Karel Miler

Performance art played a short but all the more intensive role in the life of art historian Karel Miler. At the turn of the 1970s, Miler was actively working with visual poetry. His interest lay in the semantic and spatial context of the language code, which he did not perceive as an expression of individual feelings, but as an independent structure.  In 1971, when he got to know Petr Štembera, who was already working with physical performances at that time, Miler realized that semantic play can also be expressed with the body. This is what led to the creation of the first performance Bud - a nebo (Either - Or) (1972), in which he transferred ideas from his minimalist texts to a real corporeal level. Even Miler's work within body art was that of a poet; he used his body to create conceptual, clearly unambiguous situations that he captured using a precisely orchestrated shot for a tripod-mounted camera. Rarely were his performances undertaken before viewers. These can be described as “photo-model performances” that only communicate with the viewer after the fact and require no further commentary.

Even though Miler’s works were created during the "normalization period", referring to the repressive period of the communist regime following the 1968 occupation, the paralysing situation of Czechoslovak society and culture are very rarely present in his performances. Although an expressive simplicity and urgency typical for this period appears here, the main aspect for Miler is a kind of timeless poetics.  This stemmed from his admiration for Zen and his desire to find a reflection of the universe in extreme body gestures.  In his performances the body is generalised, stripped of any dependencies on everyday life. It enters a timeless universal level, as curled-up figure falls from a pile of pre-fab panels in the performance Identifikace (Identification) (1973). 

This type of work stood in stark contrast to the official aesthetic ideas of the Czechoslovak artistic establishment of that period. It was almost a private activity carried out and reflected upon within a closed circle of kindred spirits. Even though the circle around Karel Miler and Petr Štembera decided in the late 1970s to stop working in performances, Miler's work assumed a key position within the context of Czechoslovak post-war art.  



1940, Praha / CZ, at that time ČSSR


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