Jiří Skála

Whenever somebody asks me to send in a few photographs of my work I encounter a problem. Sitting in front of the computer, staring at the monitor, I find myself unable to come to a conclusion. Of what do these images speak? Are they testimony to my need to find a compromise between the chaos in my mind and my ability to control it, to know my way around it? What should I write? How can I connect these eleven photographs?





Whenever somebody asks me to send in a few photographs of my work I encounter a problem. Sitting in front of the computer, staring at the monitor, I find myself unable to come to a conclusion. Of what do these images speak? Are they testimony to my need to find a compromise between the chaos in my mind and my ability to control it, to know my way around it? What should I write? How can I connect these eleven photographs?

I was born within a particular context. I know it fairly well, even though it sometimes serves up an unpleasant surprise. But there are some things that I consider immutable and unquestionable. For example, the awareness that I live in a society of the written word. It’s like… it’s like a brightly colored bouncy ball bouncing up and down at breakneck speed. I can see it, but I can’t catch it.

Yesterday, for instance, I was listening to a radio adaptation of Novel of Love and Honour by Jind?ich Honzl, a theater and film director who was capable of sacrificing his aesthetic ideals for the ideal of political theater; to the point where he committed suicide in the year of Stalin’s death. In the radio production, the narrator takes listeners on a journey through letters written by two Czech writers, Jan Neruda and Karolína Sv?tlá. I heard something in their love letters… something familiar. I like to thematize the relationship between a man and a woman, that tension… the way we attempt to approach one another, how one tries to establish contact with the other. But I also heard something else… But how can I put that in words?

The only thing that comes to mind is my favorite quote from Tristes Tropiques by Levi-Strauss. “During the Neolithic age, Man put himself beyond the reach of cold and hunger; he acquired leisure to think […] to say that writing is a double-edged weapon is not a mark of ‘primitivism’ […] Writing might be regarded as a form of artificial memory…” These sentences contain all that I aspire to achieve, which is to work methods of narration that are as diverse as possible. I endeavor to find the most appropriate means of narrating a story within the context of the gallery – a public space where visitors represent only their own selves, their own memories, their own experiences, and where they cannot share a collective experience with others by experiencing the same thing in a different space and a different time. So I endeavor to create situations in which the visitor not only has to confront text, in other words, content, but also its physical embodiment, its form. This is the case in Exchange of Handwriting, where two people attempt to create a new means of communication through each other’s physical marks and handwriting. Or, in the form of textual stories printed on sheets of paper that have the dimensions of the human body and are suspended in space. Or, through confrontational readings such as My Father’s Mouth, ?elechovský/Mrázek, Foreign Bodies, etc. etc. It would take a long time to try to list all these attempts; and the self-statement would become an autobiography.


2010 Messages in an Emergency, Czech Center, New York, USA; You are the Object, I am the Impulse, Václava Špály Gallery, Prague, CZ.
2007 Two Families of Objects, Hunt Kastner Artworks, Prague, CZ
2006 Exchange of Handwriting, Prazak Palace (Atrium), The Moravian Gallery, Brno, CZ; Exchange of Handwriting, Art in General, New York, USA
2005 The Pacific Has no Memory, Eskort, Brno, CZ
2004 Local Stigma, Futura, Prague, CZ; DOS (Labour Union House), poster and billboard project, CZ
2002 Hygiena, Display, Prague, CZ
2001 The Japan Crossing, a public project (with Mark Ther), CZ; Galerie Jelení, Foundation and Center for Contemporary Arts, Prague (with Mark Ther), CZ


2011 The Other Tradition, Wiels, Brussels, BEL; Brno Art Open 2011, The Brno House of Art, Brno, CZ.
2010 Image at Work, Index, The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation, Stockholm, Sweden; There Has Been No Future, There Will Be No Past, ISCP, International Studio & Curatorial Program, New York, USA; A Map, Bigger Than Its Territory, Galleri Experimentell,Valand School of Fine Arts, Gothenburg, Sweden.
2009  Fragments of Transformation, Brno House of Art, Brno; Afret velvet, Prague City Gallery; Finalists of the 2009 Jindrich Chalupecký Award, Gallery Dox, Prague.
2008 Monument to Transformation, Fragment # 6: Laber Day, Gallery Labor, Budapest; Ars Telefonica / PhoneBox, Centre for Visual Introspective, Bucharest.
2007  25 Years Later: Welcome to Art in General, UBS Art Gallery, New York, N.Y. , USA; Festival der Regionen 2007 (Exits and Dead Ends), Kirchdorf an der Krems, Austria; Invisible Things, Trafo Gallery, Budapest.
2006 Backstage, Kunstverein – Frankfurt; I invited flow friends to see… , Galerie Nova, Zagreb; I, an exhibition in 3 acts, Futura, Prague; How to Do Things? – In the Middle of (No)where… , International Center for Contemporary Art, Bucharest and Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, Berlin.
2005 1811197604122005, Plan B, Cluj, Rumania; Narrow Focus, Tranzit Workshops, Bratislava; Fifth Biennial of Young Artists, Prague City Gallery at the House of the Stone Bell, Prague.
2004 The 3rd Seoul International Media Art Biennale, Seoul.
2003 Imagética, (in collaboration with Angela Detanico a Rafael Lain), Curitiba; Art Klazma, Moskva; GNS, (in collaboration with Angela Detanico a Rafael Lain), Palais de Tokyo, Pa?íž; Incomprehension, Palais de Tokyo, Pa?íž.
2002 00, Exhibition Which Grows of the Middle, Palais de Tokyo, Paris.


Wannieck Gallery, Brno, CZ
Marek Collectors, Brno, CZ
Frac Lorraine , Metz, F


2010 Jindrich Chalupecký Award, CZ


Hygiena, paspress, 2002 (samizdat).
I‘m History, tranzit.org, 2005 (editor).
Interpretation, Idea, 2006 (brochure inside the magazine).
Cap Crew Agains People, Bigg Boss, 2007 (editor).
Untitled (1975-2064), Pazmaker and Gallery U bílého jednorožce, 2008.
One Family of Objects, JRP Ringier a tranzit.org, 2010.


Just how important is Ji?í Skála’s personal information – for instance, in the context of his earlier work? These apparently purely formal works hide personal messages. This is most evident in the installation Volumes of All Members of My Family from 2002 that are transformed into simple block shapes. But in other works, such as Mixer, 2001 (rusty water on the bottom of the mixer) or The Ruler Project, 2000 (an intentional error made a ruler 2 mm longer), a code alluding to a blue-collar origin or metrical rigor of a metal turner lie concealed. This is a content that necessarily accompanies any art work – even a conceptual one and which, eventually, no one wants to see. Or is this an utterly essential part of the artist’s work?

All of these paradoxes combined helped to constitute the current work of Ji?í Skála. Its dominant element is transcription. In the work Handwriting Exchange, 2006, ways of understanding it may fluctuate from thoroughly derived conceptual work all the way to an obstinately physiological and personal need to break through the defining features of one’s own body while making a written record. In the exhibition space he positioned a volunteer with his back to him and taught him his own handwriting. And he learned the handwriting of his counterpart. In this work, as in the Utopian project of teaching an illiterate to write, institutional criticism is delicately unveiled in a more objective form. What are the possibilities of an exhibition space? In some cases the exhibition space makes certain things impossible. For instance, political engagement is stripped of its consequences and responsibilities – it’s put into inverted commas. On the other hand, some things are only possible in an exhibition space (even on a political or social level). Teaching an illiterate to read and write could be understood as social work, though in the human context it could be perceived as aggressive and arrogant. Yet, the exhibition space brings the meaning into sharper focus: this has nothing to do with social work, the art work does not replace the function of education, instead, it examines, from art’s point of view, the structure of a human skill and its influence on our consciousness. More, on the human level such a project can be carried out only thanks to the exhibition space. For all is possible in a space that puts everything in inverted commas.

The project Two Families of Objects, 2008, also initially concerned transcription. The original goal was to photograph the means of productions, machine tools owned by ordinary people from the factory where Skála’s parents worked. This was a transcription of the beauty of machines (against the backdrop of the economic relations of early Czech capitalism) into pictorial and photographic forms. During the ensuing work on a book that was supposed to expand this project, Skála came across the reality of the sold-off assets of the factory from which his parent and others were fired after its bankruptcy. Thus, he came across the problem of morals, a very problematic theme in art. Following the modernist understanding of morals as something that needs to be destroyed, morals have reappeared paradoxically as inheritance from the 1960s. More, in many politically engaged actions, after removing the chasm between the autonomy of artistic expression and political activism, their moralising aspect becomes the only thing that remains. This problem also concerns the DOS (House of Unions) project, 2004, when Skála placed a billboard with a photograph of the headquarters of labor unions in Prague across from the entrance to the Hypernova supermarket. If we leave aside the ambivalence of the beauty of a functionalist building that exemplifies the fact that the theme is reviewed from the position of art, we cannot claim that such a project would change in any way the working conditions in Czech supermarkets. The building itself lacks emphatic symbolism. What’s more, the political reality that Skála touched upon is much more gruesome than one which a project of this type could change. It acts as an unanswered question to be taken up by those who are among the potential viewers of contemporary art. And their number is not in any way restricted. Actually, it’s everyone and that’s where the strength of the project lies.

The paradox of thorough conceptual work and reference to its own background and personal disposition that undermines the former always surprises the viewer of the works by Ji?í Skála. The element of surprise does not happen all at once. Instead, it sneaks in when the viewer is thinking of his work. It’s like retracing the steps by which Skála reached this point, identify his thought process with one’s own thinking and then put everything in the context of his past projects, which compose an ever clearer picture of Skála’s interest. Together they verify the themes that he touches upon. Eventually, one only needs to put everything back to the place where Skála came from and where he has lived his whole life.

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