Letter Is the Abstractest Image
- The picture represents what it represents, independently of its truth or falsehood, through the form of representation.
- In the agreement or disagreement of its sense with reality, its truth or falsity consists.
- It cannot be discovered from the picture alone whether it is true or false.
Thus Petr Řehoř wished to comment on his work, in the words of Ludvig Wittgenstein. Řehoř’s paintings indeed seem to revolve around the concepts of language, representation, and truth. He doesn’t allow the viewer to get off easily.
If paintings are instruments for us to perceive the world, to make a picture of it, its potential literary form hardly presents a problem. For it is words and images that represent the world, the truth to us. But if paintings are instruments to find out about their own means, their own being — as the modernists saw it — a literary content, writing, letters, fail to fit the image.
Yet the image, just like the letter, is a two-dimensional way to present a three-dimensional world.
On this common ground we find many of Petr Řehoř ’s works.
Řehoř’s works show us what happens if writing, or rather the picture of writing (through the letter) is taken into the focus of the self-representational tradition that the modern art of painting has developed.
A letter is an arbitrary image, just like the paintings that painters were encouraged to create under Socialism. And so Řehoř introduces representational images as well; these, too, used to be anathema in Finland, at least when it came to Serious Art.
An individual letter is an abstract character. It doesn’t actually represent anything, there is nothing like that in reality, it isn’t even an image of a sound. The same letter is pronounced differently in another language. The letter an sich bears no meaning, yet letters are probably forms that have been reproduced more often than anything else in the world. A letter corresponds to modernist art, it only represents itself, although one may think that one can find the truth through it.
Similarly, it is scarcely a coincidence that when Řehoř blends letters together, beside each other, in different sizes, the result sometimes approaches constructivist painting surfaces. The letters consist of pure forms, there is not the slightest touch of nature in them. Actually, a letter is nothing but a complicated geometrical construction.
Of course, nowadays it is possible to create typography easily on a computer, but still it retains its letters, its fonts, in neat rows, in conventional scales, even now. It refuses to show letters as forms, image-like. This is why the art of painting remains the only way to form letters into images.
Representation and reality become even more baffling when Řehoř turns a letter, an arbitrary two-dimensional sign, into a concrete, three-dimensional object, a statue. It is roughly the same thing as if you were to use people, three-dimensional beings, to make lookalike statues in the fourth dimension.
Yet Řehoř doesn’t stop even here; he exhibits a two-dimensional photograph of three-dimensional versions of two-dimensional signs, whose purpose has been to represent this three-dimensional world.
The origins have vanished, but still one looks at the image with interest. The original letters, developing a personality of their own, are the ultimate truth.
Through Letters To the World
Written language that we nowadays feel we conceive the world as a whole. -..s structure.
Yet when a painting portrays a letter, the abstract sign, the painting actually is no longer able to avoid commenting on the world is own relationship to it. The image no longer appears to be showing things; rather it is the seed of a statement. It is unusual for paintings to include so many allusions to politics, to the image of the world, as Řehoř ’s works do.
Sometimes Řehoř ’s art is quite cynical, uncompromising. If our image of the world is formed through newspapers, why not paint the newspaper, the image of the world / self just like Řehoř does.
Petr Řehoř lives between two worlds: the Czech and the Finnish. These worlds could well become integrated otherwise in his art, but language remains the ultimate segregator. Czech is Řehoř ’s mother tongue, not Finnish, no matter how well he can speak it.
As Řehoř sees it, language may feel like a safe resort, but it can leave us in the lurch.
If the security of language can disappear, can the security brought about by a visual language disappear as well?
Images have been referred to as universal language. As we know, this is not really true.
We perceive the world through several, almost inseparable, invisible, layers. Řehoř ’s works from the mid-1980s referred to this: even the glass covering the puzzle-like painting bore signs, abstract yet sign-like figures. The plexiglass boxes were similar with their floating news clips; the box itself, although transparent, dissidently protested against the clarity of the numb images. Nothing, not even the cover of the content, can escape from affecting the message; this is what Řehoř seemed to show.
News clips are allowed to represent the world almost as such, but they are elements among other abstract objects, constructivist lines, as if they were all equal. The viewer must then assume the responsibility, constantly making decisions on what is important and what isn’t.
Thus Řehoř takes a photo of the storage room of a Baroque theater, where there is something orderly amidst all the chaos: the cleaning cloths. People are constantly organizing, keeping everything clean.
Now, pondering about letters Řehoř no longer remains so concretely multi-layered, but the clear-cut representation of the world seems to sink even deeper in the stratifications of the media swamp – Řehoř makes no compromises, but allows nostalgia to enter his pictures, even pathos. He does not renounce the image, by no means. It has merely intermingled with linguistic noise, of which this piece of writing is an example.
When Banks Become Mere Images
Yet Řehoř is more than a mere visual linguistic philosopher, he is able to bind concrete levels to his letters from surprising sources. In his work, as in KIKN PANK (1996), he may use billboard letters formerly belonging to a Finnish bank.
A commercial bank that used to represent respectability, something in which it was safe to invest one’s future, merged with another bank. Prior to that it had swindled capital from small investors by selling shares and letting people believe that there were big-time investors, too, involved in the common effort to save the bank.
After the merger, the bank was renamed and the reassuring letters had to go from the wall. Those Řehoř now employs, these he paints, and the letters begin to look as absurd as they factually are.
Although language is a big game with its rules and regulations, Řehoř cannot concentrate on language alone. He knows, as we all do, that the world simply is. This is why he indicates the exact point where the game interferes with people’s lives. In an installation, Řehoř imports photos from his Czech bar to his Helsinki local, taking these signs at the same time to be exhibited in a gallery, in an art game.
Having read his Wittgenstein, Řehoř cannot but show how the linguistic situation and game penetrate everywhere, even to the sympathetic atmosphere of a pub. Here we have a pool table, another game. although this time it is for entertainment. A stack of newspapers is also an essential element in a pub, and there is one in the installation, too: on the pool table. The serious game of the world intrudes to hamper the entertainment.
Pessi Rautio, 1998