Dílna Mikulov - Art symposium
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Theoretician of the Year

Cones of light above the sea of Pálava

It is a given that every year, when the summer comes, people react to it by radically changing their values. Their work efforts grow weaker; they go on holidays and become idle since that’s done best when you’re bathing in the sun. Such changes naturally affect the lives of visual artists, too, and artistic operations in general. Galleries launch exhibitions early in the summer so that they do not interfere with their vacations. Some even prefer to close their galleries and wait for the autumn. And artists act accordingly. If any of them plunge into work, that’s because they can’t do their job undisturbed in other parts of the year.

In summer, there are other traps for artists that make them do something – workshops, festivals and symposiums. Their popularities lies in the fact that they usually involve going to a place the artists would never have gone; that they are taken care of which they normally would have, and that they receive compensation – at least in kind – which can also be an exception to the rule. The combination of creative activity and being idle therefore comes naturally, and it’s certainly a productive combination. The change in life style and daily routine often is often reflected in the result.1

The symposium “dílna” in Mikulov has a unique position in the Czech lands as one of the most traditional and balanced summer events. 2 When this year Libor Lípa and his team temporarily opened the collection’s depository with works created since the symposium’s first year, many visitors found out that the collection follows the changes of visual art to the extent of creating a map of the Czech visual art of the last fifteen years, with international reference. Given the support of municipal and regional authorities for a permanent and public contemporary art exhibition at the chateau of Mikulov, the collection can become the basis for conceptual work exceeding the documentation of the symposiums.3

The 16th year of the Mikulov Art Symposium “dílna” was crucial in two ways. For the first time, it focused on electronic media, and the organizers also decided to shorten the artists’ stay in Mikulov to one week. The first decision was certainly positive. It does not bring about any general change of focus; rather, it broadened the symposium by an area that has long been an integral part of visual art. The other decision – cutting shorts the participants’ stay – deserves a longer remark. The idea that the participants can work on their projects “at their computers at home” is justified up to a point. On the other hand, a shorter time they spend “in situ” narrows their ability to get to know the place they visit and link their work with it. This is particularly true given the symposium’s motto – Place and Medium (place – medium 
– person). Artists working with electronic media do not need big studios. What can be important, though, is the opportunity to observe to experience and to participate – something we could call the study of a place. And as much as I agree with the note by Edith Jeřábková from last year’s catalogue – ‘I see as a great advantage and a promise for the future the fact that the organizers do not force the participants to react to the spirit of the place, avoiding any strained schemes’ – I think that the content of any consideration of a place can involve very specific reality of a place as a locality with its natural and historic aspects and social life formed by concrete destinies of individuals. The point is not to force but to offer.

Despite this critical remark I have to say that the artists coped well with the situation. The curator of the 16th year, Petr Zubek, made a great choice and invited authors who approached the challenge in different ways, taking great care of decent self-presentation.

Eva Jiřička manifested the most orthodox attitude to the environment and to the intention of the symposium by, having read several Mikulov legends, reconstruction their topics with a camera in the streets. Her videos had the lightness of being shot coincidentally, and at the same time in a clever and funny way played with the relations between image and word, everyday reality and fiction, observation and interaction. Petr Zubek revived an old Central European dream of “having the sea” and played the sounds of rough sea from speakers positioned on the fascinating building of the Dietrichstein crypt. As the crypt stands at one of the corners of the central town square, the town centre echoed with an indefinite (inadequate and unexpected) noise pulse. Another participant, Milena Dopitová, met Petr Zubek half way when she positioned a strong source of light onto the ruins of tower, the Goat Peek, which circled above the town after dark, resembling a light house. Just like it was not easy to connect Zubek’s recorded sound of waves with the sea after the first listening, the installation by Dopitová had multiple meanings as well. Given the historical purpose of the Goat Peek as part of the town’s defensive system, the cone of light travelling on the roofs and facades of Mikulov houses could bring about an association of a watch tower. This makes sense given the town’s borderland position, preventing the entry of foreign armies in the past, as well as its relatively recent barbed-wire fences protecting the country from the dangerously neutral Austria.4

The dialogue between Eva Jiřička and a Mikulov inhabitant about the existence of the underwater man, or water sprite, as a concrete interpersonal interaction touched upon 
the attitude towards the theme of the place adopted by German artists Ute Hörner a Mathias Antlfinger in their joint realisation entitled Le Chat Noir. They put up a stand In the outermost corner of the château garden where they sold wine at night.The extraordinarily ordinary decision to reinforce entertainment and expectations with the promise of free drinks in case anyone spots a black cat at one of the monitors positioned around the park created an unexpected number of debates, disputes, unfounded claims and attempts to fool the proprietors of the wine stand. 5 This made everyone forget that the black cat is a symbol of bad luck because this time it was revered as the saviour of thirsty throats and dwindling finances.

Petr Zubek also approached authors who did not want to go along with the focus of the symposium; instead they wanted to present their work in a unusual setting. Gleb Choutov and Maya Ilic from Russia were the only ones unable to personally attend so they contributed their visualized software that coded texts into various sound combinations. It is perhaps a pity that the Brno performer Monika Fryčová did not “commit” anything in Mikulov. The projection of her videos however showed that her great talent consists in the ability to mingle immediate action with orchestrated performances and put together the real, the theatrical, the ritual and the comical in one complex in which art and life cease their separate existences.

The work of animator David Možný could be considered the opposite of the direct actions by Monika Fryčová. He spends immensely long time working on his 3D animations and we therefore could not expect his work to be created in Mikulov. However, the re-run of his animation Rahova confirmed that thanks to his devotion and accuracy, he creates works of exceptional quality. Although Rahova premiered a year earlier in Brno’s Dům pánů z Kunštátu gallery, it was obvious that Možný exceeded himself and created an impressive work of art verging on a music video (music by Michal Marjánek is an important part of it) and a contemplative reflection of the urban civilisation.

The development of the formal and content level of David Možný’s works was underlined by his presentation in the local cinema theatre a day after the opening of the symposium’s final exhibition. And the same is true for two other young authors working with demanding projects in the area of film, video, video installations and animation – Czech Republic’s Jakub Nepraš and Corine Stübi from Switzerland.

Nepraš is duly considered one the most interesting Czech authors developing postproduction opportunities in video and animation. He took the challenge, expressed in the symposium’s motto, as an incentive to search for environments to be re-interpreted through his works. And since he was strongly inspired by nature, he projected one of the two of his 
complicated video-ornaments, in which he composed mass media and film images into mobile units of biomorphic character, onto a rock standing out from the wall of one of the chateau’s gates, and the other onto a wall in the chateau park covered with bindweed.

Corine Stübi occupied one of the chateau’s cellars. In the dark environment with giant wooden wine barrels and a giant wine press6, she screened her brand new short horrorinspired film The Chase. Her work also shows a rapid development from flashy video performance to a conceptual reflection of narrative conventions. Stübi has a good grasp of film genres which allows her to not just follow them but to question them. She reveals and visualises their structures to the viewer but also makes sure her films loses none of its appeal. Men walking through a sunlit forest – with flashlights… as if looking for something… there are also nasty neo-Nazis with flares and tattoos… in the end they are all sitting around a camp fire on white pedestals. In The Chase, Stübi works with the laws of horror films, with the archetypes of fear, symbols of violence, rituals and kitsch.

The Mikulov Art Symposium “dílna” presented a small portion of the whole spectrum of possibilities of the electronic media – there was no other way. But the first inquiry into this territory turned out so well that we should think about how much space should be devoted to them in the coming years. Inter-mediality and the deliberation on an adequate relation between the idea and the media have become an integral part of creative strategies. For the upcoming generations it is natural to hold a pencil in one hand and to programme computers with the other. No one stands in their way and the world is full of possibilities of what to reflect and how. And since this is well understood in Mikulov, the symposium made another leap forward.

Jiří Ptáček

Notes: 1. The author of the text reserves the right not to be completely right. 2. The author of the text appreciated the exceptional professional and technical background of the event which is not common even at institutions that systematically present electronic media. 3. The author of the text is curious whether the plan to establish a public exhibition will affect the focus and the choice of participants of future symposiums. 4. The author of the text is aware that communist Czechoslovakia did not face threat posed by Austrians but rather by Czechoslovaks themselves who wanted to leave the country illegally, thus suggesting that something was wrong.   5. The author of the text saw no black cat, just like anyone he asked. Hörner and Antlfinger made an accommodation gesture of extending the rules of the game to cats of all colours. 6. The author of the text comes from southern Bohemia and had never seen such machines before.