‘Commodification is the transformation of goods and services, as well as ideas or other entities that normally may not be considered goods, into a commodity.’ This explanation introduces us to Mikyta’s current exhibition at Divus’s small gallery space in Deptford. The exhibition comprises twenty works by the artist, some lone-standing and some part of a series. What they all have in common, though, is that Mikyta uses purchased and collected objects like banknotes, images from catalogues and old postcards to construct them.
One of the largest works is ‘Banknote pyramid,’ made from one-dollar bills pinned directly onto the gallery wall. Mikyta produced the piece during his residency at the International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP) in New York, making the banknotes an obvious reference to US capitalism. But there are various signs and symbols drawn over the banknotes, resembling ornaments on traditional Slovakian buildings. The artist’s personal touch of his homeland thus becomes part of the pyramid too, inscribing something individual onto that ultimate emblem of mass consumerism: money. Because the symbols on the banknotes differ, the symmetry of the pyramid disappears if we look at it in detail. Something unique is uncovered – a contrast with the mass-production of the banknotes themselves.
Mikyta’s way of referring to the global with those symmetrical ready-printed bills, and the local – with his hand-drawn folkloric signs – is visible in most of the works exhibited. On the wall next to ‘Banknote pyramid’, postcards and a photograph with self-portrait of the artist are tightly wrapped in the nets you get when buying oranges or garlic – a waste product Mikyta has integrated in the work. One piece slightly out of place, yet fascinating to look at alongside the others, is ‘The Thing’: a burgundy wax sculpture resembling the shape of South America with lots of forms, folds and textures. The artist found it outside a studio as a waste product and decided to contextualise it in the show, thus making it – arguably – his own.
On the whole, the works exhibited are a hotchpotch of things, from different points in time in Slovak history: postcards of the Sokol movement in 1930s Czechoslovakia, or images from a 1950s instruction manual on how to wrap goods. Though they’re not personally connected to the artist, they certainly have something personal about them as everyday objects once part of a daily life- and, with Mikyta’s intervention and their inclusion in this space, they become artworks too. Yet the pieces nonetheless retain some of their makeshift quality: Mikyta uses old typewriters to create ornamental lines from percentage signs, while most works are pinned, haphazardly, directly onto the wall. No computer or other electronic device is used to combine them – instead everything’s drawn by hand or stamped out by that typewriter. Mikyta’s appreciation for traditional arts and crafts is clear, transfigured into ‘high art’ by their inclusion here. While this practice is certainly nothing new, the artist’s references to Slovak history give Mikyta’s work an individual note, also presenting him as a ‘modern national artist’.
Mikyta’s Export Import I commodification combines the global and the local in the work, subtly indicating art is a matter of perspective. It’s not necessarily an easy viewing experience: we need some additional information to make sense of the works – provided by Divus in a magazine article (Umělec 2010/1, page 19). If we make the effort to engage, it turns out to be both a great combination of ‘East’ and ‘West’ and local (Slovak) and global: big issues we’re left with space to interpret for ourselves.
Mikyta Export Import I commodification can be seen at DIVUS, 50 Resolution Way SE8 4AL until 19th March 2016. The exhibition is supported by the Czech Centre, London.