Gavulová, Lucia: Postscriptum To Childe Harold's Pilgrimage 2011


“The aim of life is to feel. To feel that we exist, even in pain. It is the “challenging emptiness”, that compels us into game - into war - into travel - to any action, as long as it is strongly lived through, and its main allurement is the excitement, which is its integral part.”

(quoted from Maurois, A.: Životopis lorda Byrona, Edícia Scarabeus, Academia 1979, p.107, lord Byron)   If we are to respect the artists honored by the Oskar Čepan Award, which is a part of the Young Visual Artists Awards - a network of similar awards given out in ten other European cities, for their expertise and professionalism, the award given to Petra Feriancová for her artistic endeavors can be considered justified. Even though abroad, where the artist was based for some time, the qualities of her work had long been appreciated, she became a laureate of the Slovak Oskar Čepan Award just last year. The solo exhibition “Postscriptum To Childe Harold's Pilgrimage” is a part of the award prize and it is the first time that it is taking place in the Slovak National Gallery. We hope this will become a tradition and it will strengthen the relationship between the Slovak National Gallery and the Foundation - Center for Contemporary Arts, the organizers of the Award.   Let’s go back to the exhibition, disregarding the “institutional” background and the motivations. If I were to write about Petra’s work and the public’s reflection on it, I would say that I personally find Feriancová’s way of expressing herself very intuitive and relatable. Petra is most of all an explorer with a strong need to comprehend, while also searching for a way to achieve this understanding. Often she attempts to simplify in order to better grasp the concept (which at first sight could probably be unintelligible). The will to understand things is Petra’s main motivation for her work. It is a simple urge, a form/way of creative functioning. I personally find her expression on the verge of a literary language. The effect I get from great literature is in many cases similar to the impression Petra’s realizations leave. She herself explores and tries  to get closer to things, to comprehend them, but at the same time she provides a space for others, anyone who is interested to search for or to go on in these explorations with her. Just like not everyone likes to read; only those do it who enjoy it, the same way not everyone chooses to come along with Petra, but those who are curious (curiosity is a natural human trait) and wish to discover stories, to read between the lines or to search / find possible relations, have a unique opportunity to join. The exhibition Postskriptum to Childe Harold’s pilgrimmage is also an invitation. An invitation to a journey.   Because of these and other reasons, it is hard for me to sum up objectively the work of Feriancova, to verbalize it from the position of a critic, who is somehow naturally expected to have a professional distance in any situation, to “pack” her work into explicitly tuned and palatable sentences - folders - statements. Instead of these facts, which - I dare to say - I somehow “feel” or “know” (in light of the long-term observation and interest in her since she came back to live in Slovakia, and because of a few cooperations, that we have absolved1 , and also via private conversations and interviews in media2), I would rather turn the attention directly and only to the exhibition itself, which I consider beautiful (yes, this word has not been used much in contemporary slovak art discourse), adventurous, romantic, and very closely connected with the time, which itself is a very exciting and extraordinary fenomenon (time on the way, time in solitude, time in eternity, time in a showcase, time conserved - time in a museum, time with a fellow, time without him, “empty” time ...).   Petra’s exhibitions - whatever impression do they give - are usualy very personal. Often, a period of isolation and separation from society (more or less voluntary) predates them. By her own words, a person who is creating inevitably goes through it, before he “gets on the stage”, comes up with a new piece of work, that he displays, shows to the audience, presents to the public. It is actually a communication, which is - paradoxically - preceded by a moment / period of being “closed up”. It wasn’t different in this case. Petra Feriancová has been through situations, which she does not try to cope with by means of her projects, but rather pay tribute to them, reflect them, preserve them in some form and for some time, to make them “hibernate” for a moment. The difficult balancing after the loss of a close person, that kept her away from the society and, after a relatively short period, another situation, that tied her unpredictably to a sick-bed, and again caused a contraction of her perception field to four walls of one room, brought into her life repeatedly the states of unvoluntary isolation, in which she found herself alone with the time, that has been passing unchained, but somehow more slowly, more “loud”. More sensibly. In an isolation, in the real life with real experience, the trajectory of the movement of an individual projects itself into the field of imagination, planning, or spending the time by obtaining information via various media: literature, browsing image archives, taking notes, underlining quotes in books, writing on margins, sorting out personal or family archives, browsing correspondence, old and new photographs... Travelling in time and space, without moving from the place. Opening and observation of boundless horizons  (and in the same moment watching a fly entangled in the circle of its flight in the corner of the room).   Lord George Gordon Byron (1788-1824), to whose “magnum opus” Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage references the exhibition, develops in this epos the motif of a journey and pilgrimage, which is largely also a theme of Petra’s exhibition. (Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage is an ideal autobiography of its kind and Petra’s presentation is some kind of ideal diary, which she could only create in the condition of limits and restrictions, which characterize that time period.) Presented photographies / 2D outputs of various dimensions and techniques, are adopted and appropriated, as well as author’s material. All of this material, according to her own clue, Petra classifies, evaluates, combines and installs into glass vitrines in new contexts. Conserves it in time. The vetrine is an imaginary platform, a space, where the time stood still. The image is a reminiscence, a memory, but not a direct, emotionally fixed one, but intermediated, emotionally bound only through the prism of its author, Feriancová’s father. What he has captured through the lens, is for Petra only an image without content (though, paradoxically, almost all of us usually know the image - at least in a similar execution - from books, atlases, guidebooks, as a standard photograph of a tourist), 2D form capturing 3D objects. Once again we are back to the question of form, followed by Petra. The form and the time. Into showcases - “space-time vacuums” - she inserts the images in frames, unframed, one overlapping the other, or a single image, generously into an empty vitrine. Somewhere the picture dangles out of the vitrine, in others it is multiplied in varying figures, underlighted by neons, in the form of diapositives. To what journey does Feriancová invite us? To a journey, on which you may never meet a single man, but an abundance of reminiscences on him. To a journey, full of images. Some of it is dominated by developed diapositives from the travels of already mentioned Petra’s father, who absolved a few of them in the 60’s. Though the impression from these images is similar to that of looking at photodocumentation of an experienced traveler or archeologist, in the case of author’s father there is a more interesting aspect, that his nature was anti-nomadic, a person, who was not seeking travelling and adventure included, but was rather solely absolving them. As if it was natural in that time to take photographs of all the notoriously known landmarks, when a person stood in front of them. This way we have the possibility to see colonnades, sfinx, obelisks, pyramids, and other iconic architecture known from books, as well as from the photoarchives of our friends and of our own. An impression of a travelogue, lime-lapse character is being formed. A suspected ground plan of unexperienced experience, a field of new imaginations, a fictive travel book, appropriated autobiography.    Another field, in which Feriancova is interested in the range of the exhibited pieces, is the field (far from fictional, ideal travelogue) reflecting the style of presentation of artworks, monuments, archeological discoveries, the way their meaning is shifted towards the spectator, transmitted to the recipient. In principle, a connection can befound with already mentioned ideal travel book, which is also fictional, and its presentation towards the audience. Her travel offers mediated pictures seemingly familiar - the reminiscence of distant places, architecture, objects, sculptures, museum exhibitions, obelisks, pyramids and sfinx - addressing the totality of the art work and its permanence, and recognition based on an indirect, mediated experience - from books and atlases. Which of the listed and presented experiences is authentic to the author and which draws on somebody else’s adventure, remains unknown to the spectator. Because this is exactly what Feriancová is not interested in: she does not consider this moment important. What she offers is a look onto something or somewhere, where we have never been, and despite of that it is - via descriptions transmitted to us from other media - intimately known to us, and often we have it encoded in ourselves in a shape of a clear, doubtless image. “They were in Greece. Byron was moved: from his childhood he loved this land through poets and historians and he was not disappointed.” 4  In the conclusion of this text I would like to resume my understanding of this exhibition of Petra, which I dare to regard as one of the most consistent and purest (and also the most thought over) exhibitions in her last period, in which she brings the game of the form to absolute consequences, while her almost sculptural outputs she again limits by a different format, changeless and given, personifying only the dimension of time, archiving, view on art and the ways of its presentation / reception. Simultaneously, this exuberant coquetry with form is fulfilled by compact and multilayered message, or even - using a word partaking of archaism - a mission. In a loop we come back to the initial motivation of Feriancová’s effort - the need to learn about things, to find their “roots”, to discover them in their “indiscoverability”. And so we are back to exploration. Investigation. Search in archives. Infinite process of cognition. Thinking about the form and execution. The form of presentation. Without the spectator. Because Petra does not create for the spectator, and may it sound however arrogant, she creates primarily for herself. The exhibition Postscriptum..., installed in the spirit of many times mentioned museum visit, just as all other Petra’s outputs, undergoes the total subjectivization of the author. If the spectator is interested, he will for sure find his way to them.   Lucia Gavulová 22nd September 2011     1 The exhibition Pythagorov zostup / Pythagoras' descent (Uncomplete Conversation III), curator: Lucia Gavulová, 20.10.2009-16.11.2009; preparation of the exhibition of the finalists of the Oskár Čepan Prize 2008 a 2010     2 Gavulová, L.: Rozhovor s víťazkou Ceny Oskára Čepana 2010 (Interview with the winner of Oskar Čepan Award 2010). Profil 4/10, s. 89-99. Šulej, P.: Kreátorka od A po L. Rozhovor s Petrou Feriancovou.(Creator from A to L. Interview with Petra Feriancová.) Vlna 44/2010, s. 12-23. Grúň, D.: Interview with petra Feriancova. Art Margins Online. marec 2011.    3 Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage is a romantic epos with a number of autobiographical elements. In the years 1809 - 1811 George Gordon Byron has been travelling in Portugal, Spain, Greece and at the end reaching Istanbul, but Greece was the land by which he remained enchanted forever. He came back to England only in 1811. To forget the grief for his late mother and his friend Matthews, he prepared the release of the poem in two cantos, which is also a poetic diary of his voyage - Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Basically, it is a travel diary from Byron’s travels around Europe, which contains his contemplations about everything that enthralled him. The balancing factor of the epos is the majesty and beauty of the unrestrained nature and renowned figures and creations of past, which he considers the symbols of freedom and liberty.       4 Maurois, A.: Životopis lorda Byrona (Biography of lord Byron), Edice Scarabeus, Academia 1979. s. 95.