U.F.O. Universal Fantastic Occupation is a conceptual text-based work, featuring text stamped in green stamp-pad ink on a rectangular piece of white paper. The top line of text cites the artist’s name in small letters, and the month (‘maj’, meaning ‘May’) and year of the work’s production. The initials U.F.O. are printed in large letters in the middle, with small rotated letter ‘o’s or zeros acting as full stops between the letters. Below this, the words that these letters refer to are printed in Slovak: Universál Fantastická Okupácia (Universal Fantastic Occupation). After they were produced, the cards were intended to be left in public spaces. Koller referred to these cards as ‘invitation cards to an idea’, playing with the format of the gallery invitation card, but instead producing a conceptual space of possibility using his ‘U.F.O.’ acronym.
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)’ (see 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 and curator 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 vary 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), and others using different sizes of paper (T12434, T12435).
The title, U.F.O. Universal Fantastic Occupation, 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’; and the ‘O’ has stood for ‘object’, ‘question mark’ (‘otaznik’ in Slovak) or ‘revival’ (‘ozivenie’ in Slovak). The writer Jan Verwoert has commented on the significance of this constantly shifting reference, saying that 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.’ (Jan Verwoert, ‘Július Koller: Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, Germany’ in Frieze Issue 79, November–December 2003, pp.98–9, http://www.frieze.com/issue/review/julius_koller/
accessed 19 November 2009.)
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.