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  • A chat with… multimedia artist Ján Mančuška


A chat with… multimedia artist Ján Mančuška

Sadly Ján Mančuška died in Prague at the age of 39 after struggling with illness for a long time. Sam Williams had a chat with him last summer regarding his 2010 Berlin exhibition.

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Photo by Sam Williams

Ján Mančuška was born in Czechoslovakia, a country that no longer exists. As the title of his solo show – Everything that really is, but has been forgotten – implies, he’s now trying to resurrect something.

This exhibition is a kind of cross-dressing party for forms and media, choreographed by a twisted algorithm. “Cinematography” is presented as a sculpture based on technical drawings; theatre appears as video – actors lose their voices, characters seem to turn into letters and stories become intersecting lines. Why? It’s political, Mančuška explains…

A lot of your works deal with theatre in some way. Is that your background?

No, but I consider “gesture” very important. In eastern Europe in the mid-1920s, there was a new economic situation and a newly established system of art, where for 40 years there had been no art market or institutions. So gesture was something physical people could understand.

What’s the significance of gesture for you, then?

There is a political element: it’s about where power’s coming from – global, political, economic power. But I don’t want to quote the superficial evidence of these structures. What is more interesting for me is to get below, into the sub-soil from which political consciousness comes and where these structures get organized. I think gesture can work as a tool for understanding that.

So how do you write the texts for your video and theatre pieces?

The action and the text are always two independent things which clash, and I bring them together. I use the same text in different media sometimes. And that shows what the medium does; it can change the work quite radically. Different media give you different experiences; your senses tell you how to respond to the medium, but you see something different. When something is presented in an abstract, conceptual way, using a story becomes absurd. So you have the chance to see it as this clash, which is important.

One of the pieces in the show is “Theatre X” which is shown on your laptop upside down, so that it looks like a sort of a theatre – the keys stand in for the audience, and the screen for the stage. How did you come up with that?

Probably getting bored, endless walking around the studio… The actors in the film draw a jigsaw puzzle around their bodies. What’s that about? The basic shape of a jigsaw puzzle refers to the human body. But in my work there’s this element of “fitting” which is important. It’s also political, because you are forced to find an angle or a position from which it “fits”.

I failed – I couldn’t see the screen properly.

You should have moved in front of it.

There were collectors in front of me.

Well, you know… it’s a commercial gallery.