01.06.2022 - 30.07.2022
Fait Gallery, Ve Vaňkovce 2, Brno
Curators: Denisa Kujelová and Jiří Ptáček
Opening: 1. 6. 2022, 7 pm
In the exhibition project of the versatile visual artist Petr Nikl, his creative approaches intertwine in a vast imaginative garden - a kind of ecosystem of moving and seemingly static organisms cultivated by the artist, but at the same time partially self-grown, much to his delight.
Petr Nikl is one of the few Czech artists who need little introduction to the cultural public. Almost everyone will remember some of his exhibitions, a painting, drawing or print, an exhibition project he initiated, a music recording, a concert, a theatre play or a performance or, for example, a book for adults and children he wrote and illustrated. However, it is not this multi-faceted and decades-long presence of Petr Nikl in our cultural space that makes him an unmistakeable and a rather unique figure. Indeed, this presence would not be worth talking about and would be just mindless hyperactivity were it not characterized by the imaginative poetics with which the artist draws us into a fascinating space of fantasy and play.
If we were to sum up what Nikl communicates to his viewers and listeners, it would probably be a non-violently subversive impact on the consensus of dignified and pragmatic adulthood which creates a wall of restrictions and a hard-to-fulfil desire to break it, and Nikl's ability to indicate, through the outcomes of his work, a path towards the fuller experiencing of the multi-layered and mysterious nature of existence that spreads underneath the veneer of the mundane and the superficial absorption of reality.
Nikl co-founded his puppet theatre company Mehedaha as early as 1985. At that time, he was a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague where intermedia fusions or performative forms in visual art were not discussed and taught. In accordance with the ideas of the cultural nomenclature of the period about clearly defined fields for the individual artistic disciplines, they were not even considered potentially enriching.However, he soon found kindred spirits among the members of the Tvrdohlaví art group which made its first public appearance in 1987, with understanding not only for artistic activity but also for self-realization in music and theatre. Yet only in Nikl’s case involving the wide spectrum of image, sound, language and body did it become the basis of all creative activities.
Like the performances of Nikl's plays where his visual sensitivity is strongly applied, many of his art projects are determined by the performative and procedural aspects of art. This is by no means limited to paintings which are executed by mechanical machines with the artist's assistance, often in the presence of the audience. This is also true, for example, of his recent works on paper in which he explores new possibilities by dipping rolls of paper in paint in anticipation of (again) only partially predictable results. Randomness and spontaneity help the artist to cross the horizon of his own imagination and provide him with the possibility of wonder at the resulting image. They are not far from Nikl’s drawing method in which his skill taps unconscious sources and the drawing is thus "let" grow out of contents which otherwise remain inaccessible. In them, too, Nikl is merely a participant who does not have a hundred-percent control over what kind of treasure his mind and hands will bring.
The exhibition in the Fait Gallery is rooted in the metaphor of a flower bed. While a garden is associated with a branching cultural symbolism, the flower bed as its sub-component is only a kind of working subject. Under normal circumstances it is cultivated and maintained in a state where it serves well the greater whole or a given purpose which, depending on the intentions of the grower, is either ornamental or utilitarian. A flower bed that is not weeded and consequently wild is a sign of neglect, while care is characterized by a high degree of restriction and control over what can take place in this demarcated area. In contrast, Peter Nikl lets his imaginary flower beds overgrow in anticipation of the unsuspected and surprising. For him, they are not what he carefully prepares and then follows a plan but a combined activity of plants, soil, sunshine, rain, insects, earthworms, moles and other elements that enter into the process. The flower beds - not dissimilar to stretched canvases or sheets of paper because of their limits - are thus filled with actions that we can only partially observe. And anticipate even less.
Thanks to this, they can turn into fascinating revelations which, through their self-organization and somewhat "disorganized organization" take us beyond (or "under") an objective and clear understanding of reality, to its massive organicity and complexity that is never fully graspable. And yet, this "big" takes place in the encounter with something as "small"... as a flower bed, a drawing or a painted image.
Text: Jiří Ptáček
Fait Gallery, Ve Vaňkovce 2, Brno
Curator: Denisa Kujelová
Special opening day: October 8, 4 pm–9 pm
Jiří Kovanda’s work is typified by several trademark aspects which manifest themselves continuously, from early actions and installations through postmodern drawings and paintings, collages, assemblages and objects of the 1990s to the current interventions, installations and performances: inconspicuousness, efforts at contact, humbleness, simplicity, spontaneity, sensitivity, humour and manipulation with ego.
The austere rendering of low-key, almost indiscernible installations and interventions is already apparent in Kovanda’s early actions in which he examined the most elementary possibilities of nonverbal communication. Back in the 1970s, the philosopher and art theorist Petr Rezek pointed out an interesting fact, saying that Kovanda’s actions signified, above all, a desire for contact. At the same time, they are set not to be fulfilled: they were often conceived so that they forced the artist to work with his natural shyness and to go beyond this mental barrier. The participants were placed in unknown situations outside the framework of art, or situations which through their non-diversion from normal behaviour remained invisible for viewers, and were only made visible by their subsequent documentation by means of photography and presentations in gallery contexts.
Photodocumentation was crucial in the next phase of Kovanda’s work in which his physical presence was gradually replaced by mere records of his activity. With installations intervening in private and public environments without the presence of viewers, photography presented the only possibility of recording the artist’s traces in the form of various objects of daily use and trivial materials installed completely inconspicuously in different places, both outdoors and indoors, also regarding the indiscernibility and ephemerality of these interventions. The artist already articulated his completely natural strategy of creating an unexpected context for an object and leaving a trace of his activity in his early works such as fallen leaves stuck to the ground with a sellotape, wooden wedges inserted between cobblestones and a pile of pine needles and nails in the forest, or interventions in interiors, for example, a flower pot hidden behind a pillar, a string tied around the same pillar two months later and a white string stretched across a room in Kovanda’s home.
Kovanda’s actions frequently involved banal situations, ordinary activities and mundane tasks that we do automatically, yet acted out in a shifted context. Likewise, in his installations and interventions the artist shifts ordinary, routinely used objects to a completely new, unexpected level by removing them from their original situation and taking away their primary utility function. Thanks to his work in the National Gallery depository Jiří Kovanda first started to use in his installations material related to installation practice in the everyday gallery run, for example strings, paper, glass and wooden wedges. He also employs things of daily use and household objects including foods in his current installations and interventions, along with objects typical of a particular place. Through them he makes a space more visible and defines its individual parts, and thus also slightly manipulatively determines how a particular space and its layout is perceived by viewers and sets a new manner of movement in this space. Jiří Kovanda’s installations are not rooted in an idea of a certain place suitable for or adjustable to a particular work; instead, he executes an idea and the preparation of a situation which is to make up the base of a new project, or of the employment of some of his older works, directly on the spot. This is also the case with the central installation Gold Ring which, perhaps most of all the works on display, prompts a reflection of values, in a metaphorical comparison of a string and a ring, an ordinary thing and an exceptional object. Everything has the same value, all depends on context and interpretation.
A virtual tour of Jiří Kovanda's exhibition - Ten minutes earlier can be found here.
 It was a provisional gallery space in Provaznická Street. The basement room of the Odeon publishers where Jan Mlčoch worked from 1978 was originally designed as an archive, and until Mlčoch’s resignation in 1980 was used by three Prague body artists (Karel Miler, Petr Štembera and Jan Mlčoch) as a meeting place. They staged there their own performances as well as those by their close friends, including Jiří Kovanda.
 In this respect, a key role in Kovanda’s art was played by Marcel Duchamp’s exhibition in the Václav Špála Gallery in 1969, prepared by the chief curator Jindřich Chalupecký in collaboration with the Milan art collector, gallery owner and art theorist Arturo Schwarz.
 In 1977 Karel Miler got Kovanda a job in the National Gallery in Prague; he was responsible for a depository housed in the Municipal Library. Kovanda worked there until 1995 when he became an assistant professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, in a studio headed by Vladimír Skrepl.
 Not surprisingly, the artist’s installations tend to be confused with ordinary things accidentally left in a space, and as such must be carefully protected from the over-enthusiastic cleaning staff.