Monument – Document – Mockument

27 Jun 2024 - 29 Dec 2024
Olomouc Museum of Art
(Exhibition)
Lev Nusberg (Dvizhenie), Model of the cyber theatre Transformation, 1967
Taking a piece by piece look at the works in museum collections that thematise the observed notions of monument – document – mockument, we discover the wide range of interpretative frameworks on offer. The Olomouc Museum of Art’s deepest and most distant probe goes back to Soviet history of the 1960s.

A remarkable set of photographic documentation of the works and activities of the artistic group Dvizheniye, or rather of two of its leading representatives, Lev Nusberg and Francisco Infante­Arana, documents their ambivalent relationship to monuments of national history. Anchored in the time of the space programme and simultaneously under the surveillance of the secret services, the members of the group, whose name trans­lates as Movement, return to the forbidden heroes of the Russian avant­garde. To the monuments of constructivism and suprematism, to the names of Kazimir Malevich, Alexander Rodchenko, Vladimir Tatlin and others. Their legacy has been silenced for decades and is returning to the scene with the symbolic emergence of the neo­avant­garde. The latter does not accept its revolutionary predeces­sors uncritically, but builds on their foundations – whether it wants to or not – and pushes them further.

An almost obsessive relationship with the Russian avant­garde and repeated references to its tradition as a kind of monument can be traced in the works of the Slovak artist Rudolf Sikora. Variants of black squares and Malevich’s graves show his preoccupation with a minimal, even spiritual sign that is supposed to stand in for the universalist idea of the interconnection of man, planet and universe. He uses signs both in relation to infinite space and time. The photomontages Nie?!, Nie?! (Self­portrait) or Highway (Day and Night) from 1980, which are maintained by the MUO, stand at the beginning of systematically de­veloped cycles. A star as a symbol for birth and a cross as a symbol for extinction, and in between them an arrow that symbolizes movement, short time and the unlimited duration of time. This seemingly prim­itive set of signs documents the relativity of space­time events with intrusive force. He turns from the great historical ones to the universal ones – he builds his own small monuments to them.

Milan Knížák also took the path of personal “momentary temples”. He dealt with the desire for the monumental and eternal either by physical actions or collages, in which he did not hesitate to cut up the globe and set it up with a residential cylinder. We observe two counterpoints to the escape from the banality of the socialist calen­dar. On the one hand, a subversive “countercultural” action docu­mented by the common medium of photography, and on the other, ordinary Thursdays from a school notebook that actually elaborate rather sloppily on grand concepts of monumental scale. Exaggerated banal objects elevated to new monuments populate the universe, the open and the urban landscape, the tension between the serious and the ironic rises to the surface.

The Slovak artist Jozef Jankovič was a master of mystification between the serious and the ironic. He chose a specific form of sculpture­archi­tecture within the medium of printmaking, which abolished the con­ventional duality of these two categories. Usually recorded in colour and perspective, the object has the dimensions of architecture but behaves like a sculpture in its arrangement. All the more so because the anthropomorphic forms partly underline the potential function of architecture­buildings. He deforms the human figure, which has long interested him as a sculptural object, in the axonometries of his “buildings”, thus giving it a critical, sometimes even existential, but above all ironic subtext. Jiří Valoch (Jozef Jankovič, 10 graphic letters, 1976–1978) distinguishes between comicality and grotesqueness – the latter, as the opposite of seriousness, characterises the mock­umentary level of Jankovič’s work. Valoch explains, “The uncertainty about the real form of Jankovič’s projects, namely their unclassifiability, also appears to us as grotesque… They are neither a real project nor an architectural drawing, nor are they a real image of the form of the hu­man figure, nor are they a purely fictional, subjective or fantasy image. It is the relationships between these aspects that interest the artist.”

From the Olomouc circle, one should consult the inventories of works by Jiří Žlebek and Ondřej Michálek. Žlebek’s sculptures and Michálek’s prints could already be seen side by side in the 1960s, but each con­tributed to our theme in his own way. Žlebek’s carefully executed polychrome sculptures with clearly legible meanings. The mocku­mentary in his conception is lucid and straightforward – statues of comrades with ingenious movement mechanisms directly attacked the pompous monumentality of portrait busts of statesmen or their automated manipulative practices. In Žlebek’s work, the grotesque returns to comic and humorous exaggeration.

Ondřej Michálek’s linocut cycles, on which he worked since the late 1970s, had a deeper, almost philosophical basis. As the art editor of the promotional department of the Flora Olomouc flower exhibitions, he was well aware of the shortcuts between what was depicted and how it was depicted. The distance between these concepts was al­ready filled by the conventions of the consolidating consumer society, which were already ready for criticism at that time. The false myths of modern idols quickly replaced the emptiness of older monuments and memorials. The exhibition’s multiplied backdrops in post­modernist garb decorated the barren landscape as new symbols of success and the fetish of progress.

A separate chapter of fiction in art and architecture is presented by the work of the Slovak group VAL (Voies et Aspectes du Lendemain), whose members Viera Mecková (1933) – Alex Mlynárčik (1934) – Ľudovít Kupkovič (*1943) were based in Žilina between 1968 and 1974 and from the early 1970s created visionary architecture projects together. Alex Mylnárčik, the main initiator, brought the concept of prospective architecture from Paris. Futurological designs with a serious face, worked out in detail and presented in the same way, were intended to move the development of society forward in a seemingly unprob­lematic way. Their code lacks irony and also distances them from their utopian siblings west of the Iron Curtain. While there it is often a pun and a blasphemy, VAL comes with an ethos of a new monument and a new monumentality. Eight projects in all, with no fees or chance of realisation, seek new heroes and reflect new themes – ecology, the spatial expansion of a growing population or visions of harness­ing new energies. The museum’s collection items Heliopolis (1968) and Acustikon (1969) will replace the loans of Viera Meckova and Tomáš Mecka in the exhibition probe. For the first time, we will see original sketches and contact copies of the projects Tribute to Hope and Courage / Memorial to E. A. Cernan (1974–1975) and Istroport/ Harbour on the Danube (1974–1976).

The last exhibition space of the Cabinet, where the selected set will be presented in variations during the Triennial, will be occupied by updates of the theme under study. Matej Smetana’s work will show the audience what exactly is happening on the timeline in the line­ar concept of the unchanging and the permanent. From a different perspective we will see the concepts of fiction and temporal and spatial manipulation thanks to the extension of Vendula Chalánková’s installation.