Daniel Pešta: On Determination

We interviewed the artist to mark his latest exhibition in Venice, 'Something is wrong' at the Tana Art Space. Pesta's latest project confronts the pervasive presence of evil in society, drawing parallels between historical narratives and contemporary crises.
by Lara Morrell
Lara Morrell
Daniel Pešta

Your artistic career began in the 1980s, during the period of ‘normalisation’ under the Czechoslovak communist regime, how has this experience of life in a totalitarian state influenced your artistic practice? 

My artistic development was different than in the free world, but it was important for my work, even though I stood completely outside the “official art” tolerated by the communist regime.  I had a resistance to this regime and lived in a kind of isolation. I created under difficult conditions and my exhibition activity was incompatible with the regime. Of course, there were many of us, and many great artists did not even live to see freedom. It has to be said that their troubled lives and artistic work often failed to be appreciated with the dignity they deserved.

I think I can consider myself a lucky person because I lived to freedom relatively young and was able to start travelling and discovering what was really current in the art world and what motivated me.

‘Determination’ underpins your current project  Something is Wrong and a central theme in your work in general – could you expand on this notion?

This question is actually related to the first question, and I personally am still very attentive to what is happening around us.

We live in a contradictory world that is increasingly complicated and almost impossible to navigate. At the same time, I think it is possible to distinguish good from evil. We are at the beginning of an unreadable post-factual age, AI is just starting to take off to unprecedented proportions, evil is often relativized, as if we want to push out the negative information and only deal with what doesn’t disturb us out of our comfort zone and that’s where something is wrong with us. Everyone and everything is determined by manipulation and there is no avoiding it!

Art should therefore be one of the means of alarming and clearly pointing out these tendencies.

The exhibition at Tana Art Space is divided into two contrasting spaces, one evoking a lab and the other a monastery – could you expand on this curatorial choice and the dualistic nature of your work?

Tana Art Space is a very specific space and its genius loci is reminiscent of the nearby Arsenale.

In the white “laboratory” there are works that are perhaps on the edge of bearability for some and should touch the very essence of humanity. It is a kind of alarm that the world of machinations, whether media, genetic or political, is still on the rise and out of our control. It is once again dominated by narcissistic leaders who are trying to establish a “new world order“.

The second exhibition room, the monastery room, houses the more spiritual part of the project. Here I wonder if there is something that transcends us, a kind of abstract, spiritual dimension that is stronger than man. Human life is certainly unique and meaningful, but from the point of view of the absolute it is very short. Perhaps there really is hope in the form of another dimension where true freedom and some form of “higher wisdom” is found.

I also wonder here how far man has gone in developing technological tools that, while bringing us a more comfortable life, have the power to wipe out everything that is alive on the planet. Where is the limit of the human genome of evil and when are we still able to keep these technologies under control?

What role does religion and spirituality play in your work?

I grew up in an atheistic environment, but paradoxically in a city (Prague) that is defined by religion and spirituality. I was surrounded by works of art with religious themes, hundreds of amazing churches, castles and chateaus, great literature by authors like Kafka, wonderful music and this must have influenced me. I saw around me a “grey”, totalitarian society, but also a spiritual legacy of immeasurable beauty left by previous generations. Where quality and authenticity were not so hard to discern. That said, I legitimately had to ask for the essence of religiosity and still do to this day. I must say, however, that this contradiction still exists within me, as no other name has been misused as much as God or Jesus.

You first exhibited in Venice in 2013, then in 2015, 2017 and 2019, by now you must be very familiar with the city – could you share with our readers your ideal day here? 

To tell you the truth, besides the fact that I am a Prague resident, I consider myself most Venetian. My wife and I have been coming here for over twenty years and we are still equally fascinated by the beauty of the city.

Actually, I have never exhibited anywhere outside of Prague more often than in Venice!

My ideal day in Venice is almost every day. I work in the morning and in the afternoon we rush to an exhibition or discover new corners of the city. We love the late afternoon with the sun setting on the beach, and the evening with friends at a restaurant. Just like any Venetian!

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