How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?
Unmonumental was the name of an exhibition prepared by Richard Flood, Laura Hoptman, and Massimiliano Gioni for the New Museum in New York in 2007. David Fesl collects fragments of various materials from his immediate vicinity and joins them together to make new entities – plastics, cookies, wafers, gingerbread, netting, rings, corks, rubber bands, wires, threads, small pieces of metal, scraps of paper, images from magazines and printed material from the internet, or fabrics, withered organic waste, crumbs, peels, moss and lichens, needles, beads, marbles, dice, worn-down thumbtacks, pins, screws, clips, device cases and cables, SIM cards, little pieces of plastic products and caps – so that we can no longer even tell what they once were. David Fesl’s objects are distinguished by their miniature scale, and in some cases also by their potential for monumental forms. The largest of the objects is no bigger than 18 cm, but the composition of their elements surprisingly attains the large-scale qualities of modernist objects surrounded by an aura. At the same time, they recall the art of jewelry workshops, home-soldered transistor circuits, a jumble of objects found in pockets and very carefully assembled into a beautiful form, as though they were intended to attract the attention of bees, trash on a dustpan held together by a sedge-fly larva.
These objects must certainly be treated with as much care as expensive jewels, and with even more, because their material composition is by no means stable. Fesl does not care about his objects’ utility, but develops fragile relationships among the individual bits of the things he uses as material. The choice of materials and the way they are put together is not random and have, if not a narrative function, then an associative one. In the framework of Fesl’s pieces, even texts and images are handled like things or their casings. It is clear that they come from the artist’s apartment or his surroundings; we can make out in them things that we, too, own, that everybody owns. They are thus also a portrait of us, and in them we become aware of the monolithic nature of the culture of our homes. As such, they also serve as anthropological pictures. One interesting aspect of Fesl’s objects is the way he initiates a kind of action in them using identifiable and unidentifiable sections – parts in which we can orient ourselves and parts in which we are lost. The ways in which he connects small pieces of objects emphasizes the relationships between them; this could even be, to a certain extent, the legacy of relational aesthetics as formulated by Nicolas Bourriaud. The contrast between their preciousness and the disposable nature of their materials could even give them a critical radicality hidden in the beauty of their forms, as could their strong relationship to craft, which, especially in the past few years, has been perceived as a dynamizing force in the context of art, the critique of modernism, and the critique of capitalist labor stolen from individuals. In his text Thinking through Craft, Adamson derives the radical and subversive potential of craft from the fact that it is not art and that it has second-class status in the Industrial Age. He names five different principles which are incompatible with modernity, but paradoxically inseparable from it: the supplemental, the material, the technical, the pastoral, and the amateur.11
The emphasis put on the material heterogeneity of the objects, small pieces joined together into a shape by filigrees of steel wool and a hot glue gun, at times remind us of the large-scale composite sculpture of, for example, Rachel Harrison, and at other times, due to their thorough composition assembled from the smallest possible pieces of already unidentifiable objects, are abstract almost to the point of Vladimír Boudník’s Structural Graphics or Art Informel. Sometimes, too, the shape of one of Fesl’s objects is so harmonic, so absolute, that its fetishistic magic reminds us of the works of Vincent Fecteau. Nature, for Fesl, is thus a whole microcosm of things, and their parts and components, which surround us and show that there really is something one can use as the foundation of one’s identity, so long as we have enough joining materials, even though the result will be fragile and require constant care as in a museum.
11Glenn Adamson, The Craft Reader, Oxford, Berg Publishers 2010, p. 2; Thinking Through Craft, Oxford, Berg Publishers 2007, p. 4.
– Jeřábková, Edith. “How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?” In Against Nature, edited by Edith Jeřábková and Chris Sharp. Prague: National Gallery, 2016, 138–42.