'No Easy Answers' and 'Sound Sculpture' by Pavel Büchler were on show at the Ormeau Baths gallery, Belfast, 1996.
Review by Nicholas Allen
Answers to questions of identity don't come easily with Pavel Büchler. He remarks that "what led me getting involved in Art was precisely the possibility of working around... uncertain boundaries". The images which are News Flash suggest an outline of a head with the face blurred out by yellow and purple circular flashes. You are left wondering who this is (or was), where is she from (or is) and what she was doing. Immediately then the viewer is thrown into a complex of questions which are as much about the process of observation itself as they are to do with the decoding of this specific work.
It is not surprising to discover that Büchler describes his motivation as coming "not so much from the practice, but the need to think about photography". Such thought informs his view that "Art is very simply about noticing things that already exist and trying to point them out to others". Within the framework of the Freedom exhibition in which No Easy Answers and Sound Sculpture appear, Büchler attempts to prompt discussion on the meanings of 'freedom'. It is a word described in the introduction to the exhibition's catalogue by the curator Angela Kingston as "one of the most ambitious words we have". Büchler does not allow the weight of such an implication to overburden him. He is conscious of the danger that an overtly didactic piece might succumb to the very tyranny over interpretation that the exhibition aims to question. He is aware of the limitations involved in what he describes as "traditional spectatorships". He is determined not to provide us with three-D glasses as an aid to clearer vision. He instead tries to make the viewer aware of the constraints that he feels.
In relation to the immediate surroundings of Belfast as a setting for his work, Büchler spoke of the "very dangerous, dramatic, nervous sort of context that surrounds it". But to try and gauge the reaction of such a specific audience as those affected by the Troubles would be trying to answer a "question that the artist cannot anticipate, not only because of the historical circumstance, but simply because anticipating any such question would be giving in a priori to those limitations that restrict the languages we are using, the language of the artist and the language of interpretation".
Such refusal to capitulate to the boundaries set before him informs equally Büchler's positively interdisciplinary approach. He related this to personal experience; "When I realised photography was so unique, I was also looking for a unique place for it in my work. But to do this you have to bring it back amongst the other media". Consequently he felt that "It would do nothing but (for its) coexistence... with other visual media". To Büchler "perhaps the best thing is to look at photography in relation to the exhibition as a kind of method or approach to speaking about freedom". This theme of the play of observation and meaning inspired by the mental as well as physical ability to keep on the move is a means by which he aspires to freedom in his work. He describes himself as a "traveller with no fixed point of departure and no particular destination".
Such a sense of movement leads him to ask questions about the processes by which a photographic image is created and engenders meaning. For example, "How free is the use of a medium so loaded with certain connotations, like as you mentioned the dominant documentary type of role, (such as) photography in our society? How free is such a medium to express freedom?" These may sound like rhetorical bon mots but they have a crucial relevance to any photographic practice. For, if they are not taken literally but are read instead as examples of the need for a self-aware, fully self-conscious (in the critical sense) practice, then contact with the world around you may not be purely conditioned by the filter you choose or the length of the strap around your neck.
To Büchler the reason for asking such questioning is that "All Art inevitably deals with freedom". Beyond this assertion, there is the reminder that "one has to differentiate between freedom of expression and the expression of freedom, which is something that Art is concerned with. There is a huge difference in that". For example, 'freedom of expression' may be read in photography (as in many other media) as a freedom made possible by what Büchler terms to be its "very close linkage to the huge technological developments from the nineteenth-century onwards". Any analysis of such developments in turn implicates a photographic practice into a nexus of the development of capital and the politics of mass production. The intriguing possibility for photography is that the medium itself, by capturing 'the invisible' as the 'eye can never see one hundredth of a second', can work around such potentially disabling conditions.
It is such wry transcendentalism that plays with the participant in Sound Sculpture as the rigging up of a podium with pressure pads sends what seem to be random bursts of music singing from the earphones which stand on either side of the platform. You can readily understand the physics of the material but the knowing is one step behind. Which brings us back to freedom. And the aptness of a piece of work entitled No Easy Answers.
Pavel Büchler, the Czech born artist had two pieces of work entitled No Easy Answers and Sound Sculpture on show at the Freedom exhibition in the Ormeau Baths Gallery. This was a collection of the work of various artists in different disciplines intended to highlight the work of Amnesty International. Source had the opportunity of speaking to him at their office in Botanic Avenue, Belfast.