Kollerian Secession. The concept of detachment and personal transformation as a post-postmodern condition in the work of Július Koller

Tuka, Peter (2024) Kollerian Secession. The concept of detachment and personal transformation as a post-postmodern condition in the work of Július Koller. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis studies the work of Slovakian artist Július Koller (1939-2007) from the perspective of transition, or a change in development caused by a sudden rupture in the natural course of events when the existing orders shatter and the future structures are not yet established. It revolves around the perception of trauma that leaves the subject anxiously hanging in the void between the past and the future, existing but without any sense of belonging. The thesis argues that the work of Július Koller emerged from his inherent individual need to bridge the void of threshold experience and create a universal means for natural transition of the rupture. It studies in detail Koller’s transitional times of 1968 (Prague Spring and the beginning of so-called ‘normalization’) and 1989 (fall of Communism and the end of ‘normalization’).

The title is inspired by Koller's manifesto Secession [Secesia, 1971] that announces his intention to stop producing art and rather transform people to U.F.O.-nauts - to strange beings living on the verge between two worlds (Earth and Cosmos), existing in both simultaneously, but not belonging to either. The concept of secession is used not only in the sense of avantgarde detachment of a new generation of artists from the tradition that they consider dead and insufficient for the needs of the current society - in the context of Czechoslovakia the secession from the tradition of Socialist Realism. Secession, as applied here, also refers to the experience of alienation or detachment of an individual from the societal structures that occurs as the result of crisis or trauma. The thesis studies particularly Czechoslovakian collective trauma of 1968 and the onset of what Václav Havel called 'post-totalitarian' regime of normalization that shattered human integrity - it created an abstract panopticised self-regulatory system in which an individual is at the same time oppressor and the one being oppressed.

Koller was one of the artists working in Bratislava, whose work retreated into the depths of the self in response to the shattering experience of trauma post 1968. This thesis will not see such a move as an act of escapism, but rather as an active drive to transform the adversity of collective trauma by challenging it on the very front where it occurs - on the level of individual human integrity. Koller, and the artists from his circle seceded from the outward confrontation of the system into the magical worlds of personal mythologies. Július Koller's was that of Universal Futurological Operations (U.F.O.), which he inhabited in the form of U.F.O.-naut.

I will propose the interpretation of U.F.O.-naut as a hero. However, not in a sense of an omnipotent solitary champion who confronts evil. Rather, this thesis will employ the concept of the Hero Journey as described by Joseph Campbell in reference to the metaphorical interpretation of the rite of passage in the mythologies, legends and stories of world cultures. The Hero Journey as a rite of passage is essentially the means of spiritual bridging of rupture caused by trauma. Overcoming of individual trauma through personal transformation was seen among Bratislava artists as a way towards collective societal healing. Július Koller utilised the transformative potential of play and play environment to complete the journey of self-transformation, and attempted to extend it to others.

The generation of artists around Július Koller working in Bratislava was in this regard influenced by the theoretical work of Czech art historian Josef Kroutvor, who outlined a vision of art's advancement into the magical realm of ritual culture in order to stop producing objects and instead focus on ritual transformation of humans. Kroutvor believed that this was the way art can utilise its potential to make a real impact in the world and cater to the most pressing needs of contemporary society. In his texts of 1970-71, Kroutvor envisioned this new fusion of art and ritual culture as an alternative to postmodernism in art.

This thesis will argue that it was Kroutvor's alternative to postmodernism that inspired Koller to manifest his post-post-modern condition in the 1990s. Koller's post-post-modernism, or The Third Cultural Wave as he called it, was based on his belief that the transformation of an individual can lead to the transformation of the society as a whole and act as the means of healing the collective trauma of the fragmented contemporary society. Because this thesis follows Koller's individual path of detachment from the world and descent into the depth of his own self and his personal mythology, it uses the term Kollerian Secession.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Due to copyright issues this thesis is not available for viewing.
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Culture and Creative Arts > History of Art
Supervisor's Name: Lewer, Dr. Deborah and Bryzgel, Professor Amy
Date of Award: 2024
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2024-84321
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 17 May 2024 13:51
Last Modified: 17 May 2024 13:51
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.84321
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/84321

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