The Jeleni Gallery at the Centre for Contemporary Arts Prague is hidden behind a slightly grubby and very unassuming door on a side street off the tram route towards Andel. This exclusivity – one has to be in the know to even find the gallery – is a clear sign that it is cutting edge. The gallery has become known for showing the work of art school students who have often gone on to become highly successful artists. Pavel Jestřáb was exhibiting when I visited, with a series of works inspired by his recent trip to Taiwan. Some in ink on handmade paper are clearly homages to the traditional techniques of Japanese art, while his use of video is in contrast very contemporary, though the pace of the five projected images is contemplative – almost hypnotic.
Karlin Studios is a former factory hall of the ČKD in Prague’s Karlín quarter. It is at the end of a concrete yard off the main street, and besides the 500 m² exhibition space also houses 17 working artists’ studios. In the shadowy warehouse space, video works such
as Andras Csefalvay’s Compsognation’ gained a cinematic effect while small bronze sculptures of climbers resting by Stefan Papco were rendered more poignant by their relative insignificance in the echoing hall.
The DOX Centre for Contemporary Art is a privately funded contemporary art gallery on a more public scale. We went to see STARTPOINT, an annual prize for emerging artists from across Europe.
Kevin Rouillard’s ‘Coyotte sur Tasse’ (left) is presented like an archaeological treasure in a museum. These ‘artefacts’ are given narrative context by his accompanying reworkings of illustrations from ‘Tintin and the Broken Ear’.
Katerina Dobroslava Dahosova uses the gallery wall itself as her canvas with ‘Place of Place’ (right) in which an ambiguous story begins to emerge from sketches, doodles and scraps of paper pinned to the wall. Meanwhile, Eric Keller’s paintings such as ‘Ladenauswarts’ (below) are eerily silent and empty, or with single figures whose isolation – or alienation – is emphasised. The unnatural fluorescent colours of the hangar-like building contrast with the spartan sepia toned wash, augmenting the unnerving atmosphere.
Martin Hruby’s video piece ‘Resort’ appears at first an absorbing documentary looking at the Soviet diplomatic leisure resort that was commissioned in the early 1960s but ran out of money and was abandoned. Then part-way through, the film slides into thriller pastiche – in the style of early Bond or The Saint – before becoming strangely abstract, and then finishing as a documentary. It is strangely mesmerising and disconcerting.
Among the photographers were Michaela Knizova whose ‘Agast Atera En’ (below) formed one a series of ghostly black and white Gothic-style images; while Koyuki Kazahaya evoked a similarly eerie stillness in ‘Forgotten Cities: Antwerp 1’ (below lower).
At the same time, the Veletrzni Palac – Prague’s equivalent to Tate Modern – was showing the shortlisted artists for the Jindrich Chalupecky award, one of the Czech Republic’s most prestigious art prizes.
The first gallery was dedicated to an installation piece by last year’s laureate, Dominik Lang, co-director of the sculpture studio at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague, and previously curator of my first port of call, the Jeleni Gallery. A fleet of office chairs stood amid a construction site of MDF and wet plaster – skid marks suggested that the during the night the office chairs had run amuck, only the presence of visitors rendering them once again inanimate. Impossible to describe just how disconcerting a presence this mob of chairs – stripped of function – posed.
The runners up for this year’s prize included Martin Kohout (above), Richard Loskot, Lucia Sceranková (below), Roman Štětina, Tereza Velíková (above top), who presented predominantly video and installation work, save for a display of traditional photography in one of the final galleries, its two-dimensional format making it seem strangely detached from the gallery space in contrast to the multi-sensory impact of the other presentations. I would still have voted for the beauty of really well-executed black and white photography, only there seemed no connection between the images, and none was interesting enough to stand alone.