A House On Jungmannova
4+4+4 Days in Motion
A documentary by Dan Senn
(continued from the Introduction)
example, Milos Vojtechovsky,
a festival curator told me of an installation by local Czech
artists, who collected old medical supplies and equipment which they then used to create
installations of faux medical environments. Within this house, the transplant was especially
effective, in part, because the building had been used for many years as a dental clinic.
Early on in the event patrons were seen innocently showing off the surgical tools they had
found causing the artists to install a clear shield at the entrance to their piece.
documentary is also about
the social usefulness of art venues which exercise the
continuum between "white box" galleries and rough alternative spaces, like this house on
Jungmannova, as well as the spectrum of possible aesthetic interventions available to
artists in a building which doubles as a work of art.
strove to undermine perfection, yet it has always turned out to
its unintended decoration, its subversive bijouterie. Imperfection establishes and marks up
the line between what is flawless and what failed. Imperfection comes to life when certain
rules are not followed and causes a defect. Imperfection forces the system to remain vigil,
to search for faults, to respond, to change and to adapt. Imperfection is stimulating. There
is no worlds without imperfection." (paragraph from festival brochure and website)
The White Box vs Jungmannova
galleries, like a
good frame, should not interfere with the art they present and
even have an amplifying effect. This is achieved through good lighting and comfortable
temperatures, open space and white walls, quiet and security. In contrast, alternative
spaces, like the Jungmanova house, are messy and visually intrusive. They are filled with
refuse, code violations, broken windows, pigeon shit, leaky roofs, broken plumbing and
inadequate power. Quite clearly, art that is created for a white box gallery may not work
in a rough alternative space.
of traditional white
box galleries as transparent vehicles which function to focus
attention on the art as well as the individuality and will of the artist. By comparison, rough,
alternative spaces, as represented by the house on Jungmanova, are opaque because they
impede access to the art and artist individuality while raising many difficulties,
logistical and otherwise.
opaque a venue is,
the more likely it will function as an artifact, or as an
anthropomorphic stucture which, in turn, will engage the artist in a form of aesthetic
negotiation--a kind of give and take which has the effect of diluting the willfull individuality
while, paradoxically, inducing a powerful individuating effect. As the venue shifts toward
opacity, there is less room for controlled meaning and metaphor as the artist is absorbed
by the mechanics of the integration process. For the patron, too, the opaque venue provides
a non-traditional role and increased opportunities for aesthetic investigation, most of which
are left to curators in the white box setting.
Therefore, in summary, the more opaque a venue is...
- the more it becomes an artifact and an anthropomorphic structure.
- the more an artist must engage the house in conceptual negotiation.
- the less the artist has access to willful meaning and metaphor.
- the less an artist is able to express willful individuality.
- the more likely an artist will embrace new ideas.
- the increased responsibility of the patron to critically
assess what is and what isn't art.
- the increased benefit to society.
Framing and Attribution
artist is asked to present
in an alternative environment, such as in the house on
Jungmannova, they cannot count on an antiseptic and secure environment. Even before
developing a concept, they must visit the site where they may discover the natural
conditions already in a state of unframed beauty, and this will cause a peculiar sense
The source of this discomfort is twofold.
First, most artists desire some form of
recognition for their work and this will
require white box gallery exposure. Without these venues and deadlines, an artist's work
will suffer. Yet, art presented within an opaque venue runs the immanent risk of being
overlooked as it may blend too closely with the existing conditions.
Second, such a venue can be intimidating as the
questions whether an intervention is
justified or even necessary. What should follow, however, is that this "natural" beauty, the
"brokenness" of the Jungamannova house, would itself remain undetected and unrecognized
in the scurry of everyday life unless it is "socialized into usefulness" through framing,
attribution and exhibition, and this is the justification for a considerate process
of aesthetic integration.
Here are 10 ways an artist might connect with the opaque venue.
NOTHING: This could
be reaction to the complexity and beauty of the presentation
space, where the artist chooses to do nothing or to intervene only to the extent of an
attribution. One could, for example, claim an enclosed space where existing conditions are
acceptable and, perhaps, beyond what the artist is capable of anyways. Afterall, atrophy
can be quite beautiful. A gesture of this sort could also be taken as an act of
preservation-an acknowledgement of nature's deft hand in making things beautiful.
To frame this decision, that is, to make this choice clear to others, while reserving and
protecting the room itself, it is necessary to "sign the piece" by posting an attribution.
2. SUBTLE EXTENSION: An artist may choose to interfere only
slightly with existing
conditions through minor alterations. Here, as before, the subtlety of the gesture will run
the risk of being missed by patrons and will require overt framing and attribution. Such an
intervention should also have a rocognized level of systemmatic regularity to it, an aspect
of humanness not usually associated with nature. While the patrons attending an opaque
venue are always questioning "what is art, and what isn't art," their are limits to
their detective skills.
artist may choose to emphasize an existing condition
through a sense of irony. Here some playful trickery might exist as patrons are already in
a state of planned confusion and not always certain of what they are looking at anyways.
This was the case where one artist painted shadows over existing shadows.
artist may choose to impose alien characteristics on top
of existing conditions as was the case with Michaela Petru's work. Here, the intervention
surmises what might have been present, given the history of the venue, and then reinstates
it. Like other interventions already mentioned, without framing and attibution, this too will
run the risk being overlooked.
An artist may choose to use materials from other
parts of the house, like the sound of the first floor transformer buzzing or the many doors
which had were laying about abandoned and then to relocate and recontextualize
an inverse relationship to what happens in a traditional
gallery, an artist may choose to use the rough environment to contrast and amplify their
work. This option is the most transportable even to white box venues as it may lack an
hint of site specifity.
7. EXTREME INTERVENTION:
This is possible in
an alternative spaces where the building
is slated for removal or complete remodelling, as with the Jungmanova house-where
damage incurred will be of little or no consequence.
An artist may choose merge a reality with the
opaque venue. This was most effectively done by Czech artists who brought in old medical
supplies and equipment and filled a space to create a kind of feax clinic of sorts.
many artists entered the Jungmannova house before the
festival, after years of abandonment, some experienced a fear and foreboding in reaction to
its dark, dirty, damp and overall complexity. Pigeons were every-some fluttering in your
face. This experience became integral to the concepts developed for the house.
RELATIVITY: An artist
may choose to link their concept with the "spirit" of
house itself, with its history, local, or regional aspects. Here, for example, are some
possible connections of to the Jungmannova house.
- The house was likely owned
by a Jewish person who disappeared in the
1940s during Nazi occupation.
- The building was used as a dental clinic during the communist years.
- The house is located on Jungmannova street, named after an
important Czech linguist who, in the 19th Century,
helped to reestablish the Czech language.
- A Jewish cemetery once existed near or beneath this building.
- Organizers for this festival made links between this house
and Franz Kafka's imaginary Odradek character.
The Odadek Complex, an installation by Dan Senn
more recent incarnations, see Drumming
with Thoreau, Many
Pairs Sounding, Many
regular visitor to Prague,
a city from which I often stage exhibition tours to galleries
elsewhere in Europe, I was only invited to be part of the festival after arriving in mid-March
of 2006. My original plan was to travel the first 6 weeks, then return to Prague and work in
isolation on some upcoming American projects. But my friend Milos Vojtechovsky, asked me
to participate in the festival and, after visiting the Jungmanova house, I readily agreed as it
presented an unique set of challenges for me, not the least of which was the chance to
develop an installation from scratch away from my well-equipped Oregon studio. I would
have to make do with the materials at hand.
considered the various
levels of integration with the Jungamannova house, after having
had a good dance with the building, I chose a practical solution that took into account my
limitations, but also the fact that I needed an installation with "legs," that is, an expandable
concept which was transportable to other venues. Milos had also suggested that I consider
including references to Kafka's imaginary Odradek character in my piece, a mysterious
impish character very befitting of a house in central Prague. And then I had stashed away in
my catalog of unrealized installations an idea I had first encountered in Düren, Germany in
1998. While setting up a kinetic sound installation of suspended paper tubes, I inadvertantly
set a 1m by 10cm paper tube on top of a subwoofer which was cycling subaudio frequencies
of 0 to 12 cycles per second. This resonated the tube but when I placed a piece of paper on
top of the tube, it pushed it into the air and then sucked it back causing it to strike and
resonate the tube loudly. I was so taken by the effect I remember wondering if there was
any way of using it immediately. For years afterwards I pondered this effect, and since I
had subwoofers with me now in Prague, I decided to experiment further with it. The trick
would be to find proper tubing and then to keep the paper positioned on top, perhaps, using
a fold or a hinge. I could also see how this effect might dovetail with the Odradek
suggestion, say, if I were to purposefully incorporate human-like sounds and gestures
emanating from the tubes. I envisioned a kind percussion piece using subaudio freqencies to
move paper mallets atop pvc tubes combined Odradek-like utterances. You see, the same
speakers used to move air columns with subaudio tones can be, obviously, to play back
audible tones. This, of it all worked, was a doable installation given my limited resources,
one that satisfide aspects of site specificity, while providing me with a new, expandable
and transportable concept.
the correct weight of
paper to use as a mallet was the most difficult problem to
solve but after two weeks of trial and error, my concerns advanced to matters of having
dependable power and security. Also, because the installation was mysterious in its
operation, I was a little concerned that a child, or an exuberant adult, might tip over my
towers. I was also intrigued by the idea that using tones beneath the hearing range might
infer continental rumblings from beneath the house. Such low frequency waveforms,
furthermore, would certainly flow like flood waters into the adjacent rooms, an especially
interesting prospect given that my room had once been the director's office during the
dental clinic years. All the more appropriate. DS 10/06
TOC | Director Statement | Introduction | Brochure (pdf) | Chapter Clips | Artists | Dan Senn