Forty inhabitants of the village of Líšeň on the outskirts of Brno receive instructions before they get off the bus at the Berlin Wall to take part in the annual Biennial of Art. Near the wall are exact copies of fences they have in their backyards at home. In a while they’ll be climbing over to meet their neighbours. For many of them, it will be the first time they’ll shake hands or talk to each other. The person who brought them together is the Czech artist Kateřina Šedá. When we met in Prague, I ask her where she got this idea in the first place:
“I noticed that in recent years the fences in our village grew taller and you can’t see over them. When I walk through the village, I don’t see the neighbours that I used to meet and greet in the past. I started to think how I could cross the village to meet the neighbours and make them meet each other. I discovered that I could only do that by passing through their property.”
Kateřina Šedá took a map of the village, pinned a compass in the centre and drew a circle that ran through her house and the opposite bus stop. She then connected the two points with a straight line, which cut through the backyards of nearly 100 houses, and set herself a task to pass through all of these backyards. For that, however, she needed the neighbours to clear the path and put something against the fences on both sides to enable her to climb over.
“The goal was to make the people communicate and make them climb over the fence. So the event in Berlin wasn’t the conclusion of the project. What was important for me was that the people spent time together on the bus. I wanted the neighbours to meet because of the fence, which is dividing them. I wanted them to regard the fence as their joint property, because the fence is something they share but at the same time it separates them.”
Bringing people together is indeed one of the central themes of Šedá’s work. In her previous project, ‘For Every Dog a Different Master’, she tried to bring together people from a housing complex from the 1970s, where she herself lived as a child. Using the bright facades as a pattern, she designed a fabric and had a thousand shirts made out of it. She then assigned to each household a partner household located on the other end of the development and sent the shirts in the name of the respective partners. She revealed her identity only a month later, when she invited them to a gallery to see one another.
On Saturday, 5 May 2003 the inhabitants of a small village of Ponětovice got up, went shopping, swept their sidewalks, ate tomato sauce with dumplings, went for a beer and turned out their lights – all of them at the same time. Kateřina Šedá designed a game called ‘There Is Nothing There’.
“‘There Is Nothing There’ originated in a queue in Líšeň. I was thinking of a way to observe people and I found out that I can do it in a queue because no one notices me and I can listen to what people say. There were two women standing in front of me and one of them was telling the other: I don’t know why I am standing here because there is nothing here. The other replied: Well, you should see Ponětovice, there is nothing there. So I decided to go there and see the “nothingness” with my own eyes.”
Šedá distributed a questionnaire to the residents of the village, asking how they spend their Saturdays and found out that most of them did more or less the same thing. Based on the questionnaire, she set up the daily routine list of activities.
The projects of Kateřina Šedá are always closely related to a certain place and they are based in the interaction between the artist and the participants or between the participants themselves. One might be wondering if this can still be regarded as “visual art”.
I am interested in creating a story or a myth at the place that stays there and people talk about it. I think it is more important than exhibitions. I find it amazing that some granny would tell her granddaughter one day that she was once in Berlin climbing over a fence. I think that the image of the granny climbing over the fence that the girl creates in her mind is indeed visual art.
‘It Doesn’t Matter’, the project that brought Kateřina Šedá the prestigious Chalupecký award was triggered by the situation of her grandmother. After retiring as a head of the stockroom for a hardware store, where she worked for more than 20 years, she resigned completely from all activity. Her existence was reduced to sleeping and watching TV. She made no effort to cook, clean, bathe or even click the remote control to a different channel and she would answer every question by saying that she didn’t care:
“For seven years, she wouldn’t say anything else but “it doesn’t matter”. It would be her answer literally to everything. Once we were having lunch and I asked her what a circular saw looked like. She asked me for a sheet of paper and when I gave it to her, she said it was too small. So I gave her a bigger one and she drew three saws in different sizes and wrote down their prices as well. I asked her: Why didn’t you draw just one? It doesn’t matter. And she said: “It does!” That was the first time in about seven years I heard her say that something did matter. So I though this was a way to bring her back to life.”
In the end the grandmother put together a list of some 750 items with stock number, price and size in millimetres. When she died a few years ago, her dog started pining for her and the family decided to leave the flat as it was and reproduce the routine the grandmother and the dog shared. Kateřina Šedá recorded this activity and entitled the project “Her Mistress’s Everything”, which is how the grandmother used to call her dog.
So, what projects can we expect in the future? Kateřina Šedá says that she is not really looking for ideas because ideas usually come on their own and her new projects are very often inspired by the previous ones. And although she doesn’t like exhibiting she admits that her projects might show other people something they wouldn’t normally notice or see.
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