Third Family of Objects and Confrontational Readings Sept. 12, 2012
hunt kastner is very pleased to present Third Family of Objects, by the Prague-based artist, Jiří Skála. In 2007, Skála presented Dvě skupiny předmětů / Two Families of Objects at hunt kastner: an exhibition inspired by, and named after, an essay written by Umberto Eco after visiting the Milan Trade Fair in 1970. The exhibition included a series of color photographs of industrial machinery taken by the new owners, and former employees, of the bankrupt Škoda Klatovy factory in Southern Bohemia. This equipment had been gradually sold off by the company in a futile effort to cover its mounting debts before it finally closed down in 2005. Skála’s mother, for example, received the turning lathe on which she had worked for 22 years as a present for her 50th birthday, from her husband, in 2001. This exhibition project was followed by the book Jedna skupina předmětů / One Family of Objects, published by JP Ringier in 2010, that further examined how the relationship between the worker and their machinery has evolved during the period of the radical social and economic transformation that has taken place in the Czech Republic over the past 20 years.
In his new exhibition project, Jiří Skála continues in his study of the means of production and contemplates on the radical changes that it has undergone since his parent’s time. In this performance based work, Skála focuses on a production tool that is widely used across the globe today, but that has no concrete physical form – the Internet. In a series of performances and confrontational readings between several participants, the artist will attempt to bestow a physical form on a series of subjects ranging from the internet phenomena of ‘unboxing’; Carrie Bradshaw and her relationship with her Mac Powerbook G3; an online chat session about Beyoncé’s hit single ‘Best Thing I Never Had’; or a conversation about the history of the Hermès Birkin bag initiated by a widely publicized incident at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2006 where actress Lindsay Lohan’s orange Birkin bag was reportedly stolen.
There will be twelve performances that will take place in the gallery space during opening hours approximately every other day, in the afternoon, throughout the exhibition period. The performances will video-taped and at the end of the exhibition edited into one video as a final product for future viewing and exhibition. The project can also be followed on the blog thirdfamilyofobjects.blogspot.cz.
Jiří Skála: Born 1976 in Klatovy, lives and works in Prague. He studied from 1998-2004 at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts in the studio of visual communication (Ateliér vizuální komunikace) under Jiří David and in studio of painting (Malba II) under Vladimír Skrepl, and at the post-graduate program at Palais de Tokyo, Paris from 2002-3. His work has been presented at such international exhibitions as the Tirena Biennale I (2001), Palais de Tokyo (2002 and 2003), the Prague Biennale II (2005, 2009), Art in General (2006), the UBS Gallery in New York (2008), 3rd Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2009), Index Gallery, Sweden (2010), Wiels Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels (2011); and most recently in the exhibitions A Plea for Tenderness, curated by David Raymond Conroy at the Seventeen Gallery in London; The Beginning of the Century, curated by Pavlina Morganová at the Western-Bohemian Gallery in Pilsen; Islands of Resistrance. Between the First and Second Modernity 1985-2012, curated by Jiří & Jana Ševčikovi and Edita Jeřabková at the National Gallery in Prague. He is a co-founder of the Etc. Gallery in Prague, established in 2004, and a member of the PAS group, together with the artist Tomáš Vaněk and curator Vít Havranek. He is listed in the Younger than Jesus Artist Directory of young innovative international artists compiled by the New Museum in New York, and in November of 2009 was awarded the Jindřich Chalupecký Award for young artists in the Czech Republic by Vaclav Havel. He is currently assistant professor in the studio of conceptual art (Ateliér konceptuální tvorby) at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague.
In his new project, Skála continues to explore the relationship between people and objects in the context of transition from the Fordist mode of production to the precarious times we live in today. Following his 2007 exhibition Two Families of Objects, and One Family of Objects, a book published in 2010, this is Skála’s third elaboration on the subject. His 2007 exhibition portrayed employees of a shut-down factory who bought the machines they used to operate when it was still up and running. Through the act of the purchase they upset the boundary between two categories of objects, as defined by Umberto Eco: between commodities as things designed for pleasure, and machines which represent strictly utilitarian and unattractive objects used for the production of commodities. In his current project, Skála examines objects which possess the qualities of both. This third category is comprised of machines and other practical tools which are primarily commodities, such as different kinds of electronic devices like computers, sound systems or fashion accessories. They belong to the world of leisure and entertainment. They are fully functional but they are not a part of any manufacturing system. Even though they are designed to serve a practical function (computers are often the principal means of production), they are treasured as pure objects of desire, valuable in themselves and revered, like a fetish, for their functional, technical parameters. Functionality is thus separated from function and transformed into a point of attraction. A phenomenon called unboxing, which has recently been spreading on the internet, demonstrates this curious attitude to commodities. Unboxing consists of unwrapping a brand-new product in front of a camera. The proprietor enjoys every moment of the sensual experience of removing the layers of packaging one by one until he eventually discovers a beautiful new device.
The first one to notice that the quality of a ‘thing’ multiplies in connection with capitalist mass-production was Karl Marx. In the section on fetishism of commodities in the Capital, he described commodities as mysterious and fantastic ‘things whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses’, whose exchange-value replaced their use-value. According to Marx, money illustrated this phenomenon at the most extreme: although money has no use-value, it is the most worshipped because it is the dominant means of exchange. Guy Debord attempted to describe further erosion of the use-value of commodities in the context of the growing power of the entertainment business and mass media culture. He suggested that in today’s society of the spectacle we no longer need to possess the object of our desire, we are satisfied with gazing – a commodity is replaced by an image. The dichotomy of reality and appearance which formed the essence of Debord’s critique of the spectacle, disappears in Jean Baudrillard’s concept of ‘hyper-reality’. Baudrillard argued that there is no real model for ‘simulacra’ and that ‘sign-value’ has replaced the exchange-value and use-value.
All these concepts clarify the schism between the instrumental purpose of a commodity and its fetish status, as it relates to the capitalist mode of production and which is growing stronger today. Our choice of theory to interpret the examples of commodity fetishism discussed by Skála will depend on what perspective we assume – the one of the consumer, factory worker, or of the freelance artist? The author himself is informed by all three because his life experience contains elements of each. Skála was born in a family of factory workers and worked as an apprentice in the same factory as his parents. As a contemporary artist, however, he operates in the Post-Fordist mode of production, which sees no difference between work time and leisure. After all, not even he can fully resist the seductive power of beautiful new devices sealed in packaging which is still intact – and neither can we.
Václav Magid, Prague, 2012
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From his interview video here:
Unboxing “For me, it is a reflection, of the way our society functions, the way it relates to its means of production, and the way our use of the means of production has changed during the last 30 or 40 years. The times dedicated to work and to consumption have merged, so today we don’t know if we’re working or consuming. Many different things get intertwined. And that’s what I find interesting. The art form of montage helps me shape all the information and experiences in a poetic way.”
His blog at: thirdfamilyofobjects.blogspot.cz.