Collection Series

text of the curator for the expert media to the international catalogue about the exhibition of Irena's Collection Series
10. 6. 2007 – 21. 11. 2007, Czechoslowakian Pavillon, Giardini di Biennale, Venice, Italy, January 2007

Irena Jůzová presents in the Czech and Slovak pavilion at the Venice Biennale a lukopren cast of her body. The idea to cast and exhibit the surface of one’s own body, or somebody else’s body is not new in art – what is new and significant is the input of this artist in the context of contemporary culture. In a study on Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze writes that “…we continue to produce ourselves as a subject on the basis of old modes which do not correspond to our problems.” Irena Jůzová puts her own body on exhibition, not as a sexually attractive, or topical gender motif, but as an industrial product. Evidently it is not an expression of intimacy that she is after. In her rendition, the body is stripped of attractive aesthetic and psychological motivations. The loss of all traditional connotations of the body as a subject of sexual and social relations, as the motif of an anthropological alternative within the framework of attempts to preserve life in the universe are balanced by the artist’s effort to connect (or confront) the moment of exposing her own body with the visual rendering of naked function-power, which manipulates human beings just as it manipulates works of art. This effort at self-presentation is an attempt to strip the body of certain motifs that are easily usurped by mass communication and market forces in favor of the emotions and instincts by which this form of power achieves its victory over art. In this sense the presentation of the imprint of one’s body in the context of a luxury boutique made of prefabricated paper architecture is an act of detachment, of inquiry as well as critique. The artist herself regards exposing and reflecting on a cast of her body as a turning point in both her life and work. More than the traditional meanings of shedding one’s skin as we know them from nature and the rituals that come to terms with this phenomenon, the installation of Irena Jůzová has more to do with the definition of la pensée du dehors, the thought from outside, that is, with a paradigm of art distinct from those operating in the culture of the classical era, bound as they were to the norm of art as a metaphysical transcendence of the world of objects. Instead of metaphysics, there is fact; instead of singularity, there is mass-production. Instead of empathy, there is self-visualization. The lukopren skin bears no visible signs of a singular message, but has all the appearance of merchandise being displayed in shop-windows, and presented in industrially produced packaging. Artificial skin, “purged” of artistic connotations, thus opens the way to other meanings than those persistent in art that remains subordinate to power.
In Irena Jůzová’s work, the stripping and shedding of one’s skin has a purifying, regenerating meaning, if only in the sense that it saves the artist from the possibility, or expected obligation, of any kind of personal or artistic confession. Artificial skin is a signifier of her physical absence. All that the artist leaves behind is an imprint, the writing of a plastic text in showcases and boxes bearing the imprinted name, Irena Jůzová. She substitutes with a cast of her skin the expected, singular and physical “self” in favor of something more essential that lies between her and the contemporary world, between life and the forces that curb life today. It is a game of billiards, of sophisticated hits and misses by poetics and aesthetics in the face of the reality of the era of mass manipulation, of the production and distribution of culture as commodity.
Just as the lukopren cast is a sign of the artist’s absence, the concept of the installation in the pavilion as such is a sign of the absence of seeing architecture as the traditional structure which it purports to be. It is not made of tectonic functional elements, but serially-produced paper casts, in the shape of the architectural elements of classical structural styles. If the tectonic function in modern-day buildings is identified with art, then, as Adolf Loos put it, architecture as art in the traditional sense can realize itself only as sculpture or as tombstone. The architectonic set of Irena Jůzová’s insta­llation draws one into its game of loss of identity and the revelations of secondary authenticity (as Milan Knížák terms one of the key features of contemporary culture). Within the setting of the Czech and Slovak pavilion, Irena Jůzová presents a game not only with the imprint of her body, but also with the imprints of architectonic elements as a daring metaphor of a memorial, or mausoleum of art as manipulated by the market.

Tomáš Vlček