30. 9. — 3. 11. 2021 / Main Hall DUÚL Masarykova ul.
Exhibiting artists: Michal Heriban (SK) , Gideon Horváth (HU), Lucie Hyšková & Petr Kubáč & Alexandra Naušová (CZ), Valentýna Janů (CZ), Marie Lukáčová (CZ), Silvie Milková (CZ), Jakub Ružinský (SK), Michaela Spružinová (CZ)
Curators: Adéla Machová & Jan Nový
Hearing the world “mythology” makes us think of the plethora of old myths and legends that we have marvelled at since we were children and that have been passed down the generations across cultures since time immemorial. The literal meaning of mythology was “storytelling.” Mythology was at the origin of all verbal arts and literature, long before philosophy was born at its expense. It explained everything that reason could not even begin to grasp, and so, naturally, it took over the role of cosmogony and all that we can nowadays collectively refer to as “science.”
The typical features of the mythological age are sensuality, corporeality, and imagination. Only by combining these elements could mythical creatures such as Cyclops, Cerberus and Medusa come into being. It might seem that mythology is long dead, that with the growth of human reason it is doomed to the imaginary abyss of history. Yet it is quite to the contrary! In fact, mythology is an inexhaustible source of inspiration for all artistic genres, not only the visual ones. That is why we have been constantly coming back to it and reminded of it via its new versions, adaptations, and forms. And just as our ancestors had the need to create mythology thousands of years ago, so do we today, albeit not in such a fairytale-like, simple, and striking way. To have a grasp of words is a privilege, and to have a good command of mythologies is power, as the eminent semiotician Roland Barthes who was devoted to the interpretation of myth, would surely confirm. Fake news, hoaxes, gossips, media distortions of the truth, all of this absorbs the essence of modern myth, which is, however, far more dangerous than the archaic ones.
When it comes to the mythology heritage, we are primarily interested in what this “heritage” is. Is it the topics? Certain characters? Certain models? Archetypes? Ideals? And the answer is: all of the above. Through its narratives, mythology presents us not only with many archetypes and stereotypes, but also with many ideals as well as moral and emotional models that have, to some extent, been accepted as canons, dogmas, and model cases across the centuries. This was, after all, noticed already by Carl Gustav Jung when interpreting mythology within the field of analytical psychology (the archetypes). However, in the end, it is up to us to make the final decision whether we accept and submit to the myths or whether we redefine them and turn them into entirely new mythologies. We create allegories, theories, and new mythologies full of stories with strong narrative lines; we take inspiration from our own corporeality and inwardness; and we prefer to tell stories that are about us – about us humans. Through mythology, we escape the often complicated reality of a world oversaturated with technicality and rationality. And if anything, it is this imaginary treasure that is the legacy of mythology.
The artists who have been invited to participate in the exhibition project work with the same elements that were significant for the creation of the original myths. At the same time, they represent the redefining new voice of our time, although each of them speaks to the viewer in a completely different and distinctive language.
Michal Heriban shatters the myth of showing details of the human body, specifically of the lower limbs. Indeed, legs have almost always been depicted in relation to the female sex and intended for the male gaze. In Heriban’s rendering, though, they symbolize the working instrument of a dancer, depicted at rest, in constant silence. Through his canvases and legs, the artist tells the myth of physical strength, determination, discipline, and self-denial required by all physical activities. If we think more deeply about this depiction, we can notice a certain parallel with the current social media trend of photographing feet in various positions and overhead views. I dare say, however, that the pictures shared on social media do not depict the dancers’ working tools but have a much different and more instinctive meaning – the feet have become a new visual fetish, popular mostly among men.
In his series, Gideon Horváth empathises symbolically with the mythological figure of Faun who represents a queer character, uprooted from his homeland and finding peace in the wilderness. Considering the contemporary queer issue in the author’s native Hungary, this parable is more than chilling. Beeswax, the primary material used by the author, is ambivalently symbolic on its own – on the one hand, it is delicate, easy to shape, fragile and vulnerable, on the other hand, it is resistant, sticky, unpredictable and very strong. In his current project, Gideon Horváth focuses on the contemporary representation of the mythological figure of Faun and his Bacchanalian world. He observes and retells this parallel universe using queer-ecological theories and contemporary underground queer cultures. He treats Faun as a character in exile, focusing on certain queer hypersensitivity of his and his simultaneous displays of resilience, both of which appear to be emancipatory powers. A great inspiration for Horváth’s work was the film Paris Is Burning (1990), which documents the drag scene in 1980s New York. In the title of the exhibited work, the artist quotes one of the film’s characters, “Opulence! You own everything.” According to Horvath, this statement reflects the wealth represented by the underground queer community’s chameleon-like ability to transform itself into almost anything. The community members can mould themselves into many shapes and take on almost any form, much like the material chosen by the artist, ever-changing, fluid and a bit strange – the beeswax. The piece also represents the qualities of Ops, the Roman fertility goddess. In Horváth’s conception, wealth (opulence) is a special quality that either helps us to fit smoothly into the norms of the repressive heteronormative society or, contrarily, subverts it and creates something unexpected that can lead us to a much-needed change of perspective.
Lucie Hyšková, Petr Kubáč and Alexandra Naušová allude in their work to the theme of freedom and the journey towards it, which is one of the recurring themes in mythology. At the same time, in their triptych of large-format digital photographs called Do You Feel Freer?, they turn to the phenomenon of tattooing, the origins of which can be traced back to approximately the same time as the emergence of mythology, with which it is very closely linked. What was originally the sacred privilege of the chosen few has become a common fashion. The authors collectively reflect on the genesis of this ancient phenomenon and on the absurdity of how what was originally a purely ritualistic matter has become a mere fashion, in many cases even a kind of pose.
In her work Is Your Blue the Same as Mine?, Valentýna Janů takes a bold metaphor for society and presents us with a new myth – the myth of a capitalist young girl, which has become an almost globally applicable parable. In 1999, the French collective of authors called Tiqqun published a book of various writings entitled Premiers matériaux pour une Théorie de la Jeune-Fille (Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl) which formulated a parallel to contemporary society in the form of the somewhat problematic archetype of the young girl who is a slave to consumerism. Despite the fact that our society is ageing, the concept of the woman as a symbol of life is in many ways being replaced by the young girl. “Is your blue the same as mine?” the girl asks. Can two pairs of eyes see the same colour? The author is trying to draw attention to the fact that our realities are becoming divided, and we each live our lives in our own private world. The rhythms of our lives, our emotional expectations, our political beliefs, and our view of ourselves all follow non-intersecting trajectories, an infinite number of which fills the universe. Is there any chance that all these trajectories of ours will ever converge?
Marie Lukáčová invites us into her own mythological fantasy world full of corporeality with her work Little in the Middle but She Got Much Back. In the series of drawings, the author interconnects and randomly composes the necessary extensions that burrow into or emerge from a mass. The parasites create new beings from the original bodies the images of which more or less correspond to the human body. The artist sees the drawings as her personal notes and often gives vent to a free flow of associations that include female genitals, eyes, fingers, nails, and skin sacs. These bodily symbols carry certain attributes of thought – the eyes and fingers carry a symbolic connection to the virtual world for the author. The eyes, as a pair of organs on which the whole culture is based and which we unconsciously destroy with blue light (that is why most of them are red in her drawings), and the fingers (nails), as a symbol of a kind of ports through which we transmit stimuli to virtuality. Animals, female organs, and skin overhangs reflect the artist’s inner attitudes towards gender, ecology, and society in general.
In her installation The Support of Morality, Silvie Milková works with a topic that is crucial for mythology and its overlap – morality itself. The installation consists of small-scale collages. They attack the viewer’s attention, imagination, and the need to ascertain whether the scene that is offered to their gaze is really what it seems at first sight. The artist’s starting point is lascivious but undetailed depictions of well-known works of world art, carrying a certain significance on their own. The author enriches the meaning with her own corporeality and distorts it with the aesthetics of surrealist eroticism, which she further supports visually with symbols characteristic for natural peoples and animism.
In his diptych Androgyne (Anima, Animus), Jakub Ružinský presents us with two basic, natural archetypes – anima, a term used in psychology to describe the unconscious female counterpart of the male conscious psyche, and animus, a symmetrical counterpart of the female psyche. Throughout his work, the author focuses on explorations of the human unconscious, which also reflects his personal experience and experiences. He subsequently perceives the creation itself as a form of ritual during which he purifies himself. Due to this, he also tends to paint automatically and intuitively. In his works, he explores the interplay of techniques and materials, opening up a more diverse space for himself to create various dreamlike structures and shapes.
With her installation Jungle Beat, Michaela Spružinová invites us to follow the visual myth of the winner and the loser. The theme is strongly inspired by the artist’s own professional career on the one hand and motherhood on the other. As both an artist and a mother, she often moves between the poles, and it is not always easy to reconcile these two roles, both very important in life. Although the installation may seem parodic, it is a very intimate female confession at its core. On a more general level, the artist also refers to the issue of sexual identity shaped by the consumer culture; glass objects, gloves and underwear can be seen as its attributes. The artist has been dealing with the critique of society across her work for a long time. Other themes include criticism of fashion trends, the ideal of beauty and perfection, and their influence on society. The installation stems from the artist’s longer-term interest in the human body, specifically the parts that are traditionally considered crucial in judging female beauty. She reshapes and takes these female forms to extremes – creating a new mythology of physical beauty taken to the absurd.
text: Jan Nový