In Alexander Belyayev’s novel Professor Dowell’s Head (1925), a young medical assistantlearnsthat the head of a leading neurobiologist is kept alive artificially in Professor Kern’s laboratory. (The novel alludes to the real story of scientist Sergei Brukhonenko who has developed a method of keeping a dog’s head alive for a short period of time.) Marie performs various routine measurements and later startsnon-verbal communication with professor Dowell’s head by means of facial expressions. Despite her employer’s explicit forbiddance to do so, she opens a certain valve, air starts flowing into the tubes and Dowell’s head starts talking. Dowell and the young assistant talk while more heads keep appearing in the laboratory. The talking head has hada unique experience which provides a clue to the story. After finally revealing all of it, it can die in peace.
On the other hand, the character of Professor Kern, a caricature of a researcher obsessed with ambition and desire for knowledge, indifferent to the lives of others, can be interpreted as a caricature of neurobiology itself, which always constructs the process of subjective perception from the outside. Scientists conceive models; if the term “model” can be understood as an attempt to grasp the inner structure of a phenomenon and its functioning disregarding the consequences of the phenomenon. The subjective experience is considered secondary, if not directly labelled as fiction, an illusion. This is at least what neuropsychologist Paul Broks describes in his book Into the Silent Land: Travels in Neuropsychology (2004).
“The illusion is irresistible. Behind every face there is a self. We see the signal of consciousness in a gleaming eye and imagine some ethereal space beneath the vault of the skull, lit by shifting patterns of feeling and thought, charged with intention. An essence. But what do we find in that space behind the face, when we look? The brute fact is there is nothing but material substance: flesh and blood and bone and brain. I know, I’ve seen. You look down into an open head, watching the brain pulsate, watching the surgeon tug and probe, and you understand with absolute conviction that there is nothing more to it. There’s no one there.
On the contrary, the talking head of professor Dowell experiences the unpleasant result of his own research and experiments, once constructed “from the outside”. Like Missing Chapter, the talking head without a body can represent an attempt at defining the absolute gap between the subjective experience of encountering others and a neurobiologist’s discovery that “there’s no one there” in the skull; between an internal experience of sense and an external, “objective” perspective of a senseless organism, a piece of flesh that keeps one alive. Missing Chapter is an experiment of how to explore consciousness; not only from the outside or the inside but also as a relation of a mutually incompatible inside and outside; which can be visualized as the Möbius strip with the obverse and reverse sides seamlessly continuing each other.
Pavla Sceranková *1980, studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague in 2000 to 2006; in 2011, she successfully finished her PhD studies there. Within her residency programmes, she has been to a year-long residency in the studio of Professor Tony Cragg in Berlin. She received the Václav Chad Award at the Zlín Youth Salon (2009), the Cyprian Award at the Biennial of Young Slovak Art in Trnava (2007) and she was nominated for the Jindřich Chalupecký Award (2007). She presented her works at a number of solo exhibitions in the Cyprian Majernik Gallery in Bratislava (2011), the City Gallery Prague’s Golden Ring (2011) and in the Brno House of Arts (2009). She also participated in collective exhibitions in the National Gallery in Prague, the Prague Biennial and the Young Art Biennial in the City Gallery Prague.
Special thanks to Divus, Martin Dufek, Dominik Gajarský, Martin Guth, Tomáš Kubišta, Tomáš Moravec, Tomáš Uhnák, Jitka Vlasáková, Dušan Zahoranský