Jan Šerých: ANE
27 January – 09 March 2024

 It doesn’t matter / Everything is one, 2023, inkjet print on wall
 View from the exhibition. All images by Ondřej Polák.
 Mirror, 2023, acrylic on canvas
 Past, 2023, acrylic on canvas
 Past, 2023, video loop
 Typewriter, 2020, acrylic on canvas
 Bob, 2023, acrylic on canvas
Text k výstavě v češtině.
hunt kastner is pleased to present new work by Jan Šerých (*1972, Prague) in his fourth solo exhibition with hunt kastner.  In his work, Šerých combines two seemingly opposite tendencies: the rational that manifests itself in the use of formal means of geometric abstraction and the emotional that represents the true content of his works. The new exhibition reflects the artist’s ongoing interest in the unclear boundaries between the traces of human activity and new technologies.
Entryway. The fact that “cats rule the internet” has been known for some time from image platforms, Instagram, and internet meme creators, and it could not escape the attention neither of bloggers nor academics[1]. It was a question of a short time when and how the simulacra would cross the separation of the virtual world and enter the physical space. On the walls of the gallery space a large, dynamic, black-and-white cat sonata unfolds before the eyes of the audience. But as soon as the observing eye stops on one of the paintings, it begins to suspect that something is not right. Here, the “totemic figure”, the “hypermeme” of the internet is not telling a humorous story about aspects of human emotion through personification, nor is it caricaturing a world of animal otherness. The cat bodies are in states of unnatural deformation and decomposition. The limbs are floating, cut off from the torso, which itself is has undergone pictorial metamorphoses, bearing signs of an almost insensitive cruelty. The description of the viewer’s point of view leads us to ask the artist: how were these paintings created? Similar to painted images, the starting point was a found image, nothing specific for the artist, of a black cat standing on the road near a metal railing. He marked various places on it, which he assigned to artificial intelligence for editing[2]. Textual commands such as black cat, jumping black cat, blurred, reversed, etc. changed the form of the selected part of the image; meanwhile, from several hundred samples, the artist did not select according to the extent of their fulfillment, but primarily by their visual appearance. The images are transferred onto the gallery walls by the technology of direct inkjet printing (wall-ink).
In contrast to Muybridge’s well-known animal series, which explored the positions of a cat’s suspended limbs and torso during movement through photography, in Šerých’s paintings we witness the exploration of photography through a new machine imitation. Here, artificial intelligence is unerringly able to master the surface of all the objects and plans of the image but works with it like a drawer who does not know anatomy. The photograph does not speak to us with its rigidity, but naturally conveys the essence of feline athletic grace, so that the observer practically forgets that it is a mechanical representation. The result of the dialogue between two entities is their strangeness. The open strangeness of two worlds, which for some may sound like a reason for ethically justified condemnation, for others may be a source of fascination.
We are also witnesses of a “dialogue” in the text painting Mirror at the head of the second room, or rather the ruins of a dialogue. It is compiled from selected responses of an AI chatbot with an interviewer. All the sentences come from the AI, but the mirror-reversed answers are spoken (by machine) in the first person, so they are projected onto the reader as if they had said it. What may be striking about their diction is the desire for perfection, “friendliness, politeness, helpfulness, and trustworthiness”, which, abstracted from the other components of interpersonal communication, seem like a discourse of the human ideal. A universalist superego, perhaps, that programmers have designed into the AI chatbot.
The three line paintings in the second niche, entitled DDOE, ANE, ERA, owe their subject to a chess problem called the knight’s tour. The task for the chess knight (known, among other things, from Perec’s novel Life: A User’s Manual) is to move through all the squares on the chessboard in such a way that it visits each one just once. Surprisingly, there are over 13 trillion possible solutions to this task. The representations of the moves without a chessboard that we have the opportunity to study in the paintings are therefore only a fleeting introduction to the subject, accompanied by names that have meaning encoded by the artist. But, as one viewer remarked, “they make people think”.
The final room. A video. A short chat with the artist:
– Donald Duck?
– The original source is a short – about one second – animated gif. The illusion of movement from somewhere to somewhere is created by the background, a running curtain.
– So, the duck is standing and a curtain in front of it is moving?
– The duck is also actually moving, but it seems more like an idling machine.
– And is it a continuous curtain, or is it slats, like we know from blinds, for example?
– I had the feeling that even in the original video it was not clear at times what the direction of movement actually was, so I cut the whole image into vertical strips and turned them sideways individually. A kind of futuristic ideal turned inside out.
Yeah, a normal curtain, velvet, if the resolution is anything to go by. 🙂
– Thank you for the interview!
– Likewise!
Text: Vít Havránek
[1] See, for example, the pioneering text Ethan Zuckerman, The Cute Cat Theory, Talk at ETech, 2008, https://ethanzuckerman.com/2008/03/08/the-cute-cat-theory-talk-at-etech/, and the informed analysis by Mattia Thibault; Gabriele Marino, Who runs the world? Cats. Catlovers, cat memes, and cat languages across the Web, International Journal for the Semiotics of Law, Issue 37, pp. 473-490, and others.
[2] It is part of the graphics program Photoshop.