Thirty Three to One: Roman Ondák, Time Capsule at Modern Art Oxford

Published in ArtSelector: Issue 2 – A shot in the dark

In his new installation at Modern Art Oxford, Slovakian Artist Roman Ondak explores how our relationship with experiential space defines us: the rules by which we judge ourselves to be ‘I’ as opposed to all that is other.

Ondak’s two pieces, ‘Time Capsule’ and ‘Stampede’, are placed in contrast to one another, separated by a dark corridor. ‘Time Capsule’ is an eerily accurate replica of the Fenix 2 that transported the 33 trapped Chilean minors to freedom in 2010, whilst ‘Stampede’ documents in film a crowd of people 300 strong filling an empty gallery space. Despite the title ‘Stampede’ the film itself, and indeed the experience of being within the crowd as it was being filmed, did not provoke a comparable sense of frustration and claustrophobia to that of ‘Time Capsule’.

Perhaps this could be attributed to the nature of the created scenario. The impositions on the participants were little more than the normal physical restrictions inherent in everyday space: that of architecture and the presence of others. A crowd of people are filmed entering an empty room. They slowly fill it, waving to one another, chatting and checking mobile phones which flash brightly in the dark. Eventually the monotone half lit picture becomes an amorphous mass of humanity. Occasionally the pixelated features of a face become clear for a moment, before being subsumed once again. After a while they begin to leave, slowly filtering out of the room, shuffling towards the exit as if leaving the theater. The lack of restraint, or perhaps more precisely, the lack of percieved restraint by the crowd, is clear. Participation was voluntary and the time period spent within the crowded room limited. The resulting film shows this. The crowd is comfortable. Some even linger when everyone else is gone until they are encouraged to exit.

However, the two pieces still relate significantly to one another in a discussion about our expereince of space, drawing together connections and polarities. Both encourage a certain amount of voyeurism. ‘Time Capsule’ frames the essence of singularity, evoking the effect on the mind when all temporal and spatial relation is nullified. Standing alone in the large upstairs gallery, the empty space surrounding the fragile capsule might as well be solid rock. Moving on through the darkness that separates the two installations, the sympathy for a trapped soul underground may well be amplified, but the emphasis shifts markedly when watching ‘Stampede’. Taking on the role of the Flaneur, we stand apart from the crowd and watch the milling milieu. In ‘Stampede’ we become more aware of our own separateness in the presence of many others, rather than as a lone being.

The risk taken by relying on the uncertain behavior of the volunteers who helped to create ‘Stampede’ reflects the idea that spaciousness and the practice of space are closely affiliated with freedom. In and of itself this differs greatly to the experience of absolute constraint in ‘Time Capsule’. Watching ‘Stampede’ is reminiscent of observing people moving about in the city from above. One can map out how a space is rationalized and controlled, but equally how the mass of people- individual trajectories that intersect and roll over one another – reform that system.

In his book ‘The Practice of Everyday Life’, Michael de Certeau describes a crowd as having the ‘opaque and blind mobility of the city’. From above it, outside of it, it is unfathomable. From within, threads can be connected, languages understood and stories followed. Taking a chance on the participants’ own interpretation of the situation reflects this ordered confusion. It was, like the miraculous rescue of 33 men from the depths of the earth, very much ‘a shot in the dark’.

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