I Lost My Ability to Sleep in a Nightgown
Šárka Koudelová's paintings and object installations form a spectrum of relationships, from the idealistic maternal fusion to the bifurcation of existence into body and soul, which must be weighed down in order not to fly away. The exhibition is connected by the element of water, which, however, is not only the bearer of life, but also a ritual agent, enabling contact with the dark subconscious.
curator / kurátorka: Caroline Krzyszton
When I was a teenager I once bought a painting from a local store in the South of France. The store owner was the small town's art authority. He was well-known for his broad-mindedness, wisdom but also his indubitable charisma. He was the only storekeeper to be respected by the local Roma community in the busy shopping street, as he was also the only one who would engage in communication with them. By not being afraid of confrontation he slowly got to be friendly with the Roma kids and their parents.
I visited his shop twice, with my parents, and both times we would stay hours listening to his monologue: debating about art and artists but also confessing about his family, all the lessons life taught a middle aged man. He was quite the story teller.
To this day I remember much of his speech. It stayed engraved in my teenage mind, at this moment in my life where I was not doing much except seeking advice. But the most vivid memory I have of him is when he spoke about women's representation in art. He had this theory that the unique possibility for women to create life would eventually prevent them from dedicating themselves to their art. Men, deprived of the physical capacity to carry life, would compensate for their need to create through art practice. He would give a few examples of women who were able to experience motherhood and would continue their career as well-known artists and spoke about them as exceptions. “One exception a century!” he repeated several times. Truth be told, at this time mainstream art history books didn't mention many female artists, and my young impressionable mind was crushed by the idea there might be some truth to this statement.
As I grew up, through art history studies and later through curating, I crossed paths with countless wonderful artworks from female artists who were also mothers, and I personally met too many of these “exceptions” for this theory ever to apply. Ever. But the question remained: why this rather superficial sophism stuck in me for so many years as a sort of a curse?
If I haven't yet fully rationally answered the question, I know now that this thought was hurtful because it came from a place of empathy. Because these words were not the words of an insensitive redneck, they were told by a man who spread tolerance and sincerely cared for (all) people around him. And that is when I realized that, as a mother working in the art world, empathy never felt like support. Because empathy often implies some sort of hierarchy of influences. And, even if it tries to compensate for inequity by attempting to share experiences, it doesn't in fact pair with equity. It highlights and sometimes legitimates, especially institutionally, a system with an unfair distribution of power.
- - - - - -
The first room of the exhibition gathers paintings the artist created together with her young son during the first years of his life. The child's spontaneous and muddled lines are enframed into his mother's majestic arches, sometimes they would also shape motives together. If the windows through which we observe the child's work evoke some sense of protection, it seems they are fundamentally adding some distance, changing the chaotic - the characteristic of every beginning - into a landscape. What we see is the landscape of a brief moment stuck between the future and the past, since children's drawings, as they shall never be repeated, are turned into memories as soon as they are finished.
In the central room, in the sculptural installation titled Weights (Závaží), the figure of the artist seems to float in the room. While her soul longs to escape in flight, her body is weighed down, enchained by everyday objects, which pull and hold it to the ground.
This aspiration to immateriality is not a new topic in the work of Šárka Koudelová. As in By the Dead Sea, I can just be me, the oldest work present in the exhibition, the self is represented as a landscape, where elements such as water and desert coexist but oppose each other as contradictory forces.
earth vs water
inert vs vibrant
materiality vs infinite
ordinary vs epic
The suspension of the body in the room doesn't only allude to its inability to elevate itself with the soul but the enchained objects also remind us of anchors (there is another “anchor” in the room with children's drawings), sinking their carrier as long as the water is deep. Underwater lays the unknown, there awaits the adversity we are the least prepared to encounter. Underwater miracles are made and demons are awakened.
- - - - - -
On the contrary, I believe we can be done with empathy at the moment we have respect and recognition, and that is the true challenge. Because as long as there won't be respect and recognition, there will be a need for mothers to separate their own souls between what they truly are and what they are showing as their best attempt in meeting the world's expectations of what they should be. I claim today my right to be an irresponsible mother, I claim my right to rely on others instead of only myself, I claim my right to let people down when I have “some shit to do”, I claim my right to not meet everyone's needs, I claim the right to be dismissive, I claim the right to fail society.
We should be able to not hide what we are failing because we simply do. Because the more we fail in silence, the more we sink to the bottom, and the more impossible it becomes to come back to the surface, where all the assholes swim safely, unbothered.