Con(end)ception was made by rubber-stamping capital letters, printed in green ink, onto a brown napkin which was then signed and dated by the artist. The letters read ‘KONIEC’ along the bottom right of the napkin, and ‘EPCIA’ vertically from the right hand corner up its right hand edge, forming the Czech title of the work. The letters ‘IE’ are smaller, and are placed within brackets in the title. The artist’s signature and the date ‘VIII, 1972’ is written in the bottom corner of the napkin between the stamped letters. Con(end)ception falls into a category of work which Koller called ‘Anti-Happenings’. He first used the term in 1965 in his manifesto ‘Anti-Happening (System of Subjective Objectivity)’. This proposal described a practice that aimed to evoke the universal through the personal and the everyday, in order to produce work that would ‘engage instead of arrange’ (quoted in ‘Engagement Instead of Arrangement …’, in Kolnischer Kunstverein 2003, p.128). Other works which fall into the category of ‘Anti-Happenings’ are Country-City (Trencín) 1966 (Tate T13315) and Question Mark b. (Anti-painting, Anti-Text) 1969 (Tate T13312).
As part of his ‘Anti-Happenings’ Koller began to make text works on paper, which he described as ‘invitations to an idea’. These works were made using letter stamps (mostly printed in green ink) and incorporated statements such as ‘Idea, Conception: Socialistic Picture (Anti-Picture)’, ‘Nothing’ and ‘U.F.O.’
Koller’s work explores human life situations through humorous and absurd actions performed in a variety of media including painting, sculpture, photography, works on paper and found objects. Koller typically worked on a modest scale, raising questions about the status of the art object. During the 1960s and 1970s, his native Czechoslovakia was undergoing great social and political change. Before the offensive of the Warsaw Pact in 1968, the country had enjoyed a moment of relative freedom, which allowed artists to access ideas that had been generating in Western Europe. After 1968 the political situation became more repressive and avant-garde artistic production became primarily a private activity. From very early in his career, Koller rejected the formal and traditional principles of academic art, choosing instead to follow the movements of dada, nouveau réalisme, Situationist International and Fluxus, which had become known to him through the momentary lack of restriction in the country.
Throughout Koller’s career he produced works that fell into two main conceptual groups. The first was the ‘Anti-Happenings’, while the second was a project titled ‘U.F.O. (Universal-Cultural Futurological Operations)’, a term coined by the artist in 1970. For Koller, this body of work was a means by which he coped with the harsher socio-political landscape of Czechoslovakia after 1968. The works assigned to ‘U.F.O.’ allude to the existence of extra-terrestrials in order to draw on the possibilities of existence beyond our own experience. In doing so, Koller aimed to show the impossibility of situating his practice in the present, by suggesting that his actions were part of a trajectory which continued into the future. Within this category is Universal Futurological Opening (For a Red Chickadee) 1978 (Tate T13313).
Kathrin Rhomberg (ed.), Julius Koller: Univerzalana Futurologicke Operacie, exhibition catalogue, Kolnischer Kunstverein, Cologne 2003.
Christine Macel and Natasha Petresin-Bachhelez (eds.), The Promises of the Past: 1950–2010, A Discontinuous History of Art in Former Eastern Europe, exhibition catalogue, Centre Pompidou, Paris 2010.
Petra Hanáková and Aurel Hrabuický (eds.), Julius Koller Science Fiction Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava 2010.