In 1981, the New Yorker published a film review under the title Portrait of the artist as a young gadgeteer. The piece describes a film that had just been released, whose central character accidentally witnesses a car crash while recording sounds for a low budget movie. The crash turns out to be a carefully planned murder.In the end the sound technician exposes the whole conspiracy thanks to his own sound recording which he syncs with a series of stills to make a crude animation. The photographs were taken at the crime scene by a hired paparazzo and published in the fictional paper News Today. The gadgeteer in question is John Travolta, the film’s main protagonist. We never find out the title of the film for which Travolta was out recording sounds of nature on that fateful night. It’s not important because the names of his previous films, which he lists in one of the opening scenes say it all – Blood Bath, Blood Bath 2, Bad Day at Blood Beach and Bordello of Blood. Nor do we learn what it actually was that he heard that night. Was it really a shot in the dark or merely the sound of a car tyre bursting?

A certain kind of gadgeteering is also discernible in Roman Štětina’s artistic practice. It’s not a form of DIY apparent at first glance, characterised by imperfections in execution and an ostentatious amateurism. Quite the opposite, it‘s carefully prepared gadgeteering, striving to create the impression of perfect execution. His installations, objects and videos display a meticulous effort, aiming for a result as immaculate as possible, sometimes to the point of being coldly professional. It’s cutting edge gadgeteering, where hand crafted imitation creates the impression of machine production. Tension is generated between the formal execution and the formulation of content, suspense often takes the foreground as the work’s key asset. In his older performance as part of the spatial installation Zkušebna (Rehearsal Room), Štětina subjected four snare drums made of glass to a test of resilience employing metal drum sticks. Although the shape of the objects indicated that they could be put to such use, the glass induced a feeling of fragility and naturally discouraged applying any harder strikes. Every glass product exhibits internal stress which is a result of the technology of production. Put simply, stress is often generated as a result of incorrect cooling of the raw material, leading to the glass being more liable to fracturing. The result of Štětina’s somewhat absurd test of internal stress was external tension. The internal stress inside the glass can to some extent be measured, while it tends not to be apparent to any significant extent on the surface. As for psychological experiences of internal tension, the situation tends to be reversed.
In film, suspense is often generated either by the sound track or by something taking place out of frame. We project our own imagination into the audio and the missing scenes, awaiting with suspense how our projections will turn out. In the same way that Travolta made futile efforts throughout the film to find out what he actually heard that night, the viewer of the film Studio No. 2 (Slapstick) tries to ascertain what he’s actually just seen. To some extent the videofilm develops the subject of his previous work entitled Studio No. 1 (Demonstration), i.e. the staging of a process for producing artificial sound effects, but it progressively abandons the austerely analytical form of its predecessor, based on the disparity between visual and auditory perception, becoming a psychological study of one character. What we do not see enhances the suspense of what is displayed before our eyes.

Jiří Havlíček

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