Something is wrong

Daniel Pešta

Tana Art Space, Venice, Italy 17/4/2024 – 24/11/2024

The Czech visual artist Daniel Pešta (b. 1959) absorbs his surroundings, both in his immediate vicinity and globally, with extraordinary sensitivity, transmuting them into works of art with a unique artistic language. Without trying to take a fashionable stance, his work is topically political. Through a wide range of expressive means, he reflects the history and contemporary situation of the entire species Homo Sapiens as well as the individual. His thematic axis is the extent to which man is determined by his biological, social and cultural origins, resulting in a sense of powerlessness and injustice. His current project Something is wrong also addresses the question of determination. In a series of paintings, assemblages, spatial objects and installations created in the last few years (marked by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine), he analyses the “evil gene” encoded in the deep essence of some individuals who fundamentally affect the fate of others. 

How is it possible that, after all the horrific experiences humanity has endured, evil is allowed to explode again and again with escalating ferocity? Who? Why? asks Pešta, together with the American psychologist Philip Zimbardo, who has made a systematic study of “evil”, in particular the critical “moment of malice” when a so-called decent person becomes a heartless monster. Zimbardo found a parallel in the transformation of the fallen angel Lucifer into the embodiment of evil – Satan. In his famous experiments, he found that it was frighteningly easy to activate the “Lucifer complex”: it was enough to induce fear in people and then identify the source of the danger. In these emotionally tense situations, the “evil gene” awakens, spirals out of control, becomes aggressive, seeks revenge, knows no compassion, and acts only in its own selfish interest.

“Often, the declared danger needs to be artificially created. Perfect for this purpose are minorities who are different in skin colour, religion, sexual orientation or just way of life,” explains Pešta, explaining the background of the Something is Wrong project.

The exhibition at Tana Art Space is situated in two contrasting spaces, one evoking a laboratory and the other a monastery cell. In the evocatively titled sets of paintings and assemblages Bloody Language, Fight and Silent Witness, or in the flagship installation Animals in Us, etc., this “perverted gene” and its manifestations are examined from the perspective of both victim and perpetrator. The result is a syncretic opus that offers the viewer a depiction of evil unique in the visual arts. In Pešta’s conception, this mostly takes the form of an overdeveloped human body, which here is not an image of God, but a monstrous mass, flesh interwoven with rivulets of veins. Individual features have disappeared from the faces of his figures. Instead only spasmodic grimaces remain, or faces have been replaced by anonymous masks. A duality resonates through the project: power vs. obedience, spirituality vs. instinct, individuality vs. herd mentality, pretence vs. truth. Against the backdrop of current events, Pešta thus addresses a problem already identified by the existentialists: the man who has lost God, and thus his belief in the transcendence of his existence, also loses any meaning in life and with it all inhibitions. He becomes an unfeeling, easily manipulated creature driven only by instinct.

It is in the transcendental dimension that Daniel Pešta seeks a way out. Spirituality, which frees man from his adherence to the material, is personified in his work Memento in the figure of Jesus Christ. Stripped of specific historical and religious overlays, he becomes a universal symbol of supra-personal moral values for which it makes sense to sacrifice oneself.


Tana Art Space, 17 April – 24 November 2024
Fondamenta de la Tana, 2109A – 30122, Venezia
(close to Arsenale)
(on map)

Curator: Terezie Zemánková

Preview: 17th, 18th, 19th of April from 11am to 7pm


A project organized by Museum Montanelli
With the support of Venice Art Factory

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