Ján Mančuška

Ján Mančuška’s recent exhibition, “Only those wild species that appeal to people will survive,” was an unswerving assault on the linearity of audiovisual perception and spatial movement, in which a formally conceptual approach was intertwined with intimate experience. The exhibition opened with a single frame—an oversize painting of one blank frame from a film strip, almost playfully reversing Malevich’s Black Square, 1915. The single frame became the leitmotif of the show, defining not only its content but its architecture. The rectangular format repeatedly appeared diagonal to the L-shaped ground floor of the Kunsthalle: as black boxes for viewing videos; as light boxes; and as partial copies of the original wood-paneled floor, produced in the Czech artist’s home country and raised a foot off the ground to become a kind of stage for viewers at various points in the show.

The first built-in black box that visitors encountered faced away from the entrance. It housed a new work conceived for this exhibition: Nude descending a staircase, 2008, named after the painting by Marcel Duchamp. The two-minute sequence shows a performer slowly descending a modernist staircase in a university building in Prague; it has been digitally cut into twenty-five single frames per second and randomly rearranged into a flashing of superimposed views and angles, translating Duchamp’s painting from still to moving image.

The Other (I asked my wife to blacken all parts of my body I cannot see), 2007, despite its first-person subtitle, depicts a friend undergoing the action described in the title. The photographs documenting the process hang in strips from the ceiling in front of light boxes, allowing the viewer different readings and illustrating how little we are actually able to see of ourselves. As Rimbaud put it: “Je est un autre” (I is another).

The very intimate experience performed here to describe a rather abstract cognition is also apparent in Mančuška’s sculptural works based on language. The site-specific Missing Room, 2008, installed in a corner space, consists of three text blocks made from cutout aluminum words that span the room on wires, similarly connected and disrupted by one continuous line running through. They all attempt to describe a room or the subjective experience of being in a room. At each crossing of strings, the reader must decide which line to follow, each intersection leading to a slightly different conclusion, in effect trapping the reader in a linguistic maze. One experiences a tension between the actual room one is in and the many possible approaches to an imagined room, which not only bring into play different points of view but also vary in feeling and degree of accessibility.

“To separate language from perception”—this is how Mančuška describes the aim of his project. This statement could also be applied to the last work in the show, Killer without a cause, 2006, which tells the story of a lonesome man in his apartment, who tries to capture the course of time by recording the changing light coming in through a window, or by reorganizing pills according to form and color before swallowing them. A gigantic 35-mm projector throws the image onto a small screen in exactly the size of one frame of film. The rattling of the projectors makes it difficult to hear the narrative, yet in order to understand, one has to go beyond the visual. The relations between reality and perception, Mančuška seems to suggest, can be framed and reframed; depending on how one arranges and reads them, narratives change their direction, and thus, their meaning.

Eva Scharrer