View of “Svätopluk Mikyta,” 2014. From left: Pomoderna I, 2014; Pomoderna II, 2014; Face, 2013.

View of “Svätopluk Mikyta,” 2014. From left: Pomoderna I, 2014; Pomoderna II, 2014; Face, 2013.

Svätopluk Mikyta

View of “Svätopluk Mikyta,” 2014. From left: Pomoderna I, 2014; Pomoderna II, 2014; Face, 2013.

Slovakian artist Svätopluk Mikyta is best known for his engagement with the topic of collective memory, appropriating and manipulating imagery derived mainly from the history of Communist Eastern Europe. The countless book and magazine clippings that are the point of departure for his complex, frequently decorative installations and compositions of found and manipulated archival photographs, as in his recent exhibition “Pomoderna and seven monochroms,” are usually taken from accounts of organized collective gatherings of the Soviet period. Intervening with red paint or pencil drawing on the surface of the image, Mikyta manipulates the original photograph and emphasizes the subject of collective manipulation. Using layers of color, he conceals certain parts of the image while emphasizing others, creating thus another, equally untrue idea of a given reality. His work should, however, not be reduced to a pure manifestation of the workings of collective memory. It also involves a subjective viewpoint, not only in the sense of a personal angle on historical phenomena as expressed through artistic handling, but also in the manner by which we retrospectively reengage with the aesthetics of the Soviet period today.

Born in 1973, Mikyta is part of the last generation to have fully experienced a Cold War childhood. His engagement with the period is accordingly not based primarily on archival research or directed toward a critical overview, but rather deals with a series of familiar aesthetic codes and the reexamination of its remains: mechanically reproduced images whose stylistic tropes—whether in the use of color, composition, or any other formal feature—have once again become current in contemporary artistic and popular cultures. This tendency to reduce a lived history to a series of replicable formal codes was evident here in the way Mikyta pushed the decorative nature of his practice to the very limit, thus creating a parallel between fine art on the one hand and applied arts and design on the other.

A bright-red cabinet with a large, circular glass revealing a series of manipulated images carefully arranged on its inside (Pomoderna I and II, 2014), a yellow curtain in the background, and a suspended circular mirror between the curtain and the cabinet dominated the exhibition space, determining the viewing of the collected, reprinted, and manipulated visual material in the cabinet as well as on the surrounding walls. By layering images with new backgrounds, Mikyta offered an experience of a series of multiple and ever-changing viewpoints, which, through their reflection in the mirror, blurred the relation between appearance and its archetype, and therefore escaped any connection to an authentic original.

“Pomoderna and seven monochroms” thus rejected the idea of a singular point of view or an authentic and true image. A similar strategy of layering fragments and merging various spatiotemporal capsules was employed in a series of framed and sculpturally installed monochromes. The surfaces of found prints of printed blocks of color (Color I, II and III, 2014), originally used as a background for printing propaganda images, now became a surface and a background for a series of newly printed and historically neutral images on vintage paper, randomly organized above the framed color prints, with nothing but an aesthetic relation to a history these backgrounds once used to represent. Engaging with the politics of representation and historical memory, Mikyta demonstrates the reduction of history to a surface of aesthetic codes, which today have, more than anything else, become a beautiful background and a manifestation of forgetfulness as much as of recollection.

Markéta Stará Condeixa