Exhibition AutopsiA – Thanatopolis takes place at The Horse Hospital and briefly presents the aesthetics of mysterious AutopsiA – a group founded in the late 1970s in London by an anonymous band of artists and musicians who later brought its activities to a small town in Serbia, before relocating to Prague during the break-up and subsequent war in 1990s former-Yugoslavia. So much, at any rate, is the scant information the organisers provide us with, though further research tells us that AutopsiA has released over twenty studio albums of avant-garde electronic and instrumental music, at least three DVDs with short films and music videos, published several books and magazines and participated in a dozen solo- and group exhibitions, predominantly in Eastern European institutions.
The exhibition occupies a small basement space, whose heavy black floor and dark red walls come directly from the group’s signature colour scheme. The walls are covered with framed posters of different sizes, all immediately recognizable in their style. The nomadic nature of the group resulted in various influences, including British punk, and a keen interest in esoteric practices, including early Christian rituals, various heresies, Hermeticism, Masonry and spiritism. There is no curatorial statement issued – or indeed any theoretical output whatsoever – and the exhibited objects and posters lead naturally to the stall of official merchandise, from AutopsiA as well as the Divus publishing house.
Most posters have been created by combining two elements. There’s usually some appropriated background consisting of technical images, including circuit schemes, maps, mechanical and anatomical drawings and sketches of photographs of industrial architecture. Then there are specific elements added by the artists: sinister signs, several types of logo, ominous inscriptions. The words ‘sin’ and ‘pain’ are inserted into an electric circuit, along with the slogan, ‘Our goal is death’: the End of the World is prophesied. Gothic fonts, weird negative photos, inscriptions in Hebrew and German, quotes from Wagner (Wie Feuer Brennt Das Blut – Blood burns like fire) – all of this creates an unsettling atmosphere of contemporary alchemy practised by some technocratic sect. A militaristic reference is enhanced by a striped banner with a bolt of lightning hanging on the wall and posh black retro automobiles featured in the film.
The overall feeling of the exhibition’s quite ambiguous. Apart from posters there are also some objects that look like three-dimensional extensions of the imagery: a briefcase with golden drills, several knives with engraved words in German: temptation, explanation, suppression. But any ideological substance is still lacking – at this point the whole undertaking looks like some old-fashioned militaristic subculture, especially as Autopsia’s recordings (industrial and ambient) are playing in the background. Some additional materials would better demonstrate the scope of the group’s activities and their ideological stance. Their self-printed magazines, for instance are lacking here, while some of them are available online (please click on the image, right below).
The exhibition lasts only a week and gives a sense of a pop-up shop, rather than pop-up show, which is still fine, as any attempt to write down and tell the history of the group would inevitably create a stiff atmosphere of the archive and ruin the intimacy of the community of friends and collaborators. It is the merchandise stall that attracts most attention: the artefacts there are much more diverse and include several issues of the Umělec magazine (published by Divus), a recent ‘Gothic Novel’ by a Russian novelist Zinovy Zinik, several recordings by Autopsia both on vinyl and CD.
All in all, the exhibition hints at some subcultural phenomenon, full of internal jokes and detailed language, but unfortunately there’s no chance for an everyday viewer to penetrate the obscurity of it. Perhaps the organisers didn’t expect them to – among those attending the opening most knew each other and seemed to be perfectly aware of what was going on without any preliminary research or any supporting texts. But this begs the question: who is this exhibition actually for?
AutopsiA – Thanatopolis can be seen till November 26 at the Horse Hospital, as part of the Made in Prague Festival 2016, organised by the Czech Centre London.