Real minimalism

Real Minimalism (photographic archives documenting minimalist in the form of a rectangular block objects in real environment all over the country), 2010–2013, digital prints on MDF boards



The book you have just browsed has been compiled by the Czech artist Jiří Černický. It consists of 300 pho- tographs, all of which feature (as you have no doubt noticed) a similar object: a cube of indeterminate func- tion, usually set in an urban environment. Černický had taken these snapshots for several years on his business and private trips. Over the course of time he had devel- oped a specific ability to identify the object of his inter- est in any clutter just like an expert who immediately spots an exceptional painting by a cursory look into the gallery space. The idea of a book gave rise to a group of images based on one type of body. With their multipli- cation and repetition, not only their similarity, but also their differences become more apparent.

It is interesting that we have already encountered the principle of accumulation of material in the vast com- plex of Černický’s artistic production. As an example let us mention one part of his ABS Video (2007), in which Černický intercepted and transcribed utterances by in- habitants of an entire block of flats. They later emerged as long subtitles on the surface of a static desktop video, until they covered the whole area of the image. Černický dealt with the quantity in another way in his IFO Project (2009) – an archive of color “documentary” photographs of various levitating objects. We are entitled to use quo- tation marks with the word documentary because of the obvious postproduction editing of images, through which the viewer could see that he had fallen victim to one of Černický’s mystification. With this in mind he MESTSKÉ JIŘÍ ČERNICKÝ could subsequently also approach the accompanying story about the mysterious explosion of a flying object on the Belarusian-Ukrainian-Russian border in 1978, after which a great many peculiar objects of terrestrial origin and of unknown purpose descended to the ground. In both these works a significant role was played by the accumulation of material and the presentation of its quantity. The numerous statements in the subtitles of the ABS Video, which gradually merged into a white area without any information (although paradoxically it was overloaded with information), represented the pan- el house as a prefabricated box in whose bowels pulses invisible (though technically recordable) life and which allowed “to perceive a hidden, relative version of reali- ty” (Černický). On the other hand, the importance of the quantity of material in the IFO Project consisted of play- ing with credibility and balancing on the edge of a docu- mentary and fiction.

The Book of Cubes is closer to the mysterious ob- jects of the IFO Project. A cube standing somewhere in the street in itself may seem like a very strange thing. It is enough just to notice it and not be able to determine what it is. It is a matter of our (forced and necessary) inat- tention that we do not see how many of these mysterious bodies are found around us. These are the objects and small structures which somebody erected somewhere because of a good reason which is no longer known to us, or such objects which have already lost their purpose but no one has bothered to remove them. Sometimes they JIŘÍ PTÁČEK mere fragments of the original structure or the visible part of an otherwise hidden system. Anyway, if we are not able to determine their function, we cannot understand their form either. And this is why they can often be con- fused with contemporary art.

Of all bodies of this kind Jiří Černický has chosen to focus on cubes. If I am to speak for myself, I must ad- mit that only with a few of them I am able to guess what they represent and why they look the way they do. The purpose of most of them is a mystery to me. Yet this is the very intention of Jiří Černický who (and this is not for the first time) likes to act as a diabolic mysterylogist that instead of explaining the mysteries devotes his energy to the creation of new ones. I therefore believe that he has photographed the cubes because he realized that they may look like unidentified objects of the urban environ- ment: Urban Unidentified Objects (UUO).

This hypothesis is also supported by the way of their photographic representation. For example, there is not a single photo on which we could see someone doing something with these cubes. The thing is that this could demonstrate what the cubes serve for. Likewise, the sur- rounding area is shown only to the extent allowing for a general localization of the cubes, but not a specific one, as if Černický has intended to reveal only the general conditions in which the objects occur: he wants to show us that the cubes are standing somewhere, and even ad- mits that we will recognize that this somewhere is some- where else than here. However, he does not want us to pay more attention to the geography of the UUO than to the UUO themselves. But thanks both to the former and the latter, the cubes become even more elusive and mysterious.

Why has Černický chosen the cubes from all the mysterious UUO? A hint of explanation can perhaps be found above. The artist Jiří Černický thinks primarily in terms of art, and his attention to the cubes might have been subconsciously guided by their possible confusion with gallery artifacts. Thus his book can be accepted as an atlas of pre-sculpture and a kind of street minimalism, at first sight reporting on a number of aesthetic solutions offered by this simple assignment, while developing a sense of the deviation from the ideal geometric form in- herent to all cubes. What is more, this ideal is constantly repeated to us. None of the photographed objects fully corresponds with it; only the imaginary intersection of all of them is ideal. This imaginary, ideal cube – in Čer- nický’s words – affects both our general ideas about the ideal and the role of the ideal in art – and especially with- in the utopian horizons of modernism. Thus these street cubes, their seemingly funny photographic representa- tion as well as the whole effect of mysterious UUO can bring us to the very edge of art and the intentions and desires embodied in it.


Unlike most of Jiří Černický’s creative work, which is of- ten perceived as neurotically fantastic and expansive, his “space-time-lapse” series Real Minimalism is actu- ally surprisingly calm. Černický’s usual post-punk do-it- yourself suddenly changes here into ironic post-minimal- ism; frantic production is transformed into a peaceful process of finding. Černický gets carried away by the seemingly monotonous nature of long-term ethnologi- cal collecting, although a global conspiracy seems to be lurking below the surface of the peacefulness.

Through Černický’s point of view the situation seems to be serious. Mysterious rectangular shapes, prismatic objects of all possible colors, whose sole ap- parent purpose is that they cover or hide something (or perhaps they exist just for their own sake), while noth- ing seems to go in or out of them, whose minimalist form seems to have completely eaten up their function (remember the astonishment experienced by monkeys in front of a black monolith in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey), abundantly multiply across our entire planet. These recurring forms, anonymously cold, dull and si- lent, seem to testify that the elusive spirit of civilization lies dormant over all of us, dictating the form of things.

From the formal point of view of photography noth- ing much seems to be happening here except for repet- itive evidence. Several times there appears Černický’s own shadow, snapshots are crisp, the color scheme is fresh and the weather is changeable. However, all this is just a mock photographic language which deliber- ately respects (and sometimes, as it seems, even imi- tates) the parameters of a tourist notebook which will not reveal its true and complete meaning until placed on a table at home or projected to a circle of friends. It also touches the essence of photography as a record keeping tool which has greatly helped to classify and codify mod- ern civilization. (By his strategy of multiple repetitions of seemingly banal subjects Černický gets close to the long-term method of his friends, the pair of art photog- raphers Jasanský and Polák.) What Černický presents to us here in such an impressive range and variance can be seen as a high-spirited traveler’s pun, but those more sensitive among us this can also uncover a global conspiracy of the modern order. It is actually a perfectly crystallized paranoia of today’s globetrotter – and Čer- nický likes to get carried away by paranoia, building his stories and projects on it. The image of civilization as JIŘÍ ČERNICKÝ PAVEL VANČÁT a global organism that spans the planet from his home in Prague’s district of Libeň (one snapshot represents the World Cafeteria made famous by the Czech writer Bo- humil Hrabal, located a minute from Černický’s studio) through Tibet to Arizona. The exact locations, however, soon become irrelevant; the occurrence of objects grows into a pandemic. Anonymous absurd shoots of civiliza- tion thus become the fauna of the 21st century, a species related to each other, but appearing in another form and mutation with each occurrence.

Confronted with Černický’s photographs, we can- not be sure about anything in the end. The closer we ex- amine the various perspectives and their overall sense, the more we wonder and have doubts not only about the displayed objects themselves, but also about their placement in the catalogue which cross the boundaries of probability. Vaguely embarrassed, we are reminded of the thoroughness with which Černický through postpro- duction presented levitating objects in the photograph- ic series IFO (2009) or his obsessive expansiveness in the mystification project The Gagarin Thing. However, we can find a much more similar parallel to it, its mirror reflection in one of Černický’s early performances con- ducted in 1991 in Liberec: “I put a rectangle made from black, self-adhesive plastic film on my back, got dressed and went into the city to mount the same black rectangles around at the height of my back.” It seems as if today after all these years the entire universe has repaid Černický’s youthful personal gesture to modern abstraction. And thanks to it we finally comprehend a little that we will always find everywhere precisely what we want to seek ourselves.

Asking the artist about the real clear origin and the meaning of it all directly would not only be cowardly, but above all it would negate the very meaning of the whole project, which just like most of his works oscillates some- where between science and a fairy-tale. From this per- spective, the question whether it is reality or fantasy is really pointless. Černický is simply trying to prove figura- tively that our own civilization has long since surpassed nature by its ability to recreate itself. The world is only a constantly and repeatedly implemented fiction, in which we are the aliens to ourselves.

Pavel Vančát


Real Minimalism – Slovenia, 2010–2013, digital print on MDF board, 15×20 cm



Real Minimalism – USA, New York, 2010–2013, digital print on MDF board, 15×20 cm



Real Minimalism – USA, Chicago, 2010–2013, digital print on MDF board, 15×20 cm



Real Minimalism – China, Xian, 2010–2013, digital print on MDF board, 15×20 cm



Real Minimalism – Norway, Bergen, 2010–2013, digital print on MDF board, 15×20 cm



Real Minimalism – Scotland, Dundee, 2010–2013, digital print on MDF board, 15×20 cm



Real Minimalism – Tibet, Shikatse, 2010–2013, digital print on MDF board, 15×20 cm



Real Minimalism – Uganda, Fort Portal, 2010–2013, digital print on MDF board, 15×20 cm



Real Minimalism – Nepal, Kathmandu, 2010–2013, digital print on MDF board, 15×20 cm



Real Minimalism – China, Xian, 2010–2013, digital print on MDF board, 15×20 cm



Real Minimalism – USA, New York, 2010–2013, digital print on MDF board, 15×20 cm



Real Minimalism – Switzerland, 2010–2013, digital print on MDF board, 15×20 cm



Real Minimalism – Russia, Moscow, 2010–2013, digital print on MDF board, 15×20 cm



Real Minimalism – USA, New York, 2010–2013, digital print on MDF board, 15×20 cm



Real Minimalism – USA, Los Angeles, 2010–2013, digital print on MDF board, 15×20 cm



Real Minimalism – Poland, Bialystok, 2010–2013, digital print on MDF board, 15×20 cm



Real Minimalism – Austria, Zillertall, 2010–2013, digital print on MDF board, 15×20 cm



Real Minimalism – Dubai, 2010–2013, digital print on MDF board, 15×20 cm



Real Minimalism – China, Beijing, 2010–2013, digital print on MDF board, 15×20 cm