Since the mid-1990s, Slovakian artist Roman Ondák (Žilina, 1966) has developed an artistic practice that radically merges the installation, performance, drawing, found object, video and interaction with the public. The artist’s works and his site-specific interventions are based on the observation of reality and an overturning of our perceptive habits: with light and apparently irrelevant gestures, Ondák produces images and situations that are surprising, camouflaged by everydayness, and that denounce any superstructures or ennoble their potential. An example of this is the performance Good Feelings in Good Times, held for the first time at the Kölnischer Kunstverein in Cologne in 2003, in which several actors stage a fictitious line at the entrance to the museum of people waiting to go in; after about forty minutes the line breaks up, and after a short interval it is spontaneously formed again: as they hadn’t been informed of the nature of the action, the actual visitors to the museum could unwittingly join the performance and interact with the actors. In Ondák’s work, the artist’s memories are often combined with the group experience, and the past overlaps the present: this work on the line, in fact, also draws inspiration from the artist’s memory of Slovakia before the country broke away from the Soviet bloc, when lines outside shop doors were a necessary and daily practice (while today, on the contrary, lines are synonymous with a spasmodic wait, of the culture of the event and of the desire to participate).
A similar reflection on the relationship between individual sensitivity and the surrounding reality is at the core of Glimpse, a work in the museum collection, made by the artist in 2010 after spending a period of time in Naples on the occasion of a solo show at Fondazione Morra Greco. Ondák put together a series of antique prints from different periods and by various authors, acquired from antique dealers or street merchants, all of which on the same subject, that is, the spectacle of Vesuvius erupting. In the past, engravings of this type were a popular souvenir among travelers; in most cases, these were artists from all across Europe who would come to Italy to absorb the culture and the artistic tradition of both the entire country and Naples. Within those views, the artist portrayed himself in the act of observing the scene from the white border of the engraving, as if he wanted to enter the image, but on the tips of his toes. Ondák uses this simple and discreet gestures to weave a dialogue with the city of Naples, with its history and with its most famous symbol, thereby actualizing the tradition of the Grand Tour. Glimpse is characterized by a Chinese box structure and it triggers an intriguing reflection on the mechanism of the gaze: the individuals depicted in the prints are captured as they gaze at the scene of the eruption, and, in turn, they are observed by the artist who portrays himself at the edge of the image; at the same time, contemporary visitors look at the figure of Ondák and constitute the third link in this chain of gazes that connects visitors and artist, viewers and viewed, present and past.