Summary

Contact (Anti-Happening) is the photographic documentation of a ‘cultural situation’, as Koller termed his conceptual installation and performance works. It consists of a black and white photograph mounted on a single sheet of card, with the work’s title, its year of production and the artist’s name handwritten along the bottom. The photograph shows a striped carpet runner, which the artist has placed on a large pile of coal that is blocking the pavement of a street. The positioning of the runner makes it resemble a landing strip, or a bridge across the pile of coal. The pile of coal fills most of the photograph, but there are people visible in the background, unaware that they are being photographed. The stripes of the fabric point to Koller’s interest in lines – from the curved line of the question mark (see T12441), to the demarcations of tennis courts (see T12438, T12439 and T12440) and his subsequent interest in the symbolic value of a wavy line. There is a small white line of text running along the middle of the carpet runner, of which the word ‘POP’ is easily legible.

The runner recalls Koller’s object Ideal folk POPular format 1968, consisting of a similar carpet runner with the title painted in small white text along the middle (reproduced in Dzúrik and Stephen, p.35). Koller painted text and symbols such as question marks onto other simple objects, such as textile bags and jersey tops. He called these works ‘textextiles’. The relationship between Contact (Anti-Happening) and Ideal folk POPular format exemplifies what Koller terms his ‘expansion from artefacts to a multidimensional and psycho-physical reality’ from 1965 onwards (quoted in Dzúrik and Stephen, p.40). By placing an artwork made from an artefact-
the carpet runner - in the street, Koller aims to question the place of art in real life, creating a ‘cultural situation’ on the pavement.

The title Contact (Anti-Happening) refers to Koller’s 1965 manifesto, ‘Anti-Happening (System of Subjective Objectivity)’. In opposition to the notion of a ‘happening’ as a way of actualising group identity, in his manifesto, Koller stated that his concept of the ‘anti-happening’ aimed at a ‘cultural reshaping of the subject, at awareness, at the surroundings and the real world’ (quoted in Rhomberg and Ondák, p.126). As the art historian Piotr Petrowski has noted, it is part of ‘an attitude that aims to erase the boundaries between different art tendencies (art and anti-art, modernist and neo-avant-garde painting), between different forms of neo-avant-garde practice (performance, conceptual art, Fluxus) and, above all, between art and life’ (Piotrowski, p.219).

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’, an approach evident throughout his artistic career (quoted in Rhomberg and Ondák p.141). The curator Georg 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, born 1937, and Alex Mlynárčik, born 1934) published the Happsoc manifesto, proclaiming the whole city of Bratislava to be a readymade work of art during the week of 2 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 to 1989 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, no.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.

Further reading:
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.
Piotr Piotrowski, In the Shadow of Yalta: Art and the Avant-Garde in Eastern Europe, 1945–1989, London 2009.

Elizaveta Butakova
November 2009

Supported by the London Centre for Arts and Cultural Exchange in collaboration with the Courtauld Institute of Art.