View of “Ján Mančuška,” 2015.

View of “Ján Mančuška,” 2015.

Ján Mančuška

View of “Ján Mančuška,” 2015.

As its title suggests, “First Retrospective” is the first comprehensive exhibition of Ján Mančuška, who was born in Bratislava in what is now Slovakia in 1972 and died in 2011. Mounted four years after the artist’s premature death and curated by Vít Havránek, the exhibition is best described as an extensive exploration into Mančuška’s practice in an attempt to fully contextualize his early work with his later performative and film-based pieces.

Although the show follows a chronological order, starting with the artist’s drawings from the late 1990s, the time line is interrupted at the very beginning of the exhibition, where early drawings are confronted with A Cup, 2003, a single slide projection of a cup inside a cardboard box, paired with a rhizomatic mind map on the wall. Its placement up front is suggestive of the structural principles and conceptual methodology characteristic of Mančuška’s art and his way of thinking: An ordinary object of daily use is, through a play of association, gradually introduced into a complex structure of direct and indirect relations, whether social, political, or historical. Nothing, not even the most elementary object, exists as an isolated and static entity. Everything has a place, a history, a memory.

If we keep this lesson in mind, we can have a deeper experience in the next part of the exhibition while viewing the series of installations composed of mostly utilitarian objects from the early 2000s. Mančuška’s installations and assemblages from this period evince a strong sense of materiality. His frequently domestic settings, some of which are reminiscent of contemporary still lifes from the kitchen or bathroom area, are composed with materials that frequently bear a relation to the place they represent: a sink made from blocks of white soap, for instance, or kitchen pipes constructed out of drinking straws. In these works—not so much representations as wordless, analytical descriptions of familiar objects and places—Mančuška focused on the connections between individual things and their utilitarian nature.

The capacity to capture an object or a space without its actual physical presence or even its depiction, to find the gray zone between reality and its interpretation, played a significant role in Mančuška’s aesthetic. Although he gradually abandoned materiality for text, these principles remained present in his practice. Similarly to his early works, While I Walked, 2003—a black elastic strip stretched between the walls of the space and containing a printed description of the spatial features of Mančuška’s studio—is based on the communication of a particular spatiotemporal moment outside its initial occurrence. Mančuška’s analytical and philosophical approach toward text and narrative, and later also toward the moving image, formed an essential part of his practice, at the core of which always remained an interest in the nature and limits of narrative and memory. This necessitates a nonlinear approach to discourse, borne out in the staging of the exhibition itself, whose final section was devoted to the artist’s experimentation with the moving image and with performance. The transition from early drawings to his most recent works reveals Mančuška’s shift away from pure materiality, while reminding us that his approach constantly returned to an initial questioning of the very nature of representation, interpretation, and cognition.

Markéta Stará Condeixa