Aug 24, 2011
Začalo to takhle: v sedmé třídě vyděl poprvé porno časopis; koupil si ho spolužák. Už o těchhle časopisech slyšel, dokonce je zahlédl ve vitríně trafiky nedaleko školy, ale bál se tam jít a jeden si pořídit. Obdivoval toho kluka, za to, že se odvážil a koupil si ho. Moc dobře věděl, že by nic takového nedokázal. Tady poprvé viděl, jak vypadá fyzická láska mezi mužem a ženou. Díval se na ty fotografie a si říkal – „Tak takhle to tedy je.“ Už něco tušil: to proč má mezi nohama tu věc – ten penis, který při pohledu na takové obrázky hned reaguje. A taky proč ženy mají mezi nohama díru – tedy vagínu. Tak je to tedy pravda – tam se to tedy strká; ta jeho věc. Ano, tam. Pamatuje si na několik fotografií, žena sedí na muži, opírá se rukama o jeho břicho, kolena roztažená, do objektivu vyvalené přirození. Vzpomíná si na penis vražený do jejího zadku; na to, jak kůže její análu je tak napnutá – tak odkrvená, že má skoro bílou barvu. „Tam se to také strká? Tím se přece kadí! Co to znamená?“– ptal se sám sebe, ale neodvážil se nic říct. Bál se projevit svou neznalost před ostatními; před spolužáky, kteří stejně jako on stály v tichosti okolo a zírali na tu dvoustranu, na těch několik uhrančivých obrazů. Vzpomíná si také na další fotky, kde ta samá žena má nohy tak roztažené, že je vše vidět; snad aby ani jeden detail neunikl jejímu divákovi, jejímu milovanému voyaerovi. Roztahuje si prsty zadek a tam pod jejím přirozením, tam zeje díra. To co bylo dříve análním otvorem, bylo teď obrovskou černou propastí.
Mezi stromy na jedné z mnoha laviček podél cesty od letenského zámečku ke Stalinovu pomníku sedí mladá žena. Celá v černé barvě; tělo v péřové bundě, dlouhé nohy v přiléhavých džínách a lesklé boty na vysoké platformě s podpatkem. Její hezký obličej je orámován bílými vlasy s nakrátko střiženou ofinou. Tenké pramínky ji padají na ramena a splývají po oblečení na paže, prsa a lopatky. Neustále mění pozice a přehazuje nohu přes nohu. Pravým loktem se dotýká opěradla lavičky a levou dlaní zas nervózně přejíždí po stehnech. Občas se předkloní a lokty se opírá o vyzývavě roztažená kolena. Rty špulí do polibku, který vysílá v pravidelných intervalech do nedalekého okolí. Je zde ještě postarší muž. Je také oblečen do černé barvy, ale bunda a kalhoty mu volně plandají po těle; na některých místech jsou výrazně oprané. Na pravém rameni má tašku, kterou si neustále levou rukou přidržuje, aby mu nepadala na břicho a zůstala na zádech. Z jeho hlavy porostlé šedivými vlasy není nic vidět. Tvář schovává za předmět, kterým si prohlíží ženu před sebou. V pravidelných půlkruzích obchází ženu a hledá asi nejlepší místo odkud by se na ni mohl podívat skrze ten přístroj. To není vše, nedaleko nich se objevila skupinka několika desítek lidí, kteří celou scénu pozorují. Někteří členové se mezi sebou baví, asi komentují to, co se děje před nimi; další se pouze dívají. Po nějaké době se někteří z nich, ti nejodvážnější, přibližují a vytahují podobné stroje jako má muž a dávají si je před obličej. Potom se vracejí do a ukazují ty předměty ostatním. Ti se na ně dívají, komentují je a někdy se jim i smějí. Následně skupina pokračuje dál. Několik jejich členů se ještě párkrát ohlédne za dvojicí. Ta celou dobu předstírá, že si skupinky nevšimla. Žena dál mění pozice a muž okolo ní pořád krouží a dívá se do toho černého hranatého předmětu.
Nosil je na zápěstí levé ruky, na vnější straně, na místě mezi rukou a paží. Měli černý ciferník s bílými čísly, v matném kovovém pouzdře, s koženým páskem a kovovou přezkou na druhé straně zápěstí. Každé ráno vyšrouboval korunku, vytáhl jí ven a když v prstech ucítil mírné klap, když hřídel zapadla do správné polohy; natáhl pérko strojku. Ten mu po zbytek dne ukazoval čas, kolik minut nebo hodin uběhlo od okamžiku, kdy se naposled podíval na své hodinky. Nadbíhali se, o půl minuty každý den. Na konci každého týdne povytáhl korunu s hřídelí o něco více a posunul minutovou rafičku o tři a půl minuty na zpět. To dělal každé pondělí. Vteřinovky, té si nevšímal. Názor změnil jednoho večera, kdy se upřeně díval do toho černého kola. Jen tak, bez důvodu. Mírně rozostřeně, jakoby skrz. A právě v tom černém bodu s šedivým okrajem kroužila oranžová čárka. Dokola, dokola. Stále a stále. Z nudy se začal šeptem strefoval do vteřin, následně do celých minut. Nešlo mu to. Rafička neposkakovala jak u digitálek, po vteřinách; pouze plynule přecházela mezi jednotlivými číslicemi. Lehce je míjela, jako by tam nepatřila. Chtěl tu rafičku zadržet, zahlédnout okamžik, kdy se zastaví, nadechne se a bude pokračovat dál. Tak, jak to dělají ostatní hodinky. Ty poskakují po vteřinách: jedna, dva, tři…
Every time he saw a photograph of his own face, he felt self-conscious. He didn’t know how to describe the feeling exactly; in fact he still doesn’t know that. But he was sure of one thing: he had to see them all He wasn’t worried about the photographs in his possession, they’d been properly classified and archived. It was worse with those taken by others, they got away from him all the time - regardless of whether they’d been taken by his friend, who’d just brought them freshly printed from the photo lab, or were displayed on the small backlit monitor of a stranger’s digital camera. He looked for any excuse to look at photographs of himself. Especially those that included his face. He could not get rid of the urge to examine the coloured grains or pixels. He was aware that at such moments he could be accused of narcissism – after all, if we see someone staring fixedly at their own portrait we consider it suspect - but he saw something entirely different in the act: the opportunity to find the key to who he was. Yet he was not dumb enough to think that he could actually discover his own self through a photograph; he sought something else: to find out who he was in the eyes of others.
Initially he collected all his photographs in several box files. He had everything in them: his family, friends, pictures from trips, photographic documentation of his work. When selecting pictures from negatives he allowed himself to be guided by the emotional bond that tied him to a given photo, or by its aesthetic qualities. Subsequently he would have them enlarged and printed 13 by 18 cm in the nearest photo lab. He didn’t get any contact prints done; he had no money for that. He used only the cheapest possible viewing and selection aid: daylight. He arranged the prints in temporal sequence. Over the several years during which he assembled his archive, he was unable to come up with a more sophisticated form of presentation.
Everything became simpler from the moment he started electronically scanning the photos and taking pictures with a digital camera - especially because of the lower cost of creating pictures and archiving them. He could store the photos on the hard disk of his computer and open and examine them on the monitor – backlit by artificial light – whenever he wished to do so. Even so, to begin with he tried to continue with his previous system. Perhaps because he felt remorseful and wished to do justice to the many hours of work he’d dedicated to his archive over the previous years. In the end he had so many portrait photos that he gave up and stopped enlarging and printing them. He was no longer able to select the right ones. For that reason he decided to scan the remaining positives and store them in the form of binary code.
He had all his photos stored in two locations; in the folder entitled Photographs on his external hard disk, where he maintained the linear system of classification, and on his computer in the iPhoto program, where he had already allowed himself to give way to the possibilities offered by information technology, dividing the photos into three groups. The first contained those taken in studios or in photo booths; the second consisted of self-portraits; and the third of head shots taken by third persons.
He tried to find an ideal expression for his face. He was interested in how a particular picture had been taken and in the gesture the photographer had managed to capture. Or, to be more precise, the gesture that he had made to induce the person with the camera to press the shutter-release, and which part of that gesture the person with the camera had selected. He formed an exact idea of the grimace he needed to make in order to achieve the desired effect.
This worked for some time, but he gradually stopped doing it. He got the vague feeling that through constant repetition the objective of his efforts would come to light. (To change the expression on his face and keep the new expression unchanged until the photographer would be able to compose the picture, focus and push the capture button). He understood the ridiculousness of such behaviour.
He started favouring the photos in the third group. Especially those taken when he’d been unaware of being photographed. He felt that those were the only ones where he was able to catch a glimpse of how he actually behaved and what was interesting about him.
He opened the folder with the photographs he’d downloaded onto his computer just a moment ago… his girlfriend’s birthday celebration… mostly pictures of him and his friends… he looked at the familiar faces… one after the other… at length and carelessly… his gaze slid down to the eyes… or, to be more precise, to the two black pupils in the centre of variously coloured irises… again and again he tried to focus on whole persons and on recollections from the previous evening… in vain… all he could perceive were the same two dots in the middle of variously shaped faces… he was fascinated by them… he imagined what it might be like to be in the space behind them… he thought about whether at some time in the future he would have the opportunity to take a look there… and whether he would even want to… again and again he looked at the eyes in the photographs.
Aug 23, 2011
Aug 22, 2011
I devote part of my free time and space to trying to understand my surroundings. Often I ask myself: What’s going on here? What’s this supposed to mean? I find clues to these questions in trivial narratives. In small fragments of everyday reality. I try to discern a clear and evident reflection of reality within them. This thought process is precisely what enables me to differentiate and define the phenomena that determine me as an individual. I probably developed this method to the fullest extent in the book One Family of Objects.
The book is concerned with the social and economic transformation that has taken place in the Czech Republic over the last twenty years. Specifically, it deals with the changing relationship between the worker and the machine. I illustrate this theme with the case of a factory in southern Bohemia, which closed down in 2005, where I completed my apprenticeship at the start of the 1990s and where my parents were employed for their entire working lives. Most of the machines were sold off – the new owners included both small scale workshops and large manufacturing complexes in India and Mexico. And my parents also purchased one of the machines. This unexpected decision led me to an idea – I would locate other machines and ask their new owners to photograph them. This would provide the owners with the opportunity to capture – through a camera lens – their relationship with their means of production; and thus to find out why they purchased one of those iron colossi with their hallmark aesthetic: the green finish, the ubiquitous presence of oil and the pungent aroma of steel shavings.
The name of the book is derived from Umberto Eco’s essay Two Families of Objects. In his text Eco divides objects into two families: consumer objects which we all yearn for, and means of production which we do not desire to own, but which are the precondition for the existence of the first group.
In reality, he has not chosen, he has only accepted his role as a consumer of consumer goods since he can not be a proprietor of the means of production. But he is content. Tomorrow he will work harder in order to be able to buy, one day, an easy chair and a refrigerator. He will work at the lathe, which is not his, because (the fair has told him) he doesn't want it.¹
We are familiar with industrial machines from stories told by our parents or grandparents, from documentary photographs and films. Or, more recently, from DIY stores like OBI and Bauhaus, where miniature versions of industrial cutting or shaping tools are on display. They are intended for use by amateur enthusiasts. In other words people for whom they provide, or are beginning to provide, an escape from the reality of the contemporary world. The rest of us are just a little apprehensive about these machines. Their sharp teeth, blades and spikes. They belong to a different time, a different environment. They belong elsewhere.
I decided to carry on with the project and focus on the way our relationship with means of production has changed over the last fifteen years. Again, it was thanks to a coincidental decision – I decided to wallpaper my computer screen with a photograph that my mother took of a lathe which she had operated for 22 years. Thanks to the positive, as well as the deprecatory, reactions of those who saw this situation, I slowly began to understand the interesting potential of the act I had performed. The confrontation of two worlds: that of my parents and its objects, and my own world with its hierarchy of objects.
A room of not more than eighteen square metres, a bed by the door, two tables opposite, a computer on each of them. One of them is mine; the other belongs to my girlfriend. These are the means of production of a visual artist and a photographer. I’m sitting down, looking at the monitor on which the back-lit photograph of my mother’s lathe is emerging. A year and a half ago I selected it as the background for my monitor. I don’t always see it in its entirety, usually it’s obscured by the windows of open programs, but even so it’s still there.²
I look at the photograph taken by my mother every day while doing various things on my computer; in one window I’m writing a text, in another I’m putting together documentation; then there’s my calendar and my email client; I might also be watching a film, listening to music, and, well, doing lots of other things. During my parents’ heyday, the time of my childhood and adolescence, work and play were activities that took place in different environments and at different times; the day was spent at work, the evening either at home watching the TV or listening to the radio, or out at the theatre or in the cinema. That no longer applies; we sit in front of the computer and do all that using one device in one place, at a single moment.
This is the attribute of the computer that differentiates it from other machines. It is a means of production that may not only be used for production – to make a living – but also for entertainment, or both at the same time; and this is the boundary that separates the world of my parents from my own; it’s something which they cannot grasp and define with their intellects – because they have never experienced it.
For several months I tried to find a way out of this situation, a starting point for dealing with this experience. A photograph on my computer and a clearly defined relationship between work and play was not enough for me; I was looking for something more. For a long time I didn’t know how to proceed, what to focus on - I tried and I tried, but I just couldn’t figure it out. And then I realised I’d underestimated the space between work and consumption, that space-time in which we immerse ourselves because we’re bored, unable to concentrate or subconsciously searching for something new. I find myself in this space-time quite often, dragged along by ostensibly endless and random clicks of the electronic mouse. At the moment of my realisation, the moment of awakening, a video called “Sennheiser HD800 Headphones unboxing” was running on the screen before my eyes. I had discovered the phenomenon of UNBOXING.
Unboxing is the unpacking of new products, especially hi-tech consumer products. The whole process is captured on video and later uploaded to the Internet. The term has been labeled a new form of "geek porn." The oldest video on YouTube using the name "unboxing" is the opening of a boxed Nokia E61 smartphone, uploaded on June 12, 2006. There are, however, older videos on the site that show the same activity but using other names such as "opening" or "unpacking". According to Google Trends, searches for the term "unboxing" began to surface in the final quarter of 2006.³
Yes, I’m writing about those guys who make videos where they unpack boxes containing computers, desktop or laptop, and other electronic gadgets and then share them with others on the net. What’s interesting about this? Primarily it’s the tension between the voice of the owners, trying to be as impartial as possible, informing the viewers of what the given object looks like and what it’s capable of doing, and their hands. They’re in direct contrast to the voice, sweeping over the surface of the packaging neurotically, bordering on obsessively, ripping apart everything that stands in the way to the product itself. Most clips end with a shot of an object surrounded by lots of torn cardboard and plastic. For me the voice evokes Steve Jobs’ notorious presentations, in particular those about the iPhone; it’s that evident effort to mesmerise the viewer with one’s eloquence, convince them of one’s truth. The hands, on the other hand, remind me of the way a child behaves after getting a present, when it simulates opening the box with the toy again and again as if for the first time for several days. Interminably, the child places the toy back in the box, clumsily closes it, opens it again and cries out in surprise. But there’s more to it than that. This is only the initial association, the most primitive one. Many, many more come to mind. One thing is certain, however, we can see a reflection of our own selves in these videos, of our desires, hitherto posing as rational thought.
¹Umberto Eco, Two Families of Objects, Travels in Hyperreality, Harcourt-Brace 1986.
²Jiří Skála, One Family of Objects, 2010, published by tranzit.cz in 2010, translated by Marek Tomin.
³http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unboxing; 19. 6. 2012.