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Humor, globalization, and culture-specificity in modern and contemporary art,

Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, The Netherlands

16 June 2017

Droll 'Observations': Roman Ondák’s Comic Displacements

Sophie Knezic (University of Melbourne)


Contemporary Slovak conceptual artist Roman Ondák’s drawings, performances and installations are known for their ability to ‘act upon a situation’, extracting humour from everyday materials and events. Ondák’s collage suite Observations (1995-2011) was first exhibited in full at dOCUMENTA 13 (2012). Comprised of found photographs of the urban environment (street scenes and bourgeois interiors) and supplemented by devised captions, Observations encapsulates Ondák’s understated comic sensibility. In Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905), Freud argued that humour is produced when the ego’s tendency to repressive censorship is bypassed. Like dreams, jokes operate through processes of condensation and displacement where, disguised through riddles and puns, humour is able to surface and allow the subject an experience of pleasure. Comparably, the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel asserted that the play of contradiction was essential to comedy. In his Aesthetics (1835), Hegel claimed that humour is effected through a subject who makes his actions contradictory, resulting in a self-cancelling gesture. Drawing on both Freud and Hegel, this paper argues that the comical in Ondák’s work occurs through gestures of negation and displacement that undermine the unity and seriousness of the subject. 


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