Július Koller

Continuation/Stoop (Universal-Cultural Futurological Operation)


Július Koller 1939–2007
Original title
Pokr(a)covania (Universál-Kultúrna Futurologická Operácia)
2 photographs, gelatin silver print on paper mounted onto paper and graphite on paper
Support: 210 x 295 mm
Purchased 2007

Not on display


Continuation/Stoop (Universal-Cultural Futurological Operation) is the photographic documentation of a ‘cultural situation’, as Koller termed his conceptual installation and performance works. It consists of two black and white photographs 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 photographs show an open exterior door constructed of two glass panels, the lower panel of which has been removed. The artist is shown stooping down to step through the lower half of the door. In one photograph he is stepping towards the camera, and in the other he is stepping in the opposite direction. The title Continuation/Stoop ... offers the possibility that this movement to- and fro- is continuous, or perhaps that the action of stooping is continuous. The artist chooses to step through the door rather than pass around it; in order to do so, he is forced to stoop. The absurdity of the pose recalls Koller’s early enthusiasm for Dada.

Continuation/Stoop ... may be interpreted in relation to Koller’s interest in cultural limits and demarcation. There is a strong comic aspect to the ‘stooping’, but it also has a potential political significance. Speaking of a work entitled Level Ma(r)king 1980, in which he is photographed squatting or stooping below the level of an official sign in the street, Koller remarks:

I took the height of this plaque as a sort of limit under which I would always fit myself in some way ... Sometimes it was lower, sometimes higher, and basically it made me into some kind of ‘stooper’, as it were, and this actually also symbolised some sort of spiritual and cultural crumpling that was necessary for us even to survive, and actually I was reacting in this way to the politico-cultural situation.

(Quoted in Rhomberg and Ondák, p.140.)

The second part of the title, Universal-Cultural Futurological Operation, is one of Koller’s many variations on the initials U.F.O., which he began to use in 1970 to describe the ‘cultural situations’ he created. Koller originally used the initials to mean ‘Universal-Cultural Futurological Operations’, but created many variations: the ‘U’ has stood for ‘universal’ or ‘universal-cultural’; the ‘F’ has become ‘futurological’, ‘fantastic’, ‘functional’ or ‘fictional’; the ‘O’ has stood for ‘object’, ‘question mark’ (‘otaznik’ in Slovak) or ‘revival’ (‘ozivenie’ in Slovak). The critic Jan Verwoert has commented on the significance of this constantly shifting reference: it ‘becomes a metaphor for the invasion of reality by the imagination. As such, it captures the essence of Utopian thought: to confront the microcosm of an actual state of affairs with the macrocosm of infinite possibilities – to show that society can be changed’ (Verwoert, pp.98–9).

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 ready-made 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.
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.

Elizaveta Butakova
November 2009

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