“When I feel like an author…”

David Fesl is a conceptual sculptor and visual artist who works with found objects and material fragments in his installations, grouping, and connecting them into surprising wholes. Since 2016 he has also been working in an artistic duo with Sláva Sobotovičová, together they have been creating institutional-critical texts and performances. At this year’s edition, he presented in his curator selection the hypnotic films Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas, 2012) and Last and First Men (Jóhann Jóhannsson, 2020).

This year you are showing two films and one group hypnosis as part of your Curatorial Selection under the title Neuroplasticity. What made you choose this theme selection? Does this reflect your current interest, or did you choose the films first and then look for what they have in common?

We were approached together with Michal Hogenauer and Kateřina Svatoňová to put together two film blocks, so that everyone could bring their own theme to the festival. So, I picked something I was involved with. It refers to the symposium we prepared this year for the third time with the LES community. It was a three-day experiment that addressed the topic of neuroplasticity. The experiment consisted of the fact that the participants were continually, from sunrise until midnight, confronted with a very demanding program that took place on our forest and meadow land, away from civilization. The purpose was to bring them to a new sensory experience, to bring people to themselves. So, I conceived the selection as a mini-announcement of the symposium.

I was interested in the piece of group hypnosis, which the spectator usually does not encounter at a film festival. How and why did you come up with the idea to include group hypnosis?

Whether I am creating my own exhibitions or dramaturgy for someone else, I always consider the environment for which it is intended. I knew I would be “assigned” to Plato Ostrava, a space I know well. I chose Hypnosis precisely because it is a salon-type cinema where the viewer is lying down. For me, it’s maybe a bit over the edge as a cinema venue, because you get too relaxed there. Such relaxation, which already borders on rest and sleep, is crucial for hypnosis. The human body is enclosed in a reinforced concrete shell, which surprisingly, even without carpet and padding, generates a feeling of security, which is also desirable for hypnosis. So, the space predetermined the choice of the program and it happened naturally.

So, is hypnosis purely a professional interest for you, or were you motivated by personal experiences as well?

I’ve only tried hypnosis once, but I have experience with deep relaxation, daydreaming, etc. It’s a little different than hypnosis because it works with the subconscious, with the fact that you’ve already fallen beyond the point where something can be suggested to you. Deep rest is more like meditation, where you can fall into this zone, so relaxed that you are able to get a full sleep in a very short time. I’ve been interested in this stuff for a long time, but I’m not the type to jump right in. I have a lot of respect for it and like everyone else I’m afraid to find out anything about myself.
There is certainly no supernatural or theatrical performance or spectacular gestures. Many people imagine that hypnosis is dangerous delirium, when in fact it is a normal and civil act in which a human voice guides you into a state that you do not normally experience. If it’s run by a professional, there’s nothing to worry about.

In the annotation you write that the selection focuses on the presence of the physical body in the cinema space and its sensory experience. The space of the cinema and its relationship to the viewer is often completely neglected, separated from the cinematic experience as if it were irrelevant. Are you working with this because you are used to thinking about gallery space from your field?

It comes from the fact that I don’t understand film, and from the fact that I work with architecture and space. For me, space always generates content to some extent. It may be my professional deformation, but it is a very common practice in the visual arts. It’s considered eccentric by film people because it’s aberration to them. But this is also true, for example, of a more radical treatment of the camera, which is a common practice in the visual arts, but in relation to film it is a deviant form that film scholars like to wonder about and call it an experiment or an audiovisual work.

So, do you see specific differences between the cinema space and the gallery space? Or is it just a construct of two disciplines that aren’t that far apart?

It’s always about a specific situation. I don’t see why a film in a coherent form would need any more narratives and space work around it. Gone are the days when galleries presenting some form of video looked like a cinema – an empty room with a bench and a screen, yet poorly sounded and lit. I think visual artists are still figuring out how visual art and film are different. At the same time, it is suspicious that film and art people like to have a dialogue with each other. It creates a strange, almost obscure situation. It’s almost masochistic, obsessive – as if the film industry wants to cultivate its soil by organizing audiovisual evenings or by inviting me. It’s strange that the film industry is pulling in art production, which is not an industry. Maybe it’s just a frill.

Looking at the objects you exhibit, it occurred to me that the dramaturgical/curatorial process is a defining principle for your work. At least in the sense that you are putting together disparate and pre-existing objects. Do you approach material objects in the same way as you would think about someone else’s work?

It’s more of a border of styling and arranging, which could be compared to dramaturgy. After all, that is the reason why I accepted the offer for the so-called Curatorial Selection in the first place. It’s about finding a balance – the line where the thing is functional, a little bit dysfunctional or completely dysfunctional, that’s what I enjoy.

What about the limits of authorship? You are, after all, using objects that were originally made by someone else or belonged to someone else.

Putting objects together can seem like a very easy and satisfying activity. But it’s hard to create something that lasts, that you can keep looking at and it doesn’t fizzle out, doesn’t take you somewhere you find inauthentic. For example, you assemble an object from five objects, but suddenly realize that the fifth one you don’t like there anymore. Finding out just that is a difficult and long process, which is about whether you can stand it, about your preset, about your confidence and self-worth, about your vision.
I’m not interested in authorship per se. I think it’s an overrated discourse.

Do you mean that we live in a time when everything is taken over, everything circulates, everything is constantly referred to, and so the original author can no longer be identified? Why is that outdated for you?

If I feel like an author, that evidence is enough for me. The visual arts have always had more freedom in this than the world outside. The way we have understood authorship is already outdated; we need to look at it again. After all, this is happening even now, there are many creative pairs, communities, and teams. Cooperation is rewarding. But there always comes a new time when there is a chance to shift and rethink things.

You also work in an artistic duo with Sláva Sobotovičová, with whom you create critical texts expressing the current situation on the Czech art scene. How did this project come about? Is it the result of your inner frustration?

No, that would be a complete misinterpretation. Humans generally exist because they react or interact in some way. It would be strange to think that we exist here alone without the million little influences and supports that we unknowingly receive during our lives. I’ll speak for myself, as I perceive us. We’re not angry artists, I would say we are rather curious. We are interested in the questions, not so much in the answers. We make what we create as absolute constructs that we try to control. Of course, it is very difficult to recognize when one is letting too much of one’s own emotions, positive or negative, into the mix. Sláva and I have been a duo for about five years, creating different types of outputs, but they have always been united by the institutional critique of the operation. We are not trying to educate the society, we are not in that position, what we are really going for is encouragement or balance. We are fully aware that we only comment on the cutting edge of our scene.

The frustration I was referring to was more about whether the initiative reflects your personal dissatisfaction with the situation. With the understanding that you are also part of the system.

We’re part of the system. We do not feel that we have any higher or lower position. You’re right that there must be some trigger for why one chooses to comment on something. For example, the last text “In what tone to talk about childlessness?” addresses childlessness in the context of creative pursuit. Many people see it as a balancing act between the romanticization of femininity and the overhang of motherhood, which is currently artificially emphasized, almost positively discriminated against. People are happy to read about it because nobody has talked about it here. It was difficult for us to do any research at all because it’s a topic that’s just empty.

In short, do you think, you have found an empty space in the market?

Plainly said – the subject came to us because we live it. It’s not premeditated, it can’t even be done that way, nobody does it like that. As soon as someone creates something they are not really into or relate to, it doesn’t work.
What is special for me is the collaboration between the two of us – we are different, we have different artistic practices, different backgrounds. And the fact that we just agree on the tone of institutional critique is a bit of a miracle. If you meet someone you can work with, they say to stick with them and never let them go.

The interview with Daived Fesl was led by Petra Chaloupková, external contributor for Cinepur and A2.

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