In the monograph on Ivan Kafka we can read that “his installations often refer to environments that attract the artist´s attention and inspire him (…) while other times he searches for spaces that would enable him to realize his ideas which had been waiting for the right opportunity for many years.” (Jiří Machalický, 2006) With regard to this categorization, Kafka´s current exhibition in the Entrance Gallery falls into the second category. The artist did not choose the space himself but he was invited to take part in a one-year exhibition program focusing on mature artists in the context of a gallery which had previously focused on artists who had more or less just started their career.
Ivan Kafka chose to present an installation which he originally meant to show some time ago in Brno. He “planted” traffic signs in a flower-bed in the former greenhouse in Břevnov monastery. The connotation with floral motifs is by no means incidental – already during the first meeting in the gallery Ivan Kafka spoke with real enthusiasm about his passion for beetles and his collection of butterflies. This leisure time activity can be seen as a parallel to his art work (both activities are equally important for him though) and, as we can notice, large and beautiful collections of insects, where representatives of the same species are arranged in large numbers following a symmetrical order, reminding us of the main principles of Kafka´s work which is reproduction (or variation) of one basic element. In this case – No Parking road signs.
As mentioned above, the installation called The Realm of Futility is presented for the first time, it is on show in the Entrance Gallery, and we may trace a number of similarities with Kafka´s previous work. Besides multiplicity, we should also notice what objects the artist has chosen. Kafka has been interested in road signs for a long time because they correspond with his interest in geometric elements seen outdoors and bright and reflexive colours, of which blue, red and white (which happen to be the colours of the tricolour) occur around us most frequently. In addition, let us mention also his liking for movement and traffic itself: Kafka repeatedly used warning traffic cones in his installations (Warning out of Joy, 1992-4) and his favourite windsocks are tools we normally see at airports. Some of his installations were placed on a boat (Island of Freedom/as well as Depression, 1975-98) or in a train carriage (Czech Sacks –Trippers, 2003-4). Apart from references to transport we can also perceive the installation of road signs from the perspective of delimiting space strategy. Kafka often creates situations in which movement is made difficult or impossible (Space Violated by Passage, 1980). We can also look at the No Parking road sign with view to symbols. The poetically pessimistic title of the installation (in line with the element of the absurd and futility in the titles of Kafka´s previous works): Possible Impossibility/Impossible Possibility, Rattle into the Void, From Nowhere to Nowhere, Taking Pains in Vain) may suggest that we cannot reach a place and simply dwell somewhere, we have to keep moving because there are No Parking signs everywhere. This interpretation might be understood also as a metaphor of the busy life today. With a little bit of effort we might be able to come up with a slightly more optimistic view: “Don´t stop here” might become an encouraging indication warning us not to stagnate, become stiff and lethargic. “Keep moving” – might be another appeal urging us to leave the realm of futility, an appeal which everyone of us needs to hear from time to time regardless how far he has gone in life.
The confrontation of a mature artist and his younger peer is an important theme of this year´s exhibition series. Ivan Kafka’s exhibiting guest, Tomáš Moravec, presents his work entitled KISS&RIDE, which, in a way, makes things „come the full circle“. It is the shape of a circle that connects the work of both artists, however, if we looked for more features they have in common, we would certainly find more. The title of Moravec´s gentle non-depicting work is again related to the world of motorists and evokes a different perception of time on the road. We can stop, but only for a short while to say goodbye to those who are leaving us. The wheels of smoke are gradually disappearing. In Moravec´s abstract work there is more melancholy than real vanity in Ivan Kafka´s installation. Both artists also work with smoke. Moravec had used smoke in the past and perhaps did not even know that Kafka incorporated smoke in his projects, too – e.g. A Bit of Life – Threatening (1989), NY (1990), Burning Out Again (1991). Perhaps this is a typical moment reminding us that to come across something absolutely new in contemporary art is really rare nowadays, which is a memento for all artists of the younger generation. On the other hand, it is true that you can never step in the same river twice and despite the tendency to look for similarities, it is clear that both Kafka´s and Moravec´s work is autonomous and it is absoloutely impossible to reduce their work to a discussion on primacy.
A good example of differences in their similarity is, for instance, their relationship to documentation. It is important for both of them but Kafka creates an aesthetically impressive photo documentation in order to capture ephemeral work designed for a specific place and time, while Moravec, on the contrary, constructs ephemeral objects and situations that are not meant to be seen on their own but are meant for video recording which becomes the final product. We could well continue this ‘comparative study’, however, what is important is that both exhibiting authors complete each other, they offer a key to the interpretation of the other while still remaining themselves. We could easily go on with this „comparative study“ but the important thing is that both exhibiting artists complement each other and they spontaneously offer a key to the interpretation of each other´s work while remaining themselves.