Pavel Buchler

Les Ombres (Idea for a Project), 1958


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Not on display
Pavel Buchler born 1952
Slide, projection, gobo, stand, lithograph on paper on linen and wood
Overall display dimensions variable
Purchased 2010


Les Ombres (Idea for a Project), 1958 comprises a medical teaching chart that explains the principles of sight and hearing, onto the left hand side of which is projected a slide image of Self Portrait in Profile 1958 by Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968, private collection), using a vintage slide projector on a stand. The chart is split in half horizontally and, in the top half, depicts a diagram of how an image of a tree is seen by the human eye and, in the bottom half, of how the sound of a bell is heard by the human ear. The use of a vintage slide projector, with its noise, heat and dated design, recalls the days when such technology was newfound in the classroom, and summons up the original alchemy of technology that has since become commonplace through everyday use, an alchemy that is conjured up here through both a representation of the classroom and the direct reference made to Duchamp, who made work that reconfigured the function and meaning of mechanical objects (for example, The Bride Stripped Bare by her Batchelors, Even 1915–23, reconstructed by Richard Hamilton 1965–6, Tate T02011).

The title of the work, Les Ombres, which is French for ‘the shadows’, is taken from Les Ombres 1966 (San Diego Museum of Art) by the Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte (1898–1967), and refers directly to the shadow cast by the projected image of Duchamp’s work, whose date also forms part of Büchler’s title. The second part of the title acknowledges the influence on Büchler of another Belgian artist, Marcel Broodthaers (1924–1976), who often used the French word ‘projet’ in his titles. However, when translating them into English, he chose the word ‘idea’, a variation Büchler first acknowledged in his work Hot Air (Projet pour une idée) 2007 (reproduced in DOX Centre for Contemporary Art 2010, p.89), which is a tribute to Broodthaers. The second part of the title of Les Ombres (Idea for a Project), 1958 thus reverses the order of words from his previous work’s title, in a play on words and their meaning.

Describing Les Ombres (Idea for a Project), 1958, Büchler has commented how these various influences came together at once:

Five or six years ago I bought in Hannover one of those old-fashioned school instructions charts. Formally, it looks like a drawing from Picabia or even Magritte, from whom I borrowed the first half of the title. It shows the psychology of the eye and the ear. The image is split into a top and a bottom part just like Duchamp’s Large Glass. The separate sections of the human head in the upper and lower parts of the chart appear to join in a shape a face that is almost identical with the 1958 self portrait in profile of Duchamp. When I projected the cut out self portrait on it, the image fit perfectly. It wouldn’t have happened without Duchamp, but it is what happened, rather than how it happened, that is so strange and wonderful.
(DOX Centre for Contemporary Art 2010, p.100.)

Since his move to Britain in 1981, Büchler’s work has continued to have a relationship with the history of conceptual art, which he first encountered through catalogues and reproductions in his native Prague in the 1970s. He frequently employs visual and linguistic puns, metaphors and riddles, often making use of text and dated or obsolete technologies within his work. An example of a text-based work is The Body of the Message 2006 (Tate T13259).

Further reading
Pavel Büchler Labour in Vain, exhibition catalogue, DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, Prague 2010.
Pavel Büchler Absentmindedwindowgazing, exhibition catalogue, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven 2007.

Carmen Juliá
August 2010

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