A User's Manual

by: Jiri Kolar

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A User's Manual by Jiri Kolar / ISBN 9788086264547 / 142-page hardcover with illustrations / Twisted Spoon Press (Czech)

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Written in the 1950s and ’60s, the “action poems” comprising a A User’s Manual were published in their complete form in 1969 when they were paired with the 52 collages of Weekly 1967, the first of Kolar’s celebrated series in which he commented visually on a major event for each week of the year. Taking the form of directives, largely absurd, the poems mock communist society’s officialese while offering readers an opportunity to create their own poetics by performing the given directions. The collages on the facing pages to the poems are composed of layered documents, image cutouts, newspaper clippings, announcements, letter fragments, reports, or decontextualized words, oftentimes forming concrete patterns or the outlines of figures, to create a sort of “evidential” report on the year. Text and image taken together, the volume displays Kolar’s enduring interest in extracting poetry from the mundane to demolish the barrier separating art from reality, or even to elevate reality itself through this dual poetics to the level of art. What art historian Arsén Pohribný wrote about Weekly 1968 equally applies to Weekly 1967: it “shocks with its abrupt stylistic twists” and is “a Babylonian, hybrid parable of multi-reality.” The volume also includes the complete Czech text as an appendix.

Jiri Kolar (Protivín, 1914 – Prague, 2002) was one of the most important postwar poets/visual artists in Central Europe. A member of the avant-garde Group 42 in Czechoslovakia, most of his major texts were composed in the 1950s and 1960s. He is, however, more well-known abroad for his collage innovations, including his famous series Weekly 1968. Having developed a technique for combining fragments of texts and images from a variety of sources as a way to portray the destruction and fragmentation of the world around him, by the 1970s his work was being exhibited throughout Europe.