Time right for generational change, says Trafačka founder Jan Kaláb

16-12-2014

After eight years of existence, the Trafačka art gallery in Prague is closing down, making way for a new housing development. Over the years, Trafačka, which is situated in a former transmission station in the Vysočany district, has become a respected centre for young artists and featured dozens of exhibitions and other events. I met with one of its founders, street and graffiti artist Jan Kaláb, to look back at the history of this unique space:

Jan Kaláb, photo: Ivana Cabrnochová, CC BY-SA 3.0Jan Kaláb, photo: Ivana Cabrnochová, CC BY-SA 3.0 “Trafačka was founded in 2006 and it was actually by a coincidence. I was painting a wall and next to the wall there was an empty building. The owners knew I was looking for a studio so they showed me the space, but I didn’t like it at first.”

It was a former transmission station, is that right?

“Yes. But at that time, it was already empty and they had it for speculation. At first I didn’t find it ideal for my needs, because I was looking for something smaller. But I didn’t find anything else, so I asked some friends to join me and we started to work in this space. It was a deal from the very beginning that we could stay there for one year and then they would demolish the place and build something new.”

Who was the owner, was it some sort of a building company?

“The owner is a real estate company. One of the owners is a really nice guy, who is very socially sensitive, so that’s why they offered the space to us.”

Did you want to use the space as a gallery from the very beginning?

“We rented the space as a studio but after we moved in, we started to discover the space. Next to the hall there was a big wall and there was empty space inside the wall. So we discovered the site little by little and we found out that next to the wall there was another empty room, which could be a great gallery. I think this happened one year after we moved in. So one friend of ours paid for bringing the electricity in and then we put up a group exhibition.”

Trafačka, photo: ŠJů, CC BY-SA 3.0Trafačka, photo: ŠJů, CC BY-SA 3.0 Who were the other guys?

“It was Jakub Nepraš, Roman Týc, Michal Cimala and Martin Káňa. So these guys and me, we had our first exhibition in the gallery, which was later called the Trafo gallery.”

Can you tell me more about the first exhibition?

“It was called ‘Five plus kk’. Because when you are selling an apartment - five means five rooms, while ‘kk’ means kitchen. But we meant it as a joke: There were five of us and the double k referred to the name of the street where Trafačka is located, which is called Kurta Konráda. So we used it for the title of our first show.”

Over the years, more than 120 events took place at Trafačka. Would you agree that the main focus of the gallery was street art and graffiti?

“Not really. I am a graffiti writer and street artist, or actually I come from this background, but for example my colleague Jakub Nepraš has a totally different background. And the great thing about Trafačka is that it connects different worlds.”

“From the beginning there were not that many street art and graffiti based exhibitions. It was mostly visual arts, such as painting, sculpture and drawing. But we also had a couple of conceptual exhibitions. Usually the exhibitions were done by our friend and friends of friends, but by the time the gallery got established, we started having more and more offers from people we didn’t know.”

Trafačka, photo: archive of TrafačkaTrafačka, photo: archive of Trafačka Would you say it was mainly for young people?

“Yes, mainly. And we preferred to work with young artists. It was a kind of underground gallery, so it was great for young people and people fresh out of school. I think it wasn’t suitable for artists who were already established. They were looking for a slightly different kind of space.”

What would you say makes Trafačka unique in the context of other galleries in the Czech Republic?

“I would say we are independent. Sometimes we got some grants from the city but it was never too much. It covered some basic needs, such as electricity. But we never expected much from the outside and we did everything on our own. And I think this is what was interesting about this space.”

There is currently a new exhibition on display at Trafačka, which is also the very last one…

“Actually it has been already opened and this Sunday is the very last day of the exhibition.”

Can you tell me more about it?

“This very last exhibition is special. Usually every time this year we organize an anniversary exhibition and a party. We ask our artist friends to bring one of their art objects, so each of them brings just this one piece. So it is a group exhibition, with many artists, not really curated. We do it just for fun.

“But in the end the exhibitions always turn out really well, because everyone has a good sense of where to place their paintings or sculptures. So somehow, it always works. This year, however, we have also invited some well-known names of Czech art scene.”

Trafačka, photo: ŠJů, CC BY-SA 3.0Trafačka, photo: ŠJů, CC BY-SA 3.0 Can you mention some of them?

“For instance Jaroslav Róna, Michal Rittstein, David Černý, Kryštof Kintera, or Jiří Černický. All these people, who are one or two generations older the we are, have brought one of their pieces of art and that’s what makes the exhibition really special. Also it makes it more difficult for us. We had to rent the security guards, because of the value of the objects on display.

“But we are very proud of this exhibition, because we have been thinking about a similar show, which would confront several generations, for the past couple of year. So we finally made it happen.”

I guess you never expected to stay in the gallery for eight years.

“No, definitely not.”

In 2011 you also rented another place right next to the Trafačka Gallery.

“Yes, actually the owner of the real estate company offered us this new space in 2011 because we thought that Trafačka would end and he promised that he would find a new place for us when it happens. So he came with this offer, but after two and a half year he changed his mind. So some of us found a different space and Michala Cimala, Jakub Nepraš and I moved back to Trafačka.”

Will you be looking for a new space together as a group? Or will you each go your own way?

That’s still remains open. We are looking for something together so maybe we will find something together, if not, we will go our own ways, but its really hard to say right now. We have some offers and we have to decide. Nothing is as great as Trafačka was so I really don’t know right now.

What kind of space are you looking for?

“To be honest, we are now looking mainly for studios. We are eight years older now and we need a space for work, something quiet. Of course we can run a gallery, because we have Blanka Čermáková, a very important person in Trafačka, whom I didn’t mention yet. She is in charge of all the exhibitions and grants and so on”

Trafačka, photo: archive of TrafačkaTrafačka, photo: archive of Trafačka “So we are not primarily looking for a space that could be used as a cultural centre. We are artists who need a space for work. I also think that some younger guys should now create a space like Trafačka was eight years ago.”

So now it’s up to them?

“Yes, now it’s their turn.”

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