Pyramids, columns, and obelisks, a palm tree, an orchid, and a chrysalis morph into space needles, into futuristic architecture and other unidentifiable flying objects. Swishes of this otherworldly landscape, punctuated by colorful comets and planets, stretch across a vast white page establishing a backdrop for the collage series Archaeology of the Future (2013-2016) by Sophie Dvořák. Festoons of plants, fruits and blossoms dotted by red anemone-like growths and fungi frame this unfamiliar topography. Just beyond the botanical cornucopia, a little dude on the run from what appears to be a giant mosquito provides us just an inkling that something is amiss; this cosmos is not quite as harmonious as it would like to appear.
Reaching for a tool so vital to her artistic practice, a pair of tweezer scissors, Dvořák extracts and then squeezes together artifacts from two different realms: She scoured and then pried specimens from the pages of an 1838 encyclopedia Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon (Picture-Conversation-Lexicon) and Nick, Pionier des Weltalls (Nick, Pioneer of the Universe), a popular comic book series by Hansrudi Wäscher that first appeared in late 1950s.
As in Nick’s universe, Archaeology of the Future allows for time travel in an instant (Nullzeitreisen). Consistent with the by now trademark panoptic and rhizomatic views offered by Dvořák’s works, we take in vistas where future, past and present become tangled: The encyclopedic drawings date from about 120 years prior to the comic, that in turn is a narrative set in the seemingly distant future, sometime during the first decade of our current millennium, as of today our very recent past. As the title of this series suggests, the artist’s fanciful splicing of time guides our attention to how we develop notions of future. In Dvořák’s rearrangement of excavated relics from the past and of a constructed future, the visualizations of knowledge and of a possible future resemble each other strangely.
Galactic explorations of the future and expeditions of the 19th Century to remote jungles and dives into deep-sea places become equals. The perils posed by invented beings, from which Nick and his team of scientists originally protected the planet earth, are now also posed by outlandish creatures only familiar to us from museums or depictions in various media. The ostensible objectivity and accuracy of the historical scientific drawings give way to the imagined worlds and inhabitants of the future. A typically harmless hedgehog ambushes a space explorer mounting him from behind. Emerging from foliage, the long thin bill of a crested bird forces Nick’s surrender. Diverse species of animal and plant life, puffer and flying fish just as fantastical as the bug-eyed and beaked fish of the comic, parade across the pages.
In the visual confrontation of these two realms, in both a fusion and clash of canonical knowledge and pop culture, science vs. fictions, future vs. past, we come face to face with the realization that our ideas about the future cannot help but draw upon and carry with it what we know about our past and assume to know about our present. Beyond this crux, the beauty of Archaeology of the Future lies in the pleasure we take in fathoming this whimsical cosmos. A dazed and confused 19th- Century mustachioed walrus sits among giant mushrooms, some dating from his period, others straight out of the future. A blind toad-like thing sporting what looks like a comb-over exclaims “oh” and “ah” as it takes flaming hits from the humans. Dvořák’s sense of humor, coupled with her craftswomanship, enchants us. We trace the delicate and meticulous treatment of fragile paper materials with our eyes. We chuckle at the odd encounters and seemingly arbitrary speech-bubble commentary. All the while, the involution of Archaeology of the Future creates possibilities for boundless episodes, inciting active viewing simultaneously allowing room for the weightier reflections about the consistency of knowledge and time.
“Gottseidank sind die Zwischenräume breit genug!”
“Thank goodness, the interstices are wide enough!”