Out of Order

Da Paintas have come for your children.

Da Paintas
NoD Gallery
Dlouhá 33 in P1
Through February 20

An exhausted-looking, possibly drugged man wearing a blue suit points to a cartoon-like rendering of an android on a chalkboard while an airplane crashes into something in the horizon. The somber expression on the man’s face and the dark circles beneath his eyes convey an air of authority. He’s probably an elementary school teacher, but he could also be a politician, an art critic, or a zombie. His index finger shoots an invisible beam towards the picture-within-the-picture: This is the problem, he seems to be saying.

Whatever creepiness we feel looking at the guy dissipates into hilarity when we turn our gaze to the forbidden image and are met with this silly green thing – maybe it’s an alien from an animated children’s TV show, maybe it’s some sort of art prank by a rebellious student. It waves at us with a huge smile. We almost expect it to burst into song. The little alien beckons us to run away into fantasyland, a two-dimensional world of the imagination, an enticing alternative next to the grim reality of Authority Man and the exploding sky.

This is the image that accosts the spectator upon entering the NoD Gallery above the Roxy, where a group of young Czech artists calling themselves “Da Paintas” have installed an ebullient show conflating the seemingly limitless world of the child’s imagination with the abject machinery of the adults enlisted to police those wild escapist yearnings. Cops figure in works by two different artists, but they’re not Czech cops. They’re the artists’ re-creation of the Universal TV Cop, who just happens to wear the same uniform as an American police officer.

Benjamin Šoltész, who authored the first painting in the exhibit, follows up with a more placid portrait of six of New York’s finest moving silently down a street. They don’t seem to be in any hurry, and we have no clue whether they’re coming from the station, a false alarm or the neighborhood doughnut shop. We have no reason to loathe them, fear them or worship them; they’re just vulnerably there, suspended in this ordinary moment, unable to sustain any real authority beyond the façade of their uniforms and guns.

Beyond the obvious phallic connotations, a gun can be a powerful symbol, as well as a beautiful object, as David Černý and a three-quarter assload of contemporary artists have demonstrated. A loaded gun held to your head is endowed with a different meaning than the cap gun you chased your sister around with as a child. Attached to a copy’s uniform, a loaded gun may go unnoticed until it comes out of his holster.

The other Universal Cop in the exhibition, probably a found object, is a small statue of a traffic cop reaching for his gun. He feels compelled to do so because Marek Hyksa’s massive sculpture of a Voltron-like robot is pointing at something in the distance that he’s about to destroy. While inverting Šoltész’s initial painting, Hyksa’s sculpture also pays homage to the action figures that populate children’s TV shows and comic books such as Spiderman, He-Man and Voltron. The sculpture is surrounded by awe-inspiring paintings of similar retro-futuristic robotic entities in motion, as well as little-girlish images of cute froggies spraypainted on to a silver-paneled background that resembles candy-bar wrappers.

So what are all these cops doing interrupting this celebration of fin de siecle kiddie pop culture? The police are obviously an integral part of the world television culture of the last 20 years, but they’re also universal symbols of authority in the same league as parents and teachers. But the most influential authority of the last 20 years isn’t God or any other spiritual deity – it’s Television. Da Paintas may just be indulging a superficial obsession with their recent past. Or they may be after something more subversive: unmasking those action heroes as the commodification of the child’s imagination by an invisible apparatus whose power defies all limits.

Travis Jeppesen is at travis@pill.cz

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