02-12-2001

By Dita Aseidu

Ursula Prinz: " The rooms are very nice but the way to them is difficult and so we couldn't bring the bigger pieces and we cut off the very old things and decided to just put really the highlights like the Russian avant-garde, like the Dada Saloon, like the famous 20's as a part of our collection of photographs, and the graphic collection with expressionist paintings and the beginning after the war of the new art with Baselitz - so this means figurative art of the centuries of the sixties and a big installation of Ed and Nancy Kienholz's 'The Art Show', which was produced in Berlin, which is very nice, very funny and they are also speaking and talking. When you come in you'll think that they are really alive."

Under the Nazis, the works of numerous talented artists of the 30s never saw the light of day. One of the Berlin Gallery's main goals has therefore been to collect and exhibit such works - helping names such as Felix Nussbaum, or Wollheim gain recognition both nationally and gradually internationally. Mrs Prinz says that the exhibition gives the Czech public a chance to see works that have never been seen before:

U.P.: "I know that there are many museums in Prague, which are very, very interesting but I think that no-one has seen Berlin art and what it was like in the past - what happened in Berlin - which is also of international interest. But many artists from Prague have lived in Berlin and there has always been a good connection between Prague and Berlin. It's interesting to see this new collection which nobody has seen."

As Mrs Prinz mentioned earlier, the Prague venue did to a certain extent limit which works of art could be put on public display. In fact, as she told Radio Prague, her experience with Czech venues shows that there are significant differences in the way exhibitions are organised in the Czech Republic and Germany:

U.P.: "For Prague, we made a smaller exhibition and we changed some of the artwork, some of the crates which were too big to enter the City Gallery, to be adapted to the conditions here in Prague. You don't have an elevator for heavy weights here, and there is no real climatisation in the museum ,and there are no work shops. It's in a way a little more Medieval than our museums are. You cannot carry a huge crate four staircases high so you can't exhibit this or you have to prepare other things and it's also dangerous not to have the same climate you have downstairs as you have upstairs. But we though we'll try it anyhow and do what we can because we want to do this exhibition."

One exhibition, or rather art festival, that didn't have to worry about lack of space was the First Annual International Festival of Cyberculture, at Divadlo Archa and three of Prague's metro stations from the 12th to the 24th of November. Danny Holman was the programme director of the festival, and he explained to Radio Prague what cyberculture was:

Danny Holman: "Essentially it's dealing with digital culture - computers, I'm talking about the internet, robotics, computers, new editing software, new effects software and so on. You can put different names on it - call it digital culture, cyberculture, new media... whatever. But I think the beauty of it is that it isn't defined as such, it's still evolving, it's still finding its own feet. We're using cyberculture because it's a sort of sexy, buzz word."

The British musician, Robin Rimbaud, who goes by the artistic name of 'Scanner', uses scanners to bug telephone conversations which he then incorporates in his music and has worked with names such as Peter Gabriel, Bjork, and Brian Ferry. He says the comfortable life he leads would not be possible without the growing digital culture:

Scanner: "Digital technology has enabled me, in the last five years to become incredibly mobile. I now basically live in a space between cities - no particular city, but I'm always travelling, working on different projects. The ability to minimise technology, to take a studio with me, a mobile phone, a digital camera, a palm pilot??? with all my phone numbers and my schedule, is amazing now. I'm like a small, compact unit that travels from city to city, from zone to zone, creating new works, collaborating, and so on."

Okay... but how does one turn digital culture into a public attraction? Jana Semeradova is the festival's director, and sheds more light on the goal of the project:

Jana Semeradova: "We think that this festival should be about understanding the way of modern life. We are actually bringing artists in four sections: Internet art, digital film, performance, and design. Like four basic categories which influence art, culture and society. So, it is more about the whole art thing or cultural thing than only about working with the new media or new technologies."

D.H.: "We're dealing with computer graphics, music promos, commercials, web page design and stuff like that. They are not the traditional things you see in an art gallery they actually surround us every day. To me, it makes it much more interesting. I'm not so interested in the sort of high art forms that are stuck in these white-walled galleries and art ghettos and so on.

All this talk about art... the question is, does the average person really consider cyberculture to be an art form? According to Danny Holman, it's a question that continues to be put to him and others in the field by many, especially critics from the Central European area:

D.H.: "Is it art? We've had this massive battle for five years. I think it's the whole of Central Europe that suffers from this in the sense that the art scene is a kind of a purist art scene. They say that art is a higher form and it sort of has to be theatre or sculpture or painting and they just don't accept digital culture as an art form."

Whether cyber culture is an art form or not, in two weeks the festival reached out to more people than any gallery could dream of. The trick to that is finding the right exhibition space. Jana Semeradova:

J.S.: "We have chosen the sentence from William Gibson's novel Neuromancer, which says that 'the street finds its own use for things' so we have a design exhibition of the street posters, the digital film, it's the thing that is among wide public because everybody watches commercials, animations on TV everyday. So, we have managed to get video screens in the Prague metro where we screened short digital films. I think that now the festival really approached the street because there are three million people a week."

According to the festival's organisers, today's cultural climate is characterised by the growing presence of new media in everyday life. This emerging cultural form is addressed by artists, designers, musicians and performers in their artwork, employing new digital and networked media. What makes this artwork specific is their close association with social, political and economic spheres and the growing influence of the new technologies within these spheres. The festival was born with the goal of addressing the questions that arise and creating a platform to explore new and alternative applications of the technologies which are shaping our society. And the result?

D.H.: "The best thing that people have said is 'oh great, someone is finally doing this - Prague's needed one for a long time and someone has actually got around to putting one together.' I'm not saying we're on a crusade to bring art to the masses but I think that it's interesting to sort of subvert the usual kind of platform that you use and use different ones."

02-12-2001