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Czech artist Dominik Lang opens exhibition at Vienna's Secession
Dominik Lang, Expanded Anxiety. Photo: Oliver Ottenschlaeger.

VIENNA.- For his exhibition Expanded Anxiety in the Secession’s Galerie space, Czech artist Dominik Lang developed a series of works in which he reinterprets elements of Cubist sculpture and architecture. For the title installation in the back room, he reconstructs the famous statue Ůzkost [Anxiety] (1911/12) by sculptor Otto Gutfreund in an enlarged form specially adapted to the exhibition space, allowing visitors to experience the sculpture in a new way and get right inside it.

In his interventions and installations, Lang explores the complex relations between viewer and object, object and space, subjective perception and historicization. He has repeatedly dealt with Czech modernism and demonstrated his personal approach to (art) history. The new vitrine architectures and sculptures on show in the first room are typical of the kind of free, fictional dialogue that he often sets up in his work with pieces by predecessors including Josef Gočár, Vlastislav Hofmann, Pavel Janák. At the same time, he also uses this presentation to create a broader context and to prepare the (historical) mood for his installation Expanded Anxiety in the back room of the Galerie.

Expanded Anxiety is based on the statue Ůzkost ([Anxiety] 1911–12) by Czech sculptor Otto Gutfreund (1889, Dvůr Králove–1927, Prague) from the collection of the National Museum in Prague. Gutfreund studied in Paris and counts as one of the first proponents of Czech cubism. Dominik Lang: “The statue was in an expressionist-cubist style, the refracted surfaces and sharp corners emphasise the tension in the figure and its concentration and focus into the inside—in my opinion the sculpture doesn’t attempt to expand into the space and display itself, but it rather feels it wants to reduce itself into the most compressed, squeezed form.”*

Lang has reproduced Gutfreund’s 156-cm-tall statue in an enlarged form that fills the exhibition space, presented lying on its side. With respect to possible perceptions of the original sculpture, the artist creates a paradoxical situation: the monumental figure is positioned in such a way that although viewers can literally get right inside it, the “actual” outer form is not visible, accessible only to the imagination.

The artist Dominik Lang about his intention: “I attempt to create a feeling of physical tension and isolation in the viewers by enclosing them inside the sculptural shape. The aim is not to create something monumental, occupying the whole space but rather a situation where the scale has suddenly changed and visitors have a chance to walk into things and objects that they usually just look at from the outside. It is like walking into someone’s head, it is revealing the hidden centre, showing that perhaps what is important is the void inside things. Also the idea was partly to take the visitor back in time and look through the interior body of the sculpture at the past, at the atmosphere around the year 1911, in the waiting phase full of uncertainty and fear before the First World War.” *

Lang directs our attention as viewers not only to the historical work, but also to our own viewpoint. Ultimately, the viewer is faced with the question of how (historical) meaning can be constructed at all: “I would say that I am interested in how objects, and in this case artworks, are shaped, influenced, determined by their surroundings, how they are constituted by the context, historical events, their creator’s mental states, and what they say about the period and social atmosphere they were created in—are they becoming creatures with memory, victims of their times etc? (…) By physically entering the void, people will be able to go back in time and re-enter the past, as well as experiencing a specific new site for condensed anxiety, an expanded anxiety that connects the period of the early 20th century with today, reaching across to the anxiety of the present.”*

In his catalog essay, Karel Císař describes Lang’s relationship with Gutfreund and his interpretative dialog with his work: “In Gutfreund’s `Anxiety´ this idea of a vertiginous dissolution of human personality seems only being approached – whereas Lang’s Expanded Anxiety is their belated consequential fulfillment. With the single viewing perspective of his smaller-than-life sculpture of a cowering woman, Gutfreund prescribed to the viewers a liminal proximity, making them inspect the edges of the figure submerging into the physical volume of the statue as if into a rock. Lang, on the contrary, invites us into the innards of a disclosed body, metamorphosed into a corrugated cave, thus radicalizing Gutfreund’s effort to make sculpture flat – impossible to complete in a closed volume, as available to an early 20th-century sculptor – but also and primarily inducing the intended effect of vertigo and a loss of individuality, caused by the loss of optical control.

At the same time, Lang maintains his systematic interest in the physical and institutional aspects of the exhibition space, as his intervention emphasizes the gloomy subterranean atmosphere of the lower galleries of the Secession, and develops on the tradition of presenting an empty gallery. We enter the innards of Expanded Anxiety as we would enter the empty sepulcher of one’s own body.” (Karel Císař, catalogue essay)

Among others, Dominik Lang came to the attention of an international audience with his work Sleeping City in the pavilion of the Czech and Slovak Republics at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011. This installation, in which he interprets the unknown late-modernist sculptures of his father Jiři Lang (1927–1996), brings together two artistic approaches shaped by different periods and contexts. As well as enabling an encounter with a forgotten generation, it also underlines the immanent interplay between personal engagement and distanced observation, between individual and collective memory, as well as the impossibility of facing (one’s own) history. Last year, Lang had solo shows at Kunsthaus Dresden, Galerie Krobath, Vienna, and the National Gallery in Prague. His work was also featured in the Paris Triennial at the Palais de Tokyo.

Dominik Lang, born 1980 in Prague, lives and works in Prague.

* all quotations from: Interview with Dominik Lang conducted by Annette Südbeck, catalogue, Secession 2013.

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