Approaching the Dynamics of Change. Regarding the Artistic Practice of Julia Gryboś and Barbora Zentková

Text written by
Julia Heunemann

With artists
Julia Gryboś and Barbora Zentková

When physical exhaustion gains a productive force, when leftovers become the source of new narratives, and when abandoned places are being taken over by new actors and practices, the potentialities that lie at the core of a crisis become apparent.
Such potentialities are a central concern within the practice of Berlin based artistic duo Julia Gryboś and Barbora Zentková. With a great sensitivity for the specific histories of the materials, objects, and spaces they work with, their installations and sound events create immersive environments which critically reveal, reflect, and embrace the dynamics of change.

The performative sound event “A Few Litters of Dried Rituals” took place in the abandoned architecture of the formerly prosperous River and Sun Spa, erected by Dušan Jurkovič at the beginning of the 20th century in the famous spa town of Luhačovice, Czech Republic. On a sunny day in the summer of 2019, three musicians performed a minimalistic and repetitive composition in the empty concrete swimming pool: a former site of regeneration that had been left to decay. The cracks in the swimming pool floor have previously been tentatively filled with natural kaolin pigments by Gryboś and Zentková—a material intervention which, rather than hiding the signs of decay, puts a spotlight on them. With the passing of the hours under the sun, the performing musicians began to show signs of fatigue while the material that fills the holes in the ground dried out. With the sounds of the instruments slowly beginning to drift apart from each other, the cracks in the floor also started breaking up again. Focusing on the temporal oscillations between degeneration and regeneration regarding the heritage of the ongoing curative industry in Luhačovice, “A Few Litters of Dried Rituals” was both reflecting and reanimating local history and how it is being taken care of.

1.A Few Litters of Dried Rituals, sound performance in former Sun and River Spa, Luhačovice, CZ, 2019_Julia Gryboś
A Few Litters of Dried Rituals Sound performance in former Sun and River Spa Luhačovice, CZ, 2019

Local history and the politics of space are central concerns of Gryboś’ and Zentková’s site-specific approaches, evident also in the life sonic event “No Disc”, which was realized in Brno in 2017 as a gesture aimed at rehabilitating an abandoned architecture. Moreover, the artistic duo tethers these topics to questions of fatigue, tiredness and exhaustion—as well as to the political implications and effects of these processes.

For the 2019th edition of Cuckoo Festival in Ostrava (Czech Republic), Gryboś and Zentková created a sound event in one of several deserted houses in the centre of the formal industrial town, directing the focus of their archaeologies of decay towards neoliberal logics. Under the title “Potential Causes of Afternoon Tiredness” the exhibition reflects the exhaustion tendencies that come with capitalist societies’ demands for productivity—logics that also concern the processes of artistic production. Within the space, the artists placed rusty wardrobe constructions that once belonged to a fashion shop that had gone bankrupt. Set in this environment, four musicians repeated a motif inspired by “Dancing in the Dark”, a song that Bruce Springsteen allegedly wrote in just one night and under pressure from his record company. While the performing musicians’ increasing fatigue of repetitively playing the motif was mirrored by the audience listening to it over and over again, the unsettling atmosphere invoked recollections of the so-called hamster wheel. Far from surrendering to this image, the deserted house, in which the event took place, became something like its antipode. The long-abandoned building has its very own history and continues to write it. The fact that it has fallen out of a logic that credits value only to items that incorporate productivity and functionality might be seen as an effect of afternoon tiredness (which the title of the exhibition refers to) as a sign of its exhaustion. However, only in being left behind by a society that has no more use for it, and, thus, freed from the pressure of productivity, could the space actually fulfil the mere potential of hosting the exhibition. In fact, it became one of its actors and maintained this role until long after the event had ended, as witnessed by the wardrobe stands that have been left there: Reminding the exhibition, these traces continue to be protected by the otherwise empty building that is acting as their casket—and as archivist of the event.

5.A Dose of a Shared After–Taste, Sound installation, Nová Cvernovka, Bratislava, SK, 2017_Julia Gryboś
A Dose of a Shared After–Taste Sound installation Nová Cvernovka, Bratislava, SK, 2017

The various layers of temporality and historicity are a central concern also in Gryboś’ and Zentková’s works realized for exhibitions in gallery spaces. The installation “A Dose of a Shared After-Taste” at Nová Cvernovka in Bratislava (Slovakia, 2017) combined sound with decomposing organic elements presented on modified non-functional furniture of a former canteen. While ascribing new purposes to former tables and chairs, the determination of social behaviour by the objects that surround us was being reflected. For the installation “Temporary Structures 1, Dynasty”, realized for a group show at PLATO gallery in Ostrava, the artist duo cast several material “leftovers” of the former hobby market, in which the exhibition space is situated, in epoxy layers on the floor. The resulting zones of preservation and incorporation renegotiated the thresholds between display and artwork while reflecting on the changing realities by focusing on the past and present functionality of the exhibition space.

4. Diagnosis of the Curved Spine, Horizont Gallery, Budapest,H 2019_Julia Gryboś.
Diagnosis of the Curved Spine Horizont Gallery Budapest, H, 2019

In “Diagnosis of the Curved Spine”, an installation realized at Horizont gallery in Budapest (Hungary) in 2019, materiality itself becomes the actor of reflection about change over time. A selection of textile from a wholesale depot selling leftover fabrics that have been collected from all over the world, is displayed on several vertical structures reminding folding screens which were distributed across the exhibition space. Presented in such a manner, the assortment of various textile surfaces point to globalized production, the circulation of goods and capitalist abstraction. Furthermore, these structures evoke canvases stretched over frames, and thus, refer to the political implications of artistic production.
This leads to the history and development of Gryboś’ and Zentková’s cooperation itself. While in recent years focusing exclusively on spacial installations and performative approaches, their aesthetics and concepts derive from visual approaches. In fact they both initiated their artistic careers as painters. From this angle, being the first solo show of the duo in Hungary “Diagnosis of the Curved Spine” performs a meta-referential turn. By frankly inscribing their exhibition into the globalized market logics of the arts, the artist duo regards itself as subject of—and subject to the political, commercial and social dynamics of change.

Text by Julia Heunemann, May 2020


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