Chatting with Demons

Barbora Lepší, Maria Schumacher, Christian Bär, Stefan Rinck Curated by David Krňanský 28. 6. 2023 – 31. 7. 2023

None too comfortably I settled into the plush seat of a long-distance bus on the Zagreb–Berlin line and opened my MacBook to the heavy sighs of my fellow passengers. After a few minutes, the system loaded the website of an e-cigarette store. Before I’d even had a chance to look around, the bus was already passing the mystique-shrouded Mount Říp. The website’s chatbot didn’t hesitate for a moment and began asking me questions: Can I help you, sir? Is this your first time on our site? Do you prefer notes of fruit or chocolate? I discreetly lowered my head between my knees and submerged it into the bowels of my waterproof backpack, where I took a drag from my e cigarette. Two puffs from the CBD cartridge had me nestled back in my seat, and I didn’t wake up till the bus was leaving Dresden. I opened my MacBook again, and the same questions appeared on the screen: Can I help you, sir? Is this your first time on our site? Do you prefer notes of fruit or chocolate?

Even at an early age, I was fascinated by design. I remember how exciting it was to compare the shapes of different skateboards. One was the classic “fish” with an indecipherable manufacturer’s logo, the second was made entirely from semi-transparent molded plastic, and the third had been brought to the Czech Republic all the way from America. Who owned which skateboard was determined by the status of his parents. I had a fish that was hard to handle but had a neon print and a few plastic bumpers.

I always wanted to learn to play the guitar, but my mother put me in piano lessons. I couldn’t for the life of me learn the notes, let alone endure an hour sitting upright next to the old teacher, nervously eyeing the hands of the clock that would soon free us both from that misery.

…nevertheless, after smoking a couple joints with friends whom I understandably don’t keep in touch with, I decided to follow an inner echo that resonated with something I didn’t even clearly understand. Art called to me of its own accord. I don’t know how it was for Barbora, Christian, Maria, or Stefan. I’m sure they also asked themselves some pointless questions, and their answers only made them more and more unsure about something they may not have even believed themselves…

Shapes, colors, tastes, surfaces, contours, planes, points, lines, texts, symbols, smells. Yes, even smells! There’s a smell to it! I swear, when I look at a piece of art, I either smell something or I just stand there blankly for a while and feel nothing. Is that what’s supposed to guide me, what I’m supposed to follow? Or is it just an illusion that’s forcing its way up from the depths of my body, my mind? I think good art is—thank God—inexplicable. Imagine if we perfectly understood, for example, the whole universe—that would be a real loss.

I asked Google, I asked Siri, and I also repeatedly asked some dubious artificial intelligence of Chinese origin. I waited patiently for the answers, which actually came very quickly. Honestly, in the blink of an eye—the speed was unbelievable, really. Just as soon as my fingers stopped tapping on the keyboard, there came a reply of a few well-rendered sentences saturated with terms and phrases I honestly didn’t understand very well. The more I traded questions and answers with the software, the more I felt inferior and defeated.

Now there was nothing to do but ignore the chatting idiot. The screen was all split up with windows, each displaying something different, and I was completely lost in it all. But the shopping cart icon was in the same place as always, just as Christ on the cross has his fixed place in a church. I paid for the contents of the shopping cart and once again dipped my head into my perfectly sealed backpack. Two puffs…