Prague

Zbyněk Baladrán, Diderot’s Dream (detail), 2014, two HD video projections, color, sound; 11 minutes 5 seconds, 2 minutes 24 seconds. Installation view.

Zbyněk Baladrán, Diderot’s Dream (detail), 2014, two HD video projections, color, sound; 11 minutes 5 seconds, 2 minutes 24 seconds. Installation view.

Zbyněk Baladrán

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Zbyněk Baladrán, Diderot’s Dream (detail), 2014, two HD video projections, color, sound; 11 minutes 5 seconds, 2 minutes 24 seconds. Installation view.

“When is it going to start? It’s already started. When? The dream started long since.” These are the opening lines of Zbyněk Baladrán’s Diderot’s Dream, 2014. For many years, the video essay has been the form most characteristic of the artist’s practice. In this case, the work was divided into two separate videos, each installed in one of two darkened rooms, which operated in tandem to construct a spatial scenario that prompted the spectator to move around the exhibition space, hence between and around the two works on view. The element of movement—or what Baladrán calls performative reading, in which the viewer moves around in order to access and read a given textual narrative—is something the artist frequently explores, for instance in recent projects such as Dead Reckoning, 2014, or Preliminary Report, 2013, in which text was printed on long, thin strips of paper suspended from the ceiling in an organic form and on sheets of paper organized and hung in rows on a metal cord.

In contrast to these two projects, however, Diderot’s Dream explores the idea of mirroring and transparency. The videos were shown on rear-projection screens, allowing the spectator to walk around and see the work from both sides, an understated way of emphasizing the central role of the body in the exhibition as a metaphorical absence that could be understood as the key to the work’s reading.

Baladrán is well known for his work with archival material, using it to tackle contemporary subjects as well as recent history. In Diderot’s Dream he is still resorting to the archive as a source of material, but it has become secondary: The imagery, a series of telescopic views of distant stars and planets, serves as a background for subtitles that recount a dream scenario.The spectator was confronted with a textual description of a dream—a conversation between the dreamer and his or her interlocutor. Who the dreamer is, we don’t know. As Baladrán states in his text, “This is not Diderot’s dream. . . . If we ask in general who is dreaming, it could be anyone: that is, everyone.” The body is absent, the unconscious at play. Burning images of depopulated (work?) camps with words written over them appear on the intergalactic background, only to disappear in flames as the sound of fire is heard. We have been reminded of the body throughout this text. Each of the burning images carries a topic word: HEAD, LEGS, HAND, EYE, WEIGHT, SPEECH, LABOR—a reference to the precarious position of the body within the economy of immaterial labor and to our own bodies, which were equally at work here. After all, the dreamer could have been anyone.

Categories such as time or place were made irrelevant. Rationality was overpowered by the irrational, consciousness by the unconscious. What is our relation to the so-called real, and what is a dream and what is reality? And what significance might the unconscious have in our present moment, a time defined by growing doubts and uncertainty? If rationality seems to be failing, can the irrational—in other words, what is hidden in the unconscious—serve as a source of an alternative mode of thinking? Although Baladrán provides us with no answers, his proposal feels liberating, allowing us—at least for a moment—to escape the paralysis of the present.

Markéta Stará Condeixa