Ikon, 1 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace, Birmingham B1 2HS

Krištof Kintera: THE END OF FUN!


17 September - 22 November 2020

Review by Ruth Millington

‘THE END OF FUN!’ is the pertinent title of Krištof Kintera’s (b. 1973) timely solo show at Ikon. The Czech artist is internationally acclaimed for his mechanical sculptures, made from electronic waste, which critique hyper-capitalist systems, especially with respect to ecological concerns.

Even before entering, I spot crowd-control barriers, with antlers made from steel, invading the space at the front of Ikon. Kintera’s ‘Paradise Now’ sculptures (2009) invoke an increasingly regulated world of rules and one-way systems, just like the one I must now follow inside.

The show begins with Kintera’s immersive installation, ‘Postnaturalia Laboratory’ (2016–17). Table tops are overcrowded with tools and materials: cans of spray paint, copper, old electronic items. Recycled plastic pots hold flowers formed from wire and foam. It’s a clever play on the artist’s studio, from the future. It also hints at what’s to come.

Around the corner, and amassed across the floor, are dozens of dismantled circuit boards, covered in mounds of cables; entangled wires sprout into stalks resembling trees, evoking ecological systems. ‘Postnaturalia’ (2016–17) is a post-apocalyptic landscape which clearly calls into question an age founded on technology. It’s an obvious metaphor, but the stunning craftsmanship of this chaos is captivating.

The space would be silent if it weren’t for a group of leafless, upside down ‘Nervous Trees’ (2013–17). Motors cause these unnatural growths to shake and spin across the gallery. I feel equally jumpy and inquisitive to explore more of this uncanny universe.

Proceeding up a staircase, I’m welcomed by an animatronic raven, dressed in leather, perched upon the roof’s inner rafters. It speaks corporate slogans: “Just Do It”. A couple close by laugh, nervously, as if not quite in on the joke. Comedy and horror are never far away from other another in Kintera’s dark fairy-tale realm: he’s drawing on our anxieties of waking up to a world too far advanced, in which we have lost control.

Another automata, of a hooded child beating his head against the wall, adds to the creepy atmosphere. This sense of frustration grows in a room filled with ‘Drawings’ (2007–20), many of which Kintera made during lockdown. The artist has scrawled his observations on pressing issues, including climate change and loneliness. Echoing protest placards, these slogans are lit up intermittently by an installation of changing lights: “Am I alone?” catches my eye.

There’s a self-aware dichotomy at play here; Kintera shares a critical outlook on human progress, whilst recognising his own culpability. In the video ‘Hand Tools of Brain’ (2012–17) the artist uncovers his close relationship to technology, revealing how he carefully wired the talking raven. He explains: “I am aware of our responsibility for drastic changes of climate, extinctions of species and all kinds of living organisms, and therefore we’ll face sooner or later fatal problems. It is our shame, it is my shame.”

As I exit, I hear a passer-by comment on the exhibition, reading the promotional poster’s title ‘THE END OF FUN!’: “looks bleak”. But it isn’t. Kintera’s caustic wit has created a comedy-horror hit in which mask-wearing visitors only add to the dystopia. I felt like I’d stepped into an interactive episode of ‘Black Mirror’, finding fun in this exhibition which is brilliantly captivating and lightly terrifying.

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