True never meant nothing more than it means right now.
– Kate Tempest, The Beigeness, 2014 –
To feel like having something, to have an appetite for something means to crave something. To want something. And to want it in general. To be hungry, on the contrary, means to look for it. It means to be here and forever now. Having an appetite equals roaming, being hungry equals concentration. I am used to regarding art as aesthetics, as a commentary, and I look for the truth elsewhere. I am looking – and keeping a safe distance. I am thinking – and starving. Therefore I think even more – in vain. Eventually, I have figured it out. The truth has never been more real than now. Realism again, recovered, done. I can see it – but that is not all. I want it. I have it. At first the hangers seemed underwhelming to me, but now I know it is Kupka. Electricity box? Electricity box. The palm feels warm above the cheek, the cool light is pulsing under the skin, the chair is falling apart in stages, the sheets are breaking piece by piece, alternative versions of childhood are passing naturally alongside the real one. All of that is happening because of the single broken lightbulb up on the left side. It is neither much nor little. A picture. The reality. Now.
Veracity is the limit of all forms of realism in painting. To evaluate a realistic painting means to compare it to what it depicts – and the degree of likeness it achieves. The intuitive result is connecting the real world with the world imitated by the image – as if it did not have its own meaning or value. Veracity, however, is also the gauge of all forms of expressive abstraction. And to evaluate an abstract painting means to compare it to whatever it evokes – the degree of authenticity it achieves. The intuitive result is an association of a particular feeling or emotion with the impression the painting gives – as if it lacked its own identity or character. It is because of our lack of appreciation for a picture, our willingness to abandon it in favour of the “reality”, we are controlled by concept in the narrow sense – even if each work of art is conceptual by its very nature. With too much appetite the hunger is simply waning. Michal is an artist of middle aged generation. He studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. He was taught by Zdeněk Beran, Pavel Holas (to whom he indirectly dedicated a few of his still life paintings – namely Space III and Identification dated 2018), and he learnt from many books, painters and works that he had the opportunity to read, know and observe. This intellectual background is clearly visible in his work – it shows in the manner in which he thinks, relates to other visual forms, insists on being pluralist, but mainly in the fact that he perceives art as “good or bad” – with no frills. He believes that a painting is a result of many decisions, some of which are intuitive but most of which are premeditated. And it is a product of an intentionally accomplished concept that corresponds with a predetermined goal. The painting comes first – however he faces the world in a direct way. This directness is what I appreciate about his work so much in the context of what I have said above.
Be it his hyper-realistic portraits or still lifes, expressive abstract compositions or interventions in public space – all of them kept strictly within those categories – sensory gluttony is what they have in common. Michal is a painter but he regards the eyesight as not just one of the senses, it includes all of them – “his” eyes feel, grope, taste, hear the grass grow – they think and make conclusions. He craves objects, colours, shapes, compositions, but his attitude to them is utterly cold and deliberate. For a painting to be “good or bad”, it must be made, executed, it must go through the stage of a negative, the gradual formulation that leads to a particular statement – to a particular positive – an equal manifestation of an object, emotion, thought, through the means available. Michal relates imagery both to paintings and to words and meanings.
The generation of New Figuration, the generation of Zaostalí (the Backward Ones), even the “post-modern” generation of the 1980s and 1990s, were gradually growing into realism and they used realistic principles in a rather loose way for their own subversive or cunning purposes – as an attribute. Those who started to create around the millennium, when the situation had already changed, in the stage of pure realism – those artists commenced and motivated their work with their fascination with the real, objective world. This approach still prevails in some of them, yet their personal inclination steadily becomes more evident. While Jan Mikulka is the only Czech hyperrealist, Zdeněk Trs uses geometry and illusionism, Jan Uldrych is inclined to mysticism, Martin Velíšek to poetry of subtle humour, Adam Kašpar to expression, and Michal is addicted to state, sensuality, the value of things as objects, their essence and corporeality, without which there would be no meanings. Hence his purity of forms in their plurality. And hence the difference from examples of similar style in the global context – the oscillation between social engagement, formal sumptuousness and conceptual aptness. His paintings do not live, they are life – they have weight, mass, shape, they grow or contract, they are fragile and are waiting for an intervention. They go against the world ostentatiously, yet inside they are soft like butter and under your hands they gently recede to the sides. Some part of them, however, always makes an unpleasant crunch between your teeth. They are not here for your taste or to satisfy your cravings – they are here because the hunger cannot be quenched, soothed, outwitted, it grows with each new painting. The truth has never been more real than now. Realism again, recovered, done. I can see it – but that is not all. I want it. I have it.
Accompanying text tábor exhibition Out there somewhere
What does it mean – to be a picture?
– Lambert Wiesing –
French author and essayist George Perec is famous for his simple narrative method – instead of events, he heaped up words, nouns that represented common objects, works of art, luxurious goods, fleeting things. In this way not only did he fill up the human world completely, but he materialized human life. A peeling wall, a metal box, a tag. How would Perec write today – buried not under things but under their images? The Renaissance saying, “the man stands in the middle of the world and to this world he relates” is clearly begging for an innovation – which could be, “the man stands in the middle of the world and to this world he relates through his pictures”. Plato comes to my mind, with his cautious approach to art, i.e. the illusion of the reality, the illusion of the truth, and the onset of an accentuated fear of their “post-versions”. At this point I am getting to the matter at hand, Michal Ožibko’s paintings.
The series entitled HUE (Electricity Boxes) created between 2009 and 2018 is a good example of what the “picture world” means – the reality as we know it, trivial, functional, invisible, is reproduced in a perfectly illusionistic way through painting and assemblage. It is also the subject of a highly aesthetic photographic reflexion. Two types of “copies” are created. In addition to that, the manner of installation deliberately accentuates the absence of the primary theme – the reality itself. The reality, taken out of its natural environment, goes through the “museum effect” and acquires the charm of certainty.
Depictive painting has its permanent position in the European tradition. Through imitation we can appreciate as well as get to know the objects because we assume their principles and mechanisms. In the Czech context, represented by artists such as Zdeněk Beran, Theodor Pištěk, and Bedřich Dlouhý, “advanced” questions are typical, asking about the source of life of the objects – what is inside. Michal represents a different, more “earthly” approach – a contemporary approach, even though his destination is the same. He claims that the core of the thing and its character, its existence, lies in the visuality itself, in that which is – in that which we can see. And thus not only does he place the reality before the picture but demonstrates that visual realism is not a fleeting trend, but a permanent appeal, to which we are attached as if to a mental, imaginative and conceptual limit. Yet, depicting something decidedly does not equal showing it. And that is another substantial feature of Michal’s work – his interest in the world, the effort to understand it, mediate it and thus protect and/or save it. That requires engagement, a true radicalism – the return to the essence and staying faithful to it.
Once again: Man stands in the middle of the world that consists of things and their pictures – and only rarely is he able to see the reality for what it is. That is the purpose of art, that is why we should guard and glorify it – it can distinguish between valuable and useless, between substantial and marginal, between authentic and reflexive. To see clearly and purely is an absolutely unique gift.
Part of the text from the catalog of the exhibition Other World held in the spring of 2018 at the Caesar Gallery in Olomouc
Michal Ožibko is an artist of borderline positions – exact, hyper-realistic figuration, and free, expressive abstraction. He is an artist not only metaphorically gripped: If yes, then like this – never like that. This is witnessed by his approach to the chosen technique, to canvas; more fundamental however is his choice of themes, which are often latently engaged. Certainly, every artistic work is finally in a certain way related to the world. Seldom does one come across an artist for whom this relationship is as important and natural as breathing. The result is an understanding of the image, of the painting (!), as the final version of the process of construction and contemplation, which has its course and forms itself in a complicated way. In other words, the treatment of the image as a fundamentally conscious expression into which – deliberately – reflected life experience is projected. To know where there are personal weaknesses and specifics, to be interested in the approach to them, meanwhile to eschew the cheap, therapeutic aspect and with this experience treat things more or less rigidly: this is a good strategy for focus. It is so radical that only with great difficulty can one distinguish the border between the work and the artist – which is obviously a cliché strongly indicating the weakness of the assessor. Despite this, in order to draw a conclusion from my own failings: I believe (still!), that the concept that affects this situation the best is none other than Romanticism: Here we have an artist who is a confident painter – who is a painter. The question of why paint (and not speak), in his case is quite pointless – the image is parallel to the living world. The hyper-realistic, radically realistic form meanwhile fulfils the role of a structure which keeps the whole together – it defines not only what the object is, but also its experience, and literally divides that which the image captures from that which a person sees in it. Hyper-realism is often – and correctly – connected with a distancing, with an alienating effect, with an objectivising notation principally similar to that which is produced by technical apparatuses. All the creative activity in his case is concentrated into the moment of the choice of what will be captured – the technology itself introduces rather the question of hand-crafted skill (upon which assessment of a work is often reduced). Nevertheless, seen in this perspective, for a similar type of painting, in truth for Michal’s type of painting, typically there is a high degree of expression. Its obvious quality, which is necessary to acknowledge, is that which is not seen – and that the eventual image introduces, similar as in the case of photography, the result of a process of naming and abstraction, upon which one can only infer. It is the logo, the pictogram, the symbol – a reduction of boundless infinity into a certain specificity. This is why it is so powerful – and why it necessarily and irrefutably introduces not the polar opposite, but the counterpart of the artist’s abstract position.
Excerpt from the book Life Writing and Memory Policy in Eastern Europe
Visual artist Michal Ožibko (b.1981) has chosen a different principle of reflection on people’s relationship to memory and place. He has loaded down the figure of the Memorial to the Victims of Communism with nine shopping bags filled with groceries. As the artist pits it:’In my opinion, the plastic bags loaded with groceries in the hands of those sculptures are an adequate reminder of lining up for oranges of 30 years ago as well as of the frenetic chase for cheap food today. the memorial dedicated to the victims of political regime has enabled the creation of parallel between the everyday lives of the people living in a communist and in a liberal damocratic system, which, according to the artist, shares the common trait of pursuing material gain. This happening can be seen from man perspectives. Besides the theme of the reproduction of generational patterns, the project also points to the phenomenon of shopping centres. In their present form, they have become a new type of place introduced by the political transformation after 1989. A shopping center usually represents a space we only pass through (unless it is our workplace, for instance). We do not take any emotional stand toward it and do not form long-term memories there. The place is merely a tool of entertainment or buying goods. The French anthropologist Marc Augé had noticed the specific (non)character of the shopping center already in the 1990s. However, it was not merely the shopping center but also other utility environments such as aiports, parking lots and fitness centres, that Augé embraced in his term non-place. He defined the non-place as a’space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity’ (1995, pp. 77-78). Unlike the memory of place, which represents a spece for the symbolism, identity, relationships and history of a nation on the level of cultural memory, a non-place is completely emptied environment without memory.
Introductory text by the curator of the Berlin exhibiton Art and Industry in April 2010
The raw power of industrial architecture cannot be questioned. These are buildings built for work. Their activity fuels our world and warms our homes. In Berlin the symbolic mean of such monumental structures cannot be separated from the history of their operation nor from the cultures and artistic movements that have been born within their cavernous expanses. In the vacant industrial parks of what was Europe’s largest manufacturing center, history has given us many valuable lessons on the virility of human creativity. Generations of artists and cultural producers have found their voice in the empty warehouses and abandoned industrial buildings of Berlin. It is a voice toned to the promise of power and virtuosity that these buildings architecture has achieved. Held with in the stern but beautiful facades of old power plants and transformer stations, the Arts and Cultural sector of Berlin has itself become the cities main industry. This exhibition is a survey of those spaces and those young innovators who are driving the Berlin cultural scene forward. Works by Robin Forster, Matthias Wolff, Philipp Fürhofer, Evol, Michal Ožibko, Antonis Pittas, Paolo Chiasera and a selection of photography from the Vattenfall archive and collection.
Opponent’s review of the thesis at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague
The virtually photographic realism of this painting stands in sharp contrast to the abstraction of much contemporary conceptual art, while its evident subscription to the painterly values of ‘high art’ marks an equally powerful contrast with the art of the readymade. Both these attributes enable it to achieve a significant measure of aesthetic distinction.
The familiar category of ‘still life’ is given fresh meaning in this painting. Traditionally, a ‘still life’ is composed of natural objects such as a bowl of fruit or a vase of flowers, which the painter captures – whether realistically, impressionistically or abstractly – for the purposes of visual contemplation. In ‘Escape’ we are presented with a more substantial conception of still life, as the subject of the picture itself, and not merely its classification. This is, we might say, a still life of ‘still life’
The viewing eye is most immediately caught by the female figure, partly because she is dressed in the most prominent shade. She sits in a pose of dramatic, almost perfect stillness, while nonetheless plainly alive. The male figure, though also still, is more ambiguously portrayed. He could indeed be still through sleep, but it is not fanciful to think of him as dead – a supposition confirmed to some degree by the apparent allusion to the body of Christ in the Pieta. However, either way, the female figure’s repose remains importantly unaffected, and this intensifies her own still life, as though in some way her tranquility is one that transcends the difference.
Placing these figures in a railway carriage brings a further contrast is brought into play. The context thus becomes a means by which both are rapidly in motion, yet without any alteration in their stillness. Their human stillness, whether by choice or death, is secured within a context that is not itself still, and thus at a different level wholly subject to that context. Combined with the allusion (if that is what it is) to the traditional pose of the Pieta, this gives the whole composition broader significance, and makes it a meditation on the human condition.
The 20th century movement to Abstract Expressionism arose from the supposition that the communication of significant feeling requires the abandonment of much that has been valued in the great art tradition, most notably realism and the painterly value of beauty. Conceptual art – which aspires to the communication of significant thought – takes that movement to its logical conclusion – the abandonment of the perceptual in itself. In ‘Escape’ Ozibko has shown that this is not so. For those who have eyes to see, naturalistic depiction can do the same, and by preserving traditional aesthetic values, more effectively connects with its artistic inheritance.