“It’s a man’s world,” James Brown sang fifty years ago, a world of strong men who give and take, and to which the ultimate sense is only given by a woman’s love. I realise that I inadvertently experienced the slow decline of this world as a boy and later as a teenager when watching TV series with David Hasselhoff. Detective Michael Knight, the hero of the Knight Rider series, became Mitch Buchannon, a Baywatch lifeguard chief, self-confident on the beach but a failure at home. The truth is that the images of the crisis of the western man flashing between the slow-motion takes of luscious female lifeguards seemed as unreal to me in the post-socialist universe of the 1990s as KITT the talking car.
When discussing the exhibition with Peter Puklus and Radek Brousil, we didn’t talk about these TV series. However, I’m sure they had watched them as well, at least occasionally, and found in them the pre-images of manhood that they were later forced to reassess and throw away, along with many other men who no longer feel part of the “man’s world”. I want to believe that this world is really steadily declining, yet its images, perpetuated on and on, still dominate the imagination of most people. With this exhibition centred around counter-hegemonic images of manhood Brousil and Puklus enter an imaginary battlefield. Raising questions about the nature of the modern man, which is the leitmotiv of the show, is general on the one hand, while on the other it is anchored in the personal experience of the artists.
They were both born in 1980, and their work is rooted in the photographic medium, without being bound by conventions of what a photograph is and what it should look like. They met in an artists’ residence centre in Banská Štiavnica, and a certain fascination with the similarity of their work – which at some moments had an air of them being each other’s creative double – has culminated in a joint exhibition in the Mem gallery. This, however, also brought to light distinct differences between the artists: while Radek Brousil seeks the most up-to-date language for his subjects, Peter Puklus has long focused on the fine-tuning of his own idiolect.
The exhibition entitled briefly Stupid can be viewed as a double introspection developed in a dialogue. Specific experience and standpoints, particular concerns, uncertainties and desires are transformed into symbolic contents that are generally valid and leave space for an empathetic identification. In a divided world in which listening to others seems more difficult than flying to the Moon, the understanding born of empathy appears the highest art.