Jakub Dolejs – La nuit américaine
ANGELL GALLERY is pleased to present “La nuit americaine,” the fourth solo exhibition by gallery artist Jakub Dolejs. The exhibition runs from September 14 to October 13, 2007. "Reality offers us such wealth that we must cut some of it out on the spot, simplify. The question is, do we always cut out what we should? While we're working, we must be conscious of what we're doing. Sometimes we have the feeling that we've taken a great photo, and yet we continue to unfold. We must avoid however, snapping away, shooting quickly and without thought, overloading ourselves with unnecessary images that clutter our memory and diminish the clarity of the whole." -Henri Cartier-Bresson To date, Dolejs' practice has been characterized by an intelligent and engaging exploration of how painting and photography are used to construct fantasy, history, identity and truth. In a manner of speaking, Dolejs takes a dialectical approach to these two media, playing them off one another, juxtaposing the moral authority of historical painting against the documentary veracity of photography, seeing what he could extract from their frenzied rivalry over objective primacy. With this latest exhibition, Dolejs holds fast to these concerns while extending the scope of his exploration by offering a sculptural installation. This bold step 'outside' of painting and photography represents an exciting leap for Dolejs, as he shifts his attention from the gallery walls to the literal, physical space of the gallery floor. What's more, for an artist who has steadily built an admirable body of work as a painter/photographer, this work marks risk in thinking and execution that pays off handsomely. His deceptively economical installation corners you, figuratively and literally, into asking some big questions about how we relate to our constructed environments and the past via cultural artifacts. Looking like a constructed fragment of a room more than an actual room corner, Dolejs' piece could have been cobbled together from materials found in the set department of a theatre specializing in historical period pieces. Dolejs has long been fascinated by how we present images to each other, whether such images are hung in a condo, a palace, a salon, a museum or an art gallery. In this sense, he takes a sociological or anthropological approach to image-making that considers the various frames—be they architectural, historical or literal gilded frames—that affect how we interact with art. For Dolejs, this approach does not mean he ignores the depicted contents of the paintings he uses in his work; rather, he selects his images very judiciously, and sees a reciprocal relationship between their contents and the site in which they are shown. This emphasis on context pays respect to the socio-historical factors that mediate—for good or ill—the reception of any artwork. Although Dolejs is indebted to conceptualism's legacy of institutional critique, his work has a theatricality, warmth and Kafka-esque wit that sets it apart from the sometimes asceptic and ideologically fussy works of Hans Haacke and Joseph Kosuth. In past work, Dolejs almost invariably incorporated a person—whether painted or photographed (but usually photographed)—who served as a character, a theatrical or cinematic subject with which viewers could identify. Dolejs gradually realized that the presence of these characters was both liberating and restrictive: on the one hand they provided a narrative fulcrum on which the emotional connection of viewers could pivot, giving rise to imaginative speculation about the story being told; on the other hand, he found that the presence of these figures prevented viewers from more readily projecting themselves into the image and hence the story, since the stage and its players came readymade for consumption. As a result, Dolejs slowly began subtracting figures from his work. A crucial phase in his practice saw him exhibiting photo-paintings of empty, isolated rooms populated by chairs, lights and cables, the objects and space sometimes doubled in their construction to give the illusion of being mirrored. His present installation piece seems a logical extension of this process of subtraction, as if Dolejs were on a trajectory to transform viewers from casual narrative voyeurs into full-fledged narrative participants who are fully immersed in what they experience. Critical attention for Dolejs is widespread and overwhelmingly positive. His work has been likened to the work of the critically lauded and internationally renowned Vancouver photoconceptualists like Jeff Wall and Rodney Graham. Although this is an apt comparison, and although Dolejs strolls the same conceptual terrain as these artists, his work diverges from theirs with the more literal diasporic sensibility he brings to his work and the breadth of his contextual scope. A Czech immigrant whose transition from Eastern Europe to North America came a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Dolejs's work is clearly informed by his sense of historical and geographical displacement. Forgoing the ruses of facile nostalgia, Dolejs favors an historical and personal consciousness that exhibits equal parts skepticism, reverence and compassion towards the images he employs. In sum, one might say his work diverges from the Vancouver photoconceptualists insofar as his own gaze is conditioned by his upbringing in a waning communist regime and his eventual immigrant experience in Canada. This being said, at the age of 31 Dolejs finds himself in good company, showing immense promise and a unique place in the growing pantheon of Canadian artists who explore the Western pictorial tradition with a commendable emphasis on historicity and contemporary significance. In a sense, his present work—in its fragmentary, truncated character—is like the physical embodiment of a cropped photograph, the thing we (to paraphrase Bresson's assertion) "cut off on the spot" in order to simplify and therefore understand our world better. The allure of Dolejs' work, however, lies in how an apparently simple gesture—performed in order to simplify understanding—instead complicates and enriches understanding, opening up a wealth of possibilities and questions for curious gallery-goers.