Since his much-acclaimed work for the Czech and Slovakian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of 2009, Roman Ondák (born 1966, lives in Bratislava) has been regarded as a key figure among younger artists who have taken up and developed the traditions of conceptual, process-oriented, and installation art in strikingly independent ways. His often subtle interventions into everyday situations assume the most varied forms, ranging from brief or more extended appearances by individuals to objects, drawings or notations, and even the participation of the public. While a number of works investigate phenomena associated with art and museum culture, his primary interest is in ‘the everyday behavior of real people’ and in ‘the qualities found behind the objects’ (R. O.). With its humanistic orientation, and despite its unassuming formal qualities, his art is directed toward the sheer breadth and complexity of reality itself.
The presentation centers on a new installation which was conceived especially for this exhibition, entitled The Hill Seen from Afar (2011). The work, which brings habitual perspectives into disarray, takes the form of an artificial hill at whose apex stands a miniature tree. Appearing in the middle of this artificial space is a piece of nature, one which foregrounds the beholder’s perceptions. Are we confronted here by an artwork which calls attention to itself through its special dimensions, or instead by a ‘hill seen from afar’’ In the latter case, why is the hill situated directly in front of the viewer’ Where does this distance reside’ Solely in the mind of the beholder’ These and numerous further questions - which could almost have emerged from Gulliver’s Travels - are triggered by this highly attractive object, which qualifies as a sculpture in its own right.
The two other exhibited pieces are associated thematically with The Hill Seen from Afar. They hark back to the actions or installations of recent years, shifting them into new aggregate states. In Across That Place (2008-2011), Ondák asked people to gather in order to skip stones across the water of the Panama Canal, formerly the property of the US. Through video, posters, paintings, drawings, photographs, maps, postcards, and letters, this playful ‘overcoming’ of the distance between the American continents, as well as of former colonial rule, circulates as an event that is simultaneously real and poetic. In Eclipse (2011), finally, an installation which originally reversed above and below is returned to the floor once again. Here, the point of departure is a life-sized, traditional truss which the artist assembled upside-down in a contemporary exhibition space and covered it by metal tiles he dismantled from the gallery’s ceiling. Now, the remains of this absurd building lie on the floor, whether as recollections of the past or as an inventory of materials for a new construction at some other location. Also appearing in a kind of peepshow is a view of the original work in an unexplained situation which resides between past and future, between reality and fiction.
Within Reach of Hand or Eye: the title of the Düsseldorf exhibition encapsulates the three works on display, posing questions about our perceptions of the world, about distance and proximity, boundaries, and the possibilities of one’s own knowledge and influence.