Form and Function

The Prague Post

New art in an Art Nouveau building: The second incarnation of the Art Forms Biennale runs the gamut from painting, photography and sculpture to performance

Space as an inspiration and architecture as a backdrop are just two of the most interesting elements of the second Art Forms Biennale opening April 8 at the Ekotechnické Museum in Prague 6. Started two years ago by stage designer Lucie Loosová and about nine other artists, the two-week run of this show has nearly 35 participants and all types of art.

“We felt something like this was missing in the Czech Republic; we [artists] needed to find space, time together, a theme and a moment for sharing ideas,” Loosová said.

The scale and programming are ambitious, as is the choice of venue. The Ekotechnické museum is the former sewage treatment plant in Prague 6, and guided tours are available to learn the history of Prague wastewater treatment. There’s a variety of machinery still preserved; earlier this year, the building was added to the Culture Ministry’s list of national cultural monuments because of its Art Nouveau design. It’s this vast factory space that Loosová will fill with paintings, photos, sculpture, jewelry and more.

“The building is very special, and an extra bonus is its artistic spirit, the metal and brick work, and the main hall is like a cathedral with a special energy,” she said. “Think about how it worked for the factory and now how it will work for the artists.”

Each artist has designed his or her work specifically for the venue, and Loosová believes the same work, displayed elsewhere, would not have the same feel. Photographer Petr Jedinák worked with the bondage group “”Hell”” to take unique photos in the museum. His subjects chose their style and spot in the factory, and the photos displayed will be lifesize and hung where they were taken.

“My part of the exhibit is based on confrontation: between body and building, mainstream people and people you don’t see as much, between truth and a game,” Jedinák said.

Many artists will have displays in different rooms, and Loosová said it allows the viewer to see the works in a different light. Each of the rooms offers something different, but most have a factory-feel with soaring ceilings, high windows and some sort of contraption, whether an old steam engine or water vat. These apparatuses inevitably become part of the exhibit, with photos hanging on metal chains from the ceiling, and fashionable mannequins perched on top of a brick furnace. Three architectural projects are displayed outdoors.

Underground are the old sewer tunnels. What seem like endless bricked-lined passageways originally sent the clean water back into the Vltava. A special musical score has been composed to play in the space, and it’s haunting to hear the music echoing above the water and through the caverns.

The biennale also features live performances.

“Art forms aren’t only existing objects but also music, singing, dance, theater,” said Loosová. “Evenings are important, because each is very specific; the fashion show will have people who will come for that, another evening is dance, and another is a music and projection evening.”

Dancer and choreographer Jan Kodet is preparing a special two-person dance to perform at the biennale.

“I think we will do something special for here, use the antique elevator and ladders, make it site specific,” he said. “What I like is the challenge; we are the only dancers and just one little piece of it all; we are absolutely free to create something special for the occasion.”

For Loosová, one of the biggest challenges was bringing the space and the artists together.

“How do we not overwhelm the space with exhibit pieces and make the pieces themselves not be overwhelmed in the space?” she asked.

Kodet feels the creativity of movement together with the music is more abstract than other art forms.

“This isn’t something you can touch; you could do something similar, but, in a different space, it wouldn’t be the same,” he said. “There’s an excitement in it, and hopefully for the people, too.”