The Word for Word exhibition is itself a sort of visual poetry transferred into an actual context.
Robert Šalanda (*1976) and Dušan Zahoranský (*1972) have clearly positioned themselves on the Czech contemporary art scene. Both of them have achieved a distinguished personal style, which, in case of Zahoranský, can be traced mainly in three-dimensional installations, while Šalanda’s work consists predominantly in painting. However, both authors like to reach out into other media of artistic expression. The decisive moment that also inspired the idea of presenting these two artists together has been their interest in words, signs and linguistic phenomena, all of which are transferred to the visual level. Meanings are being played with, enriched by new layers produced by the artists’ imagination. Thus, in some respects, their work follows the tradition of lettrism or visual poetry, which resounded in the Czech milieu mainly in the 1960s. Apart from the artists’ interest in an isolated sign and exploration of its visual aspect and shape, the works of Zahoranský and Šalanda are penetrated by somewhat transformed poetry, in connection with sometimes even banal contemporary statements, such as a pop singer texts, or language of sports commentators. Another source of inspiration is the city full of text and visual reference, whose meanings are usually far from being neutral. As if a person moving among today’s cities or even through the landscape surrounding and interconnecting them would browse through a book of company logos and (politicized, commercialized) statements, pushing his or her way through a dense growth of distorted and, either obviously or secretly, manipulative systems of signs.
Words taken out of their original context become a sort of affirmation or life wisdom for Šalanda (e.g. “It’s natural to hold tight but then your hands start to ache” – a comment from off-road motorcycle racing). In case of Zahoranský, we encounter references to contents or meanings that one may not be able to trace back (the “Manifesto”, “here and now”). Current works of both artists are characterized by even deeper interest in linguistic exploration and mastery of almost scientific practices, which however result in an aesthetically rich fruition. Zahoranský makes use of the Prague Linguistic Circle research. The Prague L. Circle was one of the most influential schools of linguistic thinking before World War II. Zahoranský explores the legacy of thinkers such as Jan Mukařovský or Jiří Veltruský, as well as the current activities of this “Prague Focal Point”. Thus his work becomes surprisingly committed – through the intersection of thought influenced by linguistic angle, and the milieu of the city and commerce. In his most recent projects, the artist works with textual and visual signs derived from everyday context, which however acquire ambiguous or even subversive meaning in his objects.
At present, Šalanda’s key focus is mainly linguistic consideration of set phrases or frequently repeated expressions in the Czech language. A whole series of Šalanda’s work is about set phrases containing a color reference: “černý pasažér” (fare dodger, in Czech the phrase contains the word “black”), “modré z nebe” (the blue from the sky), etc. The artist provides these phrases with – at a first glance non-compatible – visual likeness, nevertheless still related to their original meaning. The works of both artists share humor, even certain dose of irony and ease, with which they handle their topics. The words, signs, colors, and shapes often end up in surprising situations that capture viewer’s imagination on both verbal and purely emotional level.
Both artists created new works for it, which reflect not just their current pondering on the topics mentioned, but also respond to the specific gallery’s space and to discussions evolved from this rather surprising connection within one exhibition – it is these artists’ first collaborative project. The exhibition’s composition, enhanced by Jan Pfeiffer’s design, should tell the viewer a kind of non-linear story of shifted meanings and chances to read between the lines, as well as render a strong visual experience. Thus the spectator becomes an active co-author, the missing word in a sentence. The project would like to show that the connection between visual art and linguistics, their mutual inspiration and influence is still relevant and brings about new challenges associated with shifts and changes achieved in both disciplines.