The Second Death Of George Mallory

The exhibition touches upon the question of diverse experiencing the matter of the mountain, getting to know it, but also simply being-in-the-world: not so much of cognitive being opposite to, but of being in and next to.

“Because it is there” is a concise answer given by George Mallory when asked why he wanted to conquer Mount Everest. This sentence, seemingly saying very little, and the figure of George Mallory himself, become a pretext for an exploration not so much of alpinism, but rather of the relationship between embodied cognition, the finite character of the body, and its emancipation: being part of nature, but also transcending it. The exhibition touches upon the question of diverse experiencing the matter of the mountain, getting to know it, but also simply being-in-the-world: not so much of cognitive being opposite to, but of being in and next to. This kind of figure of communion with matter runs along the ridge of cognitive experience, Erfharung, and primal experience, Erlebnis. The space of the rocky massif, untouched by any human trace, becomes a place of longing and desire, but also of various complications – political and economic ones.

Until the mid-17th century exorcisms were performed on the glaciers of Mount Blanc, while two years after the outbreak of the Great French Revolution the mountain was conquered by the “first” human. But this discovery or first climbing is a questionable figure. Discoveries made to the world had always been part of the life of communities which had a non-cognitive relationship with the massif – not being towards. The highest mountain in the world was “discovered” in the office of a surveyor, thanks to years of analysis, meanwhile throughout thousands of years of communion with its massif and experiencing it the mountain was simply called the Goddess Mother Earth (Chomolungma). Mankind’s venturing into the mountains, the emancipatory history of climbing, also has a different background – a social background: the people living almost inside the mountain, feeding on it and organising their lives around its massif, according to its rhythm. This rhythm becomes the foundation for transcending the classic relation between the subject and the object, and opens the way to a different thinking about matter – thinking the mountain, thinking towards it and next to it.

Thinking the mountain allows for moving to a different frequency. In this perspective the climber appears to be a little bit like alchemist, searching – according to the rules solve et coagula – not so much for substance, but for his or her higher form of existence, burning out/intertwining with the matter of the massif, which in a way “speaks” with the movement of his or her body. According to the various stages of the alchemical rule, we can say that the alpinist/alchemist rejects his, her attachment to life, perhaps not in order to break away from earthly things, but to sharpen his, her knowledge about them. In this sense, the figure of the alchemist not only reveals a certain given reality, but also establishes it, both situating itself as part of nature, and transcending it. Combining both orders of the human and the inhuman, often reversing their logic, the human-inhuman world every time creates its own image. Marguerite Yourcenar wrote in a forward to Roger Caillois’ The Writing of Stones: “the symbolism of alchemy compared stone to the human body, which unstable though it may be (and as a stone is itself, seen through stretches of time infinitely longer), is yet a »fixed« quantity in comparison with psychics elements, which are even more fluid and mutable.”

These reflections on nature of stone and cited theme of an alchemist are not necessarily characteristic exclusively for the ethic of heroic climbers. It is also revealed in everyday drudgery, where struggle for survival is not a choice, but a necessity of the communities living around the massif, engaged, for example, in the extraction of ore. History of the mountains and history of mining are inextricably intertwined with each other, and both these narratives illuminate each other. The belief in transmutation of matter or rather the belief in your power to tame substance, allows you to survive in everyday work. This ability to survive, thinking the matter, rather than the ore itself, are the philosophical stone.


Artists: Agency, Bogdan Achimescu, Pavol Breier, Agata Biskup, Szymon Durek, Michael Hoepfner, Rasmus Johannsen, Július Koller, Jan Moszumański, Prabhakar Pachpute, Štefan Papčo, Pavel Sterec, Yan Tomaszewski

Curator: Agnieszka Kilian

in co-operation with Jaro Varga


Location: Karlin Studios, Prague


From 19/09/2015 to 25/10/2015