Immediately walking into the SOAP Gallery it became obvious that nothing was quite what it seemed. Seeing the bodies crammed into the space like sardines in a tin I shuffled my way through the crowd half-expecting to hear their voices idly chit-chatting about god-knows-what, but instead came to find I can’t make out a damn word they’re saying cause everybody is speaking in Czech. Covering the walls are six-foot long frond leaves, and hanging from the ceiling rolls of paper reading “Facebook” are fed into motion sensor shredders, spewing their stringy remains about the floor like a burst sewer line every time someone passes by. This bizarre arrangement of nature and technology is the brainchild of artist Jakub Kalousek, and if you’re still wondering what exactly is going on that’s okay—it’s all part of the experience.
Originally born in the Czech Republic, Kalousek has had an extensive art career spanning decades, but for his latest showcase, “For My Fronds On The Phasebook,” he’s incorporating his long-standing concepts on human interaction, nature, and technology all into one work. It’s an experimental exhibit deconstructing our relationship with the organic and mechanical, examining how parts of our everyday lives represent larger aspects of life itself, and how they all fit into a sustainable relationship with one another.
Your work has taken form in every medium an artist can express themselves with, how do you go about choosing which will suite each project?
Everything is tailored to the place and time. I felt like the sculptures and the words were complimentary to the fronds and the phasebook, and it all creates a kind of sensory experience.
What are some of the themes and interlocking ideas that are at work in this exhibit?
Seemingly insignificant things around us that actually reflect our own essence; it’s just a matter of looking at them and mulling them over. The fronds and the friends and the Facebook create a cycle for me that has technology, emotion, relationships, and nature. In all my work the idea of change and freewill is recurrent. Here I’m combining a very natural form that is super organic and very strong—yet many people don’t know what it is—put it in a context of technology everyone knows. And you can make a pun, and maybe it’s heavy-handed with [the paper printed] “Facebook,” but there is a cyclical phase walking through and triggering the shredders, and really the shredders and fronds work off each other.
What’s your intention by juxtaposing an item like the fronds, a symbol of nature and life, with the shredders, a piece of technology whose main purpose is to destroy?
The destruction of materia, of paper, that may have meant an emotional meaning, like Facebook, and you juxtapose it with the fronds as feeding from it. I’m looking for complimentary features, some sort of call to the viewers. It’s not about [literally] “shredding the Facebook”, but it’s about something technical that’s temporal, and the fronds remind us that there is something natural that is permanent.
What are your thoughts on technology influencing or affecting more “organic” and natural forms of human interaction?
There are multiple levels of permutation between social iconography—formal level, verbal content—the semiological level and self reflexive level—interactivity. I’m intrigued by the multiple levels of contiguity between the facebook/phasebook, temporality/phase and frond/friends and, of course, shredders that reify physically the ephemeral nature of relationships.
Alongside the rest of your works the piece entitled “Curiousity” stands out visually as something very different from the rest of the installations, can you delve a bit more into the concepts behind it?
A long time ago I found that old saw and it said, “No more saw dust.” And I thought, “What does that mean?!” Because English is my second language the grammar comes in, and a lot of wordplay comes in. “Saw” is past tense of “seeing,” but “seeing a box” is different than “sawing a box.” But when you “saw the box” it makes dust. Then people see [the installation] and become curious to find out what’s in the box, because that’s what they think it’s about. And then they’re curious, “What did you see in the box?” But no, it’s what I “saw”—I’m actually sawing it.
Let’s talk about the “Nutcraker” performance piece; how does that fit in with the exhibit as a whole?
It’s a sculpture, in itself it is supposed to convey another idea. You have walnuts in the helmet and that sets up a relationship between walnuts and punches and breaking them, shelling them. It makes sense that you could shell walnuts by putting them in the boxer’s helmet because you’re trying to “shell” the human head the same way.
What about your own physical interaction with the sculpture itself?
[The] preoccupation of the artist with his work and constant denial that surface from idealizing dead matter. There are plenty of examples of that in painting – a sculpture falling in love with his/her model [and] tries to recreate it for eternity via sculpting a perfect image…but in essence it contains same ingredients as the fronds installation.
The humorous part on a formal level where a boxing helmet filled with walnuts refers to a broader context of cracking, fighting, and pugility, where as the context of the title “Nutcracker” points in very different direction – fragile and charming ballet/fairytale. The third permutation/dimension is purely formal – the walnuts do resemble the brain very much, so the performance is somewhat perfunctory, except as an exegesis of the boxing helmet purpose and and temporality of an artwork. Over the time an artist, most of them, gain unfavorable perspective on their creations.
WATCH ASHCAN’S EXCLUSIVE VIDEO OF JAKUB’S “NUTCRACKER” PERFORMANCE
Interview and video by Sean Logic
Photos by Jayne Liu
For more info on upcoming exhibits and receptions, visit the SOAP Gallery website.