Pavel Sterec mulls over his work for a long time. He combines performance, object, installation, photography and other media in a variety of ways. His interest circles around the issues of research, science, museums and archives, social structures and our dependency on tangible or symbolic capital. These days he is one of a wave of artists who express themselves through the social environment and its semantic and metaphorical potential. As he himself writes: “I experiment on a small scale with social engineering as an artistic procedure”.
The very title of the work “When several things are happening outside that I’d like to see, I mostly stay at home”, which formed part of Sterec’s graduate exhibition at the Academy of Fine Arts, hints at the inclusion of heterogeneous elements within a laconic output. The strategy of the social happening, which Sterec intentionally developed, relates to hobbyists and other representatives of special-interest activities. The inclusion of the viewer through a large amount of information on these events is the result of the entire matter, even though artistic activity is wilfully denied in it. We can encounter this only ex post in a gallery as viewers of art and not as viewers or participants in special-interest events. In his previous events and projects, Sterec uncovered a kind of psychoanalytic character to the natural environments influenced or sought by man, including caves and coalmines. An example of a similar descent into a metaphorical unconscious is the coalmining inspired performance “Canary” – a walk through a graphite mine with a canary in a cage.
In 2011, Sterec participated in the Jindřich Chalupecký Award with the project “Two small points of intersection on a large vertical”. His installation was a kind of reinterpretation of a museum containing geological exhibits. However, it also included two performative events. The first was called “Living Library” and took place in the Koněprusy Caves, and the second was called “Speed Dating” and was held at the astronomical observatory on Petřín Hill. In Living Library, representatives of scientific disciplines such as philosophy, mathematics, physics and astronomy met both invited and random guests to the caves and engaged in free discussions in the interior of the underground building. The discussions examined the areas of expertise of the participating scientists as well as their personal lives, and took place on an eye-to-eye, non-hierarchical and horizontal basis. This was also in its way a social form of happening and a return to the cave as a physical metaphor for the unconscious. In Speed Dating, clients of a dating agency met up with everyone else in the observatory in a similarly non-hierarchical and horizontal way. These two “horizontals” were symbolically intersected by a vertical only in the space of the gallery, in which Sterec placed a glass window in which a fragment of stalagmite and meteorite approached each other symbolically. Two points “between heaven and earth”.
Sterec’s intellectual polysemy and background knowledge led him to work featuring a structure thought out in advance and almost scientific, while still being kaleidoscopic, and which is deliberately exhibited to a collision with randomness and irrationality. For instance, the exhibition entitled Motionless Exchange at the Atrium of the Moravian Gallery in Brno comprised several different artefacts made from various materials but all describing a single phenomenon. The central work was a replica of a stone coin, the original of which came from one of the Micronesian Islands, where it served as a motionless legal tender that did not circulate (because it was too heavy), but was exchanged between different owners. The stone and its weight are a symbol of capital both invested and acquired without having to change its position or be transformed in any way. Sterec charts the migrating image of this stone coin in its Western representations and shows how it has become a screen for the projection of opposing political and economic ideologies.
The themes of value, fetishisation and ownership are common in Sterec’s work. He reopens the question of the artist’s dependence on her own skills as craftswoman, forms of authorship, cooperation and appropriation. Intellectual tools of knowledge form a theme in themselves, as well as being subjected anew to an artistic form of inspection, criticism and analysis.