Dried tea bags, display case
24.8 x 35 cm
9 3/4 x 13 3/4 in
Seen through the slightly tinted Plexiglas panel of a wooden display case, neatly ordered lines of rectangular shapes form a grid. The modular elements are in fact tea bags and the uneven distribution of their leaves give them distinct colorations and varying volumes.
This significant early work by Roman Ondak stems from his years at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava, yet it already conveys major themes of the artist’s deeply felt conceptual practice. Ondak would go on to forge a coherent oeuvre employing the everyday—human behavior and its physical traces—as a potent medium.
The work was conceived at a moment when Ondak was abandoning painting, experimenting with readymade and found objects, and working through the legacy of Minimalism and Conceptual Art.
The work neatly encapsulates the artist’s critique of Minimalism: Ondak infuses a minimalist aesthetic with traces of lived experience which the younger artist felt the earlier art movement had neglected. The used tea bags introduce both an element of the everyday and evidence of a specific life, namely Ondak’s. Drinking tea here comes to physically represent the passage of subjective time, but also invokes individual moments: distinct moods, talking, thinking, resting, or, more literally, waiting for the tea to steep. As such, the work can connote both introspection and sociability. Moreover, with its grid of tea bags, the work deftly connotes the passing of a longer period, a repetition recording one lived moment at a time.
Initially a personal and subjective act, some works in the series incorporated a collaborative aspect, if you will, as tea bags from neighborhood cafes were later also used.
Placing these traces of daily life in a found display case, Ondak use of Plexiglas with a yellowish, amber-like tint emphasized the transformation of a generally discarded everyday object into something that might one day become a fossilized archeological find.