Erik Binder (1974) works in practically all media, from drawing, painting, graphics, through objects, installations to performance and working with music, sound, and poetry. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava and the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. He lives, creates, receives and broadcasts in Bratislava.
For Erik, art is a way of being in the world – a way of dealing with things, but also with words and thoughts. The principle of his creative process is the almost constant, spontaneous transformation of situations and materials.
He often and gladly welcomes the principle of chance and accident into the creative process. He aims to minimise his decision making, in order to “withdraw from the process, yet still accomplish”.
He’s inspired by subcultures such as hip-hop, skating, and street art. These are united by their respective new works not being created ex nihilo, but rather as a rearranging, layering, and mixing of existing elements. As such, Binder can also be seen as a “visual DJ” and “selector”.
The approach to material is involuntarily ecological and anti-elitist – for him, waste and any “low-end” objects are a full-fledged art resource. He recycles or “up-cycles” discarded materials, giving them a new life cycle. It accepts as equals both growth and emergence, as well as decay and destruction.
The author’s work fulfills the avant-garde idea of merging art with life, and also merging the viewer with art. Ideal visitors are willing to take a step from a passive “looking” to a more active and creative “perception”, and thus complete the work with their own story.
The video installation Pneumatrix (2016) was created in collaboration with several close people for the exhibition of the same name in Košice about a year before the car accident, which was of crucial transformational importance to Erik Binder. According to curator Petr Tajkov, the exhibition’s leitmotif was the symbols of our modern way of life pitted with pitfalls and obstacles.
The used tyres created pneumatrix – a microworld, where this symbol of the ecological burden lives a new, white life. Society’s unsustainable consumption and greed is thus the main theme of the work, which is an audiovisual contemplation about the purification of man free from materialistic desires. The outline of man is also the gateway to the metaphysical world (Same, Same but Different – Golem, 2014), which also includes the glowing Transformers butterflies that arose from car wrecks (2018), and according to the author have flown hundreds of thousands of kilometers.
In Stoic philosophy, pneuma (πνεῦμα) was the concept of the breath of life as an active generative principle behind individual and cosmos, and gives mass its shape and properties. In its highest form, the pneuma establishes the human soul (psyche). The word “pneuma” is a Greek translation of the Hebrew word “ruah” in biblical literature. It has several meanings: air, wind, soul, breath, vital principle. The word “matrix” refers to a cult film that dominated the imagination of pop culture at the turn of the millennium. Liberation from the matrix and knowledge of truth is painful, requiring radical change. In Pneumatrix, it is a child breaking the old order within a person who is renatus in novam infantiam (reborn into a new childhood).
The surprising “oeuvre” (construction, creation) of Košice artist Marko Blažo (1972 – 2021) is one of the most original and consistent of the generation. After graphic training at ŠUP in Košice, Blažo studied at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design (VŠVU) in the early 1990s at Rudolf Sikora’s quasi-free “open studio”. In the decade shortly after the revolution, when society was still curious about new art forms and young people’s creativity, Blažo’s presentations (e.g. chewing gum “paintings”, various surreal objects, and situational “game” installations) were immediately registered for their distinctive poetics. It comprised a rich, romantic, yet essentially melancholic world.
In the case of paintings, it was not a “realistic painting”, but rather a painting drawn or painted, essentially conceptual – the “gains” of the viewer consisted of a special constellation of return motifs and their associative power. They appeared here and variously layered and cycled the motifs of trains, building blocks; links to archeology, ancient and medieval architecture (pyramids, castles, support systems, abysses, simple churches, and magnificent cathedrals), and children’s or adolescents’ “ostalgic” world. The artist drew on cultural sediments of global cultural heritage, art history, and socialist visual experience.
He worked with motifs of this “memory bank” and repeatedly and ingeniously combined and composed them into new associations, which, since they were later generated by computer, overcame any spatio-temporal constraints.
Joga výkrik (Yoga Scream)
Joga výkrik represents one of several parallel areas of Blažo’s work. The motif of a cut cabbage head appears repeatedly in variations and combinations with other objects – becoming a continuation of sea foam in the well-known graphic series Hokusai, or overlaps with map contours in the Genealogy series.
In addition to fascinating ornamentality, the cabbage head also has various symbolic qualities. This Blažo could artfully highlight, and in his case we can speak of a kind of “cabbage iconography”.
In this case, the centre of the composition is the human face, borrowed from Munch’s famous Scream, mounted on a body in a lotus position with three legs and with hands growing organically into the vegetable structure. The starting point is probably computer graphics transferred to the medium of painting.
Manifested is Blažo’s unmistakable ability to combine fragments of various visual information into a whole that at first glance looks amusing, even humorous. But along with playfulness and wit, we can also perceive the claustrophobic density of stacked leaves, their curves and wavy lines, reminiscent of the human brain and a kind of map or deformed mandala – instead of clarity and order, we see a chaotic and pressurized tangle of paths. The body and mind, which are beyond control, seem to have grown into unnatural dimensions and shapes, separated from the subject, and thickened beyond tolerable proportions. A tension that can only be released by the catarrhal intensity of a scream. And also the determination to face confusion, to organize oneself and thus the world, to fold one’s body and attention into a yogic position, and to change chaos into simplicity, noise into silence, through meditation. The process we are all enduring today.
The work of Denisa Lehocká (1971), one of our most successful contemporary artists, is beyond the scope of language. As if the meaning contained in her works was the domain of a pre-reflective experience – the domain of a moving body, its visual and (imaginary) haptic (“touching”, tactile) sensations. We can detect several starting points that provide partial information about the works’ background, less so about the works themselves. One of these starting points was certainly the study of textiles at the Bratislava Secondary School of Applied Art, as well as subsequent years at Rudolf Sikora’s VŠVU studio. Other clues are the tradition of organic sculpture and an affinity for authors such as Eva Hesse, Eva Kmentová, and Mária Bartuszová. The time of Lehocká’s onset (the 1990s) and the-then prevailing post-conceptual tendencies in art must also be taken into account. Her drawings, objects and installations evade any attempt at analysis, and are the kind of art that negates attempts to rigidly adhere to a certain style or tradition.
It can be said that Lehocká has been consistently developing her artistic programme for several decades. And that her programme is actually the only temporally and spatially spread work that the author continuously associates, layers, or branches out in an associative and intuitive manner. The slowness of her objects, intuitive thinking and organic shapes can lead us to associations with feminism, and an archetypal female perception and world formation. Whilst using a number of sculptural, textile and painting techniques in her work, they all fail to define Lehocká. As a result, the main characteristic is the design, fulfillment, and revitalization of the space in which her work (usually spatial installations) is located.
bez názvu (Untitled)
In his famous essay Inside the White Cube, a key critical art theory text, Brian O’Doherty writes about the enormous sanctifying power of the Museum of Art, the most conventional format of which became the “white cube” in the twentieth century. It’s a kind of miraculous platform, an alchemical magic box, in which things transfigure and become more aesthetically pleasing and viewers more receptive. A kind of crystallization of things and senses.
The charm of the white cube and its politics have been repeatedly questioned. ‘Institutional criticism’ has ridiculed the museum’s transformative power as a “machine of vision” many times, classifying itself as the subject of art. Although mainstream art production has in the meantime gone in a different direction, some art still works and functions (!) in the white cube framework, and Denisa Lehocká’s work definitely belongs in this category.
Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to perceive and essentially trust the three artifacts precisely configured in the large room, and appreciate their qualities. Air and its vibration between objects. The relation between vertical and horizontal, suspended and laid; structural, shape and material diversity autonomous objects forming a spatial collage. Otherwise, we would not get closer to the central object of Denisa’s composition or perceive its perverse, even “abject” grandeur, all its morphological and material tensions: its cerebral power and testicularity, softness and strength, complexity and hybrid “composition”; gypsum sediments and plexiglass reflections, hair netting…
If we didn’t believe in the existence of autonomous art (Art White Cube), we would be reluctantly, an agnostic passing by, confirming that art is actually a man’s hunting.
Milan Tittel (1966) is one of the most distinctive authors of his generation, who until recently was rather “in the background” as a member of various art groups and collaborations. Fortunately, curator Aurel Hrabušický “discovered” him and put him centre stage. Although he deals with several media (found objects, performance, video, etc.), his starting point is sculpture, which he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design (VŠVU). The sculptural perception of space is also noticeable in the Karanténa (Quarantine) photographic series (since 2020), which is a kind of diary record of days spent in isolation. At first glance the deserted spaces and open horizons in the photographs evoke post-apocalyptic sadness, but they can also be read as the opposite – as symbols of freedom, peace and relief.
Tittel’s object work is characterized by an intimate scale. The installation method is intentionally inconspicuous, so the challenge is the very discovery of the artwork. It necessitates being approached with fingertips in order to perceive it. It requires physical proximity, maybe even touch. The objects that Tittel creates are largely defined by the physical and haptic qualities of the material used – softness or hardness, gloss, fragility. Although he does not create sculptures in the classical sense (in which to study the influence of his pedagogue – intermediate experimenter Vladimír Havrill), the most important feature of the author’s art remains contact with material. In this sense, the series Krátky život (Short Life) and Dno (Bottom) are interesting. Both cases have almost identical copies of natural formations (butterflies, mushrooms), which the author “re-creates” in an artificial material (PVC, silicone). As if the experience of physical contact with objects (their touching, organizing, or creating) was a necessary condition for their full understanding, feeling – the way to unity.
Vernisáž (Vernissage). 2000
At first glance, the genre work, almost optimistic, deceives the body and attracts with a quite typical, unheimlich quality. It could be a mock-up, but why so “softened”? Or a kind of voodoo object, a “doll’s house” which the artist “knocked up” in the studio, and there he observes and subjects it to various (thermal?) experiments… The object’s material substrate is again mysterious. It looks soft and rubbery, like a pastry tempting to touch, to lick. Even with its “gallery” dimension, it (this self-referential object of the Gallery) is disturbingly associative. We wish to shrink into the object or zoom in, and thus become a part or at least an observer of the “art world”. So: institutional metaphor or meta-form – that’s one of the possible readings. But then there is another reading, to which the author himself guides us: Yes, it is a picture of our world, our “world in miniature”, and a monument to our smallness and softness, a quasi-entomological collection of people imprisoned in their modernist “stack of floors”.
Of our exhibition’s group of artists, Marek Kvetan (1976) is probably the most characteristic artist of the 21st century. In terms of style and social performance, in a sense he’s the heir to Britart: an ecosystem of middle class and situational challenge, and visual reference to commodity fetishism. As early as the 1990s, Kvetan was one of our most literate media artists. He knew how to work with media, enjoy it, and also artistically misuse it. In addition to video art and digi-graphics, he presented objects and installations – often on the basis of diverted ready mades.
Never an artist of big issues, Kvetan is rather about situational themes (media criticism, multiculturalism, information noise, institutional and corporate criticism). His work is chameleon-like and extremely flexible. That’s why he resonates so well at thematic exhibitions. Because it is always “here and now”. Marek Kvetan is a contemporary artist in a good way. His work is neither escapist nor romantic, but in a sense pragmatic.
The postmodernist Kvetan does not have (a priori) themes or a fixed medium, hence the frequent surprises at exhibitions. And he delights! Kvetan’s artifacts are beautiful in form, sometimes literally shimmering or simply glamorous – almost design-oriented, but always with a slight ironic overlap or the alienation of this (apparent) design. Compared to related but artistically more vulgar colleagues, Kvetan appears to be an artist of specific media intelligence and decent visual gestures.
The light-sound installation Echo (2017) by Marek Kvetan, despite having the typical features of his work, is not completely common in its context. From the famous interpretation of kitsch, cheap tinsel, nostalgic objects, DIY aesthetics, situational humor, bizarre encounters, criticism of consumption, and hoarding, he has gone to interpreting material objects of the ancient past. As a basis he used our ancestors’ objects, which he carefully transformed with the soul of a rag-and-bone man and a collector. These objects are chests from the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century. Ethnographers classify them as a specific type of ‘wedding boxes’, made by the father as part of the dowry and given to his daughter as the bride. They represent ceremonial objects of folk tradition with an important gender meaning.
From the choice of object and musical composition inspired by folk music, we feel nostalgia for authenticity, original crafts, classical materials, and tradition, alienated as we are by the digital age.
Kvetan revived the old with new technologies, locally demonstrated globally. A typical feature of his installations is artificial lighting with neon lights, fluorescent lamps, and LEDs. Kvetan is literally “obsessed” with light art. Echo refers to his older works – the lesser-known Archa (Arch) (2014) and the legendary Koberec (Carpet) (2008). In addition to a fairy-tale, mystical or even psychedelic experience, the installation recalls mysterious past contents and references the burial chest, the last box, and absent body. The musical part was created in collaboration with S. Stračin and J. Ďuriš.
Roman Ondak (*1966, Žilina) is one of the most outstanding Slovak contemporary artists. He is a representative of conceptual art who has earned a global reputation through his creations. He works with the shifting of reality and stages its reflections into the original constellations with new meanings. He often creates open artworks to offer the spectators an opportunity for interaction and cooperation. He sensitively alternates with the actual reality to show its new meanings in unexpected places and situations. He searches the boundaries of art and explores the ways of its perception. He uses various means of expression ranging from the traditional media of drawing, photography, sculpture and installation, combined with the new media of his unique pieces of performance art and videos. He often reflects on contemporary social and cultural events, interpersonal relationships or everyday life situations.
After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava in 1994, Ondak completed several education programmes abroad. He has presented his works at the Tate Modern in London, MoMA in New York, Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin and at the Musée National d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. He took part in the international art exhibition at the Venice Biennale, where he presented a very successful solo project titled Loop for the Czech and Slovak pavilion. His works are exhibited in the prestigious collections of renowned art museums including: MoMA in New York, Guggenheim Museum in New York, Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris, Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich and the Tate Modern in London, among others. He lives and works in Bratislava.
The large-scale installation Time Capsule (2011) is one of the masterpieces designed for gallery spaces by the Slovak artist Roman Ondak (born in 1966). Based on the original blueprints, the artist built a perfect replica of the vessel Fénix 2 used in 2010 to rescue 33 Chilean miners trapped for 69 days at a depth of 700 metres. Millions of spectators all over the world watched the dramatic rescue operation and their survival broadcast by the media.
The rescue project widely reflected by the mass media fascinated Ondak. He almost instantly reinvented the vessel as a symbol of hope and solidarity. At the same time, it refers to his previous works totally commanding the gallery space, indeed going beyond the boundaries of exhibition space art. It accentuates the interplay of artistic and non-artistic reality, the fascination with time, scientific reseach and also the paradoxes of the media events in our globalised world. The technical and structural aesthetics of the object with sculptural qualities loosely resemble the well-known utopian projects of the Slovak conceptual art of the 1960s and 1970s, related to subjects of cosmic exploration and the future of humankind.
The artwork was displayed at Ondak’s solo exhibition in the United Kingdom (Modern Art Oxford, 2011) and at the 54th International Biennale in Venice (Arsenale, 2011). The post-conceptual Time Capsule is of a great significance in the context of the SNG collection due to the fact that with this artwork Ondak reverses the perspective inwards, back toward the Earth, and in his silent but urgent gesture we are invited to descend into the depths of our humanity. The artwork has the impact of a monumental sculptural object and it arises from the artist’s long-term research on the subject of time. Another facet, which the artwork suggests, is Ondak’s critical thinking regarding the media and culture deluged by information. Here, from the plentitude of information, he has chosen one event that engaged scientists, engineers, politicians and the media in the rescue project for the victims in the mine accident. He incased this information in the Time Capsule as a humanistic message for the future.