“Could all observable structure, then, be some astronomically distributed and rarefied ‘neurosystem’?” asks Thomas Moynihan in Spinal Catastrophism: A Secret History. The book presents the reader with a speculative genealogy of the interplay between the human spine, our mental evolution, and the seemingly inert “exterior”, including uncanny topological and geometric parallels, such as between the cranial vault and the Boötes void. Our individual existence is thereby opened up to a deep temporality that stretches far beyond the lifespan of the entire human species, and which forces us to see our own body and mind as a repository of sedimented cosmic events—a fractal map of the history of cosmogonic processes.

This introduction hopefully does not commit the secondary violence that sometimes characterizes theoretical efforts in framing the elusive nature of artistic practice, since Matyáš himself says the book has influenced him greatly. A similar fractal approach to the relation between parts and wholes, microcosm and macrocosm, the archetypal and the topical, is found in his work not only on an intuitive level but results also from his readings of contemporary philosophy. In the spirit of posthumanist and new materialist thinking, as well as the findings of quantum physics, his canvases present us with an intersection of internal processes and seemingly “external” forces, between which he establishes an inevitable connection: internal organs, body parts, and all sorts of excretions permeate the tangle of natural and technological systems and sprout before our eyes like shoots of a single, writhing mass.

However, this weighted, processual materiality also conceals something ungraspable, almost spiritual: luminescent clusters, obscure apparitions, and chimerical beings form across images from different periods of his artistic evolution. In Matyáš’s work, the sensitivity to those layers of reality which—due to the inadequacy of the rationalist vocabulary—tend to be labeled as “surreal” by the Western tradition of thought is naturally intertwined with a flair for capturing the absurd aspects of life in late neoliberal capitalism. The ability to link these seemingly disparate modes with remarkable ease was clearly demonstrated in Matyáš’s solo exhibition Love Your Data: The Life of Paranormie (2021).

The almost monochromatic, ghostly cold surfaces from this period were subsequently developed into a colorfully expressive and formally dynamic style in his thesis series Who Is Who. The mysterious subtlety has not disappeared from his work, even as he has begun to look even more radically at the possibilities of expressing the viscous cacophony of our post-digital experience. This intensity of colors and styles, drawing from various periods of art history as well as the now dominant computer-generated visuality, was first presented more comprehensively in the exhibition Viewpoint Vomiters (with Olbram Pavlíček, 2022). The fragments of pop culture motifs on these canvases do not strive for a stale critique of postmodern emptiness. In Matyáš’s work, they do not play the role of symbols pointing to consumer society; they are not representations, but they form the ingested, digested, and subsequently discarded tissue of the shared affective “biohypermediality” of corporate neurocapitalism, as understood by Giorgio Grizzioti—the artist read by the memetic figure of Doomer-Houellebecq in the painting One Historical Epoch (Contemplation) (2022–2023).

Grizzioti defines the very notion of biohypermediality precisely by combining Foucauldian biopolitics with hypermediation. In line with this fusion, Matyáš’s work confronts us with a situation in which surveillance infrastructures, through ubiquitous technological mediation, have been absorbed deep into our minds and bodies. More than ever, we cannot afford to distinguish between human and nature, the natural and the artificial, spirit and body, the spiritual and the material. Spiderman’s costume in the painting Unpleasant is therefore woven from the same organic-technical fiber that passes through genetically modified bananas and is soaked up into the smooth walls of our intestines. In this new media regime, as Gilles Deleuze noted in his later works, the old forms of power are transformed into a “self-deforming cast” that is no longer determined by the walls of institutions but is constantly changing and in flux—becoming intimate, ubiquitous, and customized.

The space-time of contemporary power therefore requires flexibility: a certain unanchoredness of the pirate, whose motif permeates the paintings in Maláč’s latest exhibition Synthetic Spells (with Aleš Zapletal, 2023–2024) and whom the artist describes as one who deliberately “exploits the opacity of the arrangement”. Here, the confusion of perspective and spatial modulations present in many of his earlier works have blossomed through a dense but seamless movement into a multi-layered form that crisscrosses—with piratical audacity—seemingly disparate scales, contexts, and spheres. Painting thus becomes a materialization of the, both forced and necessary, modulation of body and soul under the strain of new forms of biopolitics.

Similarly to the Viewpoint Vomiters exhibition, these most recent canvases also grow out of the experience of generative algorithms. However, they do not enter his work as mere thematic or formal ornaments but express the gradual embodiment of new modes of visuality through which we grow ever deeper into the technological infrastructures, in ways analogous to how we have always been entangled in natural ecosystems. This embodiment is inscribed in every brushstroke—even the digitally printed writing made of building blocks at the top of Caligula (2023) was created by the artist himself, constructed during the pandemic over many hours in the online game Cities Skylines. Underneath this post-digitally experienced “sky” stands out a rear-facing figure with a tattoo of Jack Sparrow on their back: the clearest articulation yet of the pirate motif, which in other paintings of the series is only hinted at by a pirate flag or a sailing ship.

In his hidden face, each of us can perhaps imagine our own forms of piracy, our own ways of moving against the current of this opaque present. For Matyáš, this movement is painting itself, which in his approach becomes a transformative process close to a magical act. However, everyone can find a different oar for sailing the swirling seas. For we are all, in a sense, the Flying Dutchman on a fractal journey between inner and outer space.

Noemi Purkrábková, Charles University, Prague