Let’s imagine a fictional episode from distant times. A father sent his son to take a barrowload of fruit to a friend of his. The barrow, which the son pushed before him, besides its edible things contained a wooden tube which had a scroll hidden within it. While on his way the son succumbed to temptation, and he ate some of the fresh fruit. He then delivered the remainder, believing that there was no witness who could testify to the change in the barrowload. But after taking the delivery, his father’s friend read the scroll. At the end it said: “As a proof of our reconciliation, I am sending you this fruit”. Knowing his son’s disposition, the father had appended the exact number of the fruit sent. The quantity received was, needless to say, not identical. However, the son denied what he had done and accused the scroll of false testimony. That did not save him from punishment. When his father sent a similar consignment a second time, the son had learned from experience: while consuming his part of the load he hid the scroll behind a tree, so that this time it could not compromise him. When once again he faced accusation after the scroll was read, to him this inconspicuous oval object acquired supernatural power: in the child’s eyes, this scroll was able to register his betrayal of his father’s trust.
This simple episode discloses to us the power of the medium, of hidden and prepared information. The wooden vessel for the scroll became a strange object that the child could not see into. It was a kind of materialised memory, which from an inoffensive instrument created an active agent, a witness predetermining that he would be punished. But the tale is also interesting from another perspective: the tube for the scroll fulfilled the function of a protective cover for transport, and its exact inner functioning remained unknown to the child for a certain period of time.
If we bring ourselves forward to the present, we can see a parallel here. There is something that links us, as users of contemporary technologies, with that child: it is the unknown, this time hidden in a shiny black cover. If we tape over a camera in our own precincts, isn’t that action as desperate as the child’s attempt to hide the scroll behind a tree? The inner arrangement or mechanisms of information technologies, resulting from accelerated development in recent decades, has put us in the position of passive actors. We know that data are collected, received and despatched; as users, however, mainly what we know is the tasks that the black box can perform for ourselves. Its innards, where there are circuits, systems and subsystems, algorithms, conductive materials: all of that is hidden, secluded and masked under an attractive minimalist design, which our fingers slide over with facility, passing through endless scrollings (Aza Raskin’s infinite scroll). From this inability, so to speak, “to see
within”, and also from our dependence on technologies in ordinary everyday operations (buying a travel ticket, making a payment order, getting food delivered etc.), ever more frequently we are aware of new feelings for which we still have no precise name. This particular one, is it perhaps anxiety, lurking within a resigned loyalty and trust that is also aware of the violation of privacy? Or is it, for example, a feeling of pressure in the imperative need to keep pace with “updates” of social networks for the optimisation of self-promotion? The current pandemic has merely accelerated a further wave of the integration of technologies into our life.
In this parallel between the distant past and the present we may see a certain mode of thinking, and the typical thinking of the art duo Alex Selmeci and Tomáš Kocka Jusko is something similar. One may call it an archaeology of media.
But what they are doing is not simply “dusting off” some sort of “proto-media”: their aim is to comprehend the complexity of today, in which information technologies accompany and predetermine every step we take. Technologies for them are not an object of moral or ethical criticism; the artists capture them in performative changes. They deconstruct this “digital landscape”, with its qualities and tendency of development.
Their artistic practice is based on speculative fiction, in which they create “incomplete” or parallel realities, which are deliberately made difficult to anchor in time. Futurist aesthetics thus mix with a museum panorama, revision with anticipation. The centre-point of their strategy is the time axis as a principle providing a paradoxically fleeting view of a past that is still only in process of being played out. It creates a reconstruction of bygone times, but from a perspective of the future. Its function is bound up with more general utopian tendencies and the dead-end feeling of contemporary society.
This principle, which was first employed in Idle Cruising (East Slovak Gallery, 2020), functions in the artists’ work as a cycle of projections of the future, visions, with incessant doubts and subsequent failure. The starting point is their interest in the impact of fiction on reality and vice versa. At the same time, the narrative quality gives them space to think about current problems more thoroughly, and ultimately it offers them an opportunity to communicate in an immersive language that harbours many references, historical parallels and citations. The elaborate and recognisable form, drawing on DIY culture and speculative design, attracts and “seduces”, so as gradually to let the material essence of technology appear on the scene. Its internal workings are highlighted and the false idea of its immateriality, based on which it is often absolutised as the most effective ecological instrument, is made unviable. Variability, susceptibility to dismantling, modularity, reusability, circulation of components, but at the end of the day also the creation of virtual 3D equivalents of their art objects, are further abiding principles in the work of Selmeci and Kocka; among other things, they encompass a subtle ecological sense – an attempt to reduce the consumption of prefabricated materials in their own art production. The current solo exhibition in Soda Gallery entitled Uncombative Tools pfollows on directly from their previous solo presentations (Conveyor’s Scrolls, Galerie TIC; Retoucher’s Abilities, Berlínskej Model; Idle Cruising, East Slovak Gallery).