Fotograf Magazine

Banská St a nica

Banská St a nica is an important cultural program which has been active since 2009, organizing residencies, exhibitions, concerts and performances. It is an important centre for contemporary art in Slovakia. On the one hand, it creates a local cultural environment in Banská Štiavnica and the surrounding area, while on the other hand it makes art in the international context accessible, connecting it with the local scene. Responsible for the establishment of St a nica, the Štokovec cultural association and eleven years of work are the theoretician Zuzana Bodnárová and the visual artist Svätopluk Mikyta.

Being in the middle of the wilderness, in a tiny historical city, and yet at a place connected with professional contemporary art is a poetic experience indeed. How was the idea born to establish Banska St a nica in Banská Štiavnica?

We arrived at this decision through our conversations. We talk when we walk the dog, work in the garden or when we’re driving somewhere. Some organizations have meetings in the conference room every Monday and team building on the weekends, but we have these mundane partners’ discussions. Though from the outside, we look like a serious and functional organization, we do not work hierarchically—it’s more organic, sometimes elemental. Improvisation is an important ingredient in our work, although sometimes, particularly when collaborating with artists “from the West”, we have to tame this element a little and emphasize systematic planning. One such conversation, in 2009, about changing the dynamics of our lives, initiated our move from Prague to central Slovakia. Of course, this would not have been possible without some idea of what we would do here. The image of the “wilderness” became part of the story we’re writing here, but in reality, this is small town work through and through.

On its ten-year anniversary, St a nica moved to a new space. What did this bring you and the artists?

For the first ten years, everything was in the shadow of the strong genius loci of the train station (“stanica” is the Slovak word for station – translator’s note). The large hall, or rather the peripheral industrial cathedral with a minimum of passengers but still operational railway connections—and artists. Constant movement on the borders of the public and the private. Contact with the passengers; a lot of energy invested in “guarding” the property of the state; selling train tickets. We were younger, perhaps more naive too, but in any case, we had more energy and we enjoyed it all immensely. And we think the artists did too. Many of them involved the environment and its atmosphere in their projects directly (Peter Puklus, The Rodina, Habima Fuchs, František Skála, Kateřina Hrušková, Agnieszka Grodzińska, Rudolf Sikora, Zsófia Keresztes and many others). Our move to the centre and the new ten-year contract provide us with a certain comfort, running water in the studios (former classrooms), a large garden and a view of the historical centre. There is no story like the station had, nor are we on the picturesque periphery, but we’re working on it. As Andrej Dúbravský poetically put it: “The station was for holidays, the school is for work.” We’re trying to have a little of both at our new address.

In 2019, Banská Štiavnica was the city of culture of Slovakia and it really seemed like it was the most important place in the country. Reviewers claimed the Jozef Kollár Gallery was the most progressive exhibition space in Slovakia, there were several artistic interventions into public space and a new festival was born: JAMA – Milan Adamčiak’s 73rd Year. You were either principal organizers or partners for most of these events. What was important for you?

We were invited to the Jozef Kollár Gallery in 2015 as curators to find a new concept for the Triennial of the Small Object and Drawing. We opened a new exhibition space within the gallery, Display BSC (2015–2020), whose small exhibitions “mirrored” projects by our residents. In reality, our roles there accumulated over the years: curators, cleaners, production managers. We began cleaning exhibitions which had been untouched for years and pointing out the low standards, woefully sleepy atmosphere and insufficient staffing. Lucie Tkáčová really stood out with these activities in 2019. She literally moved into the gallery with her project, Galerie HIT, and in addition to physically cleaning the spaces, she also made an excellent assessment of the institution’s exhibition dramaturgy.

By the end of the year, we were at the limits of our capacity. The twenty-three residencies we organized were an exceptional experience. Everything was probably important. We expect that people will offer up their reflections on the individual projects.

The year 2020 seems to be a numerically and aesthetically beautiful number. However, it brings a serious look at the world through the lens of the coronavirus pandemic. Within the current global situation, artists and theoreticians have stopped traveling, spending all the more time working at home and in their studios. What are your plans?

At the end of 2019, when we were putting together the dramaturgy for our 12th season, we were exhausted. We decided that after a hectic and crammed period, we’d relax a little, approaching residents on the basis of the following thematic areas: family, introspection, intimacy, balance and a new sensitivity. Today, you could call these assignments prophetic.

Jana Bernartová