Extrasensory-Aesthetics Research Working Group: The Rod Technology

15. 9. - 7. 11. 2021

Karlin Studios, Prvního pluku 2, Praha
Text: Jan Wollner


Jaroslav Stuchlík wasn’t one of the leading psychics, the inaugural meeting, during which the Coordination Group for Psychotronic Research was set up, and which marked the very origin of institualization of the discipline as well as its representatives’ pursuit of scientific recognition, took place in his office at the end of the 60s. His contemporaries can give us a description of the place: “There was a professor's bust by Jakub Obrovský enthroned upon an elevated pedestal and some oil  paintings of flowers and landscapes, so-called above-sofa-art.” Besides them, Stuchlík came in touch with avantgarde art as well, nevertheless, it didn’t hang on his walls as a decoration, it was instead the subject of his analysis. Even though respected as a doyen of Czechoslovak psychology, he didn’t shy away from unorthodox methods and extreme topics, especially towards the end of his career. As part of his psycho-lingvistic studies, he explored the character of linguistic neologisms in the literary works of mentally ill people as well as avantgarde poets, he used Rorschach tests to study the phenomenon of fantasy and, as an ageing, half-blind retired professor, he backed the psychotronic research of extrasensory perception. Besides psychics, he also used to invite experts in experimental poetry to his place. His desk became one of the rare places for unorthodox science to meet contemporary art. 

His work was followed up by Vladimír Borecký who wrote a few studies about him and also continued his legacy in terms of some topics, including psychotronics. Borecký’s name too is relevant in the context of visual art. He was married to sculptor Ellen Jilemnická and befriended a group of male and female artists connected to the Křižovnická school. They shared the same sense of humour, with psychotronics as one of its subjects. It was the distance between their thoughts and the scientific consensus that made them an easy target and Borecký, unlike Stuchlík, made fun of them. He wrote stylized short texts about them, in which the biographical information prevailed over the psychotronic theories' analyses - he was quickly done with those and he a priori wrapped them up as a proof of the insanity of their authors. In his theory of comedy, though, he showed that the ridiculous and the insane have hidden potential, which the authors around the Křižovnická school were trying to benefit from. By including the short texts about marginal personalities of science as well as the texts about marginal personalities of art into a single publication, he managed to implicitly formulate questions about awkwardness of naïve painting corresponding with e.g. tortuousness of the Mention theory, he implies that psychotronics with its ridiculous nature can be similarly rewarding as naïve art. 

On the other hand, the starting point of the Work Group for Research of the Esthetics of  Extrasensory Perception is seriousness. Its texts, videos and exhibitions are, compared to the joviality of Borecký, objective, cold and austere. They don’t lead into the point about the ridiculous nature of psychotronics, and even though they are based on much more thorough research, they don’t lead into any other point either. Their major mode is candor, which helps the Group understand psychotronics in a more empathetic manner. A great deal of the group’s work is, in fact, simple. It consists of in-depth reviews of materials from archives and libraries, which are sometimes directly transferred to a gallery and installed in the exhibition mode. Alternatively, they are remade into the Group’s own texts, videos, experiments or photograms. They profit more from the aesthetics of these archival materials than from the aesthetics of ridiculousness. The forgotten research institutes, international conferences, experiments, final reports, forms and protocols, which were so much emphasized by psychics in pursuit of scientific acclaim, reappear with a strong visualityin the works of the Group. Besides the aesthetics, there is a strong emphasis on the social, historical and ideological contexts  of psychotronics, which are accentuated in the moments when the extent of its scientific recognition wavers. 

Psychotronics achieved the status of institutionalized science with various options of its practical application at the end of the 60s. However, after 1989 the options were gradually slimmed down due to research institutes being closed down. On the contrary, it was at this point, when the Křižovnická school started to move from pubs to galleries and gain wider acclaim. The text by Borecký about Kahuda, who was a psychic as well as a minister and a co-author of the cultural politics of State Socialism, could be read as a revenge. If marginal members of Křižovnická group have become a part of Czechoslovak art canon, it applies even more strongly to some of the Slovak conceptual art representatives, with their interests hugely stretching from the alternative past to archeology, anomalistics, Atlantis, space - and psychotronics - to the fantastic future. It was especially Julius Koller, who went from being a marginal figure to being a celebrity, whose face was looking down from billboards spread throughout Wienna a few years ago, advertising his One Man Anti Show in one of the most prestigious local museums. Stuchlík, as well, was a world-class author who, however, repeatedly experienced moments of recognition, disgrace and rehabilitation in the course of his long career. If nothing else, there are at least the volatility and layered conditionality of artistic canons as well as scientific consensuses that give us a reason to take psychotronics seriously instead of mocking it.