“I am convinced political shifts shouldn’t necessarily affect the practice of a certain type of artists. It all depends on how much space an artist requires, on how much space he or she can create and on the very nature of that space”.
Jen Kratochvil: How do you see your twofold role as an artist and a teacher?
Jiří Kovanda: I find that art and teaching are two completely diverse practices. Working with students usually means talking a lot about someone else’s thoughts. And in this context I try my best to avoid expressing my own preferences, problems, and pleasures to those students and to be as “objective” as possible. I try to keep a distance and judge their work and ideas from this standpoint. My personal artistic practice is quite the opposite.
JK: In the 1970s, your practice was mainly about action art, while later you explored painting and minimalist installations—works that today still resonate across the local and international art scene. Can you tell us about how your art evolved?
JK: This evolution was obviously a reflection of what was happening to me on a personal level. This is true in relation to the content of my work but also to its form, the latter being the aspect you address in your question. My work mainly follows a “language,” one I adopt at a certain time, which I find most understandable, and which I can change whenever I want, using it in different and diverse ways. Content conversely remains unvaried all along.
JK: From the 1970s Normalisation to today: what has changed in the Czech contemporary art scene?
JK: As far as the Czech art scene is concerned, these two periods correspond to two completely different worlds. However, despite the extreme differences between these two phases, I am convinced political shifts shouldn’t necessarily affect the practice of a certain type of artists. It all depends on how much space an artist requires, on how much space he or she can create, and on the very nature of that space. I would say that looking at my work in chronological order it’s quite hard to detect the moment when that major political shift occurred.
JK: Last year you lived in Berlin participating in the DAAD residency programme. How was it to come back to Prague?
JK: It felt like coming home. But Berlin is not that far from Prague, so I didn’t feel that isolated really. And although I am very fond of Berlin, I must say Prague is a much more pleasant place to live in.
JK: What is, in your opinion, the strongest asset of today’s Czech art scene?
JK: I am not sure. I can’t say I know what it means to live for a long time in a different country and to become part of its art scene. I always remain a visitor, and that was the case in Berlin—a visitor attentively observing what is happening around him from a distance, without any urge or ability to become an inherent part of a new situation.
- Jiří Kovanda, photo: Hynek Alt
- Jiří Kovanda, Paprika
- Jiří Kovanda, Untitled (On an escalator ... turning around, I look into the eyes of the person standing behind me …), 1977