“Psychoactive drugs can usher in a new revolution in science, otherwise, we will flood the world with mechanical and human robots over the next century, accelerating the alienation and decay of our society,” utters a voiceover from the featured video, revealing one of the clues to understand Matěj Pavlík’s exhibition. It is specific in that, although it deals with contemporary social crises, it does not identify their manifestations as most contemporary artistic and theoretical reflections do but rather suggests solutions to deal with them.
The general argument of the voiceover is Marx’s thesis that every age presents us with just such problems, that there are means to solve them, in other words, that where there is danger, there is also the possibility of rescue. As much as we can admit that this developmental optimism, which presupposes a lawful direction towards progress, is outdated, we can also reverse its logic. Let us not look for a chronological and causal sequence from the present to the future, from worse to better. And let us not look for universal problems and their solutions either, because marginal events and topics that do not currently attract wider (scientific) recognition are also important. Just like in a sci-fi plot, we can travel to the past to find them.
The author directs our attention to psychotronics to a point in time when it was a relatively obscure part of the scientific discourse and the interest of the power elites during the period of state socialism. Its institutional development as a scientific discipline in former Czechoslovakia took place mainly in the late 1960s and during the 70s and 80s, the era we call normalization, which we usually associate with symptoms such as discrediting of elites, privatism, feelings of decline, etc. Are there any parallels between then and the present day? More than many people would like to admit: the social symptoms outlined have not gone anywhere and are persisting or even growing. The author thus chooses a rather contradictory scientific field operating in a contradictory regime, and moreover in a very contradictory phase of its development. (It should be noted that psychotronics and psychoenergetics have subsequently been politically discredited and marginalized into bizarre DIY practices or shady business.)
Matěj Pavlík’s speculative approach encompasses several levels of meaning. The first of these concerns the reading of the past: late socialism is not an ideological and social monolith, but an era full of paradoxes, ambiguities and contradictions that did not end with a landmark in political history but transformed into the present. On a more general level, the disruption of the contradictions of reason and emotion, reality and the supernatural, materialism and idealism, etc.
The third level is the criticism of expert elites and the domination of economic aspects, to which psychotronics or psychoenergetics can create a symbolic counterbalance. It is therefore one of the ways we as individuals can deal with our own powerlessness. In depicting this path, the author combines real historical background with fiction, thereby drawing attention to our unreliable assumptions about thought, ideology and power. In doing so, he undertakes a twofold critique of knowledge, relating both to the real scientific field (in this case, psychotronics) and to its pictorial representation. And so, “logically,” he uses the media of collage, photography, film and found footage to give the appearance of documenting reality. But even fiction can be trusted. Just as we can return to the table what has been swept off it.
AV source for the video essay Techniques and Technologies to Compensate for Powerlessness: The Possibilities of Psychotronics, directed by Viliam Poltikovič, 1990
Acknowledgements: 3D animation / Philipp Kolychev; sound design / Jan Kašpar, Jonáš Richter, Ian Mikyska
With special thanks to Lucie Rosenfeldová