Prague Quadrennial: All the world’s a stage

Czech Position

The Prague Quadrennial aims to enliven the Czech capital with theater, performance, exhibitions and surprises in a variety of venues

If your event only happens every four years, you need to make it pretty spectacular to remain in people’s minds for the next 1,460 days. The Prague Quadrennial bills itself as the world’s largest performance design event.

Bringing in experts in contemporary costumes, lighting, stage, sound and theater architecture for dance, opera, drama, performance art and more, the 12th edition will have 62 countries presenting the best in performance design from around the world. But don’t think this is some stuffy conference. The event is as much about the audience as the professionals.

“We are looking to theater as a last human venue where people meet live and engage with each other,” Sodja Lotker, the event’s artistic director told Czech Position. “The Prague Quadrennial is an exhibition but also an event.”

From June 16 to 26 it will actually be pretty difficult to avoid inadvertently getting involved. Expositions, workshops and performances will be happening at five different venues, plus other locations throughout the city. “You have to spend some time, and it’s complicated,” Lotker said. “Research the program and have patience, it’s really big but really worth it.”

In addition to the workshops, discussions and presentations primarily aimed at students and professionals, Lotker recommended a few activities with mass appeal. The biggest portion of the event is the country exhibitions, which will be showcased at the National Gallery’s Veletržní palác. The goal here is to present scenography as a discipline existing between the visual and the performing arts. This was one of the difficulties organizers faced — bridging different genres in the ever-evolving world of theatrical elements.

“One of our biggest challenges was trying to involve non-scenographers and pointing out that scenography is more that just what you build on stage,” Lotker said. “We wanted to involve visual artists; this is performance as well, also installation art is theater — the audience is the performer. I think we’ve created a certain dialogue, and it’s exciting.”

Theater trends from around the world

The Countries and Regions section is the quadrennial’s most traditional part, showcasing the most unique current trends of a country or region within different performance design disciplines, for example, stage, costume, lighting and sound design. Curators are encouraged to show their creativity; visitors will experience group exhibitions, solo expositions focusing on one artist, as well as expositions or installations that are themselves scenographies or spaces of performance.

“In recent years the expos started incorporating lights and other aspects like performance and creating little environments,” Lotker said. “One example is the Serbian pavilion, which will have an ongoing hologram performance, every couple of hours a different performer is performing, but because they don’t have the money to send the performers to Prague, it is created through a hologram. The Philippines’ [pavilion] is built as a maze, and it is a performance for just one visitor, you go by yourself.”

Periodically throughout the festival, Portugal’s expo will include an exhibitive performance as will Brazil’s, while Japan’s will have a puppet show. Another highlight at Veletržní palác will be the Extreme Costume exhibition.

“This is an exhibition of costumes from around the world,” Lotker said. “Like one made from bullets from Mexico, ice from Brazil, balloons, underwater costumes. … It’s about fashion and identity.”

Out and About

Those looking for action on the street will find it with Scenofest, the quadrennial’s educational component with projects from more than 1,500 students. Street Stories include 40 outdoor performances happening on Jungmannovo náměstí, while Six Acts transforms locations around the city into spaces for performances and site-specific installations. The installation that will most likely have the biggest impact is Intersection, a venue constructed specifically for quadrennial the on the plaza of the National Theater’s New Stage (Nová scéna).

“This is a project we did in order to show theater has changed very much in the past decades,” Lotker said. “We want to question theatrical space as space we inhabit. Theater is live communication. In that relationship you can position yourself — you don’t only consume art, and at least mentally you are participating.”

Intersection is basically 30 boxes that will each hold an art exhibit, a video installation, a performance or something surprising.

“Sodja had developed a conceptual backdrop for Intersection, that it would be between the visual and performing arts,” Intersection architect Oren Sagiv told Czech Position. “We were thinking about this concept of intimacy and engaging with art in an intimate way, so had this image of white cubes and black boxes as micro-galleries and micro-theaters parked in the square. In my mind, one visitor engages with one performer.”

There are actually two parts to Intersection — the curated exhibitions in the boxes and the roof. Up top, a bar will be installed as well as an open-air cinema.

“There will be intense experiences happening in this courtyard, so we wanted a way to create a social performance, social engagement, and that’s how the bar concept came about,” Sagiv explained. “Visiting a bar is an everyday performance, accidental happenings, and then down below, well-planned artistic performances — on two levels we will be juxtaposing the two activities and connecting performance and space.”

The “housing” of the displays is nearly as important as the artists themselves, with a tango lesson in one, a graphic art installation in another, a “boutique” where you can rent costumes as well as film directors, fashion designers, writers and more. One person, choreographer and director Josef Nadj, will physically remain in his box the entire week. Lotker says she wanted people to question exactly what is performance.

“With the boxes you are taking part mentally and physically; the question is not only how do you participate but also what is ‘taking part,’” she said. “We are really proud we have some really important artists in there and ones who would never be together anywhere else, and audiences can pick their boxes by their mood or preference and thereby create their own story within the story.”