A chronological look at shots of Denisa Lehocká’s (*1971) installations presents the viewer with a question: what am I actually looking at? In the photo documentation, one passes through the spaces of various galleries (of the most recent, we may mention Sammlung Fridriechshof, Slovak National Gallery, Fait Gallery, Dům Umění České Budejovice) and thinks about what is primary in these displays. Is it the working of the individual object, here and there graduating to larger compositions of sculptural objects, or is Lehocká’s work located in the historical line of specific installations, which are generated as compilations for a concrete place and time, unique and non-transferable, not to be repeated elsewhere? – But why is the answer to this question important? And cannot the two views be combined?
Claire Bishop gives a terminological distinction for this dichotomy in the introduction to her Installational Art. She reserves the term installation for a temporary set of individual artworks, immutably fixed in time. The specificity of installational art consists in the capture of a wider space around and between the objects, space which becomes a component of the work as valid as any other. Expansion of the sculpture or object into the surroundings does not only involve appropriation of the physical space round about: it literally also gathers in the experience of the viewer.
This duality is brought to our attention by the medium of photography. The perception of all those who have not been able to see, traverse or experience Denisa Lehocká’s exhibitions (and let us emphasize that it is an immersive experience based on the sensation of movement of the body in space and perceiving with all the senses) is dependent on her photographic documentation. On behalf of the viewer, the photographer chooses the place of viewing: whether to look at the installation “from outside” or to enter the space; whether to photograph individual details of large installations separately, or in such a way that it is always clear they are parts of a greater whole; whether to isolate a fragment and give it the luminous-plastic importance of a separate work; whether to anthropomorphise or to abstract...
As regards how the image is to be constructed for the secondary public, Denisa Lehocká’s choice is clear. She creates it through the eyes of somebody else, the photographer Jiří Thýn, author of the documentation of all her exhibitions since 2012. If immersiveness is a quality of installation art, then in order to achieve it by photography, which is two-dimensional, Lehocká chooses the option of being summoned artistically by a single artist with whom she collaborates. And he does not approach this as an ordinary documentary – in which case it would not matter whether one photographer was its exclusive author. Thýn’s photographs are extremely well-balanced, almost classically art-historical in their way of keeping the artist invisible in the interests of the documented object. From the exhibitions, they show entireties of object installations, detail, the juxtaposition of two planes. One detail, however, is specific: the photographs, the placings of the shots and the views imitate the body movement of an adult viewer going through the exhibition. Sometimes this is at the expense of close-up detail or the technical tricks of photography, which are spurned. Perspectives, the angle of the shot, distance from the works, the balanced use of artificial lighting and other effects, testify to the fact that the shot was taken from the eye level of an average viewer keeping at a remove. And although for certain details the photographer comes closer, he observes the “safe gallery distance” for which one will not get bawled out by the attendant. What results from this approach is institutional civility, underlining the fact that the photographer had no exclusive status in the gallery space and does not personify it in relation to the object, even when he is its first (and to some extent defining) interpreter.
This introductory dilemma of the doubled viewpoint for the secondary public has been resolved for us by the photographer, who follows the interpretive line of the artist herself, documenting her works as installational art. Of course, the terminologically designated boundary between art installations and installational art is not an unbreachable dogma that artists ought to be governed by. That is equally true of Denisa Lehocká, who in locally specific sets of her works also uses objects from preceding exhibitions, and thus incessantly stratifies, translates, modulates and complements a growing and developing corpus.
One often finds a perspective of timelessness in texts about Lehocká’s work, situating it beyond actuality, while the work itself offers references to an archetypal essence of form, using strikingly unprocessed natural materials in original colors: a vegetative metaphor linked with the idea of the growth of a core within the sculpture. All of these procedures are applied in her work, or the artist reactualizes them.
This reactualization has its origin in the historical background that formed her generation. As a student, Lehocká lived through the period of postmodern mythologies, typical of the 1990s. She herself belonged to the up-and-coming generation of post-conceptualism. Visually an explicit kinship with this generation is not at all strongly evident in her work; nonetheless, it offers a key to understanding her relationship to the avant-garde and neo-avant-garde strategies which she uses.
Ruth Noack in Who’s Afraid of Denisa Lehocká? comes forward with a number of suggestions for interpreting this work. I would like to follow on from one argument of hers, introduced by the question: How do I know, how can we prove, that the artist isn’t crazy (and that, for example, what she is doing is not just a game of imitating artistic procedures)? Lehocká allegedly isn’t crazy because she knows what she’s doing. But such a statement would not suffice, because it is typical of people experiencing a psychological breakdown that they have no doubts at all of what they are experiencing and doing, however unreal it may be.
Noack poses the question thus openly because she sees that Denisa Lehocká’s creative process is played out beyond the space where language functions: she situates it in the space of pre-significance. In this view, Lehocká strives for as long as possible to postpone the admission of thought about the meaning/sense in the artwork. She works beyond the boundaries of the location where “meaning sinks its claws into art”.
Such a place may exist either in some kind of mind untainted by the function of art (neo-primitivism), or in non-human entities. Noack offers the hypothesis that Lehocká is actually constructing such a space for herself. Space characterized at one pole by purely empirical interest in the physical and chemical processes of a natural character with which she works: stratification, pouring, straining, evaporation, drying, setting, painting, carving, adding, subtracting... At the other pole, an artistic subject is found, who, although “she knows what she is doing”, refuses to confer meaning on her activity. And if someone wishes to enter the space where there are forms without meaning, it seems an inescapable condition for the passage that one must lay commonsense aside. This is not about art brut or temporary, stimulated or controlled madness. As Noack notes, here there is not even a passage to a space of unconsciousness or automatism.
I would like to add one layer to this interpretation by making a comparison with avant-garde and neo-avant-garde procedures. If we accept it, then we will inevitably have to situate this space of pre-significance as a highly symptomatic index of resistance to the social and artistic normativity which is proper to all avant-gardes, including Lehocka’s own neo-conceptual variety.
The artist describes her works as a spatial collage. Thereby she lures the viewer to look from two different sides. It is evident, on the one hand, that her work refers to the history of sculpture, and a historian may follow connections with the organic abstract sculpture whose main premise is the growth of form from within, from the sculpture’s core. Textiles filled with rice or various grains create form through the working of gravitation: organically full-grown readymades (potatoes; celery); non-organic readymades (rounded boulders smoothed for millions of years by trickling water; roots). Eva Hesse, Mária Bartuszová, Barbara Hepworth, but also Buckminster Fuller, Shigeru Bana. The Eames couple clearly represents the present-day line that Lehocká draws from.
To describe the genesis of the sculptural parts of Lehocká’s installations, the concept of slow sculpture is apt. Slow sculpture: repeated moistening and setting of plaster, embroidering with thread, sewing of beads, sedimentation of color, drying off of saturated solutions, weaving and winding of threads, cotton, twine etc. The slow sculpture comes into being slowly. Each procedure used must have its own guaranteed time for the making, so that the different “half-lives of inception”, like rings on trees, may indicate in parallel the different periods of production. Even if slow sculptures do not contain expressivity or gesture, the artist cannot delegate them to a third person, because their production is not mechanical: rather, it serves for alternation and the creation of new methods. Materials used are commonly available, poor and bare, reminiscent of arte povera. The slow sculptures are mostly white or beige and only rarely have an artificial color, and if such a color appears it has the function of a signal.
On the compositional and material plane, however, the primary force of the organic was subjected to a radical critique by minimalism and even before that by Dadaism, which “cut up” the unified force into a collage of fragments. The strategy of installation art has nullified the idea of the sculptural core, among other things by situating it outside the object in an empty interspace, or by identifying it directly with the viewer.
In the arrangement of slow sculptures, Lehocká makes reference to a number of principles which are in contradiction to, or in tension with, the organic plasticity of avant-garde sculpture. Alien elements in a non-organic arrangement are linked by the collage principle: the plaster cast of a dish which the artist has fabricated, and a granite boulder from a brook in the Tatras, with a million years’ weathering (Illustr. 1). At their points of contact, they are separated by golden foil blankets (used by emergency teams and humanitarian organizations as a primary anti-hypothermia measure). This gracious pair of sculptures rests on a gently ruffled grey floor cloth, which we notice is decoratively embroidered with red thread. The collage simultaneously has the form of some sort of archaic nest.
Lehocká often organizes her slow sculptures in simple rows one after the other, separated by equally large gaps. Such an arrangement is not composition, rather it is a citation of minimalist seriality, defined by Sol Le Witt as “one thing after another”.
A further aspect linking her installation with minimalism is the elimination of the pedestal. If she uses a pedestal, it appears in the installation as a free-standing object. Also featured are designer chairs and natural board prefabs (alluding to minimalism). The slow sculptures are placed without any separating frame directly on the floor: they lie, lean, stand on or under one another, crystallize, hang. The arrangements of cloths, rags, stretched-out rolls of fabric and to a lesser extent raw material, present in the installations evoke memories of Morris’s Antiform, a series of installations with felt. Morris, in the eponymous text, explains the need to respond to minimalism with a compositional solution which cannot be reduced to a geometrical schema and which poses an obstacle to human perception and imaginativeness by making its form impossible to remember.
At the end of our excursus, then, the conclusion we reach is that the tradition of organic avant-garde sculpture, which the slow sculptures appeal to, is directly negated by the neo-avant-garde, of which installational art is securely part. Denisa Lehocká situates her work in the interspace – between the avant-garde thesis and the neo-avant-garde antithesis, with the period experience of an artist of the time when postmodernism was fading and neo-conceptualism and retro modernism were advancing. Her precarious joining of opposites was made easier for this artist by the intellectual benevolence of Czechoslovak neoconceptualism, and also by the Czechoslovak tradition of heroic conceptualists (S. Filko) and neo-modernists (M. Bartuszová), whom Lehocka’s generation discovered anew and who, by a syncretisation of the western canon, established its most progressive eastern variant.
Vít Havránek, December 2018
photo (portrait): Bobo Boška
 BISHOP, Claire. 2005. Installational Art, A Critical History. London: Tate Publishing.
 Although 20th-century photography has oscillated about “free” art and made inputs in various forms, its institutional recognition comes after conceptualism and the performance movement of the 1960s. This is plainly paradoxical, because these artists used the camera in a strictly functional (documentary) mode (E.Ruscha. V. Acconci). An ambivalence like that of an art photographer documenting the exhibition of an artist colleague.
Individual Exhibitions (selection):
Denisa Lehocká & Boris Ondreička. Arco, Madrid (ES)
Denisa Lehocká. Gandy Gallery, Bratislava (SK)
Denisa Lehocká: Dítě. House of Art, České Budějovice (CZ)
Denisa Lehocká: 2010. Jan Koniarek Gallery, Trnava (SK)
tranzit, Bratislava (SK)
Dominik Art Project, Krakow (PL)
Jiří Kovanda a Denisa Lehocká. Open gallery, Bratislava (SK)
Galerie MXM, Prague (CZ)
V. Löffler Museum, Košice (SK)
Austrian Cultural Institute, Prague (CZ)
Group Exhibitions (selection):
Lesson of Relativity. Zichyhy Palace, Bratislava (SK)
Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module. New Museum, New York (US)
Denisa Lehocká & Boris Ondreička: Try to describe a color of pure (still) water, my dear. Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, (DE)
Sedmokrásky a klony. Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava (SK)
Micronarratives. Museum of Modern Art, St Etienne (FR)
Family Affairs. Kunstverein Ulm, Ulm (DE)
October Salon. Belgrade (SRB)
Forma nasleduje risk. Futura, Prague (CZ), Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava (SK)
Kontakt. MUMOK, Stiftung Ludwig, Wien (AT) & tranzit workshops, Bratislava (SK)
Auditorium. Stage, Backstage, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt am Main (DE)
The Giving Person. Palazzo delle arti Napoli, Napoli (IT)
Cordially Invited. BAK, Utrecht (NL)
Stadt In Sicht. Kunstlerhaus, Wien (AT)
Now What? On Hope and Other Misunderstanding. BAK, Utrecht (NL)
Pass me the Butterfly. DUMBO Art Cener, New York (US)
Event. Image. Clone. Tallinn Art Hall, Tallin (ES)
Women Of The World. White Columns, New York (US)
Body-Space / Nets and other creations. Kunsthalle Basel, Basel (CH)
Residence 50. Brugy (NL)
Vzdálené podobnosti. National Gallery, Prague (CZ)
Slovak Art for Free. XLVIII. Biennale di Venezia, Venice (IT)
Galéria Tatrasoft, Bratislava (SK)
Made in SK. Knoll Galerie Wien, Wien (AT)
Medzisvety. Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava (SK)
Trojí možnost. Václav Špála Gallery, Prague (CZ)
Medzi mužom a ženou. Považská Gallery of Art, Žilina (SK)
60/90 (annual exhibition of the SCCA). Živa Gallery, Bratislava (SK)
Paradigma žena. Považská Gallery of Art, Žilina (SK)
Interiér vs. exteriér. Cosmos, Bratislava (SK)
Ruce Gallery, Prague (CZ)
Medium Gallery, Bratislava (SK)
Sen o múzeu? Považská Gallery of Art, Žilina (SK), Dom umenia, Bratislava (SK)
Disperzia. Galerie výtvarného umění v Ostravě, Ostrava (CZ), Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava (SK)
To, co zbývá. Štenclův dům, Prague (CZ)
Hostia Prešparty. Umelecká beseda Slovenska, Bratislava (SK)
Synagogue, Trenčín (SK)
Kontakt, Erste Bank Group Collection, Wien (AT)
Sammlung Friedrichshof, Wien (AT)
European Investment Bank, Luxembourg (LUX)
Fiorucci Art Trust, Monaco (MC)
Societe Generale, Paris (FR)
The Daniel and Florence Guerlain Collection, Les Mesnuls (FR)
Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava (SK)
Artfond, Bratislava (SK)
Fait, Brno (CZ)
Považská Gallery of Art, Žilina (SK)
Jan Koniarek Gallery, Trnava (SK)
and private collections in Slovak Republic, Czech Republic, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Germany, France, Monako, Belgium, Japan, USA
To, co zbívá = that what is left. Foreword: Jana and Jiří Sevcik. [S.1.], 1993
Disperzia: súčasné slovenské umenie, 25. 10. 1994 – 27. 11. 1994. Dům umění Ostrava. Catalogue (Translation: Tomáš Salamon). Bratislava: Slovenská výtvarná únia, 1994
Denisa Lehocká, Bohdan Hostiňák. Catalogue, Bratislava Medium Gallery, 1995
Denisa Lehocká, Boris Ondreička. 16. 5. – 6. 6. 1995. Ruce Gallery, Prague. In: Atrium 5/05, 1995
Denisa Lehocká. 8. 9. – 6. 11. 2005, Moravian Gallery in Brno. Catalogue, Brno: Moravian Gallery in Brno, 2005
RUSNÁKOVÁ, Katarína (Ed.): Paradigma žena. Denisa Lehocká. Ilona Németh. Petra Nováková-Ondreičková. Jana Želibská. Catalogue. Žilina: Považská galéria umenia, 1996
HLAVAJOVÁ, Mária: Interiér versus Exteriér alebo Na hranici (možných) svetov. In: Interiér versus Exteriér alebo Na hranici (možných) svetov. 27. 9. – 31. 10. 1996, COSMOS, a.s., Bratislava, Catalogue, Bratislava: Sorosovo centrum súčasného umenia, 1996, p. 4-7
HUSHEGYI, Gábor: Álom egy múzeumról? a 90-es évek képzömüvészete Szlovákiában. In: Kalligram 3/1996, 1996, p. 127-133
60/90. IV. výročná výstava SCCA Slovensko = 4th Annual exhibition of SCCA Slovakia. Catalogue, Bratislava: SCCA-Slovakia, 1997
Denisa Lehocká. Boris Ondreička. Peter Rónai. Triple Possibility. Catalogue, Bratislava: Sorosovo centrum súčasného umenia, 1997
LINDAUROVÁ, Lenka: Tři z Bratislavy a jeden mňau. In: Lidové noviny, 10/1997, č. 80, p. 10
RUSNÁKOVÁ, Katarína (Ed.): Medzi mužom a ženou = Between man and woman: Peter Rónai. Ilona Németh. Boris Ondreička. Katol Pichler. Denisa Lehocká. Petra Nováková. Peter Meluzin. Roman Ondák. Jana Želibská. Catalogue, Žilina: Považská galéria umenia, 1997
MOJŽIŠ, Juraj: Tri vety výtvarného umenia. In: Pravda, 7, 76/1997, p. 7
HLAVAJOVÁ, Mária: Denisa Lehocká. Boris Ondreička. Peter Rónai. Catalogue, Bratislava: Sorosovo centrum súčasného umenia, 1997
KUSÁ, Alexandra (Ed.): Denisa Lehocká. 15. 7. – 29. 8. 1999, Múzeum Vojtecha Löfflera Košice, Catalogue, Bratislava: Artisan, 1999
VLADÍKOVÁ, Simona: Vzdálené podobnosti: něco lepšího než kosmetika. In: Ateliér, 12, 24/1999, p. 4
BESKID, Vladimír – ŠEVČÍK, Jiří – ŠEVČÍKOVÁ, Jana (Ed.): Vzdálené podobnosti: něco lepšího než kosmetika. Catalogue, Praha: KANT, 1999
Denisa Lehocká. Petra Nováková. Ivan Csudai. Permanent exhibition space of SOGA, Slovak National Museum, Bratislava: Artisan, 1999
Raumkörper. Netze und andere Gebilde. Kunsthalle Basel 38/2000. Exhibition flyer (Foreword: PAKESH, Peter), Basel: Schwabe, 2000
Zbonik za umetnostno zgodovino. Nova vrstva = Archives d'histoire de l'art = Art history journal, zv. 36, Ljubljana: Slovensko umetnostnozgodovinsko društvo, 2000
HANÁKOVÁ, Petra – KUSÁ, Alexandra (Ed.): Slovak Art for Free. XLVIII. Biennale di Venezia. Bratislava: Artisan a SNG, 2000
THEA, Carolee: Foci: interviews with ten international curators. New York: Apex Art Curatorial Program, 2001
Denisa Lehocká. In: Labyrint revue: časopis pre kulturu, 9 – 10/2001, p. 88, 96-97
IRWIN (Ed.): East Art Map – A (Re)Construction of the history of art in Eastern Europe. IRWIN, New Moment, 20, 92/2002, 2002
RUSNÁKOVÁ, Katarína: Mapovanie priestorov (a) subjectivity. In: Profil súčasného výtvarného umenia, 9, 3/2002, p. 100-112
ORAVCOVÁ, Jana: Bez pomlčky (?): cyklus česko-slovenských výstav v Open Gallery. In: Ateliér 16, 3/2003, p. 16
KREMER, Mark (Ed.): Now what? Dreaming a better world in six parts organized by BAK – basis voor actuele kunst in Utrecht, Frankfurt/Main: Revolver; Utrecht: BAK, 2004
HOFFMANN, Jens: The next Documenta should be curated by an artist. In: ABRAMOVIĆ, Marina (Ed.): Frankfurt/Main: Revolver, 2004
BUDAK, Adam (Ed.): Anxiety of influence: bachelors, brides and family romance. Bern: Report, 2004
FERENCOVÁ, Yvona: Denisa Lehocká. In: Atrium 5/0, Brno: Moravian Gallery in Brno, 2005
HLAVAJOVÁ, Mária – BINA, Choi (Ed.): Denisa Lehocká, Boris Ondreička: landschap / landscape. Utrecht: BAK, 2005
VANDERLINDEN, Barbara (Ed.): The Manifesta decade: debates on contemporary art exhibitions and biennials in post-wall Europe. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2005, p. 337
CASSANI, Silvia – MORIMONE, Loriana – PATTI, Ansaldo (Ed.): The giving person. Il dono dell'artista. Katalóg (Curator Lórand Hegyi), 26. 3. – 28. 8. 2005, PAN / Pallazzo delle Arti Napoli, Napoli: Electa Napoli, 2005
IRWIN (Ed.): East Art Map: Contemporary Art and Eastern Euorope. London: Afteall Book, 2006
KRICK, Nina (Ed.): Kontakt. Aus der Sammlung der Erste Bank-Gruppe = Kontakt. Works from the Collection of Erste Bank Group. Catalogue, Vienna: MUMOK Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Köln: W. König, 2006
Künstlerinnen aus Bratislava = Bratislava Artists. Ausgewählt von / selected by Boris Ondreička. In: Spike Art Quartely, 07/2006, p. 82
HAVRÁNEK, Vít (Ed.): Jiří Kovanda. 2005 – 1976. akce a instalace. Prague: tranzit, 2006
CSANDA, Gábor – TÓTH, Károly: Magyarok Szlovákiában. III. kötet. Somorja: Fórum Kissebsegkutató Intézet, 2006, p. 88
LINDEN, Liz (Ed.): The best surprise is no surprise. Zürich: JRP Ringier, 2006
PAKESCH, Peter (Ed.): Erzählungen: - 35/65 + Zwei Generationen = Narratives: - 35/65 + Two Generations. Catalogue, Kolín: König, 2006
CAROTTI, Elena (Ed.): Micro-narratives: tentation des petites réalités / Temptation of small realities. Saint-Etienne: Musée d'Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne Métropole, 2008
JEŘÁBKOVÁ, Edith: Příspěvek k pražskému trienále. In: Ateliér, 21, 14 – 15/2008, p. 1
PEJIĆ, Bojana (Ed.): Gender check: feminity and masculinity in the art of Eastern Europe. Catalogue, Vienna: Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, 2009
MÜLLEROVÁ, Katarína: Denisa Lehocká 1991 – 2001. In: Profil súčasného výtvarného umenia, 17, 2/2010, p. 52-59
GAVULOVÁ, Lucia: Denisa Lehocká. In: Flash Art. Czech&Slovak Edition, 5, 15/2010, p. 47-49
HUSTÁ, Ľubica: Vizuálna hudba. In: SME, 18, 249/2010, p. 23
KERATOVÁ, Mira – BADURA-TRISKA, Eva (Ed.): Kontakt: díla ze sbírky Erste Group. Kutná Hora: GASK – Galerie Středočeského kraje v spolupráci s Kontakt – The Art Collection of Erste Group, 2010
KUSÁ, Alexandra (Ed.): Maľba po maľbe. Catalogue, Bratislava: Slovak National Gallery, 2010
KUSÁ, Alexandra: Denisa Lehocká. In: Art & Antique, 10, 3/2011, p. 50-51
Denisa Lehocká & Boris Ondreička. Try to describe the colour of pure (still) water, my dear. (kurátori: Anja Casser, Daniel Pies), Catalogue, Karlsruhe: Badischer Kunstverein, 2011