Artists: Veronika Šrek Bromová, Petra Čížková, Viktor Fuček, Julia Gryboś a Barbora Zentková, Eliška Hanuš a Haštal Hapka, Vendula Chalánková, Petra Janda, Pille-Riin Jaik a Nazira Karimi, ka3ka3, Maud Kotasová, Tomas Kotík a Daniel Vlček, Judita Levitnerová, Petr Lysáček, Kristýna Manchart, Martina Nosková, Lucie Nováčková, Martin Pondělíček, Pavel Příkaský, Eva Rotreklová, Tomáš Samek, Denisa Půbalová, Ladislav Nový a Klára Spěváková, Beáta Spáčilová, Dominik Styk, Jakub Tajovský, Ondřej Trnka
Curators: Lucie Nováčková, Tereza Nováková, Petra Janda, Martina Fridrichová
Title: People are fragile beings, and also soft targets
What makes textiles such a fascinating medium? Does it represent a metaphor of our own fragility, desire for order, care, and connection, surrounded by softness? Or is it an archetypal anchoring in technology, substituting transitional rituals and giving us a sense of community? Is it a metaphor, the tension between textile-material, textile-concept and its language? Is it a metaphor for the connection itself, present in the medium of textiles?
The emblematic title of the exhibition testifies to the thought behind the year-round exhibition concept it concludes. It is a showing of the possible (though not all) approaches to textiles mostly arising from the open call and supplemented by some other contemporary principles, while the focus was on the one hand the very topic of connection and the desire for it, and on the other hand the intensive mutual enrichment of artistic practice with technology itself.
One of the aspects of the exhibit we consider key is its timing. Until recently, the medium of textiles which has been often overlooked and trivialised has also begun to come to the fore in the Czech Republic in the last eight years. While we can observe a certain delay in comparison to the “Western tradition”, meaning the way in which textiles-based art is approached e.g. in the US which – compared to other countries of the former Eastern Bloc has one noteworthy advantage: These are countries which became the destinations of many female artists from the textile Bauhaus studio (which along with the ceramics studio remained the only place accepting female students, compared to the initially intended 50% quotas of women aimed for during the school’s founding). After the closing of the Bauhaus in 1933, several leading textile artists, such as Anni Albers and Mahlri Ehrman, left for the United States and in turn, ended up influencing some of the other finest artists of their generation. The continuity of the tradition of free art, using textiles as the main material, resulted in a natural integration into contemporary art in these countries – in contrast to the Czech reality, where textiles as free art were degraded by regime-issued commissions. It is simply another material with which it is possible to work, examine it and use its possibilities.
However, even as late as the late 90s, the theoretical reflections of textiles there had landed on “gender, sexuality and language” as its unshakeable foundation, as mentioned by Catherine Dormor. The approach to textile-material and techne as a bearer of meanings has shifted over the last thirty years: This shift can be traced in countless thematic exhibitions and smaller projects. That it is not only a specifically Czech matter is confirmed by Catherine Dormor in her publication “A Philosophy of Textile”, in which she considers textiles to be an “ambitious concept” that has a “strong foundation in its ambiguity”, which she considers to be the basic principle of thinking about the medium. The dialogue, the tension between language (text), and material (textile) reflect the tension between ideas (theory) and practice (art itself), anchored in a kind of basic-technological principle-matrix. A kind of intertextuality – (inter)relationship, techne, and matrix are now becoming key.
When I posted the open call on the topic of Connections in the context of textiles, I did not know Catherine Dormor’s book, nor did I know that it had been published. I subconsciously liked the parallel between the relationship to technology (or the desire for it, whether with the universe, the surrounding environment, or even the connection to oneself), its often mathematically strict laws and the overlaps of the above-mentioned into other spheres and meanings. I considered it a natural, but still not fully articulated part of thinking about textiles.
After reading “A Philosophy of Textile” while preparing for the exhibition, I increasingly prefer to think about textiles as a dialogue, as a “form of mediation between matter, process and concept”, and as a reflection on the principles of working with textiles as “a connection in separation”. This focus on relational interplay, which Catherine Dormor cites with reference to Roland Barthes, can be read as “a focus on the inner dynamics of repeated exchange, just as between two lovers a tenderness arises that turns into affection or reciprocal influence.”
We would like to believe that within the framework of the exhibition People are fragile beings, but soft targets we will be able to achieve the right kinds of relationships that enrich not only the lovers but also turn their entire surroundings into a melting pot that brings about a paradigm shift. On the more obvious level, it is a showcase of some possible approaches that we managed to find both based on the announced open call and curatorial additions. In connection to the artists’ works created based on the open call, the exhibition also acts as a guide through the topics hidden within the medium of textiles which resonate with current times. It is more about presenting possible lines of thinking on the topic and bringing certain interconnections necessary for these topics’ further development. When thinking about the exhibition’s concept, it was important to consider the experience of how this year’s series’ individual acts have been formed: the first act was thematically split into singular curatorial sections similar to how different approaches map our place in the world; the second act brought an intensive connection between a group of artists in Kamila Ženatá’s project Mycelium, which similarly to real mycelium spread into other sections. In the third act, also thanks to the fact that we knew each other as curators, connection and cooperation took place on a natural level, and the exhibition People are fragile beings, but soft targets is the result of the consensus of four curators: Tereza Nováková and Petra Janda for Artbiom, Lucie Nováčková for Pragovka and Martina Fridrichová for the “Brno section”.
The title of the exhibition is derived from Maud Kotasová’s work placed inconspicuously behind a panel in the foyer. The aforementioned softness and fragility can be understood as synonyms for textile techniques: For working with textile materials, the subtlety of the material used and the related caution and gentleness of movement are overwhelmingly crucial, which is also reflected in the way we think about textiles: in other words: techne here more than anywhere else conditions the meaning of a specific work of art.
Another important starting point is the anchoring of the archetypal understanding of the textile medium through shared rituals in the sense of changing consciousness through slow, repetitive actions. An equally important moment for us was also the question of how much can technology and its system (matrix) determine the form and concept of the resulting work of art. To what extent does experiencing these repetitive, sometimes even ritualised acts of directly conditioned work with textile material encourage introspection and connection? Can textile techniques directly create or initiate new, sometimes temporary, social bonds? To what extent can the material create and materialise other aspects of cooperation, placing us in the world of mythological stories, mathematically strict logic, sounds, the world of relationships, but also the surrounding environment?
Some of the objects were created directly as site-specific projects for the Pragovka Gallery space, others turn to neo-dada or Arte Povera, a parallel between sound art and the textile process, or emphasise the aspect of calming work where sounds take on a new meaning. Others radically work with textile materials within traditionally perceived techniques or deal with metaphors of looms and computers, which do not hesitate to enrich with a sound dimension, a parallel with digital technologies or painting machines or an innovative concept of the basic principle of the technique (felting, weaving, quilting) as the starting principle of a work of art used for the development of authorial technology.
Spatially, the exhibition is organised in such a way that in the first two smaller rooms (Foyer and Pop-Up) there are projects that refer to working with textiles rather in what we might call the “Western” tradition, focusing on precise processing, technology, allure as well as their deliberate denial or overlap with sound art. For a better orientation, we will first focus on the entrance areas to go through the individual themes that run through the entire exhibition, and at the end, we will stop at the part dedicated to the collaboration with Artbiom’s curators. This will allow us to look at some works from several points of view.
“The exhibition opens with a section dedicated to the contemporary art scene in Brno, where textile work branches in various directions. We will see one of the iconic toys of Perverted Taste (Zvrhlý vkus) by Vendula Chalánková or a site-specific installation by Petr Lysáček. His work often includes elements of ready-made and neo-dada, which help him question conventional forms and contents. He uses found and recycled objects, which he then expands with his own interventions, creating new contexts. The objects One Knot After Another by the artistic duo Julia Gryboś and Barbora Zentková represent figures woven from hand-dyed thread using a traditional technique on recycled frames from bankrupt shops. Each knot represents the efforts of humanity in this complicated time, blindly chasing after achievements,” says Martina Fridrichová, curator of the entrance section in the Pragovka Foyer.
The opulent project of Daniel Vlček and Tom Kotik called Double Transmutation works with the parallel of sound and woven pattern. Both authors consider sound an important phenomenon and have been focusing on it in their work for a long time: Tom Kotik’s works tend to be a reflection of thinking about music, individual samples, chords, melodies, silence and rhythm that arise when thinking about sound. In contrast, the works of Daniel Vlček engulf the viewer in visual sound, standing in front of his works we find ourselves right in the centre of the sound and are surrounded by it. The multimedia installation Double Transformation literally transforms the patterns created by the collaboration of the two artists for the jacquard fabric into a sound and visual environment based on their inspiration from the Variophone optical synthesiser, the sound and image subsequently melt in the digital environment and blend with other installations in the neighbouring spaces.
In the Rear space, we can find the projects selected from the open call, which reflect the interrelated themes indicated in the entrance rooms, developing them further: Ritual With and Without Myth (Rituál bez mýtu i s mýtem), focusing mainly on the social overlap brought about by the shared creation of objects. Various private rituals would also belong to this category. The topic of radical embroidery draws attention to the fact that radicalism does not have to be politically or gender-oriented, although some of the works somehow naturally grow out of a feminist or politically engaged foundation. Soft Sculpture and the Site-specific (Měkká socha a site specific) references practices naturally connected to the way we understand textiles. The topic of technological inspiration raises questions about to what extent technology directly affects the output and concept of a work of art and is thus naturally included to a greater or lesser extent even where we do not directly mention it.
Among the suggested topics, we would find works similar to the approach to textiles in “ritual without myth” as contained in the practice of the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark, the characteristic ephemerality of the concept and the transition to soft materials, which at the same time change the commonly perceived polarity Artist-viewer into artist-facilitator and spectator-participant. „Ritual With and Without Myth“ in its core opposes the principle of spectacle in art and transitions to the level of community, connected, where the result is “relational objects” (this is a term coined by psychologist Lula Wanderley, as she used it in relation to the work of Lygia Clark (not present in the exhibition)).
The manifestation of this line of work with textiles within the exhibition can be found, for example, in the work of Veronika Bromová, which will be created during the opening day. A similar approach can also be found in Petra Janda’s work entitled Safe Space, located in the Entry room. Similarly to the artistic dup Karimi Nazira – Pille-Riin Jaik, Petra Janda expands the border of “ritual without myth”, either by the myth-making aspect that already exists or by a new, current one. While Petra Janda focuses on the aspect of the Great Mother, symbolising care, Karimi Nazira together with Pille-Riin Jaik work together on a legend, passed down from generation to generation in one of their birthplaces, where it is said that if someone has a bad, distressing dream, it should be whispered into the water. Their sculpture placed inside a tunnel in the Rear room is a digital, feminist, decolonial and direct parallel for water or, by extension, the human consciousness.
As a child, I always imagined that next to the story, or somewhere below it, there was a kind of unnamed underground river, bringing direct meaning leading to essential, ultimate enlightenment. The vehicle for sailing this river surely has to be introspection. My older work using the ikat technique (double ikat) was created over the course of more than two years. Every day I went down to the Orlice river and painted and observed the water. I destroyed the studies in question, in the spirit of the concept “paint bamboo a hundred times and then stop and paint bamboo”. While falling asleep, I concentrated on the remnants of that visual, the way it remained in my memory and tried to hold onto it for as long as possible so I could paint and set it, after waking up. One of these works, by blending with the visual form of the 64 hexagrams of the i-ting as a metaphor for non-probability as a kind of matrix, gave rise to four large-format textiles with the collective name “Inner Fractal” (Vnitřní fraktál). A certain tenacity and anchoring in technology is the opposite of Viktor Fuček’s two free-flowing works entitled “Lateral thinking” (Lateralní myšlení) and “Status Quo”. As a performer, Viktor Fuček creates threaded paintings on an oil underpainting, visually referring to the Artprotis technique, where the resulting structure refers more to Fuček’s earlier performances when threads and fibres served as carriers of meaning and spatial connections.
Ondřej Trnka hand dyes, wraps, arranges and straightens thin fibres symbolising neural connections in the “Burnout” series of objects. He then casts them into the finest concrete forming a strict block format, which he then pours gasoline on and sets on fire, so that the hand-woven and dyed fibres form an unrepeatable shape that gradually disappears in the process, just as the coveted, intricately achieved structure often disappears after an invasion of moss.
In the context of world art history, the phrase radical embroidery could refer to the works of Judy Chicago, Miriam Schapiro, and Faith Ringgold. In the context of our exhibition, artists advance or radically use the principle of embroidery, mostly without the need for mimesis, narration, or a political statement, although it may not be missing entirely. It is mainly about the material’s overlap, the contrast of the meaning, the material and the technique used, often presented in an elementary, but radical way, as in the case of Maud Kotasová, who after graduating swapped the graphic printing press for a truck with which she travelled across Europe to embroider inscriptions, statements, humorous, absolute truths onto these tin, variously marked fragments of means of transport… a part of one of these absolute truths became the subtitle of our exhibition.
Another representative of radicality in craft, and not just in embroidery, is Martin Pondělíček, whose work is located in the back of the REAR space. Martin Pondelíček’s radicality lies in his obsession with the precision and slowness of the technology used. Whether it is embroidery or knitting, the work of Martin Pondělíček leaves the viewer in no doubt as to whether or not Martin Pondělíček is radical in his humility towards the technology used.
“A certain radicalness can also be traced in the work of the Polish-Slovak artist duo Julia Gryboś and Barbora Zentková currently working in Berlin. Focusing on the dynamics of changes in socio-economic structures, the main subject of their artistic interest is collective fatigue, as a result of the dehumanised conditions of neoliberalism and the related pressure on performance and constant productivity. The artists’ interest in various forms of working with textiles led them to traditional weaving techniques and the hand-dyeing of yarns. However, they do not only perceive the technological side and the return to now-marginalised techniques, but also their strong connection with the social context and dynamics, which they represent in terms of their preservation as a certain cultural value, “adds the curator of the Brno section, Martina Fridrichová.
We can find variations of interest in technology in the works of the following artists: Pavel Příkaský while being primarily considered a painter focuses on a fringe style of painting that unfolds into space through fibres. Similarly, Jakub Tajovský bases his works, visually reminiscent of carpets, on the principle of drip painting with a self-made robot and on the limits of how textiles can be understood and the question of what limits the artist’s personal contribution to the process. In the artist’s words, it is a “hand-carved painting analogy to digital sound synthesisers”. The extent to which textile technology is decisive for the creation of a work of art can also be observed in the work of Lucie Nováčková, who, in addition to the meditative component of the process of the subject, as we write elsewhere in this text, chose the demanding technology of ikat, which consists in dyeing the warp and weft before the actual weaving and with inaccuracies and the feathered effect that is produced. As a natural part of the technological overlap, Lucie Nováčková also included the process of the journey to the motif, including several mathematical principles. The process of the journey to the motif is part of the rites of passage in many cultures, and in the case of Lucie Nováčková, it is similarly radical as the approach of Maud Kotasová or Judita Levitnerová, who imitates the traditional technique of embroidery by melting artificial fibres and thus relativises the traditional technique itself into an almost Informalist affair.
The connection between traditional textile techniques and the sound dimension can be found in three works by three artistic duos: Tom Kotik and Daniel Vlček, who use traditional textile patterns as carriers of sound information that is being “read” and “translated” according to the context of the work itself by a digital device. The second pair is Karimi Nazira and Pille-Riin Jaik, who use sound as a carrier of silenced voices for woven sculpture. The last duo is Eliška Hanuš with Haštal Hapka. Haštal Hapka creates a composition tailored to Vysočany, while Eliška Hanuš creates a sweater based on this piece of music, whose pattern reflects the tone structure in the composition.
Site-specific installations and so-called soft sculptures are also closely related to the category of technological inspirations. In Petra Čížková’s work, images generated by artificial intelligence are projected in virtual reality, placed on an object-plant, and created by a combination of techniques that also include textile technologies. The object refers to the psychological life of plants and their possible imagination. ka3ka3 works directly with the space in their installation “Still Beauty Secret”, in which the blurring of the video intertwines with objects made from nylon stockings, which ka3ka3 processes from the point of view of intimacy in a way that is traditional for this material in fine art. Martina Nosková then refers to Connecting through intertwined double masks, in which neither of the pair can escape from the connection. Petr Lysáček’s aforementioned installation “The Journey Begins, a New Series” (Cesta začíná, nová řada) in the Foyer, moves between soft sculpture, site-specific and neo-dada. Vendula Chalánková presents the raw form of soft sculpture with her interactive object “Bunny gut” (Zajíček střevo) in the same room.
In the Entry area, the works of selected authors from the Artbiom platform, which has long been dedicated to mapping environmental expressions in Czech and Slovak culture, are exhibited. These displays reflect all of the three aforementioned topics in one place, therefore, the curators Tereza Nováková a Petra Janda have decided to focus on them separately and in more detail: “The presentation is based on the need for manual craft – touching and weaving, in the sense of working with specific material in the spirit of Bruno Latour’s ideas of “back to the earth”. It returns both to traditions and to thinking about our earthly life, how to create products, and how to establish the relationship of our body with the surrounding environment, nature or architecture. They are a kind of woven overlaps of mythologies determined by clothing and the composition of relationships in the space that surrounds us. It is about interweaving relationships with things and oneself. Personal and handed down rituals and customs that determine a given locality can be perceived as a determination of one’s own identity and at the same time a celebration of life (a celebration of abundance, but also the potential of the Woman-Mother principle in the case of Petra Janda’s work Safe Space). Relating to ecology through the archetypal feminine principle is intrinsically present in the work Safe Space (a safe place in the sense of safety for sharing and authenticity), which goes beyond the current period and reaches out to the timeless issue of care and love which have gone without mention until recent years. However, she still repeats this unwavering truth and relates to it simultaneously with a sense of humility, happiness and transitional ritual pain of creation. The spatial installation of the vulva with the umbilical cord as a symbol of nourishment and the mother’s unconditional love for the child, while at the same time being a symbol of the healing process of inner darkness through sex, knowledge and motherhood, can be read as the fruit of cucumber with its stem (cirrhus). The author is inspired by inner growth through cultivation, love, and motherhood, and each of her works is a ritual, a transformation process for herself, the situation and the environment for which it is created. Care and child’s play are important motifs of the work, created from donated respiratory masks and other threads, which lies at the intersection between object and painting. These stylised social tapestries by Eva Rotreklová with a therapeutic moment of looking at colour scales and emojis, stroking or touching also follow the traditional way of Czech textile practice, which has been associated with the intimacy of performance since the 1960s. They also refer to the notion of the artist’s protection and freedom. Veronika Bromová’s processual work created as part of the visitors’ workshop deals with feelings, wishes and desires. The wicker circle, which may resemble the author’s mystical skirts, a typus that the author has been focusing on since the second half of the 20th century, is an expression of her own physical and emotional inclination to spiritual, ecological and social issues arising from the current “post-pandemic” situation, and at the same time thematises a disturbed relationship of human and nature given by local and global systemic environmental changes. Dominik Styk works with a mystical story and deconstruction of the (personal and living) environment in the installation “What we do in the Shadows”. A diverse reading is offered without a clear beginning and end, thus turning to the non-linearity of repetition. The author’s style is inspired by fungal, animal and floral motifs that create a symbiosis of the living and the inanimate. The installation becomes a stage in which root systems play an equal role with artefacts perfectly woven from artificial materials. A similar way of connecting nature, ecological thinking and technology can be found in the installation of members of the Artbiom platform, which was created site-specific for the exhibition. It consists of two videos suspended in vines as a symbol of growth and expansion. In the video essay “Saying Something?” (Říká něco?) from Kristýna Manchartová, based on the chat communication between the team members, we learn more about the nature of this platform. The second video “Non-visions” by Denisa Půbalová, Ladislav Nový, Tomáš Samek and Klára Spěváková, who are students at the Faculty of Arts, experiments with virtual reality and creates 5 spaces with visions of human and non-human creatures. Through this work, the authors reflect on non-hieratic perceptions of the world.
The final part of the exhibition summarises all four mentioned approaches within the medium of textiles: tenderness, personal rituals, a sculptural approach as well as the courage for technically radical solutions and thus conveys the imaginary sceptre of the Urge project by the Polish curator Jagna Domžalska in The White Room, dedicated to the exploration of instincts, deeply internalised needs and desires.
Note: the text was created by the joint efforts of all four curators, but it is written from the position of Lucie Nováčková. It grew gradually, and crystallised based on conversations and shared experiences, but from the point of view of authorship, and because of this mutual influence, we consider it a communal work.
Text: Lucie Nováčková, Martina Fridrichová, Petra Janda, Tereza Nováková