Dr. Michal Koleček

Jan Evangelista Purkyne University in Ústí nad Labem, Czech Republic
Behind the Image. Appropriation and interpretation of totalitarian visual codes in contemporary socio-cultural context

As early as in 2004, the Slovenian art theoretician Igor Zabel in his essay Haven´t We Had Enough? called for rethinking and also cultural reinterpretation of the trauma connected with the totalitarian past of Central Europe; this could not only return this territory into the all-European space once and for all, but also significantly contribute to looking for its new identity in the face of the dramatic social and political challenges of the current globalized world. It is yet obvious that the situation in Central Europe has long been heading towards a deep crisis, which threatens the return of undemocratic social trends and political practices infamous from the totalitarian period.

To follow this socio-cultural discourse of the current artistic production, we can focus on strategies using the principles of appropriation of significant visual signs of totalitarian systems (often represented by photographic images or their current imitation.) Motivation for the use of such historicist references, however, is not primarily anchored in relation to the past, but is open toward critical and often even painful reconnaissance of the present. After all, situations, events, processes, and the constant pressure, gradually deforming and ultimately destroying basic ethical standards of both the community and each individual that grew out of an ideological and instrumental framework of totalitarianism, in the new context form stealthily amid our everydayness. Their visualization and artistic interpretations are paradoxically very limited by the glut of media images which, through countless information channels, reduce our ability to understand current events and adequate conscious personal and societal responses.

Uncovering of historical layers of visual icons representing basal societal consensus and its updates through artistic intervention and shift of content towards the current context constitute activating strategies which open up space for denominating the connections between defective mechanisms of the totalitarian past and the present, determined by increasingly limited democracy.