In the Headlights

March 29 to May 4, 2008

Text by Tatiana Mellema

Jakub Dolejs’s large-format photographs and sculptures are about the mechanisms of picture making and consumption. Born in Prague where he completed a Master’s degree in Fine Art at the Academy of Art, Architecture and Design, Dolejs has based his practice in Toronto, and has become well known for his works that playfully blend painting and photography. Dolejs’s works tap into Western culture’s obsession with the visual by engaging pictorial codes from a range of images throughout history, including eighteenth century French rococo paintings to contemporary cinema. Working as a painter, sculptor, and photographer, Dolejs builds elaborate stage sets, and also methodically orders furniture, lighting, architectural details, and minimal materials, into three-dimensional trompe-l’oeil that he then photographs. Rather than painstakingly arranging his interiors in order to recreate a sense of the authentic, his sculptures and staged photographs demonstrate the process of picture making and distribution. These works are thoughtful deconstructions of the manipulation behind image construction, and the historical legacy of their consumption.

In works of staged gallery scapes Dolejs elicits conventions of authorship, illusionism, and commerce that have historically informed artistic practices. In his piece La Nuit Américaine (2007) Dolejs has built a stage set of a typical eighteenth century French salon, including replicas of paintings by rococo artists Jean-Honore Fragonard and Jean-Siméon Chardin. Dolejs’s stage however unexpectedly depicts the bottom corner of the salon room, brutally cutting paintings in half and omitting elaborate architectural details from its scene. By imposing the violent cropping of the camera onto a three dimensional space Dolejs exposes the painterly conventions of illusionism that continue to inform contemporary practices of film and photography. The aristocratic air of his salon also brings to mind the eighteenth century’s history of capitalism, imperialism and colonialism that Western modernity is based upon. Dolejs explores the fraught legacy of modernity in contemporary culture by distilling its historic visual strategies found in today’s cultural products.

The antagonism of modernity’s dominant artistic model is playfully intervened by Dolejs through his photographs of dramatic orderings. A number of the artist’s photographs include arrangements in his studio of black slats of plexiglass, shop lighting, rococo architectural details, and iconic modernist furniture including a Charles Eames chair and an Eileen Gray chrome side table. Undercutting tricks of illusion employed by photography and painterly effects, these photographs demonstrate the manipulations behind old and new languages of representation. Paying pointed tributes to, among others, supremitism in White Square (2007), eighteen-century connoisseurship in Display (2007), and cinema in Homage to Antonio (2007), these photographs are about the social, economic, and historical realities behind picture making. Dolejs reveals that the legacies behind Western culture’s founding myths continue to haunt contemporary visual practices.