Spejs, Prague: Contemporary Cherub

Contemporary Cherub
Michal Trpák

The sculpture hangs at a height of about five metres above the floor of the SPEJS atrium, attracting the attention of everyone present. It stretches its wings above their heads as a sign of protection… or is that control? In its original meaning, the cherub is a mythological being with an asexual body and a head extending extends from its garments — its wings — whose material is decorated with a lattice of peacock eyes symbolising sight, seeing, observation. In Trpák’s understanding and interpretation, a distinguishing feature of this being is a female body, erotically stylised with an El Greco-esque elongation of the figure and ebony in colour, evoking a seductive young black woman. With her bulging black eyes she makes us think of the naivety of the savage, a theme that always emerges when we read 19th century adventure novels. The artist himself does not try to conceal his own romantic — voyeuristic — view of the female figure: in his approach, the original peacock eyes have been transformed into festive cakes, the eyes of naive gypsy girls and forms of female genitalia. The peacock eyes on the Cherub’s wings are made from the bottoms of glass bottles, displaying a wide spectrum of greenish hues.

Traditional artistic iconography thus meets the modern use of everyday “found” material, traditional spiritual history mixes with the banal material present. The viewer is offered the opportunity to journey through tradition, finding profound and “perpetually valid” interpretations, while remaining within the sphere of ordinary contemporary life. Seen through the eyes of an art historian, the work combines traditional, noble artistic integrity of content with banal modern ready-made. One eye functions as a CCTV camera, justifying our apprehensions that the “guardian” angel might become a controlling angel, his TV eye connected to the surveillance room of some kind of (political) headquarters. The image recorded by the TV camera is projected onto a screen in the lower half of the atrium space; employees and visitors present or passing through can watch the screen and adjust the camera (zoom, change angle etc.). Here the artist is exploring the classical Orwellian — and today globalisation (Facebook)-related — fear of total control, a situation when we are no longer even sure if we can trust our own selves.

Záhřebská 23, Praha 2

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