By Gabriele Tosi

A lot of your artwork deals with the concept and the form of standard sized objects. I’ve noticed that the formal standardisation represents a sort of symbolic emptiness. What are your thoughts about this?

To a certain extent, the standard dimensions of an everyday object define our environment, the way we perceive it and behave in it. The lines on the standard size white paper help us to keep our handwriting in a direct flow, and helps fill the blank paper effectively whilst remaining readable. However, we can perceive this help as a lack of freedom, even in an extreme case – such as violence. We are not allowed to move our pen freely on the empty surface, the movement is strictly limited. This is symbolic violence, we voluntarily submit ourselves to it. I understand standardisation as a form of social organisation in the most general sense.

Often, your working materials are something that you can find in any office. It could be said that the use of laptops transform an indoor space  into an office. We can also say that your working materials can be found in every indoor environment…what are the consequences in your opinion?

I often work with common materials, I’m interested in the different ways they are used and how they express different meanings. They help me to describe the current situation of our society. Of course, the blue ballpoint pen and the A4 format office paper can be found in every office but also in most domestic environments. The work and private world merge together. Working from home is usually seen as a great achievement of today’s society, but in some measure we sacrifice too much of our spare time for work. The question is: do we still have any free time for ourselves?

In 2011 you used a blue ballpoint pen, or probably a lot of them, to draw a series of blowup full stop marks. Can you tell me something more about this work? How is it related to the idea of handmade vs industrial craft? Why did you decide the full stop?


This series of drawings of extremely enlarged full stops was preceded by several other projects based on processual blue ballpoint pen drawings. What was important for me this time was the contrast between the length of time taken to produce each drawing and the meaning of the full stop itself. I used a standard drawing cardboard 150 cm in width, the final format of the paper was 150 × 170 cm. There is always one enlarged full stop in the middle with a diameter of 110 cm, it’s a circle completely filled with lines created by a ballpoint pen. The full stop in handwriting is just a subtle touch of a pen but I spent a lot of time making just one. In a sentence the full stop is a character that means “the end”. A huge full stop means stillness, this is represented symbolically as well as practically, and it works as a description of the process of its creation. The drawing is abstract but at the same time is a symbol with its own meaning which is also the shortest possible text. Similarly, the blue ballpoint pen is the most common writing instrument.  After the full stop another sentence begins and from this point of view one can – somewhat paradoxically – perceive the full stop as a symbol of a new beginning

Could it be said that, “The thoughts of modern sculptors” (2013) is a work about standardisation, dealing with the idea of past and the possibility of the future?

The source of this work was the book Myšlenky moderních sochařů (The Ideas of Modern Sculptors) published  at the beginning of the 1970’s. During this particular period in Czechoslovakia, this book was an important publication about the beginning of the modern Western sculpture. First, I photocopied the whole book in black and white using the standard A4 office paper format. Then I lined every sheet with the blue ballpoint pen, copying the standard pre printed lined A4 format paper. The resulting linear structure may be interpreted as purely practical and utilitarian, but it also evokes a late-modern geometric abstraction. In fact, the drawings have two layers, the photocopy is overlaid by the manual drawing. The paper which was initially covered by the photocopy of the book is now covered again by the drawing, in a similar way printed paper is sometimes reused in the office. However, the standard lined paper might be perceived again as empty, the utilitarian lined is open to the possibility of the new text. Therefore, the redefinition / rewriting of modernism becomes the main theme of this work.

In “We can loose everything but not time” it took you a while to replicate the series of standard lined office paper … are you trying to say that we can no longer perceive time in emptiness?

This work is the first part of the initially unplanned trilogy of the blue ballpoint pen drawings on the A4 format office paper. I lined six packages of the white office paper, each package including 500 sheets, using the blue ballpoint pen. I wanted them to be as indistinguishable from the standard lined paper as possible. The result was 3000 identical drawings that imitate the pre printed papers. From the practical point of view, their handmade feature and their quantity seem entirely purposeless. What is the point of producing laboriously something that already exists and that can be bought cheaply? But this work should not be perceived just from a utilitarian viewpoint: it can be interpreted in the context of geometrical abstraction. Alternatively, since they are handmade each drawing can be perceived as a unique original, they just can’t be identical. An important question is: after all those hours of work, are the sheets filled up with drawings, or can we consider them empty? Lined paper can be perceived as empty, the lines only organise the empty space. Therefore time can be seen as a prominent theme in this work, especially the loss of time and the value of labour in our current society.

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Jan Nálevka
Born in Jablonec nad Nisou Lives and works in Prague

www.jan.nalevka.sweb.cz

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