ZORKA SÁGLOVÁ: HAY-STRAW 50
28|07 – 23|08|2019
hunt kastner is pleased to present this tribute to Zorka Ságlová on the 50th anniversary of the presentation of her iconic, and at the time controversial, installation “Hay-Straw” that was shown at the exhibition Jiří Kolář & Běla Kolářová, Jan Ságl & Zorka Ságlová, Something Somewhere at Václav Špala Gallery in Prague in 1969.
Hay-Straw was realized in the traditional space of the Václav Špála Gallery on Národní St. in Prague in August 1969. In one room, Zorka Ságlová exhibited yellow bales of straw and green alfalfa; in the other, brown-green hay. The pressed bales kept rearranging, hay kept being piled and raked in many different ways, and thus, there was a constant, but subtle and artistically homogeneous change of the exhibited objects. Due to the looseness of the bales, hay and straw became scattered all over the rooms and mixed up, and here thus appeared material structures whose movement suggested possibilities that became typical for Ságlová’s future works. Here, the accidental was indistinctly combined with prepared structure. On the one hand, the installation Hay, Straw gave an avant-garde impression and shocked both the artistic layman and professional public, but, on the other (as we see especially after a lapse of time), it was a very poetic and, in fact, traditional work.
This exhibition, which presents 16 black and white photographs taken by Jan Ságl throughout the exhibition (including the dernissage where the dissident rock group The Plastic People of the Universe played) holds no ambition to be a recreation of the event, which we feel in any case to be impossible to faithfully reenact, but more of an reminder of how things were and a tribute to an artist and her unique legacy. What follows, is the original exhibition text, written by the exhibition curator Jiří Padrta.
Špála Gallery, 14 – 31 August 1969
This exhibition, organized as part of the Špála Gallery’s resolution to introduce the public to today’s current art efforts, does not represent a clear-cut collective program. It does not want to astonish, shock or persuade. It simply puts forward some new ideas that are in no way traditionally realized in works of art – things, but documented by things, and through things that still seem to have nothing to do with art, as it is mostly understood until now. In addition, it captures in photo-documentation some of the events and situations that have occurred, while drawing attention to others that may occur or are occurring regularly. In short, it is an exhibition anytime and anywhere possible, not predetermined, intended, finished and closed. Hence the name “Something Somewhere“.
The viewer, although accustomed to the very diverse manifestations of contemporary modern art, can be immediately discouraged by some obvious facts and circumstances: the absence of imagery, the indifference of all present to every a priori art form, and finally the most striking feature of presenting reality in a totally raw factual “reality”. The reality in this concept is neither reproduced nor evoked by means of art, but merely seen, exposed, cut out of its original environment, translated into a new context, and presented to sight, touch, hearing, and manipulation that can alter the static fact of its existence by physical action. The artist simply addresses it and lets the viewer react to it. Any limitation of thus understood “creation” through form, matter, material, dimension, or place disappears and the classical meaning of a work of art as a metaphor is replaced by the sense of the thing – the uniqueness of its being. Likewise, the traditional triangle of the studio – gallery – museum is eliminated (the fact that a gallery space is used in this case changes nothing, for such a presentation or event can be arranged anywhere else).
The artist’s work can happen everywhere, and it basically matters not at all where. Their material and inventory is unlimited. It can be drawn from all nature, whether actual nature or within civilization.
The standpoint (which is very briefly outlined here and which we will try to characterize further) is essentially and more or less common to all viewers of this exhibition despite all the differences of opinion. There is a question of where it came from and what its meaning actually is. The answer requires at least a few words of introduction to the broader context of the current world situation: The age-old problem of approximating reality by artistic means has gained in significance, as is known, after the cessation of the wave of informal art of the late nineteen-fifties, along with the new realism and pop-art of very special, highly current aspects. Robert Rauschenberg’s well-known words about the gap between art and life which needs to be populated can be seen as one of the undeclared slogans of that era, which attempted to restore the artist’s relationship to the factual world, neglected by post-war abstract art, and to redefine the distance that man is separated from it.
Unfortunately, in this framework, it is not possible to mention all attempts to fill that gap over the last ten years, nor to quantify all the discoveries that have taken place. Let us conclude, therefore, to sum it all up, that together with the new realists and pop-artists, the artist no longer intends to merely evoke reality, but to do art with the help of and by means of reality itself. The generous development of the object’s aesthetics, already stimulated by the legacy of Duchamp, the evaluation of urban folklore and the vast factual inventory of civilization nature which resulted from this conviction allowed art to abolish the vast majority of traditional material, methodological, and technological constraints, to actually exit its classic boundaries and to work out its qualitatively new relationships to things and to materiality. But all this was just one aspect of this survey on art and reality.
Along with the so-called minimal art – which, in its own specific way, has preserved and further developed some features of pop art (e.g. the over-enlarged dimension and impersonality of expression) – abstract form was essentially subjected to the same process of “enlargement”. The result was a real form – a concept devoid of all anecdotal meanings and nothing but heaven, its physical existence in space. Although in this way minimal art has preserved for itself a specific relationship with the aesthetics of the object on the one hand, on the other hand it has surpassed this relationship by the fact that its goal is no longer a mere self-contained work – an object, but a concept of a new organization of space in this “materialized” form. The concurrent various issuing of so-called new tendencies, new constructivism, kinetic art, and programmed art, then developed this idea into mutually different, but at certain points just parallel in consequences anyway, placing the preferred emphasis not only on the thing – the form, but on the processuality of its origin and action, whether already mediated using rational industrial techniques or modern means of communication (computer, electronics, light projection, radio, etc.) or intentional preparation of new concepts and situations presented to the viewer. The “forms” that arose in this way are no longer completed castings of pre-given creative ideas, but a factual illustration of an artistic process requiring the active experience of the viewer.
At the opposite pole, rejecting the austere dictation of geometry and rational scientific-technical regimes, with which some of the above-mentioned ideas work, the new art was broadened with new distances by the situations, actions and events of the movement of happenings, environments and events that were attempting to apply themselves directly in the middle of today’s life, directly manipulating its reality, unifying material things with physical action, and psycho-physiological responses in time, and discovering new ritual aspects of reality.
However, this simultaneous multi-front attack on the massive dynamics of today’s reality has yet another, no less important aspect. One of them is the series of massive mass responses to the rigid and stuck stereotypes of today’s society’s social policies and against the degenerate functions of its consumer culture that we have seen over the past few years, headed by young and the youngest generations, asserting their right to their own feelings, gestures and actions.
This complex, changeable, but still summarily difficult to define international phenomenon, which is one of the forms and expressions of this activity, known as the “underground” movement, demanding, and now realistically creating, its own culture, which wants to be a conscious social anti-form, contributes to a shaping of the new current situation with a contribution that is increasing in importance. The strong tendency towards contemplation and to new ritual on the one hand and to rehabilitation of the instinctual and the physical in their pure state on the other hand, which characterizes its efforts to establish a new personal code of moral and spiritual values, finds a parallel response in one part of the latest artistic efforts of recent times, consciously negating not only the hierarchy of the habitual functional relationships to the surrounding reality, but also negating their deformed reflections in today’s societal social consciousness, bound by the overproduction of a modern manufacturing world, in which art has also become mere consumer goods.
All these are some of the features of today’s situation, which are being created after the recent decline in the flow of pop culture and minimal art, and which is now often confirmed to still be lacking any leitmotif. For the time being, artists who react to it can hardly be said to be of a distinctly defined tendency. Rather, they form larger or smaller scattered groups around the world promoting actions of the most diverse sorts, such as recently presented in the rather varied selection of the Berlin Kunsthalle with the distinctive title “When Intentions Become Form“. Equally diverse and instrumental, if not ephemeral, are their names: “Art of Anti-Form”, “Micro-emotive Art”, “Possible and Impossible Art”, “Concept-Art”, “Arte Povera”, “Raw-Materialism”, “Funk-art”, “Land-Art”, “L’Art Sauvage”, etc. So far, it is difficult to speak of any common features or even goals. So far, only some distinct tendencies seem apparent, these are mainly: real or seeming opposition to any art form, proclamation of things as art, evaluation of absolutely non-artistic raw or natural materials, direct interaction of human labor and material, creating concepts that do not necessarily require realization, inducing situations that can happen anywhere, expanding the artist’s action space by cartographic dimensions of the whole of the real and civilized natural environment, resistance to the market consumption of art, emphasis on the process and not on its outcome, exposure to material reality and information about it through means of communication, etc.
Basically, it is far more about new ways of thinking and reacting to reality than a movement that respects certain innate formal principles of meaning and stylistics. (In this respect, the choice of options is practically unlimited). It is hardly possible, if not hopeless, to judge this multifaceted set of new phenomena in terms of the scale of artistic values that is currently available. This is not only for the overall confusion of the terrain in which they operate, but also because they tend to behave in a way that is completely indifferent, considering such attempts useless and nonsensical. If some of them, however, signal something more than just the courage to experiment today, then it is probably a certain proposition of a new active relationship of man to the world, carried out by the most diverse and essentially indifferent means.
If, at first glance, this exhibition, in which Jiří Kolář, Běla Kolářová, Jan Ságl and Zorka Ságlová are involved, has something to do with some of the current propositions mentioned, then it is by no means merely a local illustration of those propositions, but an attempt at their own solution.
[ … ]
For Ságl and Ságlová, all reality is […] material and scenery for the projection of their or for the group “I”, the forms of which are realized by actions of various kinds. One is the simple choice of a certain environment, a section of reality or realities extracted from the original context and exhibited or exposed by the lens (e.g. the natural environment of the Zorka Ságlová -type “land-art” that is not exhibited here), at other times the presentation of human labor as art (as in this exhibition’s pressed straw bales, alfalfa and haystacks) and at other times the organized action-games and rituals in living nature and on the stage, performed together with Ivan Jirous and the beat groups The Primitives Group and The Plastic People of the Universe.
Here, in this last case, it is no longer a matter of presenting things or of the action itself and its outcome, but of a new way of thinking and feeling, and as the last desired consequence – also another life mode – rather than those conditioned and created by contemporary societal-social life. This means one which is freer, morally and psychologically deeper and cleaner, immediately fed by sources of undeformed instinct. From here there are the features of celebratory and almost ritual exaltation, visible in some of the photographs of Jan Ságl – and finally from here there is the connection (so hard to explain for many art theorists) with contemporary psychedelic beat music, the living through parallel feelings, and the connection with those people who operate and listen to it. Both carry a common thought, expressed by anything, by music, action, event, play, work, or simply by a chosen section of reality.
In conclusion, it can be said of this exhibition that it is rather the first incomplete test rather than any kind of balance sheet. It can be just as well arranged elsewhere, within four walls or outside in the field.
Jiří Padrta (Prague, 1969)