At first sight heavily stratified artworks of Peter Kalmus go along two strong lines: (1) an activist-actionist one with an emphasis on performance and (2) an “object” one dominated by time-lapse works. We could continue with identifying multiple subsets, however from a synthetic, so to say, bird’s eye view, it is clear that the linking point of all of the above is the eccentric artist’s personality. Everyday life, politics and art in Peter Kalmus‘s work are melted in one – in a concept of total art.
The Kalmus’s first solo exhibition in the Krokus Gallery presents a selection of works with a strong autobiographical and/or self-reflexive context. A broad scale of media includes drawings, objects, installation, photo-documentation of his performances and appropriated works of the others. It is a topically-focused overview of the artist’s work ranging from the 1990s to today and due to Kalmus clinging to the already mentioned time-lapse methods as well as recycling of his own works, many of the presented works were being developed throughout a longer period of time having been contextualised anew.
A large chapter in the Kalmus’s works is dedicated to death, which on the one hand is displaced from private life in our culture, but on the other hand is omnipresent, primarily through media. The artist’s interest in this “hard” topic is directly related with his biography, having survived his suicide attempt in 1980. In hindsight, he looks back at this moment as at an experience that rid him of fear both in life and art. The moment of the last farewell was reflected in 1997 in the show titled The Death of Kalmus. In the ceremonial hall of a cemetery in Košice he lies on the catafalque and stages his death. He chooses a different approach in the work named Native death (2008). It is object trouvé – a box apparently serving the cemetery urn purposes into which Kalmus put his birth certificate and electrical clock with time symbolically ticking away and the official document revealing his identity. In the series of prescriptions titled Diary of a Hypochondriac (since 2002) he collects medical prescriptions. Again, we can see a form of revealing a certain part of his identity, this time from a medical point of view. Kalmus describes it with the following words: “It's a professional reflection preceded by my often hypochondriac self-reflection.”
Using his own name is another dimension of the Kalmus’s self-reflexive work. In the cycle called Franz Kafka: Kalmus (1998 –2001) he identifies with the passage that includes the eponymous literary character. With a form of the author’s interferences into the text, he changes books into artefacts referring to his own identity. He opts for another principle of mapping his surname in the installation titled Echter Kalmus, a collection of books on healing plants. Acorus calamus, calamus root or sweet flag is a plant helping with indigestion. “I got to know that I am a healing plant when we were celebrating my father’s 70th birthday...” the artist says. In the view of his politically charged actions, this work using his own name seems to be a humorous part of his total work.
The series named Kalmus through the Eyes of Children deals with the view on the artist from the perspective of others. He was a model in the Bratislava leisure centre Cik-cak in 2002, which brought to life a collection of his portraits: a mosaic of views on his identity through sincere children’s drawings. The counterpoint to this work is a cycle of staged photos titled Transitional self-portraits (since 2003). The cycle evoking criminal case files is a question mark to the unchangeability of human identity. Kalmus changing into a woman, civil servant, punk rocker, priest or Muslim „challenges stability of individual, gender and social identifiers.“
Yet unmapped and disputed dimension are Kalmus’s politically charged performances and actions. In 2014, he decided to launch a petition campaign for him to run for the president of the Slovak Republic. An odd action doomed to failure from the very beginning with the elements of absurd art automatically changed into a Kalmus’s performance which – in the climate of political marasmus and “the rule of one party” – reflected a question who and under which circumstances goes to politics and which slogans work for vox populi.
Text: Gabriela Kisová
Peter Kalmus was born in 1953 in Piešťany. He lives and creates in Piešťany and Košice. A representative of the unofficial artist scene was a member of the anti-establishment Jazz Section of the Union of Musicians of the Czechoslovak Republic from 1973. His installation to the Holocaust victims titled Memento was unveiled in the Lučenec synagogue in September 2016. His action (together with Ľuboš Lorenz) of splashing the bust of communist leader Vasiľ Biľak became the cultural event of 2016 according to the daily Denník N. After 1989, he had his first solo exhibition in the Bratislava Gerulata gallery (curator: Vladimír Beskid); by coincidence it is the today’s location of the Krokus Gallery – on the ground floor on Námestie 1. mája (1st May Square). The works of Peter Kalmus are to be found in the collections of the Slovak National Gallery, East Slovak Gallery Košice, Central Slovakia Gallery Banská Bystrica, National Gallery etc. as well as in private collection in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
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