Double custodian code (Petr Vaňous)

Petr Dub (1976) has been active on the Czech scene since the beginning of the new millennium. In 2003 – 2009, he completed his studies at the Faculty of Fines Arts in Brno, where he studied in three painting studios (Prof. Petr Kvíčala, Prof. Martin Mainer, and Prof. Petr Veselý). In the meantime, he spent time studying at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague, in the Studio of Intermedia Art, headed by Jiří David (2005). At present, he continues as a Ph.D. student in Václav Stratil’s studio in Brno. The author experiments with the painting and the painting format. He searches new ways to understand and articulate them. The language of painting, which was associated with the surface at the beginning of his artistic work, is subsequently transformed into a wider defined morphology. He abandons the quadratic painting format and enters into the space. He thus follows the issues of reviewing the painting format, which took place in the fine arts at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s. Among them, let us mention the works of painter Jan Kotík (1916 – 2002) from that period. The fact that these issues and their interpretation are still relevant for contemporary art is also shown in the recent exhibition in the MUMOKU in Vienna entitled Malerei: Prozess und Expansion. Von den 1950er – Jahren bis heute.

Within the STAR UP II project of the City Gallery Prague, in which this Prague institution has been presenting young and emerging authors, Petr Dub opted for a different strategy. Stepping away from the review of the painting format, he engaged in the method of intervention in the gallery space. The press release mentioned that the author was inspired by the book entitled The Conspiracy of Art by French postmodernist philosopher Jean Baudrillard (theoretician of simulation and critique of socialism). The “simulacrum” became the motive, probably conceived as an “empty painting” in this case. Here, the scepticism towards the expression possibilities of the painting is sublimed in a conceptual installation thematising the environment of the gallery operation. The author entitled the project FEMALE CUSTODIAN, through which he confirmed the focus of his attention on a certain inter-space of the gallery operation – on the organ of the inner direct control of the visitor.

I will take the liberty of sharing my own personal experience (the visitor’s experience), which is, in my view, important for the perception of this particular installation. At the entrance to the exhibition, a live custodian introduces “the situation” to the visitor. At the ticket office, I was thus welcomed with kind helpfulness by a pleasantly formally dressed elderly man who accompanied me o the single room where the project takes place. At the entrance, I was instructed that the exhibition area could only be entered partially, being strongly warned about the barely noticeable barrier consisting of a net of fishing lines, i.e. a certain “border” between the accessible and inaccessible part of the exhibition area. In the gloom, “on the other bank”, I could see a sitting figure – a caricature of a female custodian. On one of the walls, a painting was installed as an exemplum. Not on its own but rather as an artefact-sign, as a semantic gesture of the relation between the “authorship” and the “exhibition area”, which was, given the invoked situation, controlled by something completely different from the displayed art. Above all, the evocation of relations. A number of them, mutually overlapping, for example between the visitor and the inaccessible area, between the physically present custodian waiting behind our back and the caricature of the sitting female custodian, or between double waiting – in the real time in case of the “working custodian” and the real time of the exhibition in case of the artefact of “like-a-female-custodian”, who stays in the room even after the working hours, when the lights are switched off and people go home. Nevertheless, the evocation of the relation between the exhibition’s author, visitor and custodian is equally important. The author reminds himself here through a small painting with several covered surfaces and the text “Drag me to …”. The biggest space is dedicated to “networking” the corridor between the “female custodian” and the entering viewer. Who is to drag or pull whom and where? There are a number of alternatives who should be mentally relocated where and what role or activity should be recast: the boredom of the female custodian, the activity of the searching viewer-detective, routine work of the custodian-employee, maliciousness of the absent author, etc.

What appears here is the topic of expectation, waiting and surviving. The female custodian is an employee of the institution who fulfils her duties according to the instructions. In the precisely defined time, she oversees the displayed artefacts. She spends here, on “her workplace”, i.e. at the exhibition, her paid time. She thus becomes an element that – despite not being part of the exhibition intention – is part of the exhibition area, similarly to fire protection measures, emergency exit arrows or air-conditioning. Whether she likes it or not, the female custodian enters the context of the exhibition as a supervision body, being a proof of elevated caution towards the viewer: in essence, she is an act of distrust to the visitor who is a potential danger to the presentation place. Yet Petr Dub separates her from the viewer, renders her harmless and closes her to her own world, i.e. the world of permanent and quiet waiting, i.e. waiting that, following Baudrillard, permanently differentiates by focusing on various types and horizons of waiting: waiting for the lunch break, a snack, a coffee, a substitute, the end of the working hours, a holiday, visitors, and their passing and leaving. The female custodian resembles the eternal fisherman who spends hours sitting on the riverbank and often not being much interested in the very purpose of his activity (fish themselves). This is probably the origin of the motive of the fishing rod and the net of the fishing line.

The project is an author’s intervention which is not, however, primarily directed against the institution in the political sense. Rather, it is a kind of a “control shaft” notifying of the operating facilities of the institution and its operating apparatus checking the visitor whether they follow the rules of conduct during their visit. If they violate them, the institution intervenes using available means. In the meantime, when “nothing happens”, a paradoxical phenomenon occurs: the viewer watches the works and the custodian watches the viewer. This is undoubtedly assisted by a surveillance system, alarm, ticket officer, police, etc. Who or what does the author watch though? He may be searching his own position here, i.e. the position of someone who fills this apparatus with his work that is a connecting element of the visitor and the institution. If the works were not here, nothing would make sense. Changing the symmetrical proportion between the exhibited works (1 piece!), the number of real and fictitious custodians (1 real and 1 fictitious), and conscious complicating the visit to the area to the viewer (limited space and gloom), aims at changing the gallery environment in something inappropriate or even mysterious. It is much more similar to a Godot-like waiting room for the repeated end (the end of the working hours or the end of the exhibition period), rather than a “meditative” or “study” area of the exhibition presentation. “The repeated end” functions as a metaphor to Baudrillard’s theory of “the impossibility of an end” and the so-called post-historical era, the era without the existence of open horizons and without the possibility of innovations. In this case, the horizon of the author’s attention is diverted from the works of art onto the repeated operation. It is a game which, on the background of adjusting a character (and profession) of the custodian in the exhibition framework and adjusting the exhibition period in the time frame of the institution’s exhibition programme, thematises the artistic operation which does not have a beginning or an end. Before and after this presentation, there is a flood of other projects and exhibitions: those that have already been realised and those that are to be prepared. The only quota that must be fulfilled is the supply of increasing human populations and their needs. Using Baudrillard’s scepticism, everything else is a mere illusion. And what does the custodian think of that? He may be looking forward to going home to watch a football match.


1. Malerei: Prozess und Expansion. Von den 1950er – Jahren bis heute. Museum Moderner Kunst – Stiftung Ludwig, Wien. Curators: Rainer Fuchs and Edelbert Köb, 9. 7. – 3. 10. 2010.

2. Start up II press release, Petr Dub/ Female Custodian, 28. 4. – 31. 5. 2011, Dům U Zlatého prstenu, curator: Sandra Baborovská, concept author: Karel Srp

Custodian’s double code: From an innocent joke to a critical gesture (Petr Vaňous, Modern Art Revue, May, 2011)