The exhibition Mythropolis plays out the motif of the contemporary world mythology, in which it is not just difficult to be an individual, but it has never been harder to be part of a crowd. The selected contemporary artists, David Fesl, Eiko Gröschl, Li Ran and Kazuna Taguchi, move from their Surrealist starting points to a new version of (magical) Civilism, presented here through the daunting aspects of urban existence as well as an emphasis on the social aspect and interest in the human figure. Their works – paintings, photographs or objects – feature the mundane, timelessness, isolated human beings, and the ordinary objects of civilization and scenery. Ideological impulses mix together with different formal types of the transformation of reality.
These artists are featured in the exhibition together with the Czech painter František Hudeček and the poet Jiřina Hauková, members of the famous Group 42 that was formed at the turn of the 1930s and 1940s in Czechoslovakia and ended its activity in 1948. This group is not characterized by any particular artistic style or binding program, but represents the spiritual view of a generation looking for artistic themes in the topical reality of modern civilization. Their works reflected the feelings of loneliness and of alienation from the environment in which the artists lived on a daily basis and aimed for an existential mythology of the everyday life of urban human beings. In Group 42’s programmatic text by Jindřich Chalupecký, published in 1942 under the title The World We Live In, the modern person is described as “a powerless cog in the social machine”, abandoned by science and religion, but pushing reality “far into an unimaginable and unthinkable transreality.” The protagonist of Chalupecký’s new “mythology of modern human beings” is a person whose life will once again become mysterious, although it may ultimately be unpleasant, painful and lonely.
The A.M. 180 Gallery is exhibiting František Hudeček’s Night Walker (1943), which not only captures all of the foregoing, but also represents the fundamental theme dealt with by this artist since the early 1940s. His large series of “night walkers” depicts the wanderer either in an existential scenery merging with the universe or in an expressive version surrounded by a chaos of lines, axes and geometric shapes. For the purposes of this exhibition, one painting from a previous set of such works has been selected that shows such a night walker in characteristically small format, executed in oil on cardboard. The works by the contemporary artists and those by the Modernists are bridged by Jiřina Hauková’s poem entitled Encounter, written during the war in the years 1943–1945 and published in Hauková’s collection of poems, The Stranger’s Room (1946). Against the backdrop of a life alienated by war, the poem voices an urgent longing for human presence and features the motif of the lack of love.
The exhibition does not try to draw a direct analogy between the works of the selected contemporary artists and the works of Group 42 (which would not be possible because with the exception of the Czech artist David Fesl, artists abroad were not familiar with Group 42), but it does draw attention to certain similarities in terms of subject matter and, ultimately, of form.
The Austrian artist Eiko Gröschl works mainly in small formats. In his paintings he confronts the viewer with the industrial environment or the urban periphery. He depicts bare plains, power line poles (The Row, 2021), barbed wire fences (Do Not Touch Us (Close) I, 2020), chimneys, scaffolding and other elements evoking not just a sense of mystery, but also of nothingness, and of the hardship experienced by individuals. His protagonists walk through the scenery freely, yet somewhat mechanically, and dissolve into the void. Rather than an attempt to build an imaginary, parallel world, the works are grounded in our present and, as a precursor to the transformation and devaluation of man into a kind of mechanism, they reflect the increasingly topical issue of isolation and alienation.
The Japanese artist Kazuna Taguchi creates intimate photographs that border on metaphysical paintings in terms of their sensibility, their conception of image composition, their manipulation of angles and their construction of light. Much of her artistic output can be described as sophisticated forays into the past, with references to historical art forms and themes. A reflection on artistic and philosophical myth becomes a frequent tool. The exhibited photograph The Eyes of Eurydice #8 (2020) brings to life the ancient story of the tragic love of Orpheus and Eurydice, which has been a frequent subject for various works of art in the past. Eurydice, while still a dryad, is depicted here in a metamorphic phase, perhaps even in her final moments, as Orpheus disappears into the shadows of the underworld after his failed attempt to rescue her. The narrative of a descent into the underworld, undertaken to bring the dead back to life, is found in many myths of different cultures, in folklore and in religion. In the case of Taguchi’s work, alongside this clash of worlds there is the clash of time, revealing a thoughtful confrontation of the East with the West in terms of national stereotypes, ideas and prejudices.
David Fesl’s poetic and fragile works, mounted on a white wall, teeter between assemblage and sculptural object. They emerge from a variety of ordinary, yet often surprising organic and inorganic materials which, combined to form a new entity, give an impression of uniqueness and vulnerability. The objects are reminiscent of a jumble of personal stuff for which we have a special reverence, for some reason. As a rule, they embody a certain reminiscence, one which over time falls into oblivion and remains a non-functional object surrounded by a strange aura of untouchability. The objects become records of the living foundation of the present and can characterize, both emotionally and materially, the world we live in and often fear. The object Untitled (2020), presented in the exhibition, resembles an abstracted human figure with Asian features, perhaps a Bunraku puppet with movable limbs from Japanese puppet theater. It consists of small, precisely conceived fragments of natural materials, such as the fruit of a Buddha nut, an animal bone, a pear leaf attacked by rust, etc.
The Chinese artist Li Ran presents his painting Be Angry, But Sin, Not (2020), which is quite expressive compared to his other works and retains the character of a work in progress. In terms of motif, Ran’s recent works are concerned with the figure of the modern Chinese intellectual, as well as the intellectual milieu of the 1930s and 1940s. The timelessness here involves loners who undergo a personal or creative crisis, are tormented by a sense of loss, resign themselves to life, or lapse into intellectual reflection, withdrawing into reticence and a search for the meaning of existence. Ran’s works are not politically engaged, but loosely inspired by Chinese cartoons from the 1930s and 1940s and by Socialist Realism, without attempting to transmit ideology. One of the themes they also deal with is the uncritical acceptance of Western art history by Asian artists.