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Marek Škubal / Trafo Gallery, Prague

Marek Škubal’s  Inhuman consists of two elements: sixty-five etchings of the ‘Worm Divinity’ or God of Repulsive Things and Nefertiti Now, five free-standing portrait busts made from patinated acrystal.  Both elements, though very different, are products of the artist’s urge to find beauty in extreme ugliness.

It’s a very powerful urge, obsessively pursued, its manifestation in God of Repulsive Things an increasingly compelling experience. The power of these sixty-five etched portraits of vermian creatures are enhanced by their arrangement: each in its black space with a thin white border protruding from a field of grey paper enclosed in a black, glass fronted frame.  They’re very closely aligned at eye-level, almost like squares of a film reel, encouraging the viewer to follow the sequence around the walls. And follow them at close range. Each horrible creature is lovingly detailed, and the more I looked the more individual and expressive each, though similarly constituted, became.  

They are horrible, as horrible as the hallucinations of extreme delirium tremens given flesh and writhing, overflowing form.  They all have a vampiric, arachnid quality, all have a central orifice fringed with fang-like feeders and numberless root-like, tentacular appendages snaked with veins that sometimes fill the whole frame of the picture, but gradually they differentiate themselves, embodying familiar qualities and attitudes.  One image appears to be two creatures locked in a mating ritual, many are aggressive, quite a few seem to be indulging in their own peculiar sense of humour, some are balletic, others self-absorbed. One of the most striking in the whole striking series adopts a playfully philosophic pose, with the three long fingers of its hands entwined across its mouth as if pondering some deep question.

Horrible yes, but increasingly fascinating and absorbing until, studying to unearth the differing  attitudes of these creatures, one moves past the outward horror of their appearance into….I hesitate to say something beautiful, but certainly something we have in common with them.  As an exercise in not judging by appearances but penetrating through appearances to whatever lies beneath Škubal’s etchings cannot be surpassed.

The same challenge to look closely is emitted by the five portrait busts, and because these are clearly human, it’s a much tougher challenge. I certainly had more patience with the worm creatures.  Again, there’s precious little surface beauty here, in these heads with blacked-out eyes, savage ear-lobe piercings, ringed noses, eczema-like layers of tattoes, and studiously nasty haircuts, but these are portraits of people we see, though not often as extreme, on the street every day. One is of indeterminate sex, with a high-domed head, completely bald and a cleft-palate. The lack of expression is hard to penetrate, there’s very little to identify with, and even less incentive to do so. Is this a depiction of someone who lacks humanity, or has been de-humanized because of their appearance? Perhaps humanity like beauty is only skin-deep.

Marek  Škubal: Inhuman
Trafo Gallery
Holešovická  tržnice Hala 14
Prague 7
Until 17 June 2018

Images courtesy of the artist and Trafo Gallery, Prague.