! 1971 is a conceptual text-based work in green stamp-pad ink on a long, narrow piece of white paper that has been folded in two and then flattened out. It is a work created in an edition of ten using stamps. Each example is slightly different because of the slight variations in the application of the stamps. On the left-hand side, a large exclamation mark has been stamped, sandwiched between the two parts of the author’s name, whilst on the right-hand side, the artist has placed the year of the work’s completion – 1971, and the place of its production written in Slovak – Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. The large exclamation sign is an indication of Koller’s interest in expanding the potential meaning of standard punctuation marks, such as the question mark and the plus and minus signs. In Koller’s work, the question mark becomes a sign of universal questioning. Similarly, the exclamation sign takes on a universal aspect of affirmation. The two sometimes appear together, to create a dialogue between question and statement. For example in ? ! 1978 (Generali Foundation, Vienna), a looped length of paper, which has been folded to create a flat triangular shape, has a line of question marks written in felt-tipped pen on one side, and a line of exclamation marks written on the other
Koller began making text works on paper, which he also referred to as ‘text-objects’, in 1965. He used children’s stamps to create each work in various editions, each of which was hand-printed. In 1971 he wrote a manifesto entitled ‘Text-Cards (Card-Texts), Text-Objects (Object-Texts)’ (Böhler and Seidl, p.79). Many of the early text objects contained references to his concept of the ‘Anti-Happening’ and later, bore the initials ‘U.F.O.’. The critic Georg Schöllhammer has suggested that the works were inspired by the use of text and collage in the work of the dadaists and the surrealists (Rhomberg and Ondák, p.127). The text-objects varied in layout, with some featuring the work’s title centrally positioned on a post-card, such as Idea, KONcepciA: Socialisticky obraz (U.F.O.) 1972 (Generali Foundation, Vienna), or P.O.P. U.F.O. 1970 (T12434). The layout of ! 1971 reflects the fact that is has been folded into two equal halves, with the text distributed equally: the large, centrally-aligned ‘!’ and ‘1971’ create a balanced composition, complemented by the placing of smaller text above and below.
Born in Piestany (formerly in Czechoslovakia), Koller studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava from 1959 to 1965. He has defined his thinking as ‘de facto ... a sort of anti-academicism’ (quoted in Rhomberg and Ondák p.141), an approach evident throughout his artistic career. Schöllhammer has pointed out that Koller was sceptical of group activism, despite his work containing ‘a number of thematic, formal or subject matter correspondences’ with the Slovakian Happsoc group (quoted in Rhomberg and Ondák, p.126). In 1965, this group of three artists (Zita Kostrová, Stano Filko, and Alex Mlynárčik) published the Happsoc manifesto, proclaiming the whole city of Bratislava to be a ready-made work of art during the week of 2–8 May 1965. From 1968 onwards, Czechoslovakia entred a period of so-called ‘normalisation’ by the ruling Communist regime, and Koller’s work became increasingly ambivalent. Around 1967–8, he began to use the symbol of the question mark in his works (see T12441), and from 1970 he started to take yearly self-portraits of himself as a ‘U.F.O.-naut’. During the years 1980–9, he ran the fictional U.F.O. Galéria, in his own words, ‘a challenging and hard-to-reach fictitious space for spiritual communication between earthly beings and the unknown cosmic world’ (quoted in Documenta Magazine, nos.1–3, 2007 Reader, Cologne 2007, p.476). Koller’s work aims at a constant questioning of the world and the cultural context, opening up possibilities for a humanistic utopia in unexpected places.
Marian Dzúrik and Ann Stephen (eds.), After the Spring: Contemporary Czech and Slovak Art, Sydney 1994.
Kathrin Rhomberg and Roman Ondák (eds.), Julius Koller: Univerzálne Futurologické Operácie, Cologne 2003.
Jan Verwoert, ‘Július Koller: Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, Germany’ in Frieze no.79, November–December 2003, pp.98–9, http://www.frieze.com/issue/review/julius_koller/
, accessed 19 November 2009.
Supported by the London Centre for Arts and Cultural Exchange in collaboration with the Courtauld Institute of Art.