Blog › The terrifying and enchanting objects of Daniel Pešta in Venice
The largest international art fair, the Venice Biennale, continues until the end of November. Whether they want to or not, the national pavilions represent their respective countries’ cultural policies, but by comparison the so-called collateral events scattered throughout town help to provide a more complete picture of contemporary art. At the prestigious Personal Structures exhibition, the Czech Republic is represented by Daniel Pešta and his projects entitled Annunciation and Nocturnal Head Records.
The theme of this year’s biennial exhibition is “All The World’s Futures”, a theme that resonates in the works of many of the artists exhibiting outside of the official festival. One such artist is Daniel Pešta, who uses subjective imagination, dreams and nightmares to achieve a global vision of the future of mankind – and it isn’t exactly a joyful vision. Immediately upon entering Pešta’s exhibition at the Palazzo Bembo and at the foot of the Ponte Rialto, the viewer is welcomed by a two-headed calf. With one head, the kindly mutant, executed in a vulnerable white wax, watches a painting of a motionless male being, the germ of a future life hatching on its dead or perhaps merely sleeping body. Is it the promise of new forms of existence that will come after us? Is it a sign of the definitive end of biologically determined laws, the augur of the end of science, which cannot be replaced by any other religion?
The second head of the enchanting and simultaneously disturbing calf stares at a glass sarcophagus containing a small mummy. Beneath the oilcloth one can see the clear outlines of a crown of thorns that, combined with the position of the dead body, tells us that we are looking at Christ after being taken from the cross. However, this familiar silhouette is disturbed by Jesus’ pregnant belly – the Annunciation of a new hope that may take on a completely different form than what we are capable of imagining.
Daniel Pešta makes art on the basis of dreamlike poetics – he works with universally known symbols, only to immediately deny them and infuse them with a new and subversive meaning. He keeps the viewer in the thrall of unsettlingly familiar images that are not what they appear to be. Pešta applies the same logic in his Nocturnal Head Records in the second part of his exhibition. It consists of blocks made of pure resin no larger than the kind of notebook into which we write down our dreams. In overlapping layers that symbolize the various timelines of a story, they are filled with variously altered photographs from family albums. On some, Pešta has deformed the faces by painting over them, while others are rolled up and tightly bound with red string, sometimes artfully embroidered into a muzzle or mask on the person’s face. The people seem to be screaming something through their masks, inhaling the material into which they have been imprisoned forever. They tell of being silenced, the inability to face one’s own fate, powerlessness, but also of passion, eroticism, fear and death.
Muzzles and masks have characterized Pešta’s work for many years now. They were dominant elements in his project I was born in your bed, which he showed in Venice during the 2013 biennial. It was then that he was approached by Rene Rietmeyer, the curator of Personal Structures, who invited Pešta to join the project’s hundreds of artists from 40 countries. Also exhibiting at the Palazzo Bembo and Palazzo Mora are artists such as Yoko Ono, Herman Nitsch and François Morellet, as well as young emerging artists. All of them present themselves solely through their own work or text, not through a gallery or curator. As a result, the exhibition provides an undistorted and unmediated picture of contemporary art, including conceptual works, video, performance art and classical media that have practically disappeared from the official Venice Biennale.