Even though the artworks by Miroslav Vojtíšek – who uses the pseudonym S.d.CH. in his show A Makeshift Imitatio Christi – are contemporary, his pieces and the way they’re displayed look anything but. There’s something about the current colour scheme at the Divus Gallery in Deptford that makes you feel you’ve stepped back in time to the late seventies or early eighties. The interior of the gallery has an enjoyably makeshift feel, a green folding chair next to a little table advertising Czech beer for £2 a bottle. The walls are painted in a stark, chalky white, while the carpet’s reminiscent of a rollout lawn, which highlights – with a glaring clash – the red and blue backgrounds the collages are mounted on. The way they’re hung, meanwhile, is reminiscent of exhibitions from the 18th and 19th centuries: works are closely stacked on top of one another so that the walls, from ceiling to base, are almost completely covered. All things considered it feels, upon entering Divus, a bit like time-travel – into the strange world of S.d.Ch.
The collages are overpowering simply for the amount and variety of images they include. There are garden gnomes, teddy bears, headless kitschy Jesus figures, all collated in a cut and paste fashion that looks deceptively simple – ‘I could have done this myself’ one occasionally feels – yet there’s much more to S.d.Ch. than can be guessed from first glance. A Makeshift Imitatio Christi is only a part of the artist’s multi-faceted work and accompanies a newly published book, available for sale at the gallery.
The collages also refer to S.d.Ch.’s puppet theatre plays and can be placed within the tradition of Czech surrealism, all the works on display combining image and text to create fantastic landscapes or icons. Unfortunately, most of the poems and slogans included are in Czech, without accompanying translations: only those familiar with the language can thus get a full understanding of the work. At the same time you might argue, even without knowledge of Czech, its diacritics and clustered consonants add a surrealist flavour of their own.
In the introduction to the show, some of the collages are classed as comics, a reference to the artist’s other roles as author and playwright – inspired by the writer Thomas Bernhard and the artist Max Ernst. But one of the strangest things in the exhibition is a large sculpture suspended from the ceiling in the very centre, almost like a mobile. Framed by a white structure like a makeshift castle, a puppet skeleton rides the headless torso of a fish. Slightly further back a male figurine appears to sit on a root vegetable shaped like a phallus. What does it all mean? And how does that relate to the collages? In true surrealist fashion, there are probably countless answers to these questions – a reminder that to see this exhibition alone is to sample a mere fraction of what S.d.Ch. produces, giving us just a small glimpse into his fantastic world.
Every collage – and the ‘mobile’ – creates its own story. And though there are recurring motifs like icons, cut-outs of classical works and the repeated interplay between image and text, it’s hard to grasp the show as a whole when each piece contains so much detail, so many layers. Leaving Divus, I’m a bit overwhelmed with everything I’ve encountered. Most amazing of all, it feels, even though the works are contemporary, that I’ve seen an exhibition from the past. It’s exactly this success in bringing some long lost surrealist ‘magic’ into the present that makes this exhibition so fascinating, and Divus so worth a visit.
S.d.Ch.’s A Makeshift Imitatio Christi can be seen at the DIVUS Gallery in Deptford (Enclave 5, 50 Resolution Way, London SE8) until May 23rd. Exhibition is open 12-6 pm Wednesday- Saturday.
The exhibition is supported by the Czech Centre, London.