wants to devote time and energy to a profession or other topics that interest them. He wants to have the conditions created for this and not be dragged into and constantly confronted by the topic of sexual orientation. We are hanging around here and have been retreating for the past two years only because of the political capital that some are building on this topic. They go on vacation to tolerant countries, but at home they keep ignorant and declare it as conservative values.
Why don't I discuss sexual orientation?
What for? I'm not mad about it, not even about myself. I belong to a generation that did not deal with itself so intensively, I was interested in other topics. I don't think it's just a consequence of socialism. Information about whether someone from the queer community is a heterosexual or bisexual person is of interest only in context. Otherwise, I don't know how to deal with that information. I do not make entertainment or attraction out of any topic. There are topics that we look at from the point of view of a wider context and at the same time from the point of view of their specificity. Also sexual. That seems interesting to me, that's where the difference should start.
I agree that those for whom this topic is existential or therapeutic should be allowed to talk about it. The trend requires a different approach to oneself, to society, to the country. People are more sensitive to their person and their surroundings. They are more specific in their requirements. They demand to accept their differences, not just tolerate them. They have the right to do so, regardless of how Slovak society is currently set up.
Am I disappointed with the development?
I thought the progress would go faster. What outrages me the most is how politicians use hate speech in their campaign to protect the so-called traditional values. If they really cared about values, they would have to support the education of children in families, healthcare and culture, so that families and children can be educated and really have a chance to get out of their miseries.
When I sometimes feel that the development is going in a different direction, or that it is even worse, I have to remind myself of the change in 1989. My optimism depends on whether I look at those thirty years from the perspective of the universe, that is, from the perspective of history or from view of the temporality of your life.