A main concern for Ján Mančuška was opening up his own perception to the perspectives of others. An interest that meant the artist often remained physically absent from his works. After Mančuška’s untimely death in 2011 from an autoimmune disease, however, the functional empty spaces in the Slovakian artist’s works are liable to be read within a narrative of loss. Postava (2011), the largest work in this posthumous exhibition, clearly demonstrates this danger: horizontal wire cables, from the floor to roughly eye level, extend through the space like lines on notepaper. Attached to the cables are aluminium letters spelling words such as ‘head’, ‘eye’, ‘hand’, or ‘foot’ corresponding to these features’ imaginary height were a figure to traverse the room. A figure in movement, as the title translates, comes to mind, not only through the similarity to musical notation, but also the rhythmic ordering of the words and their positioning as conceptual placeholders for hands and feet. Through the scale employed, the body seems to dissolve, conserved in its own terminology. Unfortunately, many viewers will see this dissolution as final rather than the potential for its reassemblage as a de-personalized figure.
The fractured figure of Postava is reflected in The Big Mirror (2008), a large-scale wall mirror of the kind found in dance studios. Through this simple intervention, the viewer is incorporated into the image and forced to regard his or her own body in reference to the work. This effect is intensified not least because the viewer physically stands in between both works, calling to mind the matrix of entity, idea and sign found in the works of Joseph Kosuth.
Mančuška’s concern with legibility can also be seen in the installation From Wall to Wall (2005), which bears clear structural parallels to Postava. Among other things, the work consists of a static video loop projected onto the wall depicting a sequence of aluminium letters attached to a cable. The sentence is truncated at the picture’s right-hand edge, but continues through the space beyond the projection via a steel cable. Hung at eye level, the text on the cable describes traversing a room in detailed first-person perspective. The change in media in mid-sentence – from the video to the aluminium letters suspended in the space – suggests that the room described could be identical to this one, which would, in a manner similar to The Big Mirror, complicate a purely receptive attitude toward the room and installation. (Noticeably, Mančuška chose a far more refined alloy for the letters in From Wall to Wall than his gallery did for Postava.)
The seven, initially unremarkable drawings from the series The Other (I asked my wife to blacken all parts of my body I cannot see) (2007) are cryptic in the best sense of the word. In the original performance work, as the title describes, Mančuška had his wife paint black all the parts of his body that he couldn’t see. Documentary photographs show, however, that some of the later images depict other participants other than Mančuška. Yet these ballpoint-pen drawings, shown here for the first time, were evidently made from the photographs. The unpretentious marks blur who is drawing whom, dissolving once more the boundaries between execution and reenactment, exterior and interior. In an almost aleatory manner, The Other deftly deepens the mirror motif, showing how much of one’s body remains unsighted without auxiliary aid and an outside perspective.
A mirror is also employed in the most recent work shown here, From A to B and Back Again (2008). Attached to the floor directly in front of a film projection is a row of five path markers placed at regular intervals. The film seems to shows a camera drawing back slowly in a park landscape; instead the camera remains fixed and someone is carrying a mirror away from it. This destabilizing effect is further complicated by the reversed path markers on the film. When the fifth marker is reached, the mirror is put down and Mančuška emerges from behind it, disappearing briefly from the picture, reappearing in the mirror again to turn off the camera. This playful crossing from third to first person is one of the many brilliant and witty acts of personal transgression that turn up again and again in Mančuška’s pathos-free, sadly ended practice.
Translated by Andrea Scrima
First published in Issue 19