Written by By, Saadia Saad, CNN London, Contributors
“This show has, I think, more narratives than any other I’ve done,” artist Jan Palach told me over a cappuccino and a box of poached eggs at the Ace Hotel in London. This from a Czech artist who has lived and made art in London for a long time.
In a busy Tokyo gallery, meanwhile, Sara Rahnert paused at Palach’s work, sharing her exasperation over the disconnect between this and what she understood to be the underlying theme of the exhibition. “The subtitle really pretty much sums it up. This is the show that tells the whole story of technological advancement in this country. It’s something that is not always easy to discuss,” she says.
The show, which includes an interactive painting — you should put on a mask and turn your head between its polar-stylized geometric strokes — runs until April 28 at FENTLUMUR as part of the MEER Lab exhibition in a glass cube designed by the Japanese architecture firm atelier manabishi.
A still from Jan Palach’s 2014 film “Cabaret,” using clips from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Credit: Courtesy SHERIDAN K. JUN
“We are living in a bubble of incredible change — the skyscrapers, the energy technology is exploding all over. People say it will never end. It’s inevitable, of course,” says Palach. But this does not answer the question of whether change is good or bad, he adds, “It’s more important to talk about the economy of change and the dangers it poses.
“It’s not that different from the concerns people had when Sputnik went up in the Soviet Union. The year after Sputnik, when they were supposed to put a man on the moon, the government said: ‘It’s all well and good now, but in 10 years’ time you are going to find that the Soviet Union is still here.'”
Soon it was.
Arts and tech
People feel uneasy, writes Palach, at the sheer pace of technological change. Many of his works (a series of floor mosaic sculptures) are about that sense of panic. In one, a small boy touches a giant flashing digital screen, which immediately turns blurry, like a computer game gone wrong. In another, two men play chess using a tablet — but these words flash across a screen that distracts them so completely they miss the subtle movements of the game.
Elsewhere, the anxiety in the screen is physical. In The World, a video installation that appears to be a hologram but is actually a cross between an old, low-budget television set and a Harry Potter quidditch match, people are told to press their shoes to the ground as a computer image appears on the room’s interior. Using Google Glasses, the audience watches a swimming pool that turns into an alien spaceship when the waters flow.
Palach is not afraid to poke fun at technology in a typically bold way. In 2014, he filmed “Cabaret,” a project involving lots of images and a lot of clips taken from John Lennon’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. For the film, Lennon and Yoko Ono drive around Moscow, riding in trucks with blindfolds over their eyes and immersed in their “cities” – the city of Moscow, or even the northern landscape of England.
Part of Palach’s “Illusion of Paris” sculpture, installed on the lawn outside Paris’ Museum of Modern Art. Credit: Kevin Young Photography/Paris Saint-Germain
“Technology is both the double-edged sword and a tool that has to be used because it’s a product, it’s going to bring us the best life. So it is a challenge in that sense,” he says. But is the shift he is speaking about really irreversible?
“I think it depends on who is addressing the problem,” says FENTLUMUR’s Artistic Director Birgit Tonn. “We have a very atomized population. We are living in the digital age and we are constantly connected.”
That is at odds with the everyday feeling of the physical world, says Palach, who believes we all need to step back and think about what this development means for us as humans. “In relation to technology, it is striking how many people think technology is destroying jobs and destroying social relationships and things like that. I think what we have to understand is that technology is useful but also often addictive.
“In this country, you have two kinds of people — you have the “plug