Gaspard of the Night
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Ivan Svoboda, Roman Štětina
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The Gaspard of the Night exhibition emphasizes elements of the gothic and the grotesque in works by selected Czech contemporary artists. The show thus functions as an anachronistic attempt to view the current, post-conceptual tendency through the prism of aesthetic categories rooted in Romanticism. It positions side by side two types of irony: the romantic, in which an aesthetic experience allows the viewer to overcome his fear that grasping the world is an impossibility, and the post-conceptual, which appropriates cultural codes for the purpose of ridiculing them.
The term “gothic” refers in Romanticist tradition to the gap in the rational order of the world, overflowing by the brutal darkness of the past. “The dark night”, filled with anxiety from a feeling of emptiness, challenges imagination in order to create terrifying monsters. The “grotesque” points to excess, in which the tedium of everyday life clashes with the fantasy world, whilst the mechanical rationality is in direct tension with absurdity. Meaning collapses, the safe ground under our feet disappears, and the only thing that seems to remain systematic is lack of any system… These motifs are not foreign to contemporary artistic sensitivity. What unites them, however, is supposedly not the tragic position of the human facing the sublime destiny of death, but the cynical grin towards our own situation.
The exhibition title has been borrowed from the French romantic Aloysius Bertrand (1807–1841), who has organized his poetry in prose for the collection Gaspard of the Night or Fantasies in the Manner of Rembrants and Callot. This work, published one year after its author’s death, was famous namely for one of the passages in its introduction: “Art, that philosopher’s stone of the nineteenth century!” The book also includes an aesthetic principle ironically identified with evil: “… when God and Love are the first condition of art, an equivalent to what sensitivity is in art, Satan could be perceived as the second condition, an equivalent to what an idea means in art.” This strategy was later enhanced by Lautréamont: “I have glorified death… I have obviously exaggerated my record in order to create something new in the sense of that sublime literature, which extols despair in order to dispirit the reader and thus force him to long for good as a treatment.” Is however this interpretation of irony applicable still? When we glorify evil, do we do so to dispirit others and force them to pray for good as a medicine? Are God and Love equivalents to what sensitivity is for an artist and Satan to an idea in art? If art used to be the philosopher’s stone of the nineteenth century, what is it at the beginning of the twenty-first? And are we even interested?
Photo from event