Where are the Lions? / Ubi sunt leones?
* 1957, born in Dnipropetrovsk, lives and works in Moscow. Former sailor, naval engineer and multimedia artist. In 1973, he graduated from the Orel Academy of Fine Arts in Russia. In 1979 he graduated from the Naval Engineering School in Odessa. During his service on Russia’s naval fleets, he carried out a number of art projects at sea in the Arctic, Greenland and Antarctica. After leaving the Navy, he spent more than 30 years creating more than 100 exhibitions and art projects in Russian and foreign museums, exhibition centers and galleries. He is a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Arts. In 2008, the French government appointed him “an officer of the Order of Arts and Literature”.
*1982 and *1978, live and work in Prague. They have been collaborating since 2006. Jiří Franta and David Böhm give performances, shoot videos, create spatial installations, intervene in public space, paint murals, and illustrate books and magazines. Their output is reminiscent of a daily sketchpad, graffiti, caricature, comics, conceptual art, grotesquerie, sports event, collaborative art practice, physical experiment, improvised choreography, and theatre performance. They are interested in process, the time-lapse principle, surmounting obstacles, the intermingling of media, experimentation, obeying and transcending rules, creative dialogue, irony, gravity, infinity.
*1980 in Hamburg, lives and works in Berlin. Studied at the Berlin University of the Arts, Germany, where he enrolled to the Institute for Spacial Experiments lead by professor Olafur Eliasson in 2009. He is a founding member of the collective Das Numen (together with Andreas Greiner, Julian Charrière and Markus Hoffmann). His work was featured in numerous exhibitions at key galleries and museums, including the MOCAK, Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow and the Dittrich & Schlechtriem. Felix Kiessling has been featured in articles for the Art Review, the ARTnews and the Berlin Art Link Magazine.
*1990, lives and works in Hrádek nad Nisou. Visual artist, alumnus of UMPRUM (Studio of Jiří Černický and Marek Meduna), recipient of the Critics’ Award for Young Painting for 2018.
*1981, born in Santiago de Chile. Lives and works in Berlin and Santiago de Chile. Visual artist and researcher, graduate of the Institut für Raumexperimente, Class of Olafur Eliasson, University of the Arts in Berlin, Sculpture program of MFA Studio Arts, Concordia University, Montreal, Faculty of Philosophy and Literature, Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona and Universidad Católica, Santiago de Chile. Awarded with many awards and stipends internationally.
*1979 in Belgrade. Graduated at the Faculty of Fine Arts (Belgrade) where she received PhD in 2019 and where she works since 2020 as a teaching assistant. She is actively exhibiting since 2001, since then she participated in many collective and solo shows in Serbia and abroad. She participated at art residencies in Iceland, Norway, USA and Netherlands and received several prizes, including Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos award and Vladimir Veličković award for drawing.
founded in 2000. The art group with a signature engaged style. At the time of the exhibition Where Are the Lions? / Ubi sunt leones the group included Jiří Franta, David Kořínek, Marek Meduna and Luděk Rathouský.
*1983, lives and works in Bratislava. Sculptor and mountain climber, graduate of AFAD in Bratislava (studio of Prof. Jozef Jankovič, academic sculptor), between 2004 – 2006 he completed internships at the Faculty of Belles Arts, Barcelona and Faculdade de Belles Artes, Porto.
*1986, lives and works in Prague. He studied audiovisual studies at FAMU, then studied in the studio of intermedia confrontation at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. He completed internships and residencies in Buenos Aires, Valencia, Nijmegen, Toulouse or Brisbane. In his work, he oscillates between documentary film, art in public space and activism.
In the old days, unknown places on maps were marked with the words HIC SUNT LEONES (HERE BE LIONS). Today, thanks to apps such as Google Earth, we all have access to detailed views of up to 98% of the Earth’s surface, with the exception of some places that have been deleted based on threats to personal privacy or national security. Some data from the surface of the Moon and Mars is already available, as are tools for observing the night sky. Meanwhile, lines are forming to climb Mount Everest…
As its name suggests, the exhibition is a reference to the fact that, currently, it is likely easier to climb the highest mountain in the world than to find an undiscovered spot on our planet. The exhibition itself does not enter unexplored territory: enough exploration and mountain-climbing literature has been written to fill several shelves of the National Library. Similarly, self-help literature on getting out of one’s comfort zone and overcoming physical and mental limits has become increasingly popular over the past few years. Climbers, ultramarathoners and adventurers are global celebrities, invited to talk shows watched by millions. 1Historical and contemporary exhibition projects featuring themes of mountains and glaciers (Vanishing Ice, Washington, Mallory’s Second Death, Karlin Studios and others) hosted by local and foreign galleries were valuable sources of inspiration and information during the planning of this project. Despite the change in its form, the theme of discovery and adventure is still alive and kicking, even at a time when everything has already been apparently discovered.
It is quite ironic that this project was developed at a time when most people were forced into isolation at home during the coronavirus pandemic. This recent global experience highlights a subliminal theme, a kind of undercurrent of the exhibition: the dilemma of today’s adventurers, who want to satisfy their romantic desire for the experience of discovering new places, while retaining a level of responsibility to the environment.
Where Are the Lions? / Ubi sunt leones? connects prominent figures of both the Czech and foreign art scenes. Although they work with different media and come from different cultural backgrounds, they share the desire for adventure and exploring new territories, whether it is an icy landscape, the ocean, mountains or exploring familiar territory with a new form of transport. They are well and truly the successors of artists who, from the 16th century onward, embarked on the first exploratory expeditions alongside scientists-explorers and helped explore the Earth through paintings and maps. As in the past, today’s travelers and “risk-takers” still report on the current world in which we live.
The social development that culminated in last year’s line to climb Mt. Everest began in the 18th century and fully developed in the 19th century along with the Romantic era. “During the second half of the 1700s in Europe there emerged a new and distinctive appetite for remote countries, for different territories, tastes and sensations – for orders of experience we might now call exotic; meaning literally on the outside. (…) This sharpening desire for discovery reflected various frustrations. Chief among these was a spreading fatigue at the pieties and stagnancy of urban bourgeois existence. The known and the predictable became qualities to be kicked against, and a hunger grew for regions where one could expect the unexpected. The unknown came to be seen as a gateway to these alternative orders of experience,” notes Robert Macfarlane, British writer, climber and Cambridge professor, in his book Mountains of the Mind (2003).
During the same era, artists eventually joined up with geologists to discover “the wilderness” together. Alpine landscapes, along with the northern regions of Norway and Scotland, became attractive destinations for studying nature. Even if romantic artists did not participate in the expeditions directly, they could still benefit from their results: for example, when the geologist CF Naumann (1797-1873) returned to Dresden in 1822 after a two-year stay in Norway, his sketches were admired by famous painters such as Caspar David Friedrich, who used them as the basis for his own paintings. The resulting images combine all the drama of Romanticism with geological accuracy. 2 Barbara C. Matilsky, Vanishing Ice – Alpine And Polar Landscapes in Art, 1775-2012, Whatcom Museum, 2013.
Artists returned the same service to science: their drawings and paintings (and, later, photographs) were published in scientific publications, as well as in popular magazines and travel guides, providing Western Europeans with images from countries hitherto unknown to them. Explorers were the celebrities of their time (that is, if they ever came back) – their travelogues quickly became bestsellers and their images and maps were popular icons. With the growing popularity of such publications, interest grew exponentially in traveling to “exotic” countries and for extreme experiences such as mountaineering. During the 19th and early 20th century, travel, newly dubbed tourism (a term originally from the French “tour” – round trip – first coined around 1800), became a popular way for the masses to spend their free time.3Side note: The first Czech Tourist Club was founded in 1888, during the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Filip Dvořák employs the artistic principles of the Romantic period. Nature in his work is wild and expressive, with the human acting as its humble depicter. The painter wages a losing battle attempting to capture a footprint on the world prior to its inevitable demise. This recording of Filip Dvořák’s performance, as the introductory work to the exhibition, represents a direct reference to Romanticism, specifically the iconic painting Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (circa 1818) by Caspar David Friedrich. Friedrich’s Wanderer (like Dvořák’s Painter) stands on a mountain looking down (in Dvořák’s case, at a snowstorm). Yet a mere century earlier, at the onset of the Enlightenment, mountains were usually depicted “from below” and often as exceedingly monstrous, frightening shapes. What the Enlightenment began, Romanticism developed further: the human desire to come face-to-face with nature, worship it, and at the same time to “seize” it (colonize) by subjecting it to research.
The origin of mountaineering can be dated back to the 16th century. However, these first expeditions into the mountains were strictly motivated by agricultural and economic interests, such as chamois hunting or the collection of minerals to make jewelry. Rough and untamed nature did not elicit an aesthetically pleasing experience. Mountainous landscapes were described as “boils”, “wens”, “excrescences” or even “Nature’s pupenda”. Travelers began visiting mountain regions only in the latter half of the 18th century, motivated by the desire and search for beauty.
Romanticism described the mountains as symbols of the Kantian “sublime”. The mountain peak then quickly became a secular symbol of effort and reward. “If we excel” (excelsus meaning elevated, high) – we get a “raise” – we are at the peak of our strength. “Reaching the top” means reaching the end limit of an activity. The feeling of success stemming from the conquest of mountaintop was historically a key element in the desire to reach heights. And no wonder – what easier allegory of success to look for than climbing a mountain?”, writes Macfarlane.
By the end of the 19th century, all of the Alpine peaks had been conquered and climbers had moved on to the Himalayas. The growing interest in this new type of sport also meant that climbing techniques and equipment were improving, which progressively allowed for increasing numbers of people to make their way up to the top.
As the work of Štefan Papča shows, in addition to searching for the beautiful, the sublime and the feeling of success, mountain climbing can also be a way the deal with the loss of political liberty. Zuzana was created by the Slovak sculptor Štefan Papčo as part of the sculptural group Citizens, which serves as a tribute to climbers who reached the pinnacles of their career in 1970s and 1980s Czechoslovakia. In addition to honoring the important figures of Czechoslovak mountain climbing, the author also created the statue as a reminder of the lack of freedom during the “normalization” period and its effect on the sport of high-altitude mountaineering.
Papčo says the following about Citizens: “For some people, the desire for free self-realization took the form of an active climbing lifestyle. Mountaineering is a situation of voluntary risk. During the period of normalization, it offered a potential form of self-realization as well as a chance for climbers to circumvent the Iron Curtain’s political limitations. Those who could achieve the best climbs in the High Tatras were recruited onto the national team. Twice a year, the national team went on a month-long training camp in the Alps or other foreign mountain ranges. (In the 1970s, during one season in the Alps, the climbers from the Czechoslovak bus made more ascents than the rest of the world.) Through the High Tatras, they bridged the landscapes of Eastern and Western Europe, as well as North and South America. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, many top climbers became successful entrepreneurs or scientists. This fact also confirms their inner strength and need for self-actualization. The prototype of the sculptural group consists of five eccentric personalities, some of whom skirted the law (Pavel Pochylý, Miroslav Šmíd). Other selected climbers, with their charm and strong personalities, were the driving engines of important climbing clubs (Stanislav Glejdura, Zuzana Hoffmannová, Alena Čepelková, Andrej Belica).
Papčo captured these luminaries in situational positions of bivouacking on the mountainside. The climbers’ statues were carried up and installed for three years on the Europeans mountainsides where they had been active and made their major climbing achievements.
In 1980s socialist Czechoslovakia due to the lack of specialized products, climbing equipment was sewn at home, including warm jackets made of a special material called Bonekan.
Nataša Kokić has spent a long time producing large-format drawings of landscapes and motifs from the study of science. The Serbian artist considers the landscape a metaphor for contemporary life: the complex terrain is sometimes depicted down to the smallest detail, yet a moment later, it unravels into abstract lines which no longer resemble the original sight. “We twist our reality. Each of us perceives our space subjectively. We create a strange distorted inner world, in which we then reside,” Kokić says about her drawings. With her work, we do not have to climb any mountains, because we ourselves are the mountains…
In one of his books, His Holiness the Dalai Lama recommends the following strategy as an aid against weakness – that is, insufficient concentration on one’s object of meditation:
“First try to tighten just a little your way of holding the object. If that does not work, brighten or elevate the object or pay close attention to its details. If that does not work, leave the intended object and temporarily think about a joyous topic (…) 4(For example, the wonderful qualities of love and compassion, or the great opportunity that human life provides us for spiritual practice), in: His Holiness Dalajlama, Jeffrey Hopkins, Jak vidět sebe samé tak, jací doopravdy jsme, Argo, 2017, p. 102.. If that does not work, leave off meditating and go to a high place or one where there is a vast view.”5Ibid, p. 102
Climbing a mountain, endurance running, or any other demanding and stamina-based physical exertion are all effective means of achieving calm, concentration or new knowledge for those who are unable to meditate.
This “altered state” is represented at the exhibition through the abstract paintings from the series Atmospheric Pollution by the Chilean painter Macarena Ruiz-Tagle.
Macarena Ruiz-Tagle created the series Atmospheric Pollution during her internship in Hong Kong. As one of the inspirations for the (originally eight) large canvases, the artist cites a (terrifying!) time-lapse recording of a smog cloud moving through the narrow streets of Hong Kong. Another starting point for her was a chapter from the book White by Kenya Hara (2009), which analyzes the significance of white spaces within the plurality of their meanings. Chapter 3: Emptiness deals with the work of the Japanese painter Hasegawa Tohaku (1539 – 1610), whose ink painting “Pine Trees” on a six-part screen (hexaptych) is one of the most important works in Japanese history. Kenya Hara explains the emphasis that the Japanese painters place on white surface areas. “Empty” spaces play a dominant role, as they awaken the senses and the imagination.
The power of Macarena’s canvases lies in the contrast of the strong visual experience of white spaces and blurred color gradients while envisioning breathing extremely polluted air. Through their alluring ambivalent aesthetic, the paintings create space for contemplation within the environment of our troubled atmosphere.
What is at the core of the inner urge that drives a person to climb El Capitan’s 900 meter wall without any protection? Is it fear of volatile superficiality, the horror vacui, fear of the end of the world, or, paradoxically, the fear of death? Are we afraid that we will not live our short lives to the fullest, that we will not exhaust our potential, that we will be just passive consumers of our destiny? Isn’t the hunt for adventure just the activity of people who are empty inside, who can’t be in the same room with themselves?
Whether it is a desire for perfection, self-knowledge, attainment of inner peace, or acceptance and forgiveness, the common motivation of people seeking extreme experiences is the pursuit of “other knowledge.” In other words, an attempt to discover a new way of thinking through intense physical experiences, to overcome the learned patterns imprinted by the culture in which we grew up. In this sense, the exhibition Where Are the Lions? / Ubi sunt leones? is a continuation of the exhibition and research cycle “Other Knowledge”, which MeetFactory Gallery launched this year as its long-term theme. Our aim is to observe such phenomena and related works of art that go beyond the traditional worldview in which we – members of the middle class of Central European descent from the turn of the millennium – were enculturated.
The romantic image of discovering unknown lands and the celebration of their founders has its negative side, in that colonization means usurping a given land and plundering its original inhabitants. In colonial period paintings, the explorers are depicted as happy and proud alpha-males, puffed up with pride at their freshly caught prey, ignoring the colonialist consequences of their expeditions.
Today’s adventurer has a heavy conscience, burdened by the ecological effects of travel. Leaving a carbon footprint, and the extensive “discovery” of the planet, as well as the current experience with closed borders and quarantine measures, have led many travelers to reconsider their current habits. Is it even possible to conduct “discovery” in a truly considerate manner?
(I can’t shake the feeling that Chomolungma, the highest mountain peak on our earth, is in physical pain.)
If we attribute a mountain with the ability to feel pain, how must the planet feel in the hands of Felix Kiessling! When he’s not piercing the globe from one side through to another, he’s removing the water from the rivers and then calculating the decrease in surface water on a global scale. Or he shortens continental Europe by 40 cm at the northern and southern tips by cutting off edges of the coast and then ridiculously proclaims “Your maps are no longer accurate!” Unlike Dvořák and Kokić, Kiessling’s land art captures the Earth “tamed”. He approaches the land as sculpture material which he can manipulate to achieve his artistic ends. At first glance, the work may seem like the act of a cheeky skeptic on a playground (the size of the world). But doesn’t such manipulation, even minimal, remind us of the Earth’s mystical power? Felix’s works of art constitute one of many examples in which a small action can have monumental consequences, if we only alter the gauge with which we observe it. In this way Kiessling’s minimalist works-happenings leave a tangible feeling of immensity.
For the occasion of the Ubi sunt leones? / Where are the Lions? Felix Kiessling made a new edition of Erddurchstechung symbolically connecting MeetFactory Gallery with a partner institution EAC – Espacio de Arte Contemporáneo, Montevideo, Uruguay. Usually for Erddurchstechung, Felix Kiessling travels to two distant points of the world, each time anchoring a metal pole in the ground. Both poles are angled and precisely calibrated to form one common line and imaginary connection. This time, due to the current global travelling restrictions, the realisation was made long distance by the production team of both galleries that were given exact instructions by the artist.
The exhibited spools contain enough material to reach beyond the Karman line, a term that derives from aeronautical science and describes what is officially regarded as the border between Earth’s atmosphere and “outer space”.
By moving the border bollard, Rafani shortened the Czech Republic by ten meters.
If we wish to find an area on our planet that has yet to be explored, we must turn our attention to the ocean. Despite innumerable satellite images, it remains impossible to capture its surface, which is constantly changing as the ocean breathes. 6 I have borrowed the metaphor of a breathing ocean from David Böhm, who, following his journey to the Antarctic, published the educational book A Is for Antarctica, which received the Magnesia Litera prize for Children’s Literature. According to David, waves look like the inhalations and exhalations of the sea. And what about the underwater world! Using the technological developments of the 20th century, scientists have penetrated the deep ocean floors, and the understanding of plate tectonics brought us knowledge of their origins – yet, with its vast volume, most of the world’s oceans remain unexplored.
Alexander Ponomarev is an artist who systematically works with the seas and oceans. Formerly a sailor and naval engineer and currently a multimedia artist, he has been creating works of art since the 1990s, which combine all of these skills; whether building a ship in the Moroccan desert, a submarine passing through the canals of Venice, drawings on navigation maps (one of which we would have exhibited were it not for the coronavirus crisis) or presenting a naval event – the performance MAYA.
In recent years, Ponomarev has pushed the idea of “expeditionary art” with the subtext of an idealistic apolitical supranational shared space to its limits. As the organizer of the first Antarctic Biennale (2017), he sailed with a one-hundred-member strong crew of artists, writers, philosophers, architects and technicians around the Antarctic “mainland”. The artistic program consisted of performances, short-term installations (which, after documentation, were uninstalled and taken back on board), lectures and discussions on the ship. Participants in the biennale were invited to reflect on the universal cultural future of Antarctica as a model of “shared space” similar to the oceans and the cosmos.
And in the same year, David Böhm and Jiří Franta sailed the same seas…
In the Barents Sea Ponomarev collaborated with sailors of the northern fleet to organize an expedition of four ships, using special naval equipment to temporarily erase Sedlovaty island from the face of the earth, after first taking it off the nautical map.
From the log of Alexander Ponomarev, Barents Sea, August 2000:
18:07 We finished loading special equipment on the pontoon bridge.
18:20 AK043, Lopata, a naval dinghy and Flamingo went to sea and began the transition to the square. I went to 043.
19:23 We reached 69 15.7 N, 33 28.9 E, began to drift and turned on the motor. NW wind, 1 to 2 knots, sunny weather.
19:40 The pontoon bridge approached the island, and the team began installing the special equipment according to plan.
20:10 Green rocket – a signal to start action
The naval dinghy circled the island, heading NE, the team launched a smoke bomb, on the shore sailors lit smoke bombs facing downwind. Columns of bluish smoke first billowed upward. Then, pushed by the wind, they enveloped Sedlovaty.
20:10 Only the top of the lighthouse was visible… a moment passes and it vanished
20:15 A gray substance devoured the whole island. The smoke merged with the sky… The horizon closed shut
20:20 The island disappeared………………
20:40 Its contours appear again………………………
In ancient times, various carved figures attached to the bow of the ship served as its guardian angels; sailors have always revered these peculiar amulets, believing that they bring good luck. The artist revived the historical tradition, playing the role of the figurehead of a modern scientific liner crossing the Baffin Sea. He tied himself to the prow of a research vessel and turned into a living sculpture, which, hoisted on the stem, flies over the cold waves of the sea. Ponomarev’s revival of this practice brings us back to the mystery, superstition, perils and dangers of the open ocean, and sailors’ desire to war off evil omens and unknown creatures.
We carved out the phrase SEE YOU IN THE FUTURE on four pebbles and threw them one at a time onto freely floating icebergs.
Planet earth is becoming increasingly defiant against our smug belief that the world was created by and for humans. And so, once in a while, he attacks with disaster. This exhibition was prepared at a time when we were all forced to reconsider our plans, reduce activity in our lives and stay at home for a few weeks. Increasing numbers of people are abandoning long-distance travel trips in hopes of reducing humanity’s carbon footprint. A recent alternative for those who do not want to give up the excitement of discovering new places and situations is offered by a phenomenon recently dubbed microadventures.
The hashtag #microadventure was disseminated globally via social networks by the British adventurer Alastair Humphreys, who in 2011 exchanged long journeys for small expeditions near his residence. He summed up his urban experiences, such as a trip around the M25 motorway bypass, in the book Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes, which quickly became a bestseller. The great interest in the phenomenon of “local” experiences thus fits into the current social need for a sustainable way of life.
Vladimír Turner’s new film Modern Times (based on Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 film of the same name) presents “hooverboard etudes” and focuses on the alienation caused by technological progress. “Modern times have changed dramatically since Charlie Chaplin. Today, given his soulful reflection on the world, Chaplin would probably be dependent on Xanax,” says Turner.
According to Turner, in humanity’s effort to escape boredom and natural movement, it has achieved the ridiculous extension of human limbs via technological conveniences. The main character, a lone figure, strikes out onto the city streets and the wild landscape of the Atlantic coast. He gets into paradoxical situations drawn out to absurd proportions. The performer-tourist discovers some mountains, but in reality he is a lazy consumer who rides on a Hooverboard.
Turner is a good example of an “urban” adventurer and supporter of so-called microadventureism. Hashtag #microadventure has been expanded globally through social networks by the British adventurer Alastair Humphreys, who in 2011 exchanged long journeys for small expeditions near his residence. He summed up his urban experiences in the book Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes, which quickly became a bestseller.
The strong interest in the phenomenon of “local” experiences thus satisfies into the current social need for a sustainable way of life and offers an alternative to today’s adventurers, whose desire for experiences is redeemed by their bad conscience regarding their surroundings and the environment.
Concept, Direction, Performance: Vladimír Turner
Camera – Czech Republic: Petr Racek
Camera – France: Vladimir Turner
Assistant Director: Mars Industries
The film was made with the support of the MeetFactory Gallery and the La Fourmie Association