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Pavel Büchler

(Honest) Work

13 May — 12 July 2015

Ikon presents the most comprehensive UK exhibition to date by Pavel Büchler. Born in Prague in 1952 and based in this country since the 1980s, Büchler is renowned as an influential teacher and figure in the international art scene.

Büchler’s exhibition at Ikon involves a wide range of media including text, found objects, obsolete technologies and appropriated digital material, characteristically combining philosophical scepticism with a smart sense of humour that draws attention to the fundamentally strange nature of everyday life.

Visitors experience a new work by Büchler immediately on arrival at Ikon, Inside Watt (2010), comprising a text extract from Samuel Beckett’s Watt (1953) set in the style of a book page and applied to the front doors. The transition from inside to outside, and vice versa, is made through a veil of text, superimposed on what is visible beyond. Büchler’s intervention on the doors is telling, as they are the means by which visitors move between the public realm and dedicated art space, raising issues of access to art, its role in society and a tendency to exclusivity in our art worlds.

The perpetual outsider status projected onto the main protagonist in The Castle (2005), a key work in this exhibition, corresponds to an anxiety that is often engendered by cultural institutions. Involving a large installation of loudspeakers based on a 1920s design by Marconi, the work proclaims a quotation from Kafka’s The Castle: “You are not from the Castle, you are not from the village, you aren’t anything. Or rather, unfortunately, you are something, a stranger, a man who isn’t wanted and is in everybody’s way …”

Broadcast through the antique sound system, the words recall street propaganda announcements as they insist that integration is impossible, that the stranger will always remain on the outside. On the other hand, Fly (2009), involves an illuminated fire exit sign and the sound of a fly buzzing inside. There is no yearning for admittance, but rather this is an innocent creature desperately trying to get out.

Ikon’s exhibition also features a number of found objects and small sculptures such as Il Castello (2007), consisting of two found pencils, and Cannon (2014), made from a billiard ball and postcard. Most of these are fortuitous combinations, brought together to create “semantic short circuits”,resulting in visual puns that are funny, subtle and subversive. Similarly the artist’s fascination with wordplay is made more explicit in his ongoing series Honest Work (2011–), unique letterpress prints made from old fashioned printing blocks. Quotations from Karl Marx to Edgar Allan Poe, from Barnett Newman to Joseph Kosuth, are sources of inspiration, as well as coincidences found within and between alphabets and numerical systems. These letterpress works constitute a bookend of an extraordinary survey, a kind of variety that conveys rare artistic ingenuity.

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication, including texts by Austrian philosopher Robert Pfaller and Jonathan Watkins, Ikon Director. In addition Pavel Büchler has made a new limited edition, titled Honest Work (Silence) (2015), available exclusively at Ikon, it is a letterpress work on Arches 88 paper, 34 × 50 cm, edition of 26, priced £720.

This exhibition is supported by The Henry Moore Foundation.