Sentences after conceptual art (Adam Štěch)

Among other topics, the artist Petr Dub has long been involved in the interpretation of words and images. For this purpose, he often uses architecture which enters his work as a dignified and permanent platform for uttering polemical, ironic, unstable or established layers of new visual and content information.

He adopted a similar strategy in the project Theorems after Conceptual Art, which he created for the interior of the Church of Priest Ambrose of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church in Hradec Králové. It is a specific sacral building, designed by the architect Josef Gočár, which was built in the years 1926-1929 in the ascetic spirit of the emerging modernism. This architecture shows Gočár’s development from structured and brick individualistic modernity to clear and sharp angles and areas of functionalism. The temple is part of a larger ensemble, built on the ground plan of an irregular triangle and surrounded by the buildings of the diocese, parish office and columbarium. At the very end, there is the church, which symbolically resembles a ship with its narrowing nave and round windows.

Petr Dub enters the interior with respect to Gočár’s architecture and in an effort to create new connections. In his work, he uses an essential text on conceptual art, Theorems on Conceptual Art, formulated in the late 1960s by the American minimalist sculptor Sol LeWitt, whose art is, as a matter of coincidence, very close to architecture. In addition to geometrically constructed objects and drawings following the Viennese Art Nouveau and the radical reduction of shapes in the work of Josef Hoffmann and other modernists, LeWitt also deals with the importance of conceptual art in theoretical considerations. He himself belongs to the generation defining the meaning of conceptualism for the second half of the 20th century.

LeWitt’s rational and speculative interpretations of conceptual art are projected by Petr Dub into the structures of strict modernist architecture, thus capturing the dogmas of the fine arts of the last century in today’s equally dogmatically perceived architecture. The author deliberately avoided attempts to apply the theorems to physical architecture. Therefore, he collaborates on the project with his colleague, photographer Zdeněk Porcal, who captures the interior of the church more than perfectly photographically, so that the resulting material is subsequently modified in post-production by Pavel Vinter, professionally versed in architectural visualisations. This creates a chain of semantic and visual layers without the theorems actually appearing in the architecture. At the level of thought, these are various sections of reality, a kind of professional illusion, with which the author deliberately plays, followed by the actual architecture: word – visualisation – reproduction and postproduction. In this sense, a parallel is offered to avant-garde art itself, in which the belief in one’s own inviolability persists, while at the same time preserving the right to challenge all social conventions. The author refers to the use of contemporary architectural drawings and visualisations, generally understood as a manner of depicting “reality”, yet at the same time expressing it only partially and in many cases completely inaccurately or in an intentionally misleading manner.

Petr Dub does not shift the theorems only in the visual sense, but also in the semantic sense, when he replaces the words “art” and “artist” in LeWitt’s theorems with the words “faith” and “believer”. The ideas acquire a completely new content framework and in the context of the sacral architectural space, they transcend to the general level of social, cultural and spiritual values of contemporary society and their transformation and possible decomposition.

At the same time, the artist works with a font motif in the architectural space. The text as such became an essential art medium during the twentieth century. From a purely functional bearer of content, the writing came into a visual context, for example, with the advent of modern typography and advertising whose pioneers worked in the same spirit and time as the architects of functionalism. Sentences and language, as a purely artistic element, later appear in architecture as well: in precisely manufactured signboards of commercial brands and in the concept of architecture as such. In the works of the Californian movement Supergraphics and its main representative Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, the font changes into a distinctive pop-art decor, while in the work of the Uruguayan architect Mario Payssé Reyes, the font carries even a sacred content, similar to Petr Dub’s approach. For example, he decorated the façade of the Seminario Arquidiocesano Church in Montevideo with plastic Christian brick inscriptions.

In his new project, Petr Dub again connects the fragments of the mosaic of the history of art and architecture and by rebuilding them, he returns to old themes and at the same time opens new ones.