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Universal Futurological Opening (For a Red Chickadee) consists of a toilet roll and its ripped paper cover, with the title of the work written around the top in felt-tip pen. It belongs to a body of work dating from 1970 onwards which Koller called ‘U.F.O. (Universal-Cultural Futurological Operations)’, a term coined by the artist in 1970. For the title of this work, Koller changed the meaning of the last letter of the U.F.O. abbreviation from ‘operation’ to ‘opening’. He frequently used this type of play on words. The subtitle ‘For a Red Chickadee’ is an obscure phrase that is a translation from a Slovakian word that means both ‘red’ and ‘communist’.
For Koller, the ‘Universal-Cultural Futurological Operations’ were a means by which he coped with the harsh socio-political landscape of Czechoslovakia following the offensive of the Warsaw Pact in 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. Despite this theoretical underpinning, the choice of mundane objects such as a toilet roll displays a sense of humour and humanity.
Prior to the ‘U.F.O.’ project, Koller had produced works which he classified as ‘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), Question Mark b. (Anti-painting, Anti-Text) 1969 (Tate T13312) and Con(end)ception 1972 (Tate T13314).
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 socio-political change. Before 1968, the country had enjoyed a moment of relative freedom, which allowed artists to access ideas that had been generating in Western Europe. Following the offensive, 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.
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 Hrabušický (eds.), Julius Koller Science Fiction Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava 2010.