Andante – A young Czech vision of art

Nikola Emma Rysava

Us of WoMA made a visit to the Centro Ceco in Milan in view of the opening of a collective exhibition by young Czech artists from AVU, Academy of Fine Arts, and UMPRUM, Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague.

The name of the exhibition “Andante” recalls the musical term that is used as a direction, which indicates a moderately slow tempo, usually considered to be slower than allegretto but faster than adagio. As the music player lingers on the notes and takes the listener by hand, accompanying him or her into the universe of imagination, these young artists intend to slow us down in order to think about our relationship with time, stepping away from the external frenzy.

Despite the differences in structure and style, the works cohabited the space in perfect harmony, almost communicating with one another. The young Czech artists made use of both traditional and innovative materials in the creation of installations and sculptural works, forging the artistic experience but above all stating their contemporary vision.

Among these young talents, we had the chance to interview Nikola Emma Rysava and Ondrej Vicena, who offered us a young perspective on Prague’s contemporary art scene.

WoMA: How do you perceive the artistic and cultural climate in your country?

Nikola: There are so many contradictory things about the artistic climate in Czech Republic. I am from Prague, where stunning architecture is part of your everyday life, but so is unsightly and brutalist architecture from the Communist era. Prague is literally a textbook of styles from different centuries but sometimes I feel like people cannot appreciate that anymore and take it all for granted. I love the fact that Prague is located at the heart of Europe and that both Western and Eastern art influences are still very present and visible. Also, it stimulates me to think of all the artists I admire who have carried out artistic productions here. Unfortunately, I do not think that our current political system is supportive enough for the development and growth of contemporary art.

Ondrej: Both the artistic practice and climate in Prague are very influenced by the system after 1989, as we call it the Velvet Revolution. People in Czech Republic are not so used to get in touch with contemporary art, however the situation is getting better and today, some artists are gaining recognition abroad. New contemporary art galleries are growing, and thus offering to emerging artists the opportunity to exhibit their works.

Ondrej Vicena - Andante
Ondrej Vicena

WoMA: Which are the main differences you notice between Prague and Milan: on one hand as an artist exhibiting his or her work in a different country, on the other hand in terms of audience participation and reaction?

Nikola: I think Milan is more positive and design-oriented, and it makes sense that so many fields of applied arts are being created here so wonderfully. Prague is darker and gloomier, but in my opinion ideal for creating fine arts. There are definitely differences between the cities, but I also see plenty of similarities. Both Prague and Milan are incredibly rich in terms of history.

As for audience participation and reaction, that’s even harder for me to answer. It’s never easy for me to see people viewing my artwork for the very first time. Watching people’s reactions to my work kind of feels like watching people reading my diary in front of me.

Ondrej: People in Milan seem to like the nightlife, and the social dimension of exhibitions openings. In Prague, the situation is still changing, but I see more and more people going to shows which is quite encouraging.

Exhibiting your work in another country is all about the reaction to the surrounding space. Indeed, in my case, I installed my work in this specific way due to the different experience I lived through.

Nikola Emma Rysava
Nikola Emma Rysava

WoMA: What are the main changes that your works undergo when they are decontextualized from their place of origin and put into a new spatial situation?

Nikola: I was pleasantly surprised to see that our sculptures worked well together. We were all chosen for this exhibition by the curator Pavlína Morganová, and I was really worried that our art would not correspond well with one another’s. We are from different art studios and places across the country, so our artistic approach couldn’t be more different. Surely, placing our sculptures in a single room in a foreign country gave them a different collective meaning.

Ondrej: I think that it’s each time different because of people’s reading and interpretation of the hidden symbolism in the works. Everyone comes from different backgrounds and environments that made him or her able to read and interpret art in a different, nonetheless special way. For example, people in Milan would not think about “The dancing house” in Prague in my artwork in a same way as me.

WoMA: What are the main themes you care and research the most? What are the messages you intend to communicate to a foreign public?

Nikola: The themes I am working with the most are directly connected to my inner world and literature. Art is a form of communication, my own attempt to have an emotional or intellectual impact on others. I believe that a work of art is the mirror of an artist’s personality. My work reflects my social anxieties and personal battles, dilemmas and insecurities. My imagination is my safe space, the place where I feel at home and through which I try to speak out.

I’ve learned that being from a foreign country doesn’t affect or stop that communication. My work doesn’t speak to many people of my same background, but it does speak to some strangers. It is impossible to speak to everyone so I am not even trying to do that. I try to be committed to my work and be true to myself, and believe that a sculpture I am creating makes sense and represents what I am trying to say. I am always pleasantly surprised when a viewer tells me that he or she understands what I was trying to say, that the emotion and feeling translates.

Ondrej: I work mostly with the historical background of the space where I set the artwork. My thought is strongly connected to the virtual space that has increasingly influenced us thanks to the recent technological progresses. I always try to put in the works some magical aspect that turns on somebody’s unconsciousness. My artworks also bring up some kind of religious aspect through the symbolism I make use of. I am also a musician, so my artistic thought also connects to pop culture of the past and present times. I would like to show foreigners that nowadays we are in the same (virtual) network where no one is truly foreign.

Ondrej Vicena
Ondrej Vicena

WoMA: What is the role of the artist and his/her position in today’s art market scene according to you?

Nikola: I personally think that art should make us feel something, it should enrich us, and make us stop and think. Artworks should convey emotions and thoughts. The artist has done his or her job right when the artwork provides pleasure and offers creative inspiration, or when it sets up a dialogue and brings important issues to the public attention.

Ondrej: The role of the artist in a market scene such as that in Czech Republic is really difficult because there is almost no market. The position is clearer when you analyze places where the market has already been developed. However, I believe that being a successful artist doesn’t imply you are a great artist.

Anni Wu, Beatrice Giacalone