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Michaela Labudova – Present Absence

20. 5. – 3. 7. 2021 / Gallery 2

Opening: 19. 5. 2021 at 7 pm

Artist: Michaela Labudová
Curator: Adéla Machová

“We have got the fruit of creation now, and need not trouble ourselves with the core. Every conceivable object of Nature and Art will soon scale off its surface for us. Men will hunt all curious, beautiful, grand objects, as they hunt the cattle in South America, for their skins, and leave the carcasses as of little worth,” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes — a poet and all-rounder in an 1859 article entitled The Age of Photography for The Atlantic. His prophetic words foretold a new culture based on consumerism and visual mass production that would unscrupulously place form (or even just the surface of things) above anything else. Today, Holmes’ text, more than 160 years old, describes our reality with chilling accuracy, and perhaps the most painfully caricatured practice of graphic design, as evidenced by the fact that theorists of visual culture repeatedly return to it.

Michaela Labudová has been involved in critical design for a long time, both as a theorist and, above all, as a designer and pedagogue. Looking at her series of authorial banners Present Absence, Holmes’ prophecy might come to mind, although the author does not refer directly to it. In a series of large-format banners, Labudová works with mock-ups and images from photobanks. She mixes and modifies the original material as a DJ remixing the original records into new sound. She consciously works with very strong graphic trends and contemporary aesthetics using magnificent and bold gestures the way that can eclipse the complete absence of other content. The author works by the same means as Holmes’ surface hunters — our colleagues in the field, just to bring the same procedures and methods ad absurdum. This way is Labudová creating a humorous and chilling hyperbole to the current practice of graphic design.

The chosen visual language in her work massively took a place in large-scale design about ten years ago, and still holds the mark of a kind of progressivity. It is a way of working in which the design shows its own gut on the outside: it acknowledges its digital tools and environments, the materiality of pixels, grids and guides, the interface and the background of the editors. You can feel the connection to the spirit of postmodernism, readability is not considered the highest goal, but rather a sign of excessive banality and low visual literacy of the viewer and the creator. It is the language of Baroque-digital visual pleasure, perhaps even Rococo-like flirting with pixels and digital rasters. If there was an effort to aesthetically acknowledge one’s materials and tools (in the manner of exposed concrete in architecture) at the beginning of this visual trend, over the years something like “naked make-up” has emerged — designed authenticity and pseudo-sincerity. In her series, Michaela Labudová brings these trends to the edge of bearability, makes them upside down — and above all, shows their complete emptiness.

The material solution of the series also refers to emptiness. The banners are printed on the synthetic elastic fabric leading us to the world of swimwear or leggings, to a world where printing becomes just a nice-looking decor. The metal handles then resemble advertising banners. However — ads for what? Beneath the glossy surface of the captivating visual game is emptiness. Perhaps it refers to the missing ambitions and visions of graphic artists who are too reckless about the contents of their works, perhaps to the too formalistic, meaningless trends that dominate our visual culture, perhaps to the lack of interest in the meaning and quality of the products we send to a world covered in tempting surfaces.

In her graphic work, Michaela Labudová focuses on typography, corporate identity, book design and illustration. Since 2007 she has been a member of graphic group Monsters, which in 2013 prepared installation called Room for gallery GASK in Kutná Hora. Michaela Labudová is studying for a doctorate in Visual Communication at the Faculty of Art and Design at JEPU, where she has been teaching long term and since this year, together with Pavel Frič, she has been running the Visual Design Studio.