Opponent Players of Sleep

The current exhibition of Pavel Humhal shows an obvious change in his artistic approach. In comparison to his works collected in the last catalogue which he titled collectively as “Records of Manipulated Reality”, he has now suddenly turned to objects defined on one hand by spatial installation and on the other hand by utilization of found items. This change of approach is already visible on the entrance panel showing two of his works from recent years which might be temporarily closing the artist’s previous long period of artistic work dating as far back as the 1990s. The rear side of the panel shows a newly created copy of a list with names found somewhere on the street arranged into five columns. Humhal could not decipher its original purpose. It has however inspired him to a personal review in which he maintained the original arrangement. The real names have been replaced by imaginary ones.1 He used the chart list as an example based on which he provided his own explication of a certain order which had its own leader, groups and specified sequence. The front side of the panel shows a circle, visible from the entrance, containing a large number of artificially designed abstract patterns which might seem as if they should serve a certain purpose. However, they were in fact devised for their own sake and seem to emanate purely aesthetic purposes. Both these opening works of the exhibition – A tady je to pro nikoho (And Here It Is for No One) (2015) and Výseče a jiné grafy (Sectors and Other Graphs) (2016) – which both seem to refer to another place outside themselves, to be connected with their environment and denominate real persons or general phenomena, actually deliberately fail to meet this assumed expectation. They present an autonomous sign code to which nothing can be added subsequently. They have purified Humhal’s way of thinking. Their denominating aspect fails to meet the denominated entity; it points to it, but nothing is reflected there. They open a way to meditative contemplations on reality and fiction, on an ideo-grammatical superstructure expressed by newly conceived patterns which should have captured the changeability of everyday life.
In his previous probes, Pavel Humhal penetrated various layers of society: he focused on rituals, surveys, telephone records, socially marginalized people who always had to carry out some tasks or disclose facts about themselves – activities they would not have probably done in other circumstances. He challenged his fellow citizens to engage in his artistic works without following sociological researches. He thus became just the first initiator who then determined in which way he would process the obtained impulses and which shape they would acquire for the gallery environment for which they were originally intended. The works shown on the entrance panel signify the change of Humhal’s style we have known so far. He stopped drawing inspiration from his own environment, from the repeated events which involuntarily grow into certain kind of rituals, or from the life stories of selected individuals.
His installation Stylit (2012) became the intermediary of opinion-crossroads leading to accentuation of the internal movement of hidden images. For five hours, Pavel Humhal was the focal point, the centre of attention, to which the surroundings turned. People could ask him any questions to which he tried to provide “honest” answers. For this one-way questioning procedure, he formed a unique installation located in the Small Court of the Veletržní palác exhibition centre. The artist stood on a high pillar with his eyes covered by hands. He could recognize the people who asked questions by their voices only. At the same time, ha had to be careful not to fall down. The possibility to ask any kind of question not only led to a certain openness but literally ushered in the artist’s orientation towards the within. This presenting his own self on a pedestal signified the end of the world “in front of” the mirror so that the contrasting world “behind” it could appear; the world partially related to the surpassed older artistic experience and acquired technical skills. If previously Humhal tried to get under the surface of our current environment and human fates, if he dealt with the theme of handicapped people or the events which repeat on everyday basis, now he has shifted his attention to his own self. The same cracks which he used to discover in the society he is discovering in his own interior now. He even returned to the traditional material of fine arts – stucco, the whiteness and lightness of which determine the character of the current exhibition. The centrepiece of the exhibition, an installation suspended on a panel, suggest where he got his impulses and inspiration from – it is titled Insomnia. It consists of a plinth in the shape of a reversed pyramid which was made of gradually arranged MDF boards and has no connection to the ground. On its upper plane, there is a pillow and duvet. Humhal, who stayed under the duvet for a certain period of time, created a metaphoric “monument” to insomnia, which was, as far as the shape and meaning are concerned, contrary to Stylit. Although the artist became a part of his own object for some time (as is proven by a recorded film) the work can do just as well without him; it relates to each viewer. Unlike Stylit, where the questioning was not limited by anything and it was entirely up to the participants which areas they want to open, Insomnia suggests that the sources of the current exhibition are inside the “self”, that it has become a field of tormenting images materialized in three-dimensional objects of a symbolic and personal character. They provide space for contradicting meanings which the visitors can themselves project in and thus measure their experience with the artist’s. Various reasons for sleeplessness put the effects of a dream into new perspectives. The sleeplessness itself has got its own “images” which prevent sleep. From the grey zone between sleeping and being awake new contents appeared. Contents which looked as if they were coming from a dream but in fact they were rather preventing the falling asleep. They prevail in an uncertain tumbling-over space. They became sleep disturbers although originally, they could have been of a dreamlike nature. The natural colour of the stucco objects created an impression of forgetfulness, covered up the being awake state which prevented falling asleep. During the sleeplessness, intricate images emerged the existence of which might be even more bitter and painful for the artist than the recorded testimonies of others. Although the images often remained veiled, they related to anyone. In Insomnia, Humhal broke the borderline of the world recognisable by experience and entered his own self. And what he found there, he managed to materialize and transform into a three-dimensional form.
Some of his new works have a truly traumatic form. They are indirectly related to the body. Nevertheless, in a figurative sense, we could call them the slaughterhouse of soul. They often contain obvious or concealed erotic hints. An example can be found in the countermovement (in the sense of shape and meaning) of two objects characterised by a slanting position: the first of them is the suspended stucco Sirtuin (which is a name of a protein that helps the body start a protective reaction against stress, discovered in almost all living organisms), the second is the wooden Bard which sticks out of the wall in an almost threatening manner. The first of these works combines a burning candle the wax of which drips down and changes into tears and a purchased string bag. The second work represents a clumsy-looking wooden object composed of two pieces which could be used for defence as well as attack. Sometimes standing and falling interconnect. One of the last objects titled Je jen jediný způsob jak vás smířit (There is Only One Way to Reconcile You) incorporates a candle which is placed on an inclined round table top and prevented from sliding down by a strange-looking crutch (a root of a crooked decorative piece of wood) which splits into two parallel parts of a tree that was found after floods the effects of which are still visible on its surface. Humhal was attracted by the themes of growth and decrease, boom and decline, uniqueness and duality; as if some objects express traditional sculptural contents emphasised also by the stucco – a material the history of which dates far back into the past. The meanings which go beyond the coordinates into which they originally belonged appealed to him most. In Leviathan, he connected objects on a suspended panel and achieved an almost Lautréamont’s comparison: contrasting notions express opposing states of corporal weakening (represented by a phallic form on a plate) and internal opening-up of matter (represented by wooden cubes full of cracks, scorched by a flame for this purpose) located together on an ivory white “play” field of the size of a table-tennis table, the edges of which are chalky white. The summarizing metaphoric title of the work Leviathan (literally distorted, twisted, i.e. it can be related to both the objects in a figurative meaning) gives a hint that the “monster” swallowing up and exceeding the mind is the ocean of sleeplessness, which spilt into the gallery and filled it with works mixing conscious worries with omnipresent anxiety as an everyday disturbing state which has already risen from unconscious and spread over its surroundings.
Most focal points of meaning of the current exhibition are interconnected in the Bílá hereze (White Heresy) (2017), an old wooden wheelbarrow, which has not been used for years, turned upside down. Humhal has considered including the wheelbarrow into his artistic works for a long time. It has become an object referring to his childhood which he kept although he did not need it any more. The sleeplessness has created a certain imaginary space where being awake and sleeping interconnect. As if a part of the object belongs to one area, and the other part to the other area; the areas being in the relation of obverse and reverse to each other. The artist drew his inspiration from the possibility of their overlap. A load of sugar cubes has spilt out of the wheelbarrow – white sugar the harmful effects of which we are continuously reminded of. Green apples, made of plastic but looking real, are freely ascending into the space from the wheelbarrow’s handles. This event of transition and transformation is accompanied by the cold heat of two white stucco fireplaces located on the sides. The pyramid-shaped and at the same time conical composition of chopped-up fire wood expresses the limit possibility of its arrangement; an indication of the future order. The fireplace, a reminder of home and protection, has not awaken into the “reality” yet. It remains in the imaginary timelessness.
If, some years ago, Pavel Humhal incorporated the external environment into his artistic work, these days he uses it to create a new space. He reached the botomlessness inside the duration of time in which objects play roles of materialized catch-point notions before they disappear out of sight in the abyss of the Beyond glowing with white flame.

Karel Srp

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