Fotograf Magazine

Outside

The exhibit, Outside (Mimo zónu) appeared as if it were not prepared by a curator but rather a sniper, who could hit a titmouse spot on from a distance of two kilometres. Precisely targeted at the minimalist, non- figural – partially conceptual – creations of the 1970s and 1980s, it speaks of the normalisation period with much greater persuasion than the concurrently running mega-retrospective, Once upon a Time in the East (Tenkrát na východě).

The difference between them is precisely in the curatorial proposition, in the understanding of the principle that an exhibit itself can be a work of art and not just a chronological card-catalogue summary of artists. Dušan Šimánek set his sights on a clear objective in the Langhans Gallery. Because he stuck precisely to his plan, he created a shape that speaks of life behind the Iron Curtain from a much clearer position than the loosely-defined project of Vladimír Birgus and Tomáš Pospěch.

Of course it is not completely fair to compare one exhibit to another, but here we cannot avoid comparisons. This is because both projects not only relate to the same time period, but they also, in part, present the same collections from the same artists.   This holds true for Okna / Windows by Jaroslav Bárta or the night-time impressions of Smíchov by Jiří Poláček. But whereas in the first case these series serve only to expand the list of artists, in the Langhans (Gallery), besides their compact, aesthetic tuning, they also support a political thought, which is that of debasing space: something that occurred during the totalitarian period.

The title, Outside, can of course refer to artists, who created outside the mainstream, including the domestic documentary-reporting tradition (even though in the case of Bohdan Holomíček this is just a matter of intentional selection from his work). The zone can be even the streets, where photographers of that day walked, only to find disinterestedness. Outside speaks of distance; of that which you saw if you looked somewhere  else.

The exhibit at the Langhans works in pertinent indications and details with the basic paradox that Socialist society, whose proclaimed (fundamental) principle was sharing, withdrew into itself in the 1970s and 1980s, into a closely-guarded privacy and it fully cleared the public space.

The sense of streets and sidewalks got lost – see the (film) band, Kulisa města / Urban Settings by Daniela Horníčková and Ivan Lutterer – as did ultimately that of stores, as is commented on in the bitter- sweet photos of display windows by Irena Stehli. The showcase, which under normal circumstances is meant to seduce, attract and flirt, here simply states: there is no one to selling anything to.

The mutilated facades of houses in Bárta’s Okna / Windows again indicate the ostentatious disinterest in the town’s appearance. After all no one wants to live outside, so why try. Everyone wants to be inside behind their windows. The photographs of Vratislav Hůrka also speak of this in the series, Narušení / Disturbance. We only make it beyond the door in the series, Ticho / Silence, by Dušan Šimánek, which captures long-ago abandoned interiors, from which the right to intimacy is gone. This concerns the empty houses in Žižkov waiting to be torn down.

Jasanský and Polák’s Pragensie thereafter presents, in this situation, a rediscovered effort to infiltrate the public space; how to find functioning spaces that can still be considered lively thoroughfares and gathering places. They find however only bus end stations, bus stops, lit intersections, and benches placed around city parks.

From this concept only the introductory photographs by Josef Sudek stand out. Here he has the role of a sort of guru staked out before the gate, but he doesn’t have much in common with the rest of the exhibit.

Outside is the most powerful photo exhibit currently taking place in Prague.  This is mainly because it succeeded in using limited aesthetics to speak of normalisation.  Thanks to a monitored curatorial objective it  brings  out  an  intense  political  message,  which  is  not  even proclamatory nor slavishly built on awe and wonder.  Once upon a Time in  the  East  gathered  many  photographs  from  one  era  in  one  spot (1948-1989), but the exhibit, Outside, succeeded in speaking about life during one part of this era (1970-1989).  Even though it is – only seemingly – not shown.

Pavel Turek