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The Body of the Message is a typewritten text that reproduces the first part of the computer source code of a digital image of a rose. The work consists of two separately framed sheets, the second having been copied from the first by a professional typist. Büchler’s work originated in an email that he received with the image of a rose attached to it. The email was corrupted which made his computer interpret the image as source code, the serialised or encrypted data which forms the content or ‘body’ of the email message, rather than as a visual image. The fact that Büchler then turned this everyday mishap into an artwork demonstrates his interest in the accidental: ‘I don’t know what I want to achieve,’ he has explained, ‘but I try to stay alert to whatever might happen and then to respond. It just so happens that some things one finds by accident are better than what you could ever come up with if you tried.’ (DOX Centre for Contemporary Art 2010, p.96.) The source code was first typed out by the artist and then re-typed on another sheet by a professional typist, a laborious task that resulted in two slightly different texts due to occasional transcription errors. This action draws attention to the apparent futility of artistic labour, a recurrent idea in Buchler’s practice, evidenced by the title of his exhibition Labour in Vain, held in 2010 at DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague.
Büchler used the imagery of the rose in an earlier work, Bengal Rose 2005 (reproduced in DOX Centre for Contemporary Art 2010, p.43), an old tube of oil paint that had been ripped apart by one of his students at Manchester Metropolitan University, and that he found lying around in the art school studios. For Büchler, the rose is an iconic object so rich in symbolic meaning that it has hardly any real meaning left. By referring to such a loaded image, he was able to make a play on words, to ‘do something with words’, which for Büchler is ‘different than writing. Writing is a way of giving words things to do. What I am trying to do is less active, more like taking the words and watching them as they do what they do’ (DOX Centre for Contemporary Art 2010, p.99). A message without any real meaning, The Body of the Message questions the ability of art to communicate and to deliver information. For Büchler, ‘art and information ... don’t go very well together. Art is a protest against the authority of language; information is an imposition of that authority’ (DOX Centre for Contemporary Art 2010, p.96).
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 the latter is Les Ombres (Idea for a Project) 1958 2007 (Tate T13260), in which a vintage slide projector is used to project an image in the gallery.
Pavel Büchler Labour in Vain, exhibition catalogue, DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, Prague 2010.
Pavel Büchler Absentmindedwindowgazing, exhibition catalogue, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven 2007.