Double States in Petr Dub’s Icon-Objects (Jiří Ptáček)

Petr Dub’s artistic work is often perceived in relation to painting and its critical examination. While this is not an unwarranted anchoring in the context of Petr Dub’s personal development, we might ask ourselves a few questions when looking at his work from recent years that will at least loosen it up. Why do we consider Petr Dub’s work to be paintings in the first place? Because they are suspended? Because some of them feature a reference to the expressive strokes of paint pastes with brushes and paintbrushes? Because he titled one of his exhibitions “Another Way Not to Paint Paintings”, while another “The Gaps Between Paintings”, and another “The Antithesis of Painting”, while, conversely, none of them expressed anything about other artistic media? Because of the fact that in time, he has called his cycles anti-paintings, under-paintings or repetitive paintings?

In spite of these undeniable references to painting, is it not possible to state perhaps dryly that due to their three-dimensional nature and technological execution, they are mostly reliefs, i.e. traditionally speaking, works of a rather sculptural character? Was it not a key moment for Petr Dub, at the end of the last decade, when he provided the canvas and the reinforcements of the lower frames with the opportunity to defy the role of the obediently waiting painting treasure and thus also to abandon its unambiguous identity? And what does this mean? If we raise such challenging questions, it is worth suggesting why Petr Dub would do so. Perhaps through other questions: Is it possible that Dub’s ambition is for his works to be both paintings and to depart from paintings at the same time? Are they to blur the distinction between the painting and object/sculpture, and become both? A kind of icon-objects? And can a similar ambition be found in other areas of Dub’s approach to works of art?

For the past hundred years, painting has been the most sought-after and “bullied” child of the visual arts. Its dominance among artistic disciplines has been challenged both by the “expansion of the field” of art and by the recurring controversy over its social functions. In the current situation, however, when it occupies all spheres of artistic activity in a form of a surprisingly vital zombie, any dancing on its grave seems like a somewhat anachronistic ritual. Nevertheless, Petr Dub insists on questioning the painting and the picture. He is aware that the current return of painting to the limelight is largely due to the art market and especially to the widespread (though mostly probably unconscious) desire of collectors to bring their acquisitions of original and exclusive works closer to the status of aristocratic and later bourgeois collectors. For instance, Petr Dub’s recent works from the larger Repetitive Paintings series seem to both fulfil and frustrate these expectations.

Not only in the spirit of his earlier works, these circular hoops with empty centres serve as frames and picture surfaces in one. An important part of their concept, however, consists in the fact that they combine the aspects of singularity and inimitability with the aspects of seriality and the interchangeability of mutually identical copies. What appears to be the artist’s physical stake in them is in fact cast from the mould, and what distinguishes the works from each other is limited by Petr Dub to the choice of colour shade of the finish.

Understandably, Dub’s icon-objects are also subject to market exchange. Their visual attractiveness is maximised by the choice of colours that we traditionally associate with luxury and wealth. It is therefore no wonder that they are often perceived as glittering art jewels stimulating the viewer’s indulgence. In a secondary sense, however, these artefacts do contradict themselves when they place alongside, or perhaps even over one another, the functions of superficial “decoration” and critical analysis of factors such as originality, the importance of physical participation in the creation of the work, etc. In this sense, his work is a hybrid and created by hybridisation.

The B.I.G. exhibition showcases two different yet related sets of artefacts. The parallels arising between them are aspects of “power”, “ideal” and “control” embodied in an abstract form. The bent shapes of the icon-objects in the Pain & Gain cycle give the impression that they are the result of intense bodily (or perhaps machine?) pressure. In reality, however, they were not created through the application of a (de)formative force, but again through a controlled process of casting into a pre-prepared matrix. It could be said of them that they are not destroyed, but constructed… which, however, does not change the fact that it is hard to disassociate the aspect of “violence” from them.

The human mind associates perceived phenomena with already stored knowledge on the basis of recognised features. This mostly helpful yet flawed and assumption-based mechanism allows for later corrections, even though it is a difficult and only partially successful process. Petr Dub seems to be thematising the layering of information over itself, the emergence of a mixture of incompatible, contradictory or opposing “opinions”. In my opinion, his point is not to accentuate the fallacy of human opinion or a trivially simulated reality, but the fact of the existence of two parallel states.

Similarly, the “emptiness” framed by the casts of the circular Repetitive Paintings, which form the second component of his exhibition, may also be misperceived. Is it really an empty, omitted space? Did you take a closer look? Or did you start from the assumption that it is empty because it corresponds in its basic features to the form of the surrounding plaster?

The plaster inside the circles was beaten, painted and whitewashed for the purposes of the exhibition. At first glance, they are indistinguishable from the others. Their surfaces, however, are undamaged by the gallery operation. Do they thus represent their ideal state? And if we look at them differently, can we still think of them as empty places?

Also in the case of the new plaster in the circles of Petr Dub’s icon-objects, it is an act of control over the defined area and its construction with the intention of moving towards the image of the ideal. However, the paradoxical fulfilment of this idea would de facto consist in the absurd galleries in which art is not exhibited. On a conceptual level, Dub’s gesture can therefore be understood as the fulfilment / non-fulfilment of this idea. It is similarly ambivalent, as if he stripped the particular places of their emptiness and filled them with emptiness.

Photographs of female musculatures may only appear in the exhibition as accessories to the aesthetic of the robust Pain & Gain icon-objects. However, they are essential within the exhibition’s activated meaning games. They do not capture graceful female curves, but weight-worked musculature which, to the uninitiated observer, may appear rather masculine.

Bodybuilding in general is a movement towards an ideal based on the controlled use of physical strength. Its goal is not to have more strength, but to shape (construct) the human body by developing the potentials of its own tissue. In this sense, it is a form of self-mastery. It is not directed outwards – as, for example, with a fist punch during a pub fight – but concentrates within the body itself.

Petr Dub perceives women’s bodybuilding as attractive both because it upsets the general idea of external differences between feminine and masculine body ideals, and because the element of strength is not the objective but the means, even though we can easily confuse one with the other through ignorance. Similarly, we can confuse a frame with a painting, a painting with an object, a painter’s gesture with a sculptural modelling, a construction with a destruction, or the conceptual with the sensual… unless we accept that all these polarities are part of a network of states in which his works occur simultaneously.

From the above, one might think that Petr Dub’s artistic programme is a kind of vulgar postmodern relativisation not allowing differentiation and blurring clear positions in a mishmash of all sorts of things. Yet the author does not take any such position, and certainly not in the field outside of art itself. However, if he speaks to us through artistic means about the more universal themes of human thought, it is about the difficulty of evaluating sensory experience, the dangers of complacency and the need to view reality not as a given fact but as an issue to be questioned.

At the beginning of November last year, the sad news of the death of Eduard Schmitd, Rector Emeritus of Masaryk University, entered the peak of preparations for Dub’s exhibition. Not only was he one of the most important supporters of visual artists and contemporary art in Brno, but he also entered Petr Dub’s life as the very first person to purchase a work of art from him, still being a student at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the Brno University of Technology. The first collector is not forgotten, just as most of the first, new and sometimes turning points in an artist’s career are not forgotten, either. Unless the first sale leaves an aftertaste of exploitation or abuse, which unfortunately happens, it is an important vote of confidence in the young person and the path they have taken. Petr Dub remembers Professor Schmidt in this way. Together with Petr Kamenický from the Pitevna Gallery, we have therefore decided to dedicate this exhibition to him.