Back to Basics: KateÅ™ina Å edá’s grandmother puts pen to paper at the Renaissance Society

The drawings displayed on the walls at KateÅ™ina Å edá’s “It Doesn’t Matter,” currently showing at the Renaissance Society, are ironically the least interesting and, arguably, least important parts of the exhibit. A Czech heir to the Conceptual tradition, Å edá pursues the aesthetic position that art’s idea should outstrip its material constitution. In other words, a work of art should be able to be executed without ever taking a physical form. Therefore, like many of Å edá’s other works, “It Doesn’t Matter” requires a back story for anyone to understand it.

Jana Å edá, KateÅ™ina’s grandmother, moved into the Å edá household after the death of her husband. Shortly thereafter, she became deeply depressed. She withdrew into her room and then her bed, refusing to cook or clean or even wash herself (she reminded her family that she never had liked water). At one point she did nothing but wake up and watch television–at times for twenty-four hours straight. Though she was perfectly healthy, her family had to care for her most basic needs. Then one day, Å edá encouraged her grandmother to think back to her happiest memories. Jana, surprisingly, remembered fondly her thirty-three years spent overseeing the stockroom at a hardware store. “And one day I asked her if she remembered the circular saw [the store sold],” Å edá recalled during an artist talk last Sunday. “She said, ‘Of course, I’ll draw it for you.’” Jana started drawing circular saws, and then, for the next few years, didn’t stop drawing until she had recreated, in ink on paper, 650 different items she had been responsible for stocking during her career.

Jana’s life, as presented and attached to the material objects she recreates through her drawings, becomes the subject of “It Doesn’t Matter.” The title is ironic, quoted from Jana’s days on the bed, when her favorite answer to every question was “It doesn’t matter,” a nonchalant evasion indicating the depths of despair to which she had fallen. Her drawings, on the other hand, represent the fact that something, however minimal, did matter, and that Jana had found purpose in spite of herself.

This is all good as inspiring stories go, but you wonder at what point these drawings become art and what business Å edá has calling herself the artist of this display. In many ways, “It Doesn’t Matter” serves to pose those questions itself, implying queries such as art’s purpose, and who can be trusted to authorize an artwork. While those questions are too deep to be explored here (and they are certainly not limited to this exhibit in particular), partial answers can be ascertained. For Jana, art was a therapy reintegrating her into lived experience. For Å edá, art is reintegration itself, and her claims to authorship in this particular exhibit are secured by the fact that she organized the template and the medium through which we watch Jana’s reinvention. In an inversion of Sol LeWitt’s Conceptual assertion “The idea becomes a machine that makes the art,” “It Doesn’t Matter” turns art into the machine that makes the idea.

“It Doesn’t Matter” is not limited, however, to these ideological stakes. The drawings themselves are the material manifestation of this project, after all. At first glance, Jana’s sketches offer little for formal analysis, since they are primarily reduced to disproportionate geometric shapes, drawn in flat black lines. But the repudiation of formal rules serves as Å edá’s strongest Conceptual stand. Due to sheer volume, the drawings in “It Doesn’t Matter” are overwhelming. In their childlike presentation and funny squiggles, the drawings open themselves to a kind of Lacanian play that eliminates critical and utilitarian distance, and leaves us in dialogue with Jana. We are reintegrated with our social selves, just as Å edá intended.

Renaissance Society, 5811 S. Ellis Avenue, Cobb Hall 418. Through February 10. Tuesday-Friday, 10am-5pm. Saturday-Sunday, 12pm-5pm. (773)702-8670.