It Will All Turnout Right in the End
Roman Ondák, Tate Modern, 2006
published in Flash Art
Everybody knows the 35 metres high and 152 metres long Turbine Hall from Tate Modern. It is the perfect place to experience Gulliver’s encounter with Brobdingnag. Imagine now the reverse: Gulliver descending on Lilliput and entering the same Turbine Hall. Lilliputians walking on the bridge and enjoying Bill Fontana’s current sound installation. The Slovakian artist Roman Ondák has turned around the given order, by shrinking the hall to the dimensions of the Level 2 gallery on the North façade. A faithfully reproduced scale model of the hall, which is approximately 15 metres long, 3.6 metres high and 2.5 metres wide, has become a temporary alternative for poetic mise-en-scènes and collective fictions.
The project, entitled It Will All Turnout Right in the End, 2005/06, is sixth in a series conceived by curator Jessica Morgan. It is Ondák’s first exhibition at Tate, after the gallery bought his work Good Feelings in Good Times shown at the Frieze Art Fair 2004. Either installation, performance or intervention, the artist’s practice can be defined as tactic of minimal interference for maximal effect within the ready-made contexts we experience everyday. His work produces meaning not by itself but through its complex web of relationships with things and ideas that shape our existence and knowledge in various ways. Hence, alluding to bread lines of Eastern Europe before the fall of Communism in 1989, the gratuitous queue at the Frieze Art Fair addressed also its contemporary counterpoint, the consumerist culture that handles even art as commodity and bargain. The 2003 letter to the Slovakian minister of culture, asking support for establishing a virtual art museum, questioned the critical balance between freedom and institutionalisation, exploring at the same time alternative modes of being and forms of visibility for art in difficult contexts.
The current installation at Tate unsettles habitual expectations and patterns, playfully challenging notions of power and hierarchy as well. All of the architectural details of the Turbine Hall have been accurately reproduced, matching materials, colours and textures. Visitors are able to imagine how it would be to have the power to impose taxonomies and regulations over the real, to produce history according to the arbitrary of their own infinite freedom, to stage fictions and utopias from a vantage point. This remains, nevertheless, an exclusive position, suspended indefinitely between being part of and being a stranger, which reflects the very place of Ondák himself. Coming from the ‘emerging’ art scene of Eastern Europe, the Slovakian artist does not have access yet to the real, impressive Turbine Hall. Beyond the curatorial and marketing strategy of the gallery, the reasons of this situation are perfectly illustrated by Hans Belting’s words: “For the greater part of the twentieth century, East and West had no shared art history. We usually ignore the degree to which we have imposed a Western view on the East by recognizing only Western traditions and by writing art history such as to exclude Eastern Europe.” (Art History after Modernism, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 2003, p. 54).
Consequently, one can say that, as in Swift’s novel, what is written or visible here stands in fact for the unsayable and the invisible. Even if the work is made by a considerable amount of materials, it is not focusing on material production, but particularly on producing awareness and claiming space on an immaterial level. Apparently, the artist’s strategy is to occupy a public space only to exclude the public of this occupation, emphasizing thus the delusional power we have in relation to the authority of the impersonal systems that rule the world. By using the subversive potential of aesthetics of the quotidian as part of a larger ontology, he problematises the already known towards new territories of meaning and possibility.
Ondák was born in 1966 in Bratislava and lives there. The extremity of the historical situation of communism and the impossibility of not taking a stance in relation to it shaped implicitly his artistic practice towards a political approach. His work illustrates a development away from objects towards staging temporary situations and imaginative site-responsive creations that act at the level of symbolic interventions on the domain of the ‘sensible’, shared by both aesthetics and politics. The free-form, anti-form, iconoclast and inclusive modes of action that he uses, permanently question the ideologies that define public sphere and human behaviour. And in so doing, his practice is deeply, however not overtly, political. As Chantal Mouffe claims “every form of art has a political dimension because every form of artistic practice either contributes to the reproduction of the given common sense – and in this sense is political – or contributes to the deconstruction or critique of it”( Chantal Mouffe, The Democratic Paradox, Verso, London 2000, p. 64-65). Accordingly, making art politically in Ondák’s work resides not in imperative and immediate effects of an agitprop mode of distributing the sensible, but rather in a certain way of long-term spatial and social engagement, which opens the possibility of (self)-generation of the political. It is this constitutive openness that allows him to play subversively with meaning, perception and imagination, and to hope that it will all turnout right in the end.