Jana Semeradova - on Czech design, Blok magazine, and a 'perfect place'


In this week's edition of One on One Jan Velinger's guest is Jana Semeradova - the young, dynamic, and elegant director of a small Czech media agency that publishes one of the country's leading design magazines. Titled 'Blok' it focuses on design in all its forms: fashion, architecture, interiors, and art. For Jana Semeradova - a graduate of Charles University and Prague's film academy FAMU - design is no small passion.

When did design first became important in your life?

"I would say at the beginning it was more the importance of decoration because already as children we were always playing with my cousins, competing about the most beautiful decoration of the table and so on, which drove my mother completely crazy because I was always using these paper napkins on the table, which were a luxury under Socialism, to use them only once! We always joked with my friends that their mothers also collected the napkins after dinner to use them again another day! So we used them only for Christmas or New Year's Eve, so it was really a luxury! And I always just loved preparing these things..."

The setting you grew up in was also important for you...

"I grew up in a really small town, in Doksy, by Macha's Lake, so it was like a tourist area, very beautiful, in the woods. My grandparents had a beautiful house, it was like a Canadian cottage in the woods, and we could walk easily to the lake. It was really beautiful and these were things I really loved about my childhood, my first interests."

Would you say that Czech society, in the 80s, was badly affected by a plague of bad design, because I know that many of my relatives lived in pre-fab apartments that had the same kind of design, the same kind of furniture, the toilet was always in the same place, the living room... that there was a lack of imagination...

"Hmm. I would say it started much earlier though, because already in the 50s the sense of the environment was destroyed. There was a very strong tradition in the so-called First Republic - the 1920s and 30s - as you know there was a very strong feeling for design and architecture, among the middle class as well. Not just the upper classes. People were interested in how they lived and design in general, so it was really on a very high level. Then, after the Communists came, they made every effort to destroy it. The majority of people could have only these pre-fabricated homes, and panel houses, so of course it was very strongly influenced by the Communists. I would say that it still remains."

How do you go about improving peoples' awareness of design, that it is an important element of their lives?

"Well, we live in a visual period, a visual century, so I think it's very important for people - the visual culture. What we try to do is to create this environment for this visual culture, with all our activities which we do. Our interest is not just interior design but also fashion, architecture and lifestyle in general, as well as art. For years now we have been organising a design day in Prague, known as 'Designblok', as well since 2001 we have been publishing the magazine Blok. And, these activities we try to make not only for a small group of people. We try to show people that design is not just about luxury, it's not that you have to have a lot of money to create a nice environment in your apartment, that it's about taste or your interest in how you dress, not about whether your wages are really high. Design is not just something which is expensive and luxurious but it is something that you as well create, so you take something and you add something which is yours. This is what makes design functional as well as personal."

What kind of risk was it to start a magazine like Blok?

"When we began thinking about starting this magazine we realised there was nothing like it on the Czech market at all. Simply a lack of material like that here. Here there are magazines about living, about apartments, about flats, but here there was no original design magazine in Czech. At the beginning as well Blok was only in the Czech language and then we started publishing in English as well - issues are bilingual - and then interest from abroad came to us and people from London, from Germany were very interested... So now we sell in Great Britain, in Germany, in Austria, as well as places like Thailand and Singapore and other countries. Which is quite nice and a little bit unexpected success I would say, because we didn't think of it when we were starting the magazine."

How much of the content has to do with the Czech scene?

"Of course the major focus is on the Czech Republic so we present Czech designers, Czech architecture. We don't present only recent works, but for example even works from the Communist period: even though many things then were really bad, some good things were produced. This design is often anonymous so it is quite interesting when you do research on these things you find it is almost impossible to find the designer."

What is a concrete example? In my mind I'm thinking of 'Bakelite' door handles!

"Yeah! Well, we were trying to find the designer of some interesting irons and it was impossible. With some architecture as well it is quite difficult to find who it really was. So of course it can be quite fun to do the research, even though the main focus is on contemporary design and architecture and fashion."

Is there anything that sets Czech designers apart, say, from other Central European countries? Do they have an edge in any area?

"I would say that when you compare Central European design Czechs are really very good. The problem is that they have almost no contact with Industry. So, I would say that really only the strongest characters - not the best designers - but the strongest ones, they find somehow some way to break into the industry and they persuade somebody to produce their product. The problem is that is far easier with smaller products, so mostly what young Czech designers do is make home accessories, things from porcelain and glass and so on. Czechs were always very good with these materials, so still it remains."

What is an example of an object or design that caught your eye in the last little while, that you found exciting?

"What I really like are products by Maxim Velcovsky. He's doing products from porcelain, very interesting things. He has made, for example, a vase which is in the shape of the Czech Republic, called simply 'Republic'. And if you know Alvar Aalto, he made the very famous Savoy vase, which is a very famous design piece. And it looks really similar like Czech Republic when you take it. These are products that I really like."

What are some trends in Prague that you like? When you go walking through the city, buildings that you pass...

"What I really like is the Dancing House - that's one of my favourites. Then, I really like the factory called Cipral, in Prague 10...

What is it like?

"It's a factory and I think the function is perfect. For Designblok they opened the factory and packed all the machines into plastic so that you can see the machines but you can't really touch them and they can't harm you. And they make from the machines sofas and stuff like this, so really the factory changes into a perfect party space for two thousand people."

Is that what it is then?

"Yeah, it's a perfect, perfect place."

For more info in both Czech and English you can visit www.blokmagazine.cz