Home and Abroad: Central Europe Cinema

02 06 - 23 10 2022
Museum of Modern Art: Gallery

The special programme of the Central European Forum Olomouc connects the existing permanent exhibition dedicated to the now passed "century of relativity" and the new, fresh, equally fast-paced century - the twenty-first century. It also connects the two prisms through which the institution has long profiled itself - the museum and the forum. In several closed editions, it offers insights into regionally specific themes that nonetheless have the ambition or potential to generalize its experience. In doing so, it makes particular use of the imaginative and creative possibilities of film and video art.

Central European Cinema is part of the Home and Abroad project, which perspective focuses on problematic or even painful moments in Central European history as well as the formation of personal and shared identity. Among others, it turns to issues of cultural alienation (Wilhelm Sasnal), exile (Mark Ther) and the oppression (Sarah Dobai). It also theorizes the very own search for home - a new work by Habima Fuchs, produced by the Olomouc Museum of Art, reflects the primordial myth of European civilization, the expulsion from paradise. Above all, however, it presents another insight into the imaginative and creative world of Mirosław Bałka, the main guest of this years SEFO season. It is he who is the eventual counterbalance to the entry edition, the most pressing one, which responds to the current situation - and is dedicated to contemporary Ukrainian artists. If human history is "a struggle for control of the centre of the world", as British historian Peter Frankopan writes, it is time to learn from the experience that Central Europe has - and make the centre into the whole.  

The structure of the individual chapters of CE Cinema is variable, reacting to the situation, the presentation adapting to the chosen point of view. Nevertheless, in the end, there is a strong connection revealed - we are all bound by a common destiny, across space and time.

Mirosław Bałka: Teddy Bear in Otwock

Mirosław Bałka, an exceptional personality of the Polish as well as global art of the transformation period, today rarely engages human figure as such. This is even though his work is essentially about human perception of the world. Ultimately, he is a sculptor, an artist moving in space and revising space. Instead, he chooses a placeholder, creating a conceptual or imaginative construction, in the centre of which he places a reduced symbolic element whose task is to locate history within the limits of lived reality and its ordinary experience. The fragments of the family house-studio, located in Otwock, Northern Poland, thousands of times touched everyday objects or even the measure of ones own body, do not receive abstraction but residualisation – they become nodal points, sources of trauma, they are things in themselves. And they follow us in our actions.

One of these marginal entities is the teddy bear, a toy found in the remains of Otwocks childhood room. A reminder of a different dimension of life, but also of the universality of human life. Who among us hasnt had a teddy bear like this? Or experienced feelings of fear, alienation, and shared joy with it? Who has not associated the same with their own home? The imaginary place of a still naive childhood, in which we are not responsible for ourselves, but listen to others, accept their vision of the world, their conception of the past and the events that emerge from it, from which and among which we seek the foundations of our own history?

Bałkas greatest talent does not lie in the evocation of strong emotions, in a pathos directly proportional to the degree of collective suppression of conscious realities, in which one can, in the end, be quite content to wallow. It is due to his capacity for distance – the use of a strong aesthetic language and the combination of contradictory, internally opposing strategies. A minimal gesture? Maximum space. Soap as a means of cleansing? But also, a thing that touches the “dirtiest” places - the ones we want to wash off our own bodies. A teddy bear as a friend? More an element of defiance, of gentle prodding and absurdity. The intellectual game we become part of thanks to Bałka, a game about our own conception of the world, is magnificent, the more complex the greater the reduction that precedes it. Comfort is not to be found in it at all. But it can teach us a lot.

Mirosław Bałka: Teddy Bear in Otwock, 1998, 4 x 24 slides, spatial installation

Mirosław Bałka (1958, Warsaw) is a Polish sculptor and visual artist based in Warsaw, Otwock, and Oliva, Spain. He graduated from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, today he is the head of the Studio of Spatial Activities. From 1986 to 1989 he was a member of the group Consciousness Neue Bieriemiennost. In 1991, he received a Mies van der Rohe scholarship from the Kunstmuseum Krefeld. He is a member of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin. He has participated in Documents IX (1992, Kassel), the Venice Biennale (1990, 2003, 2005, 2013), SITE Santa Fe’s 6th International Biennial (2006), etc. In 2009, he prepared the installation How It Is for Turbine Hall in London’s Tate Modern. He presented himself in the Czech Republic at a solo exhibition at the House of Arts in České Budějovice in 2017. Together with Kasia Redzisz and Magda Materna, they founded and led the Studio Otwock project between 2010 and 2018.

Edice V / Habima Fuchs: Equinox
16 08–28 08 2022

A Color stands abroad / On Solitary Fields / That Science cannot overtake / But Human Nature feels. It waits upon the Lawn, / It shows the furthest Tree / Upon the furthest Slope you know / It almost speaks to you.”

Emily Dickinson, A Light exists in Spring –  

Habima Fuchs is the type of artist who draws heavily on lived cultural history and philosophy in her work. She draws on her rich experience of both European and Eastern traditions. She combines the principles of both and by synthesising them she arrives at a new conception of the world, which she also envelops in a similarly complex mythology. The metaphorical way of thinking is reflected in the meaning as well as in its formal or visual side – her way of communication is distinctly aesthetic, each element fulfils its role in the story, yet it can hardly be reduced to a simple interplay of elements. The image of the world she creates is therefore truly finit, complete, almost autonomous, while at the same time not lacking the fragility that every creative gesture possesses. Habima´s work is always personally experienced, it is not an "empty game of art", but at the same time it offers enough space for our own imagination. What she aims at, therefore, is not simple timelessness, she does not offer us an escape from the present situation, on the contrary – if we give it a chance, we will find that her work reveals and re-shapes the so-called present in a very sophisticated way. 

The project, prepared by Habima Fuchs for Olomouc and created within the framework of the Year of Home and Abroad, is entitled Equinox. It is a combination of a performance, which took place in the Ecological Centre Sluňákov, and a poetic film, set, among other things, in the spaces of the local Arch – the Garden of Paradise by František Skála and the Solar Mountain by Miloš Šejn. The story of the return to the equilibrium "world of the centre", the world before the flood, Dantes Paradise, is depicted in eleven images, the central role of which is played by the burying of the snake, the planting of the apple tree and the cutting of the hair. The individual images are conceived as self-contained wholes, encompassing a range of familiar objects and gestures, elevated to the level of transcendence within the ritual. The burning candle, the apple, the grazing cattle, and the "marginal" – but in fact monumental – dramatic entries of family members whose kinship is subtly indicated by common features, contribute to a strongly metaphorical vision of the world. Watching the film, we go through a process of personal purification with the author, while being reminded of our own absolute belonging to the community.

Habima Fuchs (* 1977) is a Czech visual artist whose work has long been revising the established mechanisms and traditional existential, philosophical or metaphysical turns that we rely on to understand the world we live in. The symbols and motifs she reflects and materializes in this process come from different cultures and periods, from the framework of Christian iconography and oriental religious contexts. The result is an seductive and subversive, but also deeply self-critical imagery. Habima Fuchs is strongly associated with the German environment and the SVIT gallery in Prague. She has been exhibiting individually and collectively since the beginning of the millennium. Recent exhibitions include participation in the Biennale Gherdeina (2020) or the exhibition Unplugged (Rudolfinum, 2020). She has completed, among others, residencies in Banska St a nica Contemporary (2014) and Stromboli (Fiorucci Art Trust, 2015). In 2015, Habima Fuchs participated in Otwock Season 5 entitled Silvohoriaromatherapy.

The edition IV / Mark Ther: Welt des Bauern 
02 08 - 14 08 2022

Mark Thers roots originate in the Broumov region, where part of his family lived in the past. Ther regularly returns there and finds inspiration for his films and drawings. The forests, meadows and rural landscape, sparsely populated but rich in memories of the events that took place there, create a humble yet compelling backdrop for the simple story lines unfolding between a few actors. The obvious ones are the characters themselves - often young boys or old women - but alongside them, there are also objects that play a role in the story - hidden treasures or lost books and journals or even the trees and abandoned buildings that stand freely in the field. The costumes, props and dialect of the characters usually place the time of the films somewhere in the first half of the 20th century; we cannot tell the exact time from the setting, the landscape is unchanging and the cottages and roadside crosses remain in place. However, knowing Thers work, we can assume that this is a time when Germans still had a firm place in the Czech borderlands. The landscape of the Broumov region, the border zone of Sudetenland, but also other places outside Thers usual radius, thus become permanent witnesses to small episodes in a larger historical narrative. 

Thers latest film so far, Welt des Bauern, is another story of everyday life in the Czechoslovak Sudetenland. The setting is once again Broumov, specifically the village of Šonov (Schönau); it is three years after the First World War and Jan, a young man, sets off early in the morning on a journey through the countryside. It is not certain where he is going, or even if he is heading anywhere, but after some time his journey comes to an abrupt end when he meets an unknown man who warns him that he has crossed a national border and, thanks to his inattention, has found himself in another country.

Mark Ther (*1979) is a visual artist, filmmaker and author of complex gallery environments. He lives and works in Prague. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in the studio of Vladimír Skrepl and studied in the new media studio of Michael Bielický. He belongs to the promoters of video art and art films in the Czech Republic. In 2011, he won the Jindřich Chalupecký Award. In his films he often works with fictional stories set in a real context. Important for him is the theme of minority identities and events related to the indigenous German population and their culture living on the Czech territory. He uses reduced means of expression and precise work with detail in his films and installations, and in recent years also in his drawing, which has transformed from a tool for designing storyboards into an independent means of expression.Thers art is a way for him to capture reality in a given moment, which however can be (and often it really is) a combination of historical cultural realities with free authorial invention. 

Welt des Bauern was made in 2022 and is being shown for the first time at the Olomouc Museum of Art.

The edition III/ Sarah Dobai: The Donkey Field
18 07 - 31 07 2022

In her new film from 2021, the British artist with Hungarian roots attempts to link Central European anti-Semitism in the first half of the 20th century with Robert Bressons 1966 film Au Hasard Balthazar. She uses a specific setting for it – an uninhabited, depopulated area in the middle of the city called the Donkey Field. And, as is typical for her, she combines tangible elements of real situations and character interactions with dreamlike, imaginative visuals that move across time and space. The latter is perhaps more significant than the former – for Dobai employs strategies similar to Bressons, minimal gesture, narrative dashes, lack of dramatic moments and work with non-actors. And in doing so, she manages to connect seemingly incoherent elements of global cultural memory with their real-life realisations – the attack on the little boy, which takes place sometime in 1944, with the timeless story of another Maria and Balthazar, 21st century Hungary with Marias flight to Egypt etc. The film, which presents an “outside view” – of Central Europe as well as of us, the historical actors, also for this reason builds mainly on its impressive visuality, symbolic, metaphorical, and universal about itself. However, it also makes use of verbal narrative – It is this that functionally links the “historical” storyline with the imaginative one, reflecting the nature of sacrificial innocence. The Donkey Field was, after all, at least partly filmed on the streets of contemporary Budapest, during a political regime criticised for its anti-immigration policy and harsh treatment of refugees. However, it even more emphasises the relevance of the story of a “universal” child accompanied by an equally “universal” donkey and likens it to other, more recent versions of the same violent displacement and victimisation. The poignancy of the situation is then further heightened, unintentionally of course, by current events. And like the authors represented in Edition I, reflecting on the current (“our”) Ukrainian drama, Sarah Dobai reminds us of the value of simple kindness, respect, and trust.

The Donkey Field was produced with the support of Arts Council England, University of the Arts, London and The Elephant Trust. 

Sarah Dobai completed a Masters in Fine Art at the University of British Columbia studying under Jeff Wall and Mark Lewis. She lives and works in London and is a Senior Lecturer at Chelsea College of Art and Design. Dobai works with photography, film, video and performance. She says: “In broad terms, my work engages with the everyday, realism, artifice and illusion in relation to city life and cinematic or pictorial conventions. My film and photographic works have come about through a performative and reflexive process or are made on location where the latent atmospheric qualities or its material economy animate the image. The work is often centred on the human figure, the subject being defined by their circumstances rather than by their individual characteristics. This approach intends to ground the use of fiction or narrative in the conditions of everyday life or reflexively in relation to the conditions of the production and consumption of the work itself.”  Her work thus reflects the central position of photography and cinema in relation to ongoing debates around representation, realism and authorship. Recent projects, including The Donkey Field and The Overcoat, have focused on reconstructing and repurposing historical works of literature or cinema as a means to animate present-day social and political concerns. 

Dobai has shown widely in museums and galleries in the UK, Europe and America. Recent solo exhibitions and projects include at Danielle Arnaud, Imperial War Museum, Glassyard Gallery and BALTIC. As well as The Donkey Field, other recent projects include The Overcoat, published by Four Corners Books, a republication of Nikolai Gogol’s classic novella (1842), her solo show Principles & Deceptions at Or Gallery (Vancouver) and Filet (London), Twenty Second Hold at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and Bees in a Hive of Glass, a collaboration with novelist Tom McCarthy produced for TANK Magazine & Whitstable Biennale. Her work features Charlotte Cotton’s Photography as Contemporary Art, Photographie Contemporaine by Michel Poivert  (2nd edition) and Phillip Prodger’s  recently published The Photographic Portrait A History. Selected group shows that she has participated in include at Whitechapel Art Gallery, Kamloops Art Gallery (Canada), Centre de Photographie et Arts Lectoure (France), Kuandu Museum of Fine Art (Taipei),  FotoMuseum Antwerp, Winterthur Foto Museum, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

The edition II / Wilhelm Sasnal: USA
05 07 - 17 07 2022

Wilhelm Sasnal (*1972)
is a painter, illustrator and filmmaker. He lives and works in Cracow, Poland. He studied architecture at the Technical University of Cracow, where he founded the Ładnie group with his colleagues, then moved on to the Academy of Fine Arts, from which he graduated in 1999. In the same year he won the Grand Prix at the Bielska Jesień Biennial, the Pegaz Prize in 2003 and The Vincent Van Gogh Biennial Award for Contemporary Art in Europe in 2006. In 2002 he participated in Art Basel, which brought him the interest of many curators and institutions in Europe (Münster, Cologne, Zurich, Antwerp, London) and in the USA (New York). At the Kunsthalle Zürich he exhibited his films for the first time. His paintings have been featured on the front pages of Frieze and Artforum magazines. In 2005, his painting Airplanes became the most expensive painting sold by a living Polish artist. In 2006 Flash Art named him the most successful young artist in its TOP 100 Artists list. In the following years, he went on to have a number of solo and group exhibitions in international institutions and private galleries. He has been making short experimental films inspired by the Polish film avant-garde and neo-avant-garde since 1996. In 2008 he made his first feature film Swineherd and since then he has been collaborating on films with his wife Anka.

Wilhelm Sasnal is a painter of film stills and a director of pictorial compositions. However, both roles are loosely intertwined in his work and neither is 100% true. On the one hand stands the objectivity of Sasnals paintings depicting real situations - often originally captured in photographs or videos - which nevertheless contain a strong artistic presence of the artist. On the other hand, there is the high degree of non-specificity, unintentionality and subjective non-narrative of Sasnals short films, shot, however, through the eye of an observer of the real world - only perhaps of a different and strange one.

As Łukasz Ronduda writes: "Sasnals films and painting are strongly rooted in his own existence, they are an imagination-filtered record of his relations to the world, the place he lives in or is currently in, his loved ones (especially his wife Anka), his friends or the people he meets on his travels." Their objectivity, whether formal or substantive, is thus always viewed through the authors own experience and feeling, and offers a novel combination of personal curiosity and cool detachment.

A series of short films shot in the United States between 2003-2006 on a portable film camera on 8mm and 16mm stock draws on experimental approaches used extensively in the Polish neo-avant-garde film tradition. Sasnal follows the "personal cinema" format, which uses the close proximity of the camera and the private life of the cinematographer, allowing him to capture and convey his own mentality, personal curiosity or authorial gestures alongside reality itself. Sasnal made the films during his sojourns in the United States at the rise of his artistic popularity, and it is thus the subjective format as well as the characteristically analogue visuality of the films that offers a personal and almost nostalgic view of a Central European on the vanishing culture of the West - a culture of cowboys, rusting technological achievements and the independent guitar music scene.

Wilhelm Sasnals films from 2005-2006, when he was living in the United States, were presented at exhibition USA at the CSW Zamek Ujazdowski in Warsaw. They are shown in the Czech Republic for the first time.

Marfa (2005, 28:51)

The title of the film comes from the name of the town in Texas where Wilhelm Sasnal stayed in 2005 for an artist residency. Marfa is famous for the collection and museum of artist Donald Judd, whose work and ideas Sasnal refers to in several shots of the film and in the overall structure of the films narrative (Ł. Ronduda). Using all the people Sasnal met in the town, including local skateboarders and the only music group that was active there - SPIC (Satanic Punk International Conspiracy) - the film explores the North American fascination with cars and shows a kind of performance taking place between the locals, their cars and the Texas desert.

Mojave (2006, 6:36)

In the film, Sasnals wife and son walk amongst plane wreckage in the Mojave Desert in the USA. The camera follows them as they wander from one machine to another, entering empty fuselages, hiding in rusting engines. The video is accompanied by music from Polish films of the 1950s. The film illustrates Sasnals interest in the genre of "personal cinema", which was particularly inspiring for his filmmaking. The author always carries his camera with him and creates a kind of film notebook in which he records his relationship to reality, to places and people to which he feels attached.

Chicago (2003, 11:38)

Formally, the most radical of the films on display is a simple recording from the window of a train and a car. The grey suburbs of Chicago pass by outside the window and pause only occasionally for some detail, only to pick up again and resume its journey. The shots are accompanied by the repetitive chords of a lo-fi guitar track with bland dynamics that add to the monotony of the whole film. The film reflects the "diariness" of Sasnals work and the need to record the current state of affairs, regardless of its historical significance or artistic potential.

The Ranch (2006, 37:08)

The film is a collection of seemingly arbitrarily assembled images that were spontaneously taken during Sasnals travels across the USA. The film includes footage shot on a Texas ranch during the branding and castration of bulls; another fragment, shot from a moving car, shows a large industrial complex from different perspectives; another follows a television reporter as she delivers a news report; and another peers over a fence at a girls baseball game. The sound, too, is a collage of many songs from different places and situations. Sometimes it complements the atmosphere of the picture, sometimes it works in counterpoint to the rhythm of the visual content or is not related to the unfolding plot at all.

The edition I/ Mykola Ridnyi: Art in the State of Emergency
02 06 - 03 07 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine that began on 24 February 2022, has shaken Europe and the rest of the world. Ukrainian society, however, has lived in anxiety for the past eight years, since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and unleashed a hybrid war in the Donbas region. The edition I presents a selection of video works and film essays by Ukrainian artists and filmmakers produced during this period. They reflect on a range of topics, including the impact of propaganda and war destruction, existence in a traumatic environment, and humanitarian and ecological disaster. While some depict ongoing events, others rethink historical narratives or outline dystopian perspectives. Could the disaster have been prevented if we had been more sensitive observers of the world around us in general?

Over the last three months, thousands of Ukrainian civilians have died, much of the local infrastructure and residential areas have been destroyed, and we are all living under the threat of a nuclear disaster. Some artists have managed to emigrate, others have become displaced in their own country with no way to leave. The call for art to meditate, share and encourage the revision of this experience is growing. The edition I/ Art in the State of Emergency deliberately calls for solidarity in this extraordinary situation.

The screening follows the project Film of Emergency prepared in cooperation with the National Gallery in Sofia (Iaroslava Boubnova). The next presentation is planned by Kunstraum Munchen.

Grey Horses (2016, 38), directed by Mykola Ridnyi
People Who Came to Power (2015, 17), directed by Oleksiy Radynski, Tomash Rafa
Diorama (2018, 12), directed by Zoya Laktionova
Clanking, Dispute, Hammering and Gurgling (2020, 10), directed by Daniil Revkovskiy and Andriy Rachinskiy 
There are No Monuments to Monuments (2021, 35’), We fought for six years, then it was covered with snow, and in the spring they erected a monument to the hero (2021, 3’), directed by Dana Kavelina

Home and Abroad: Central Europe Cinema
CURATORS: Barbora Kundračíková, Jakub Frank
SPECIAL GUESTS: Mykola Ridnyi, Mirosław Bałka, Habima Fuchs, Wilhelm Sasnal, Mark Ther, Sarah Dobai ad.
PRODUCTION: Tomáš Jurníček, Kamil Zajíček
INSTALLATION: Daniel Opletal, Vlastimil Sedláček, Filip Šindelář
SUBTITLES: AZ Translation, Lucie Melicharová

The exhibition is held under the auspices of the Consulate of Ukraine in Brno.


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