Hellevi Rebmann - Taking of the Skin

text for the expert comitte concerning the tender for Biennial in Venice
30. 10. 2006, Finland, August 2006, translated by Jenny Poláková

One of the masterpieces of the world literature, Babylon epos about Gilgamesh, the oldest frame narration of the world (aprox. 2600 BC),tell us the story from the king of Uruk, Kullabin. As is known, the king drags through the Word, moved by the fear of death and searches the secret of the eternal life. He heard about a plant of life growing at the sea floor and decides to set for it, in order his people should not die. He finds the plant, he wants to return home, he must go across through a big dessert, he becomes to be thirsty and descend into an underground well to drink. The plant of life he leaves up at the entrance to the well. When he returns that the plant disappeared. Gilgamesh sees a snake which is shedding of skin. The snake becomes to be younger. Gilgamesh rightly considers that the snake devoured the plant: shedding of skin is a mark of rejuvenation, eternality; snake and plant of life are one of the themes which was taken from the oldest story of creation to the Old Testament: tree of life and a snake.

„Skin“ and „Shedding of skin“: =============­============
As the art historic a human is temped naturally to understand mysteriously looking contemporary work, as is this one, with the help of passed on iconographic analysis or via the relation to the traces of language’s culture. From this point of view, themes of skin and shedding off skin, skinning offer iconographic sufficient material in literature as well as in fine art. In Ovidius’ Metamorphosis, in which in the book Marsyas: Sad, very sad was the fate of satyr Marsyas, who defeated by Apollo, was punished. Why are you flaying me? Exclaim Marsyus, whom Apollo flays. A skin is inseparable from oneself, yet it is not identical with it, it makes a surface but also the Self, from a human it will remain nothing when he loses it. The legend about St Bartholomew tells about the suffering during flaying, in the history of fine art this martyr is displayed standing and as an attribute he has his own flayed skin, which is folded as an undressed coat. Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement displays Bartholomew with his own flayed skin in his hand. Flaying of martyr skin is an image of receiving eternal life. In this installation, the skin from plastic mass (transparent lukopren) is a cast of the whole body of the artist herself, as well as the casts of hands and legs. They are like “stripped” snaked skin. Shedding of skin or also skinning (for example while burning alive) may be metaphor or sometimes a proof for women topic in literature (for example Verena Stefan: Stripping of skin, free result of poems), stripping of skin might be also confession to self-realization or as the lack of adequate term stripping of skin can be metaphor of sexual phenomenon. Skin is a surface. It makes indeed the beauty of a human because no one would hug anyone without skin. “ (John Updike).

„Skin“ in this installation as well as the body cast might be dressed and again undressed. The skin receives a character of fetishes, if we think at the role of the inflated doll for sex. Or: The artist Susanne Klein created from plastic „a suit to improve the figure“ she put it in, and by that her figure has changed in the „caricature of the perfect woman."

Archives: =======

In Irena’s work, aesthetic archive is important. Art archives is created, documented, arranged and then according to the need an element is included to a new art work. Archives are just document and contemporary events which transfers another contemporary phenomenon, stories. For Irena, archives is a storage of memory, from which the artists draw for creation of a new project, cites, chooses the individual elements and put them in a new work. Installation of Irena could be called as installation of material. The material is often severe, ugly, and poor but also just nice; its value arises by its presentation in frames, showcases or boxes: showcase or box, closed or translucent contains secret.

Advertisment aspects: ================
The installation partially feeds from themes and means of advertisement creation. To equip the exhibition area, it served as inspiration the surroundings of a saloon, where Irena is a long-standing customer. Orlane’s adver­tisement, advertising table, showcases with cosmetic goods (mind in this respect the advertisement of cosmetics, which promises rejuvenation through peeling of skin to ones who will use it”] presented at pedestal, shape of the Orlane’s font the artist exchanged with her own name in the installation. The equipment or the decoration of the cosmetic boutique point at the environment of „shopping-world“, which is hungry, minimalistic and distinctive. The language of installation form is reduced, basic geometric shapes dominate, flat shining surfaces, transparent (white) colours and materials. Similar plan has the conception of non realised exhibition in the Critique’s Gallery in Prague (2005). „Skin“, „hands“ a „legs“ on pedestals, the artist presented for the first time at the exhibition in České Budějovice (Automn 2005).

Irena Jůzová’s Insta­llation: =============­============

In the House at the Golden Ring in Prague, it became to be a connecting point of the work on the spacious installation, the classist, brilliantly stucco ceiling of the hall. From this it is created the spacious intervention with bodies in a room: area of the gallery become to be in an explicit way its part.
Coping with the architecture of the area becomes to be one of the central moments, emotional experience for the planned exhibition. The stucco ceiling architecture corresponds with the pedestals and " \floor plinths" which are made of white corrugated cardboard. The pedestals bear glass showcases in which there are „skins“ of white translucent plastic. On the walls there are longitudinally formed consoles of wool cardboard; in them there are displayed under glass feet and hands casts of the artist. In addition to reddish stone floor is the color of the entire installation white.

The planned installation into the House at the Golden Ring is reduced on minimum in terms of the individual elements and used materials. However this work deals not only with technical solution but also with organic materials. Apart from the important topic „body“ we find here other reoccurring topic of Irena Jůzová – it is the phenomenon „surface“. She herself says that in art it is visible only the surface but it is important what is behind it. This installation is absolutely perfect presentation of surfaces. The artist creates with nice alabaster plastic skin and gorgeous box elements the scenario, which is explicit still and has an effect of harmony. The division of space points at the basic axis: horizontal and vertical ones: one line and one bottom case (background). These are divided as the forms of human physical “being”, as for example “relaxing”, “standing upright”, and so on. The measure of installation stands always in the correct stance to an observer, the number of measure does not change, it does not matter where an observer occurs.
The installation relates firmly not only to spacious architecture but made form it one topic of the work. Simultaneously, there is to sense a sculptural exhibition because the individual elements are possible to transport and to reuse them in other places.

Sign character of the installation: =============­===============

The box, which finds here again the use, or the group of boxes from different volume and different shapes look firstly as an industry produced series of objects which can be produced as a mass product. Nevertheless every box has unique aura.

It looks here also as in the minimalism, as the boxes would be just a shape which symbolizes nothing, which imitates nothing, but it is only in itself a relaxing object. Irena Jůzová’s boxes are empty, so they point on themselves there are sign. Given that the artist uses the means if repletion, similarity (ceiling-floor, cast of body and legs)she pushes an observer intensively to the sign character of the installation: the presented elements looks as representation which content is manifested in the way of representation.
This sign character is also underlined by the sign transparency and it receives on peculiarity by the similarity (with the artist herself) received though casting, which seems to answer at the sense of the meaning and which prevents the elements of installation to become to be the presentation of their own (hand=hand). This white apparent lack of secret excludes apparently the observer’s ability of imagination, passion of experience. The work acts as antitheses to the Simon Penny’s sentence. It is a common cup of tea of postmodern criticism that the meaning of an art work is not inherent, but it is created through combination of historical, cultural and institutional forces. These forces are not controlled by the artist, but they arisen when there is an interaction between a work and its observer.

But Irena Jůzová, let’s understand it in this way does not want to let the control about the meaning of her work on an observer without a struggle. While the installation is greatly reduced, an observer receives just a few hints for their interpretation. On the other hand, there are individual elements overfilled with meanings. It applies here: since in the installation the artist says a little, there are for an observer more possibilities of interpretations.

Conclusion: =========

The work of Irena Jůzová is difficult. The content of her work ranges from the simplest drawings to highly complicated technical objects and big spacious installation. Her topics are numerous and different; nevertheless in all of her works Irena deals with figures/bodies. She copes with the mechanisms of the effect of bodies and space; she explores physical presence of bodies and energies which emerged from these mechanisms.
Irena Jůzová uses in her work not only technical devices, but also organic materials; and light, tones or sounds. These are often spacious installations with technical construction as for example with cameras, sensors, monitors, electronic fans, halogens (Places, 1992–93), or also spacious installation with movable object and a motor. Installations with 3D projector and shining pictures near to other installation group in the work of Irena. The next one is sound and light installation „The Apparent Immovability“from 1996. The later work, seemingly as this in the House at the Golden –Ring – this architectonic intervention, copying with exhibition area, was maybe the „Love, Affection, Destructivity and Cruelty“ in Brno in 1997.

Selfproduction a identity in art: =============­=====================
Abandoned, pulled down skin in the showcase evokes the presence and absence of a body, to which it nears: the body is present but not visible. There emerges a connection of past and present, comparable to a photographic picture. Does disappear the identity of the body which was left here? But since here the surface of the body, the skin, was pulled downed before the eyes of all, there emerges an uneasy feeling of the loss of the distance between an observer and the artist.
It is not, in any case, an artistic self-portrait concerning these cast elements from plastic; it is rather a kind of self production of the author.

Traditional artist self-portrait was overcome in the art history. This means that art self-portrait went through a change in the art history: art self-understanding, identity, self production searched always an adequate form of displaying. And because the displaying forms keeps changed together with the approach of a human individual and is connected with the self-realization – (especially at the transition from 20th to the 21st century), self portrait was released to other possibilities of displaying an author. According to the newest socio psychological opinions, “I“ is an empty concept, identity occurs as a self product and a variable contrast in social and semantic empty space. Many artists follow on this theory, which develops paralery to the French Philosophie déconstruction at the end of 60’s in the last century- together with imaginary biographic pictures. Moreover, in self displaying, they produce carnal, sexual and racist other otherness, while they do not understand themselves as individuality but as a cipher of collective desired ideas or concepts of collective fears. (e.g. Cindy Sherman).

Concerning Ireny Jůzová, we do not deal with this type of displaying though the pulling down the skin is not a classical self-portrait. The pulled down skin receives individual expression, it is not just an element parted from the body, it has its own life. This individual character is presented in various positions, which are accepted the presented skins in showcases,

Paradox: ========

Yet Irena Jůzová does not want to let leave the meaning of her work to an observer, just little she wants to let her individuality to collective ideas of fear and wish or to social psychological theses.

Paradoxes of iconographic history of theme “skin” – eternal life, rejuvenation (Gilgamesh), strange torture and death (Marsyas) – we find here again in installation of Irena Jůzová, in their sign character and in her self-production.

Note: The planned installation has not been realized in the Gallery at the Golden Ring of the Municipal Gallery in Prague yet. It presented the Czech Republic at the 52nd Biennial in Venice in 2007.