Can art mediate experience across class, gender, and cultural lines? Is it possible to emotionally and sensually feel someone else’s experience, someone with whom we have nothing in common? Can we share an experience that, by its very essence, is alien to us because we come from a different socio-cultural environment and have different experiences?
The first edition of the Biennale Matter of Art entitled Come Closer communicates emotional and physical experience that is both ambivalent and complicated. “Come closer,” the selected works tell us, but this closeness can be uncomfortable. Emotional discomfort can lead to a new emotional understanding of how to live with others. Come Closer asks us to engage in physical and mental closeness. It can be a sentence spoken by an adult to a small child, it can be an erotic come-on or a friendly invitation, but it can also be a threat. Encounters can play out in the spirit of mutual understanding just as well as fundamental misunderstanding. Closeness and empathy, the exhibition’s two main themes, are basic human needs and expressions of caring, of the emotional work we perform for others and for ourselves.
A total of 45 artists and collectives will be represented in the scope of the exhibition, including Icelandic multimedia artist Ragnar Kjartansson, South African filmmaker and photographer Candice Breitz, and Polish interdisciplinary artist Karol Radziszewski. The exhibition will lead visitors to five different locations: Prague Market in Holešovice, Prague City Gallery, the pedestrian underpass at Holešovice railway station, Panorama Hotel Prague, and the plaza of DBK Shopping Mall. A key element of the biennale will be the community program, which includes dozens of workshops, discussions, and other events. In an effort to allow for the greatest possible inclusivity, the entire exhibition will have free admission, and all its venues are accessible for people with reduced mobility. The project is organized by the initiative for contemporary art tranzit.cz in cooperation with GHMP.
The curatorial conception of Tereza Stejskalová and Vít Havránek focuses on themes of care, empathy, and intimacy, and aims to create a space for sharing different life experiences through the language of contemporary art. “The exhibition shows us how, through the language of emotions and a perspective of empathy and care, we can gain a glimpse into viewpoints and experiences with which we are not personally engaged. The experience of existing in the public space should involve being confronted with stances, customs, and behavior which are foreign to us and share no common ground with our own life experience. The exhibition also exercises this approach in its view of foreign places and important figures in the history of post-war art and offers a theory as to how our current ways of viewing different types of realist art are transforming, aided by historical research.” Curators T. Stejskalová and V. Havránek
During the biennale, British artist Lucy Beech will present her film Reproductive Exile, which deals with the subject of assisted reproduction. Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson will exhibit his video series Scenes from Western Culture, in which he ironically and subversively captures episodes from life in Western society. Berlin-based artist Candice Breitz will be represented in the exhibition by her video installation Labour. For one hall of the Prague Market Vietnamese artist Tuan Mami is preparing a project which rides the line between performance and environment. It will include a functioning convenience store, hostel, and small gallery of his works, which will all be open for the duration of the exhibition. The project of Isabela Grosseová and Jesper Alvaer will spread across three venues of the biennale, and through sculptural work and the recollections of witnesses it will attempt to recreate a sculpture which disappeared in the 80s. Polish artist Karol Radziszewski will be presenting his murals – enlargements of his childhood drawings through which we can retrospectively trace his developing queer identity. The Czech collective Institute of Anxiety is preparing, among other things, a Public Hearing in the Matter of Imagination. The format of the public hearing contains elements of a shared collective lecture, and in the scope of a single evening, dozens of invited guests will speak in the cafeteria of the Strahov dormitories. In his video installation, conceptual artist Jiří Žák recounts the story of the owner of a Czech arms company and his uncertain fate, reflecting the dark side of post-communist transformation. And Alžbeta Bačíková addresses themes of social inequality and cultural and linguistic differences in her new film, created directly for the biennale.
The core exhibition is divided between two main venues – the exhibition spaces of the Prague City Gallery, located on the 2nd floor of the Municipal Library, and Prague Market, in which, aside from two exhibition spaces (in halls 11 and 17), visitors will also find the atelier of Mothers Artlovers and a biennale center with a café and bookshop, all located in hall 19. Other venues include Panorama Hotel Prague on the Pankrác Plain, the plaza of the Brutalist DBK Shopping Mall, and the pedestrian underpass at Holešovice railway station.
One specific project within the scope of the biennale is the atelier of Mothers Artlovers in the Prague Market. The collectively conceived social sculpture is designed as a space for meetings and discussions, an interactive installation, and a playroom and atelier for children and parents alike. The atelier will function as an inclusive, freely-accessible space, and its program includes a series of workshops, lectures, and other events. The exhibition organizers have also brought in organizations such as Život 90, Freya, Meetina, Reformát, and Slovo 21 for the biennale’s community program, which will take place parallel to the exhibition. They will conduct, for example, a workshop focused on active work with solitude, a discussion dedicated to past and present forms of realism in art, an evening of fireside storytelling, and an upcycling workshop. The Education Center of the Prague City Gallery is preparing a series of creative programs, including art ateliers for adults and seniors and workshops for children of parents on maternity leave. The community program will also include several guided tours of the exhibition with curators Tereza Stejskalová and Vít Havránek.
For more details about all of
participating artists, click here.