Carefree Nature in the Face of Seriousness
Andrew Navratil

It seems as if sometimes it takes very little – a word or perhaps a visual reference – and Pavel Tichoň responds with a flood of ideas in which sophisticated intention blends with play, intuition, and improvisation, large merges with small, and seriousness mixes with all-dissolving hyperbole and irony. The stories thus born relish in absurd confrontations and surprising outcomes; the resulting installations are filled with associations and entertaining details; his expressive paintings liberally (de)form anything “in their image.” As Tichoň’s (refreshingly skeptical and honest) commentaries indicate, these products may reflect personal experiences just as well as more universal considerations. These intervene in various terrains, which they describe with varying levels of believability. In any case, however, they set them swaying – if possible, right beneath our feet. And it is up to us to again find a balance for these tilted planes and humorous strategies.

One such unpredictable terrain is art itself. Tichoň explores iconic figures from modernism and older eras, textbook monuments, and paradigmatic works, ideas and strategies, and variously integrates them into his projects. And so Prague’s White Room Gallery recently exhibited a block of boxes that were visual references to Warhol’s appropriations or to the elemental structures of the minimalists, while the paintings on the walls bore titles such as Keith Haring or René Magritte. Meanwhile, running all along the margins were bands inspired by Manzoni’s tin cans labeled with the same message in multiple languages: merde, shit, Scheisse… At Art That Nobody Understands Isn’t Art held at Brno’s Gallery G99, Tichoň worked with humorous, mutually contradictory statements taken out of context on the subject of art and artistic success, while the statements’ authors – artists, art historians, and intellectuals – wore the jerseys of two competing football teams.

Art That Nobody Understands Isn’t Art
G99, The Brno House of Arts, Brno, 2014

These absurdly bizarre or satirical acts can be read as disparaging things that are often taken for granted, as an assault on the canon and an attempt at coming to terms with it. Or they can be seen as a critique of the institution of art and the concomitant discourse, commerce, and aesthetics… At the same time, however, his familiar tone and loose style indicate that he sees art as nothing more than the environment in which he works, and his personas and artifacts are the everyday material that surrounds him. He thus works with it naturally, and his potential reference points may be other subjects or simply his own personality and artistic strategy.

Tichoň similarly draws on and works with motifs from other areas of his life. While in the Netherlands, he collected – à la Bernd and Hilla Becher – photographs of tidy graves and front gardens in a series called Everything is important. Another work was inspired by the human yearning to push one‘s own limits. In an attempt at setting a record of his own and thus achieving immortalization in the Guinness Book of World Records, he created works of performance art involving remarkable feats, such asThe Longest Hands-free Bicycle Ride while Painting, and he came up with the absurd idea of a Venus of Semtín – The Most Explosive Sculpture in the World (made of Semtex 1A plastic explosive). 

The Longest Hands-free Bicycle Ride while Painting
performace, 2006

Around the same time, Tichoň created a series of short silent videos called Sandpit, including one depicting an attempted suicide by an endearingly clumsy advertising mascot and another in which the mythical Charon rides into a cemetery on a large motorcycle while carrying a broom. Working with sometimes banal humour, Tichoň offers his commentary on the human yearning to stand out and be different. He watches what happens when we rearrange things in everyday life. 

The central motif of his exhibition in Kutná Hora is an electronic “take-a-number” machine such as you might find at a bank or post office. In his most recent work, he explores the programmability of the future – the number dispenser can be seen as a metaphor for ancient oracles, artificial intelligence, or perhaps even genetic engineering.

Autopsy Room
Pitevna Gallery, Brno, 2014

The collage-like structure and DIY nature of these visions and metaphors is reflected in Tichoň’s choice of forms, which Dadaistically combine symbols, images and found objects that, in some instances, become a part of something resembling a performance or, in other instances, come to life. They breathe, they move, they frantically document their animality, as in Autopsy Room in Brno. Only in this way do they confirm Pavel Tichoň’s chronic playfulness and openness, his carefree nature face to face with seriousness and responsibility. This is the most characteristic and attractive part of his work, and it places him among other artists who have managed to add a sense of levity to the sometimes all too serious profundity of Czech art.