Oh, It Is Easy To Be Clever If One Does Not Know All These Questions



18 May- 14 July 2018, Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, UK
20 June- 10 September 2018, DOX, Prague, CZ

Group show curated by Pavel Büchler and Mariana Serranová


The first sentence you read when you open Robert Musil’s Young Törless is a quote from Maeterlinck: ‘In some strange way we devalue things as soon as we give utterance to them.’ A hundred or so pages on, you will find the words that have provided the title for this exhibition: ‘Oh, it is easy to be clever if one does not know all these questions.’ They mark a turning point in the story when young Törless, a student at an elite boarding school, attempts in vain to give a rational framework to his adolescent imagination and anguished consciousness with the aid of philosophical reasoning only to discover that the sources of his moral and sexual confusions, dark fantasies and aesthetic inclinations elude the grasp of reason and indeed of language.

What Törless sought was not explanations but, in essence, a reconciliation of the demands of an inquisitive mind with the interests of the ‘soul, or personality, or whatever one may call the thing within us that every now and then increases by the addition of some idea picked up between the lines of a book, or which speaks to us in the silent language of a painting (…) the thing that is never there when we are writing minutes, building machines, going to the circus, or following any of the hundreds of other similar occupations.’ And ‘cleverness’ shored up by critical distance against sensation and the random ambiguity of experience fails in such a task.

It was precisely the unity of intellect and feeling, observation and instinct, unattainable to Musil’s hypersensitive protagonist, that was for Musil the goal of art. Although Musil’s writings articulate the perceptions and artistic priorities of a different era, the same aspiration latently persists in the various ways in which works of art reflect and make sense of the experience of the world today and it is therefore the ideal (if not ‘the idea’) of this exhibition.

The works in the exhibition come from particular places, Prague and Manchester. They have been inevitably influenced by the ways of life, distinct cultures and artistic traditions of the two cities and this, in turn, may have some bearing on how they affect one another in their encounter here. But their true places of origin are singular artistic positions grounded in subjectivity and affected by individual perceptions of those unexplained things that we devalue ‘as soon as we give utterance to them.’ Visualising such influences is what makes art worth doing. It is also what makes a work of art worthy of your attention.

Mariana Serranová
Pavel Büchler