Colony of Freedom (Possibilities of a New National Style)
9/23/2016 – 11/16/2016
Curator: Monika Čejková
The exhibition at the Kvalitář Gallery called “Kolonie svobody (Možnosti Nového národního stylu)” – “Colony of Freedom (Possibilities of a New National Style)” represents a site-specific realization by a painter of the middle generation, Petr Dub. In his work, Dub has long focused on critical analysis of the media used by painters. On the domestic arts scene, in this respect, he is active as both a leader of discussions and as a theoretician. His dissertation, published in 2012, was entitled “Vybrané postkonceptuální přístupy v současné české malbě” (“Selected post-conceptual approaches in contemporary Czech painting”) and focuses on the work of selected artists of the younger generation after 1996. Dub also studied so-called expanded painting, which he symptomatically considers “one of the most successful tendencies in contemporary painting”. As an artist himself, when seeking out the options for a painting, he subjects the canvas and the frame to investigation, most frequently through the parameters of installation and three-dimensional objects, and less often through the means of digital photomontage or projection as well. At a practical and theoretical level, he is also interested in the close tie between architecture and art. His growing attention in that direction is a consequence of a natural process and active interest in local events. From his realizations for specific sites it is possible to mention, for example, his intervention into the interior of the remowned functionalist café Era in Brno in collaboration with Zdeněk Polcar (2012), when he enlivened the café with colors. As a member of the team called “Spolek Skutek” (“The Guild of Deeds”) he strives, among other things, for public construction budgets to count on investing 1 – 4 % of the overall cost of the construction into art for such spaces. Abroad this is an absolutely common form of support for art today (in this country such a norm was abolished after 1989).
Recently, nevertheless, architecture has been important for Dub not just because of its relationship to art as a site of realization, but its significance has grown for his work from the standpoint of subject matter – it is become the theoretical starting point for the very creation of an artwork. That applies to his most recent projects “Domovní znamení” (House Signs) (Nika Gallery, Prague, 2016), “In-sue-lie” (Galerie 207, Prague, 2015) and his most recent realization, “Kolonie Svobody” for the Kvalitář Gallery.
The “Kolonie Svobody – Colony of Freedom” project is related to the urbanistic development of the Vinohrady neighborhood of Prague, especially around the area of the buildings of that name that were constructed in the national style of the first half of the 1920s in Na Šafránce Street near where Dub himself now lives. It is also related to the nearby Vlasta housing estate in the neighborhood of Vršovice, which was created during the 1970s especially for the inhabitants of the village of Milovice. Those people were moved out of their homes in order for the Soviet Army to be accommodated in that village. Dub naturally perceives the gradual transformation of these places over time and the later, very often insensitive interventions into the original constructions – for example, what is at first glance an apparently new concept of a façade, or the unobtrustive deformation of a Rondo-Cubist element. “Both sites are just a couple of hundred meters away from each other, but they represent two diametrically different architectonic periods and to walk from Korunní Street towards Moskevská Street is like traveling through time. As one orbits, meter by meter, down the hill, what changes, meter by meter, in a fascinating way, is not just the architectonic tone of the city, but primarily the social segment of its inhabitants. Up on the hill the buildings are predominantly beige-colored, sandy brown or dark red. Kazažšská, Tádžická, Magnitorská Streets and their environs correspond to an apricot-strawberry mood that is attempting to ‘originally’ distinguish itself from the surrounding buildings. The beginning of an ideological battle over living space is notionally staked out by Gočár’s Church of St. Václav, dressed in white. It is as if faith in a simple, white ideal connects both irreconcilable camps,” Dub describes his impressions.
Dub previously investigated the devaluation of historical buildings in his above-mentioned project for the Nika Gallery. For that project, what served as a prototype was the insulation of a dysfunctional Functionalist building on Kotlářská Street in the center of Brno. His exhibition “In-sue-lie” at Galerie 207 responded to the neglected state of the local gallery walls and to housing for the lower class; in addition to videos, he presented the Czech flag in the colors of pink, pistachio, and a creamy yellow, i.e., the shades that also show up in the “Kolonie Svobody – Colony of Freedom” installation.
Dub is researching both of these different architectonic phenomena as psychosocial phenomena reflecting certain needs of a given historical period. His installation for Kvalitář comes out of his observations and reflections on the insensitive use of color in architecture. Dub works with the samples of a particular paint company and intuitively applies the chosen shades to the surface of the actual architectural volume and spatial configuration of the gallery halls. “The intention of the installation reflects the dialogue between architectonic surfaces in these dominant color tones, whether connected with a specific architectonic style, form, or various historical eras of architecture. The gallery is therefore painted in a combination of façade colors and signs demonstrating the transition among various ways of handling color in architecture. Where, basically, does individual freedom end and collective responsibility for the public space begin? What will be the color of the Czech future?” Dub exaggeratedly asks when describing the project overall. The coats of paint follow locally specific elements, including the alcoves and the vaulted roof. Empty parts of the walls become equal elements of the resulting “painting”. The emphasis is on integrality even as the interior becomes a painted composition.
In the first room, Dub is responding to national style – to the single-family homes and duplex villas of Na Šafránce Street, which were created according to the designs of the then-beginning architect František Albert Libra. The preserved territorial plan for the buildings is allegedly drawn in pen-and-ink and does not include any information about the planned use of color on the façades. The current owners or tenants, therefore, adapt the fronts of the buildings and sometimes even the interiors of the buildings to their own imaginations with respect to what they might have looked like, or base their choices on personal taste. In this street, with its small-town atmosphere (when the locality was created it actually was the city outskirts) we can see many bizarre creations today – buildings divided in half in terms of the color of the façade, or fascinating choices of shades of color that arrived during the 1990s. An interesting moment is the Rondo-Cubist element mentioned above, and we know an example of this from the decoration of the façade of the street-facing wall of Prague’s Legiobanka from the same period (1921-1923). Na Šafránce Street turns up in numerous forms, deformed in various ways and used in different places. We can find it in a fence or on a façade or a concrete column. Dub, in his own loose interpretation, continues this in the first room of the gallery; the symbol of this here is included in paintings that are almost decorative, in a blue-and-red combination like a variation on the conception of color during the national style period. Here the sign becomes a kind of reminiscence of their original (of course not precisely known) form and significance. The right wall of the room is dedicated to the slogan of Gesemeinwellen, a concept translated by architecture theorist Professor Jindřich Vybíral as the “common will” of a nation. Dub here is referencing national style as a problematic phenomenon, not just in relation to the quality of architecture, but also to ideology and the reason that something is created in the first place. National style is a consequence of the atmosphere that once predominated in Czechoslovak society, which was rapidly seeking a way to express its affiliation with a certain ethnic group after 1918. a crucial role in the process of this self-awareness was played precisely by art and culture, to a marked degree as a consequence of a rational construct. The artist did not speak for himself, but programmatically created common values that very often approximated the taste of the broader public. Despite this, it was apparent that in that newly-created state, several ethnic groups were mixing together. We can see some sort of unjustified need for separate self-definition today as well, when nationalistic sentiment is growing in society and when we are doing our best to defend our Christian values against an invasion by foreign cultures. At the same time, we do not know what our own values exactly mean, or whether they contain something deeper at all.
In the central room we find an adapted projection of the iconic film “Playtime” by the French director Jacques Tati from 1967. This is a kind of hyphen between eras, a satire on the form and function of modern architecture, and the last room fully exploits the potential of the contemporary color samples that have been mentioned. Here, when choosing shades, the artist was inspired by their bizarre names, which cannot be ignored, and the reason for their use is something we can reflect on for a long time. What turns up here, for example, is “Spicy Gazpacho”, “Tibetan Robe”, “Sand Mandala”, “Sunny Sari”, “Wisdom of the Endless Ocean”, etc. These colors, used abundantly in outdoor façades, are placed in the role of new national colors telling us something about the character of contemporary Czech society.
Petr Dub (born 1976 in Brandýs nad Labem, Czechoslovakia) completed his arts education in 2012 by graduating from the doctoral studies program at the Ateliér Intermédia Václava Stratila at the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Technology in Brno. The topic of his dissertaion was “Selected post-conceptual approaches in contemporary Czech painting”, which Dub continues to be involved with as an artist, curator and theoretician. In his work he focuses on researching the options for the medium of painting, three-dimensional obejcts, installations, and their mutual influence. His diploma work, called UNFRAMED, was chosen for the European show “Start Point”. His cycle called “TRANSFORMERS” was among the works of the finalists for The Sovereign European Art Prize, organized by the Royal Foundation in London, England under the auspices of the Christie’s auction house. In 2011 Petr Dub was nominated for the Essl Art Award.
The work of Petr Dub has been presented in many group and solo exhibitions, such as the group exhibition at the National Technical Library in Prague (Shaped Canvas, 2016), at the Kunstwerk Carlshütte in Büdelsdorf (Nord Art 2015), the Kunstfabrik hb55 in Berlin, (L’Espace de L’Espèce: Beyond the abstract and the concrete, 2014 ), the Emil Filla Galler in Ústí nad Labem (Výchozí pozice, 2015; Nulla Dies Sine Linea – post-conceptual extensions in Czech drawing, 2014; Rekonstrukce (Reconstruction), 2014; Konečně spolu (Finally Together), 2011; Exit 2009), at the Czech Center in New York (Poison green, New York, USA, 2013), at the Gallery of the Capital City of Prague (Essl Art Award, Prague, 2011), at the Barbican Centre (The Sovereign European Art Prize, London, UK, 2010). He has held solo exhibitions at Galerie 207, UMPRUM in Prague (In-sue-lie, 2015), at the Fait Gallery in Brno (Deník přeživší – Diary of a Survivor, 2015) and at the Gallery of the Capital City of Prague (Kustodka, 2011).
Petr Dub is one of the artists with whom the Kvalitář Gallery has long collaborated. In 2013 the Gallery held a solo show for him entitled “Rehabilitace v podmínkách mimosoudního vyrovnání spotřebitelských sporů” (“Rehabilitation in the conditions of an extrajudicial settlement of consumer disputes”), and Dub was also a co-creator of the exhibition entitled (RE) FRAMED (2014). From the start of next year we can encounter Petr Dub as part of the debate cycle about architects and artists with the working title “Architekt versus umělec” (Architect versus Artist) that he has designed for the Gallery.