LET’S BEGIN WITH A SIMPLE statement: Karol Pichler studied textiles at the University of Applied Arts in Budapest. This is a fact that can be taken into consideration, specified and employed. For example we might use it as a potential interpretative key to understanding the meaning of certain works of art, and this is what I intend to do.
It is impossible to say exactly what Pichler’s studies gave him, but his creative work has shown the school’s influence particularly in his choice and handling of materials. When speaking of materials, I do not mean raw, unformed material, with its natural or artificia lattributes capable of taking any form. On the contrary, Pichler is more interested in material that has already been formed, in most cases the forms created by his fellow designers. I intentionally say in most cases, because there are instances where naturally formed materials play a role. Any material can be a basis for in his art so long as it takes on a new meaning, a meaning created by Pichler in an original manner using the principles and rules of his quintessential artistic signature.
It is said that a work of art is created by the artist and perceived by the except in reality the matter is much more complicated and Pichler’s works are a great example of this. Since his work largely consists of finished or found objects, he himself has firstto be a keen observer who sees in the broad visual field what others do not see or pass over. And why as an artist does Pichler see it? It is simply because from beginning to end his vision is imbued with a rational thought concept. This concept is the whole that selects which visible thing can and cannot become a part of it. In other words, the sum is greater than its parts, because the concept enables us at to grasp a set of heterogeneous elements all at once. In the whole of the concept, individual parts take on their own meaning and function.
I realize that this may be too complicated, so let me explain it in another way. In the world that surrounds us and in which we live (in the words of Merleau-Ponty), the eye and spirit of the artist select objects in the same way that ordinary mortals select necessary words from a dictionary. These are then joined together into sentences, and the sentences create speech. Pichler selects items that each have their own regular meaning and purpose. From the perspective of users, these items perform certain functions intended by their makers. These items, or even fragments of items, are arranged by Pichler into a new whole, whereby he is carrying out two mutually complementary operations at the same time. Except that, and this is important, for these operations to succeed, the items, with the exception of symbolic items, must be capable of performing their ostensible functions.
For example, generally speaking, a tie is just a tie, but if that tie is hanging around the neck of a mannequin in a clothing store window, then it also represents the ties that are not displayed. Only when we understand it in this way can it be manipulated to acquire new meanings.
The first operation is the selection of objects. The selection itself, is never an innocent affair, because by its selection, the item-symbol becomes isolated, torn from the context of which it was part, the context which gave it its generally communicated, comprehensible meaning and value. In the language of linguistics, by isolating the item-symbol the artist weakens its primary meaning or denotation.
The second operation concerns the incorporation of the item-symbol into the new concept, ergo into anew context, because there it attains a new connotative meaning. In practice, that which was originally signified and signifying, themeaning and expression, are transformed into new expressions capable of expressing the newly signified, i.e. the new meaning. Letus consider for example a series of artistically transformed ties. They were originally regular ties, for example ties with pictures of bubbles on them. But the moment the artist, now wearing the tie around his neck, starts blowing bubbles from a child’s bubble wand, the tie ceases to be a piece of clothing and becomes part of the artistic performance. The images on the tie’s surface now extend into space thanks to the bubbles. Or a tie covered in letters starts communicating with the inscription on the artist’s fingers.Thelastexampleisatiethatfunctions as a small canvas, with figures painted on it that might serve as a basis for viewers to construct a short narrative.
Since it has already been said that the artist is both creator and viewer, it should be noted that Pichler often wants the viewer to be more than just a passive element of artistic communication; he wants the viewer to be a co-creator of the work. That is why most of his work is open or interactive. The artist is challenging the viewer to actively join the game. While the viewer must follow the rules of the game, he/she can choose her own strategy and tactics, and therefore the artist has no way of knowing how the game will turn out. For example, perhaps the viewer puts the tie on and uses it as part of a different game. This immediately changes not only its meaning, but the entire artistic interpretation. It could be the case that in one situation, Pichler’s tie evokes a hearty laugh, while in other it might be rejected. But as a cosmopolitan ironist or an empirical conceptualist, Pichler is counting on all possibilities, and not even a scandal could make him sleep less soundly at night or dampen his joy in creating.
Karol Pichler (*1957, Bratislava), lives and works in Rio de Janeiro.
Peter Michalovič is a philosopher working at the Faculty of Philosophy of Comenius University in Bratislava.
Tie with text of Michel Foucault, 2002, various techni-ques; Tie, 2004, rubber, cut out. Photo: artist’s archive.
Both: KAROL PICHLER, Tie with text of M. Foucault, and tie. 2002. Ties, 2002–2006, various techni-ques;
both: KdM1 – Kit du Manifestant 1, 2011.