Marek Schovánek

Kurator Noam Braslavsky

The Cashiers’ Cartel - THE PROPHIT

“There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. It shows an angel who seems about to move away from something he stares at. His eyes are wide, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how the angel of history must look. His face is turned toward the past. Where a chain of events appears before us, he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise and has got caught in his wings; it is so strong that the angel cannot longer close them. This storm drives him irresistibly into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows toward the sky. What we call progress is this storm.”

Walter Benjamin "On the Concept of History" (1940) Thesis IX (tr. Harry Zohn)

Squadrons of planes - friendly fire – cockroaches and giant mutant insects – the pathologist’s cabinet – the examination of the remains of a dinner – real estate sharks in the aquarium - analysts as astrologists - 08/15 – rain clouds loom over the city – people in boxes, spat out onto conveyer belts from the bowels of the factories – bread and circuses – the audience all around – shattered streets as if after an earthquake, or was it an air raid – bodies falling out of the skyscrapers – 9/11 – the bankruptcy vultures have settled – targets of opportunity – the triptych of cryptic symbols – scattered cell phones and digicams – the channels of communication are silent – only the video surveillance system still seems intact, recording everything for the biometric data analysis – city air makes you free.

These images and more are evoked by Marek Schovánek’s walk-in black-and-white installation THE PROPHIT. It is a simultaneous montage, a saccadian glimpse into the three-dimensional set of an urban film. Everything at the same time, but too much the same. An accumulation of constantly recurring repetitions, copies of copies. Communication with the outside world seems to have broken off; the emergency system may be signaling that chaos has broken out in the city, or maybe everywhere. There are no scientific explanations. And no antidotes either?

The city as the most complex form of social organization has been and remains a document of civilization and barbarism. Film, in particular, thematized the city topos early on. And thus Marek Schovánek’s packaging materials, painted and pasted over with photocopies, also recycle a piece of film history in passing. The collapsing buildings, the contrasts between black and white, the skewed angles are adapted from Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari from 1919. Made just after the catastrophe of WWI, the first industrialized war and the fragmentation of traditional structures in the sciences and humanities, art, politics and psychology, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, probably the most important Expressionist film, conveys a denunciation of authoritarian tyranny with a never-beforeseen concept of illusion as artificiality, with extraordinary distorted, disturbing, largely painted sets. Here, for the first time, a zombie takes shape, carrying out Dr. Caligari’s orders as if under remote control, under his suggestive, hypnotic influence. This theme would later recur in the Mabuse films and especially in the zombie films of George Romero, such as Dawn of the Dead.

In the utopia of Fritz Lang’s film from 1927, Metropolis is a gigantic city divided into an upper and a lower part. Down below, where the sun’s rays barely reach, the destitute slave away, operating the mighty machines, which provide the city with energy. Up above, a small elite caste lives in virtually pharaonic luxury. But the people at the bottom rise up and mobilize against the people at the top. Could it be a snapshot from the installation THE PROPHIT?

Ever since the early 1950s, science fiction films began showing a tendency to express views on society, humanity, the present and the future, as in the post-apocalyptic Alphaville by the French director Jean-Luc Godard. The futuristic city of Alphaville is controlled by a powerful professor and a computer, which dominates the city and shapes it after to its own image, using logic to dehumanize and alienate society. With contrasts between black and white, cynical humour and philosophical dialogues, Godard creates a turbulent film with a plot that verges on the bizarre and confusing. The conflict between individuality and the totalitarian system is the real subject of the film and is less about how and what the world will be tomorrow, but more about how it is today and what it will become before we realize it with our own eyes. Godard sees the potential roots of the future world in the present and past.

In 1982 Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner appeared, based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. It is set in the year 2019; the city of Los Angeles is a filthy Moloch sodden with constant rain, overpopulated and permanently bombarded with advertising. The real rulers of this world are powerful corporations. A better life is promised on distant planets, worlds that have been built by the so-called replicants. These androids are indistinguishable from human beings from the outside, but they have much greater powers and skills than normal humans. To prevent them from developing feelings and ambitions of their own, they have been designed with a lifespan of only four years. The replicants are forbidden from setting foot on the Earth on pain of death. To enforce the prohibition, special police officers, the Blade Runners, hunt down and execute the replicants who manage to reach Earth. The world of Blade Runner is a realistic vision of a cold, dark urban world in a fictitious future, which has increasingly grown to resemble reality over the past 20 years.

Marek Schovánek addresses timely issues of the human genome, embryo technologies, the cloning of modified organisms and designer food. In his installation, scientific and commercial motivations collide with ethical and religious views about human intervention into natural creation. How does a human differ from a replicant; in other words, how does reality differ from the simulation? Schovánek’s work goes through several stages, from paper and packing material, photocopies and dispersion paint to the constructed threedimensional space. Though this room is transient, photographic and film snapshots will prove that it existed. It will survive in its own image. His work is also a critique of consumerism and materialism, a no-holds-barred depiction of a consumer culture run amok, obeying the dictates of omnipotent conglomerates. As in Romero’s films, you keep looking through the eyes of surveillance cameras at soulless, apathetic beings that stumble aimlessly through shopping centres, looking for their lost identity.

This is the terror of everyday life. This could be any city, wherever it may be. “When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk on earth.” (Dawn of the Dead, George Romero 1978)

Marek Schovánek’s installation THE PROPHIT is both a moral work about values and an illusion as to their existence: it marks the isolation and absolute alienation of the protagonists, the end of civilization and the possibility of a new beginning. It is a nostradamic prophecy about the eternal return of history, or as Carl Zuckmayer formulated it in 1946 in The Devil’s General: “We have come through the storm of the bats of the centuries, but the cashier always stands at the end.”


(Heiko Daxl 04.01.2006, short version of the text, first published by GDK – Galerie der Künste, Berlin, translation by Isabel Cole)