Danel Pešta’s DeTermination at DOX

The Czech artist has his largest one-man show covering 10 years of mostly unsettling art

DeTermination, a solo show of work by Danel Pešta, has opened at the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art and will run to May 7. It is the largest solo show so far of his work in the Czech Republic, covering his past decade of videos, sculptures, paintings and photos.

The work’s central theme is man’s biological and social determination and the search for ways to escape it. Fans of the film may see echoes of works by David Cronenberg or David Lynch, who also explore the concepts of body horror. There is a mix, though, and not everything is intended to be unsettling.

“Through various media, he touches upon the current social and political situation, which he reflects both from a broader historical perspective and a private, personal one,” a press release stated. “[He] often refers to the swagger of narcissistic leaders, the hypocrisy of organized religion, and the indifference of spineless individuals that led to tragedies like the Holocaust, but also to the current stigmatization of social minorities.”

The symbol of the exhibition, chosen by Pešta, is a full-size sculpture of a two-headed calf from 2015 called Double Face. It is one of the first things visitors see when they enter the exhibition. It raises questions of the direction society is headed in, the options faced by people, and other contemporary topics.

The entry also has a video of the artist eating a mask of his own face. Similar masks, in different colors and configurations, feature throughout the show in both videos and in sculptural pieces.

The look of strips of a genetic code, long series of rows with light and dark stripes, is the mimicked in some multimedia pieces. Genetic Codes – Carmens, for example, has rolled up black-and-white photos interspersed with red ones, revealing details of a people’s lives when looked at closely but seeming like a picture of the person’s genome from a distance. The photos came from old albums, and depict various people who could have contributed to one person’s genetic code.

The act of childbirth itself is given a body horror treatment in the paintings, sculptures, and videos in his Annunciation series.

One of the more impressive paintings is the 2016 work Election, with well-dressed people holding a red flag. On closer inspection, the people are monsters with faces like toothed worms. Such monstrous faces are also typical of his Scream painting series.

How minorities are treated comes to play in another section of his work. His two-part video called I Was Born in Your Bed, featuring Roma schoolchildren putting black or white bags over their heads as their names are called, was presented at the 2013 Venice Biennale.

Three cubic blocks made out of compressed pink, black and yellow face masks make up the piece called Segregation, which also raises questions about ethnicity.

These themes are key to much of the artist’s work. “The conflict between the individual and the anonymous mob is captured in stylized portraits that the artist faces off against mass scenes in which a person either becomes a member of an institution that relieves them of responsibility, or on the contrary a nameless member of a minority group, and thus also a potential object of discrimination,” the press release stated.

Perhaps his most potentially controversial piece is a see-through plastic cylinder with a cloudy liquid and a floating adult figure called Column V / Jesus in Amniotic Fluid. It is reminiscent of Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, which has caused controversy whenever it is shown. Pešta’s piece from 2011 so far has flown under the radar of those who are offended by such art.

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