What is the basic idea common to all these projects?
If I were to start describing it in general terms, then it’s the working method: I’ve laid emphasis on thoroughly thoughtout dramaturgy. Perhaps this is best described by the notion of an exhibition as a medium. To me, an exhibition is a by far more complex matter which is often overlapped by other, parallel levels, such as those of text, graphic input, plus others. I have been influenced by architecture, in whatever sense one can imagine. To me it definitely doesn’t mean only matter, it relates equally to specific time and situation. Plus, naturally enough, it’s also a matter of random chance which may occasionally supply me with additional context-related information. All these factors influence the definitive shape: at MeetFactory it was the venue’s specific dispositions, namely, the gallery’s interior measuring exactly 10 × 10 × 10 m; while at New Jörg it was its two rooms’ eleven windows. Here in the Colloredo-Mansfeld Palace it has been from the beginning the symmetry and the geometrical arrangement of the interior space, suggesting a polemic between perfection and imperfection, which happens to be a universal characteristic of interiors from the high-Baroque era. This instantly set me onto the path along which the show’s concept subsequently evolved.
Why, of all possible spheres of inspiration, you chose this particular one?
It’s something of a paradox, in view of my being active as a teacher of painting, yet I have actually always worked with the third dimension, this has been a purely intuitive process, I’ve never given it a deeper thought. In fact, it might be partly the legacy of my maternal grandfather, Jiří Kollinger, an architect who started his career in the film industry, as an assistant in the studio of the architect Jan Zázvorka, and had to his credit several notable realizations, before his “bourgeois family background” eventually cost him the job. I believe he did influence me, though I never aspired to become involved in architecture as such, notwithstanding my year-long residency in the studio of Eva Jiřičná at the Prague Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design. Indeed, architecture is an applied art discipline, which entails work in partnership with a contracting party, something I wouldn’t be able to handle – the moment when somebody joins in the process asking for peach hues here and there. I wouldn’t bring too many commissions to completion.
You point out that the formal purity and precise execution of an installation is your priority, which logically rules out any incidence of randomness or imperfection. At the same time, you add that a key role is played in your work by deviations, indefiniteness, and ambiguity. Don’t these two approaches contradict each other?
Actually, it’s exactly the ambivalence that is superimposed over all this. For to be sure, that sense of perfection never comes without a blind spot. I saw this at Dia:Beacon for instance, with its mass of essential Minimal art installations, and I admit I was leaving hugely bored... It was like browsing through an ossified art history handbook, though ironically enough I was quite amused by the fact that all those things that appear so perfect in the pages of art books were in fact often fairly battered and untidy. It sometimes happens that someone tends to bracket my work within this or that postminimalist tendency, but quite frankly I find Minimal art rather ridiculous. For my part, I concentrate on work with illusory perfection. After all, even here in the fascinating rooms of the piano nobile, there are so many features that don’t seem to fit, the whole palace had to be adjusted to certain circumstances, and notwithstanding the obvious ambition to make it perfect there is still a lot of flaws – by which I don’t mean the site’s peculiarly petrified present condition.
Does that imply you have a refined feeling for detail?
Actually I believe this to be my core strategy... A detail which reverses the meaning of the whole thing. I greatly dote on materials. For instance here in this show I wouldn’t be content with just a hole and a black-painted tunnel through a panel, but I wanted to put in something close to the quintessential railway environment. It ended up with a rubber absorption pad of the kind positioned underneath rails, which has at the same time the outward appearance of the gravel elements lining a rail stretch. I almost feel like straddling an indistinct borderline between hyper-realism and abstraction.
Then you enjoy working with notions such as fiction, or illusion?
I probably do, after all this happens to be one of the basic strategies of art work.
You’ve picked installation as your art form. Was that your first choice, made right at the start?
I admit this is not exactly how I feel it. I find the notion installation to be too narrow. I quite like the aforementioned definition of exhibition as a medium, which lets the door open for any means of expression. Basically, I don’t say no to anything, I can imagine all sorts of things. What determines the choice of medium is the prime intent, and even there, to avoid being too resolute I should add that I owe a good deal to intuition, only to analyse it in hindsight to verify its relevance. I lay a fairly strong emphasis on threedimensional models; though by no means a universal solution, they are very useful for instance for the proper determination of scale. Interestingly, in this particular show I have used 3D for the first time in the final output rather than just as a sketch.
Do you work with a concept thought out down to the last detail right at the beginning, or do you rather let it evolve later on, as the installation progresses?
I do start from a ready thought-out concept, though it invariably undergoes subsequent transformations in the course of the process. At the start I am aware of where I need to get, but it isn’t until the final stage, when the individual segments of the show begin to fit into one another, that a more coherent picture comes out. Sometimes I also find myself confronted with thoroughly prosaic obstacles, such as the heritage protection people here who didn’t sanction the making of a tunnel behind a trapdoor.
Lately you have taken to interconnecting installations in uniformly conceived spaces, creating a kind of model environments. What inspires you there? Is it a matter of specific experiences and recollections, or rather an impulse coming from the immediate reality?
It’s many different things – for instance, the exhibition In the Park related to my previous projects in which I worked with the notions of stability and (un)evenness of the base, although in that particular case I wished to shift the focus onto a specifically defined area, hence the title. Though I have never really referred to the park as being English, French or Czech, naturally I do reflect the Czech context. In that project I copiously mixed up scales, albeit not in a sense of an Oldenburg-style humour (nothing against it); I was much rather interested in that confusion of size and purpose – specifically, this involved the presence of absurdly oversized matches littering a room with a pile of sawdust, something not unlike the mess around a house after the winter season, as we here seem to like it.
Ambivalence and uncertainty happen to be parts of the everyday reality of all of us. Do you perhaps seek such situations out by design?
I admit I normally tend to practice sports involving a tolerable measure of risk, combining downhill cycling and ski mountaineering. Both of these passtimes are linked with mountains, perhaps carrying a romantic undertone. In fact, I am quite fond of 19th-century Romantic motifs, Realism and landscape painting, up to a point of starting something like a collection. To me, winter landscape has a fascinating attraction, with snow resembling an abstract layer hiding everything underneath, the fuzzy modelation and all. Also, I have subscribed for over two decades now to a bizarrely nationalistic magazine called Krkonoše – Jizerské hory. Among other things, I am a fan of the Swiss firm Rolba AG Ratrac, and a member of an alpine mountaineering society, never mind that I suffer from vertigo. I cultivate a keen interest in avalanches, a phenomenon which, too, can serve as a showcase of paradoxes, such as the fact that a snowslide produces fairly high temperatures within, provoked by high degrees of friction. I’ve seen that through a thermo-camera. But back to the ski-mountaineering – the experience of being alone somewhere high up, with nobody bothering you, happens to be truly rare nowadays. The silence is surreal, there’s no idiot to put up a street stall up there, no Europe 2 radio station and suchlike. I’ve virtually ceased to do downhill skiing. Moreover, and there we are talking about architecture again, I am vexed by the local approach to construction repairs. The total ignorance of such major challenges as installing a new cable railway... I am reminded for instance of the top station at Chäserrugg Toggenburg, on the line from the Herzog & de Meuron studio. True, it might be sneered at for being overpolished, but still, I like the way they toy with the classical idioms.
You’ve named your current intervention Eclecticism Hour. Could you elaborate on this?
I rather like the ambiguity of the term “hour” in Czech, meaning either a teaching lesson or a definite period of time. In the perspective of the present show, it may well be either. Therefore, I regret the loss of this aspect in the title’s English translation. Beyond that, I feel, and I suspect I am not alone, that we now live in an eclectic age. This is not meant as a negative label, in fact it’s purely neutral. After all, the standard definition of eclecticism is explicit enough. Ours is an era based on the combination, sharing and blending of diverse elements, which may sometimes seem to reach far beyond reality. No wonder if all this also permeates contemporary art.
What has inspired you?
Many things really, though I can cite as one of my inspirational sources the game Kingdom Come: Deliverance, with all its aspects, including the bizarre persona of the Warhorse studio’s founder.
Is the final form identical with your initial idea?
It is and isn’t at once. What’s concerned here is a process which initially points in a certain direction, and is then, on the way, subjected to adjustments. New ideas keep coming only to be cut down to size at one point or another. I get simultaneously closer and farther. I now recall nonetheless that while from the very first moment I wanted to have the wall as part of the whole thing, it was only additionally that I got to probe into its actual purpose. I knew this had to do with model environments and scale, but also with the notions of fiction and virtuality. All of this was already immanent in the exhibition space which happens to be a stage set in its own right. But then, we are now talking about a period of at least two years since our first discussions about the show.
The prime concern of an art intervention is dialogue with a given space. You may respect it, but you can also transform it. How far should one go in such a transformation?
That depends on the situation – sometimes a radical solution is called for, sometimes it’s the opposite. In this particular case I chose the way of setting into relief certain qualities. I’ve been fascinated by the alignment and multiplication of the building’s rooms. The contrast of pared-down geometrical reasoning versus overblown decorativeness.
You infringe the original Baroque disposition, build in various props, change scale, use 3D graphics to imitate details, toy with notions such as “fake”. What exactly are the new rules?
New rules primarily loosen up old ones. In fact they are absent, what prevails is the indefiniteness I already mentioned. Displayed behind glass within an unapproachable box are remnants of railing, or pipework coming from the former headquarters of Transgas corporation – but then, it eventually transpires that even this is not true. The Baroque interior space is scaled down to a 3D scan and fitted in a standard mount. It leans against the wall beside the original, or at least on the same floor. Repetition is the mother of learning... ha-ha. What is reality, and what is not... What is the right size? It’s like after ingesting a magic potion. Mathematics is the queen of sciences... ha-ha.
What will be your next project? Will it link up with Eclecticism Hour?
Most likely it will, but now I’m totally immersed in this present show. I’m not too good at working on several things at one time, I find it distracting. In this respect I’m conservative.