On ViewIkon Gallery
THE END OF FUN!
September 17 – November 22, 2020
THE END OF FUN! opened at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery during the Coronavirus pandemic in September 2020, then the largest exhibition of work by Czech artist Kritof Kintera in the UK. Curated by Jonathan Watkins, Melanie Pocock, and Miroslav Ambroz, it engaged with topics of environmental degradation, waste, technology and the natural world, although in a mode of compelling ambiguity rather than strident didacticism. When the country entered its second national lockdown, the show was forced to conclude early—delivering, ironically, on the promise of its title. But while it was open, viewers were immersed in a spectacular world of hybrid forms, which were both unsettling and delightfully absurd.
Visitors began by entering Postnaturalia Laboratory (2016–17), an immersive recreation of the artist’s studio that visually deconstructs Kintera’s methodology, while thematically orienting the viewer. He’s playfully framed like an eccentric scientist, the space stacked with boxes marked “LAB” and the walls a melee of inhuman designs. Conveying his interest in categorical confusion were a group of three pieces made using copper wire, green plastic tubing, diodes, and capacitors and mounted on board. Recreating a diagrammatic view of plants, these works blur the boundaries between technology and nature to uncannily equate their design and function.
Postnaturalia Laboratory is largely a precursor to Postnaturalia (2016–17), a sprawl of thousands of computer components that occupied over half of the next room’s 15 by 6 metre dimensions. The impression is of a post-apocalyptic urban landscape from above. It’s a fantastic agglomeration of motherboards, CPU fans, and other assorted circuitry, fringed with cables that look like roots, or stems terminating in wiry blooms. In another context this piece might be interpreted as an indictment of mass production, deferred social responsibility, or a reflection on the Anthropocene. But Kintera so thoroughly conflates the categories of nature and technology here that they appear to have achieved a harmonious synthesis, suggesting that his intention was to explore their parallels rather than make a galvanizing political statement.
We can view Postnaturalia as manifesting US technologist Kevin Kelley’s theory, detailed in his 2010 book What Technology Wants, that, like natural phenomena, man-made systems form their own ecosystem, what Kelley dubs a “technium.” This equivalency is proven, he argues, by their shared emergent tendency towards “increasing complexity, diversity, specialisation, ubiquity, sentience, and evolvability”—several qualities of which are expressed in Kintera’s Postnaturalia. The planar construction of its technological mass, for example, and its horizontally creeping cables, mirror the botanical rhizome, whose interconnected parts emerge not from one central point, but outward in all directions.
The evocation of the universal oneness of systems proved integral to THE END OF FUN! It was again embodied by Kintera’s Nervous Trees (201317), whose anthropomorphised, animatronic limbs clattered against the gallery floor. These jittery beings appeared to suffer from some type of degenerative motor disorder as they navigated the space in an erratic, vaguely sentient way. Their inverted branch-like frames, topped with an Atlas Globe, referenced the structure of the human nervous system to posit our inextricable connection to the environment, and impressed on the viewer that a radically altered environment would be equally detrimental to human biology.
More animatronic creations were located upstairs, expressing a dichotomy regularly explored by Kintera, that of “the very fatal and banal.” It’s this incongruous combination that delivers an amusing, often disquieting thrill as these motion-activated pieces stir into mechanical life. There was the anthropomorphic raven of I see I see I see (2009) perched on a metal railing in the intermediary space of the stairway, which croaked awake as you approached, darkly intoning corporate slogans like “Just Do It” and “Let’s make things better,” but whose pronouncements frequently lapsed into absurdity. Meanwhile, visitors were shocked by the sudden violence of Revolution (2005), a hooded child-like figure whose head ricochets loudly against a gallery wall when you get too close. Like the Nervous Trees, these animatronic pieces engage the space in unconventional, visceral ways to remind viewers of their relationship to the environment—that of the gallery, yes, but more importantly, to the wider world.
Covering the walls of an entire room were Kintera’s Drawings (2007–20), which articulated notions of individual responsibility and social justice in a more direct manner. They’re minimalistic in contrast to his intricately detailed sculpture, juxtaposing found items on boards of composite wood with painted text, and whose declarations span from the personal (“Sorry. I am introvert.”) to the nihilistic. But these ostensibly blunt statements are complicated by the affixed materials. One piece, for instance, rhetorically asks, “Am I also responsible…for all this shit around?” alongside a blob of expanding foam on a stick. What initially appears to be an unequivocal address to the viewer turns out to be a self-deprecating comment about Kintera’s own environmental culpability.
We’re stopped in our tracks by My Light is your Life – Shiva Samurai II (2009) in the final gallery, a saintly figure made from 250 table lamps and towering over us at four-meters tall. While a spectacular embodiment of our transcendent ability to harness electricity, when positioned in dialogue with Disappearing (Large) (2013), it powerfully illustrates the consequences of our faith in modern “progress.” Modelled on snow drifts in Kintera’s native Prague, these styrodur forms are analogous to the melting polar ice caps, with one chunk being virtually absent. Alongside the gargantuan, heat-emitting figure of Shiva Samurai, then—indicative of one single electricity-consuming individual—Kintera and Pocock clearly dramatize the causal link between our wanton expenditure of energy, and its contribution to global warming.
It’s a shame that THE END OF FUN! had its run cut short by the Coronavirus pandemic. But the circumstances of its early termination are very much entwined with the issues that the exhibition explored so artfully. While avoiding a didactic, reproving tone, it imaginatively realized what is at stake if we fail to urgently remedy the worst impacts of climate change. New research tells us that one consequence of environmental collapse is likely to be the increased frequency of global pandemics. Sadly, that would mean even fewer opportunities to attend highly imaginative, excitingly executed, and thought-provoking shows such as this one.