[Photos: Vojtěch Novák]

Theorists generally describe design as an “extension” of man – as the translation of human physical parameters onto external tools. The modernist architect Richard Neutra even wrote that, in “design, we could conceivably see organic evolution continued, and extending into a man-shaped future”. In this view, natural evolution continues through non-living prosthetics that people manipulate and use to meet their needs. But what if things are not as they seem? Are we truly in control of these products? Or are we instead growing and being formed to meet the needs of industrially designed objects and technologies? According to their rhythm, their shape and duration?

These and similar questions are raised by multimedia artist Olbram Pavlíček’s exhibition KORPSEPUNX: stress prosthetics. The drawings, (typo)graphic prints, and sculptures in which he combines artistic intervention with found objects hint at the possibility that it is no longer us who determines the pace of our era. Pavlíček’s exhibition subversively imitates the design of industrial products and brings to mind tools and devices from everyday life: dentist’s chairs, massage tables, office furniture, baby carriages, or fitness equipment. These objects seem to entice us to become one with them, to merge with their ergo nomic shapes and thus blend into a single whole. Upon closer contact, however, Pavlíček’s objects betray their original function: instead of serving, they autonomously mutate into new forms incompatible with people. Despite an attempt at perfectly encompassing the body, they become independent – bodies in and of themselves. Their disposition no longer smoothly copies human form but creates their own anatomy, which shapes the users themselves and forces them to adapt to this alien form.

In these alien forms, we can see the artist’s commentary on the predominant socio-technological conditions of today. Smart objects that intimately reshape their users symbolize the transformed relationship between man and machine. Today, prosthetics no longer “extend” the human form but demand things from people. Instead of giving us control, they turn us into functions. Pavlíček’s mutating sculptures, intense drawings, and prints embody the (de)forming pressures arising from endless demands on performance, the standardization of identity, and the homogenization of the body. They also show how ordinary products, “smart” devices, and technological networks situate the user within inappropriate interfaces and disparate infrastructures that determine the rhythm of our era. KORPSEPUNX: stress prosthetics engages in an aesthetic analysis of our postindustrial society in which – against the backdrop of smooth ergonomics and calculated personalization – prosthetic devices modify people’s identities, affects, and bodies and, along with them, the existential parameters of daily life. But perhaps we can turn Richard Neutra’s statement about organic evolution serving design on its head, for (as expressed by Olbram Pavlíček’s surreally optimized works or art) mankind’s “factory setting” is increasingly becoming little more than an extension on non-human products.

This is where KORPSEPUNX: stress prosthetics intersects with the art of Mikuláš Medek (†1974). Both artists’ work can be understood as an attempt at reflecting on the existential conditions of (technological) society and its emotional and physical impacts. In the second half of the 1960s, Medek’s paintings were strongly influenced by the recently discovered sketchbooks of Leonardo da Vinci, in particular his detailed technical drawings of various inventions, machines, and devices. During this period in his career, Medek painted various mechanical creations alongside figural elements, all of which he placed – using his particular stylistic means – within the specific context of his time. This approach can be seen in Medek’s Attempt at a Portrait of the Marquis de Sade III (1969) from the Hradec Králové Gallery’s collections, which Pavlíček has decided to include in his exhibition. Although the painting is a “portrait,” Medek here deconstructs the human figure to create an unidentifiable, externally shaped object. His mechanical and non-organic typology recalls the plans for a building or a machine that has absorbed its original model. Like Pavlíček’s sculptures, Medek’s painting hints at the presence of a body that is lost within vague contours, deformed under the pressure of society’s “machinery.” Though separated by nearly sixty years and responding to very different political climates, both artists critically explore the living conditions of their respective eras as they observe how complex mechanisms of power impose themselves on everyday existence.

[Text: Jiří Sirůček / Translation: Stephan von Pohl]

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