Art feed its interpreters (Petr Dub & Marika Kupková)

Through the problematic position of the “old” media – painting – Petr Dub characterizes nature of contemporary Czech visual arts and local institutional environment. The following interview relates not only to his artistic attitudes, but also to his views on “it” – that is, to a more general set of contemporary artistic and interpretative trends, but seen from the biased position of insiders. Also the title of the current exhibition in the Prague´s gallery Kvalitář refers to “it”: Rehabilitation in terms of out-of-court settlement of consumer disputes.

K.: I put the over-complicated exhibition title into the web search engine to find out what you are referring to. I got many commentaries to current EU legislature discussing claim proceedings and right to withdraw within cooling-off period. If I understand this metaphor well – when can art be exchanged for a product and recipient for a consumer, then do you refer to the incapability of contemporary art to satisfy a viewer?

D.: Right – Google answer! During last few years I have been suffering from an obsessive imagination that our society has lost the capability to decode or create new information. But, as a result, we look more and more for referential fields that would enable us to deny similar estrangement and to legitimize current visual dyslexia. And this appears in all my attempts to cope with categories as „painting” or „art“. During the installation of this exhibition a man who was connecting the electro installation stayed behind. When he noticed that I belonged to the exhibited artworks, he dared to tell me: „Nothing special. We worked with this kind of reflexive textile in the television a few years ago.“ Of course, he was thinking of a common painting canvas that he was walking around all day. Only a few hours later a family lawyer warned me discretely that from the legal point of view the exhibition title does not make sense. For a while I felt quite proud of how I was able to program my objects, how much illusion and possible space for interpretation I was able to create. Later on, hangover inevitably comes, after which it is not possible to do anything else than to admit that the role of contemporary art is very controversial among the whole society, mainly with respect to the traditional (non)responsibility of art.

K.: Which contemporary social challenges do you have in mind? And do they even exist at all?

D.: Once I was intrigued by Václav Bělohradský´s commentary, in which he claims that our society does not accept our challenges, „that we do not want to go Mars but our goal is to have a smarter fridge at home“… However, your question is something of a pitchfork turned in my direction. Before I started to study art, I studied artetherapy and in the circle it was quite usual that when one member did not come prepared, the whole group failed. I try to retain within me this relationship between the individual and the collective, maybe too anxiously. What I consider most significant for our society it is the consciousness of value of individuality and the responsibility of an administration for the collective. One´s own recognition of his own social role. The challenge is not to be a „pornpolitician“ or, for instance, to cook good quality meal in a Czech restaurant and serve it with a smile on one’s lips, just like an stock-exchange booker who does not sell his clients „shit“ only in order to be able to promote 20 floors higher up on the Manhattan. In my opinion, the Western society is a society that lacks respect of social functions from upon this society is built, and that is why the consciousness of its global interconnections is more committing.

K.: Let’s return to the title of the exhibition. This borrowing stylizes author exhibition of current works by Petr Dub into more demanding culture-logical references. Its use reminds me of the „infinite” label on a bottle on which there is a hunter with a bottle with the same image of a hunter in his hand, etc. This simile has two applications: on the one hand you point out a phenomenon, which you exemplify by the way you are referring to it; on the other, it relates to your extremely self-reflexive approach to art.

D.: And what is it that in fact cycles? Artistic operation? In the domestic environment we get used to a state in which professional community in different tribal affiliations (studies, galleries, theoretical working places, etc.), which are not concerned with the fact that they exist to an alarming extent away from ordinary social reality. Political representations on the contrary do not see as strange the current state of culture, the fact that the cultural resort works somehow in a state of inertia. I consider this situation very dangerous for both parties. However, I belong to the artistic community, for me it is more pleasant to criticize its imperfections or the artistic operation itself than to complain about that the cultural state policy does not work at all. What does contemporary art do? Does it decorate? Does it entertain?

K.: None of the above.

D.: It fills up galleries, flats, fulfills its interpreters, curators, art entrepreneurs, or even it fits the parameters of applied research in an effort to become an equal partner of scientific fields? But above all: What should be optimally done? Such questions can hardly by addressed by politicians or cultural state strategies. Your question can also be applied to the problem I thematize, which is „how to treat the contemporary image“. Who does it belong to? To an author, gallery, viewer, theory of art or a potential buyer? In every case, it is hybrid commodity in various sense of word and if there is a necessity, in my opinion, to rehabilitate something in the domestic environment, then it is especially the relevance of various perspectives.

K.: What should art do? Some of your artistic noetic questions seem as if they sprung up from the first half of the last century.

D.: The fact that a certain problem cannot be solved does not mean that it has ceased to exist! To be an artist is a strange mix of original freedom and egoism. The latter one, moreover, includes a necessary dose of hypocrisy, ability not to see, hear or somehow consciously forget. However, I do not share the view of some colleagues of mine that they are exceptional unlike the rest of the society, I am not able to free myself from the necessity to ask for the basic rules of the game. I suppose that the majority of surgeons do not pray before an operation, but they certainly know what they should do in the minutes to come. Unlike us, that can´t afford this luxury to ask why to heal. Now we could start at the point one with the claim that art does not have any social function. Boris Groys claims that the question of what contemporary art is implies questions what contemporariness is and the concept of contemporariness according to him naturally represents the necessity to extend reflection and to reach the postponement of analysis. So the presence according to him is a „potentially nonspecific period of postponement “.

K.: In your ironic manifesto „How to paint a postconceptual image“ you define the difference between the conceptual and the postconceptual. You create a trap for yourself by using consensual concepts without sufficient relation to historical context. At all cost, there is some conception behind every activity. Wouldn´t be more appropriate to substitute (post) conceptuality by auto reflection?

D.: I spent a great deal of time searching for an exact divide or an event that would separate the „before“ and „after“ in the world art. And I could responsibly say that my efforts were in vain because I didn´t find one single explanation that would be clear with respect to the classification. The title of the book itself is misleading. Therefore, I tried to compose model relations of author approaches, on which I could demonstrate mainly the shift of interpretation context from conceptual art. That understandably denied traditional painting. However, during last sixty years – through various hybrid forms of some artistic approaches – painting has actually reached out to absorb the realized revolution in postmodern art and to return through the back door. The result is a claim that contemporary painting does not find itself in much bigger crisis than contemporary art as a whole. An excellent example can be the work of the duo Michael Baldwin & Mel Ramsden that under the trademark Art & Language treated the painting at the time when it was theoretical taboo. Certain timelessness of their work is at the discussed context fascinating and if we admit the possibility of conceptual liberation from the historical tradition of painting by the use of artistic dictionary, then we are just one step away from the painting of Daniel Richter or the exhibitions of Personal Structures. I perceive my whole text as an opportunity to be clear about the concepts around us, which, however, are not firmly anchored. The goal of my work has never been to create new classification, but mainly to show which painting forms can fully coexist within the whole group of art.

K.: The divides between theoreticians, curators and artists are increasingly vaguer. Although the legend about the French new wave in the sense „from a theoretician to an artist” is very impressive, its members rejected conservative university education and created their own publishing platform that predetermined their following and their successful art activities. How has the quite large formulation of ideas about the medium – painting – influenced your artwork? Do you now know better what to do?

D.: A few days ago I began putting together a scholarship application Pollock-Krasner and right on the index page I had encountered a problem. The first time I filled obligatorily Ph.D. into a form that manages an organization working in different cultural environments, which for an unknown evaluator shifts the context of my work into the theory rather than artistic practice. In addition to the scholarships, paradoxically, this is more of a handicap than an advantage, because the foundation supports only specific areas of free art and not video, intermedia, conceptual projects, etc. Similarly, the honest question of David Kořínek in the March Artmix programme stayed with me: “Hey, why are all the painters smart all of a sudden?” Personally, I think that both states are a bitter victory. I started to study the Academy of Fine Arts in Brno at the time when 70 applicants a year asked for the studies. Most of them knew how to paint much better than me, therefore my first three years were hell for me. Over the last ten years, the system has changed so much that there is an implosion of reason. Vision of upcoming reality, where the art colleagues will move exclusively between educators with titles, is the same as the sad state in which I started – “Just paint and it will show!” This year in spring I had the opportunity to visit several art schools in New York, where it is common practice that the school is based on the work of a small internal academic team, while world’s major artists pump blood into the veins of the system. They consider work at art schools with a lent title prestigious, but naturally, time-limited. The local environment will not consider it sectarian or unacceptable that an artist would, besides his artistic career, which is, as far as salary goes, comparable to, or even higher, than that of an average American, consider other life paths in order to earn money. I think it interesting that despite all that I said above some people – for instance Mathew Barney – they finally embark upon the career of an artist, instead of a plastic surgeon. All that I mentioned does not change anything on the fact that contemporary art is, more than anything else, an institution. Not only does it not exist without the presence of a viewer, but moreover, it needs a process of permanent evidence of one´s own existence. In both good and bad sense of the word.

K.: What other life possibilities other than art do you see for yourself?

D.: It is very strange, but for me the PhD degree was a kind of reconciliation with my own self and that is why “I like to face my role of an artist “. For a long time I have been fighting with the idea of being „only an artist“. For a long time I have worked in top gastronomy, I have been the head of a university department of public relations and marketing, I have been writing projects for several years for the Faculty of Fine Arts in Brno, I have been in charge of several functions in the academic senates and University councils. Generally, I would say that I suffer from something that could be called „obsessive organizational tic“– wherever I live, I start to be nervous about things that could work better. Before going to bed I often torment myself by watching the news from Czech lands and in the morning, I wake up with the feeling that, for at least 14 days, I could be a great minister of culture.

Art Feed its Interpreters (Marika Kupková interviews Petr Dub, published on, 2013)