In June 2021 The Dancing Museums exhibition took place as part of the TANEC PRAHA Festival. The main concept of the exhibition was to present the three-year collaboration between Tanec Praha, Prague City Gallery and choreographer Tereza Ondrová. The installation was created in collaboration with Kateřina Šeda, a Czech artist focused on conceptual and social art.
Prague City Gallery created the podcast with Tereza Ondrová and Kateřina Šedá about the exhibition, about DANCING MUSEUMS project, about their work, art, dance and galleries.
The podcast was taped in the Czech language. Right now, there is a chance for you, the international audience, to at least read the transcript of the interview in English.
Welcome to the podcast of the Prague City Gallery. This is another in a series of podcasts brought to you by the Prague City Gallery. Pavel Klusák (PK) greets you from behind the microphone.
The Dancing Museums exhibition takes place as part of the TANEC PRAHA International Festival and provides the public with insight into the three-year collaboration between Tanec Praha, choreographer Tereza Ondrová (TO), dramaturge Nina Jacques, Dominika Žižka and the Prague City Gallery. They all took part in a pan-European research program of the same name. The installation you can now see at Prague’s Troja Chateau was created in collaboration with Kateřina Šedá (KŠ), who is a guest of our podcast. Our other guest is the choreographer and one of the creators of the project Tereza Ondrová.
PK: Tereza, please, a general question first. What challenges do you see in the Dancing Museums program? What is the potential of connecting museum institutions with the contemporary dance scene?
TO: At the beginning, I was invited to a research project to fill in its program. It occurred to me that it would be best to turn back to the institutions that were involved in the project. There is one dance and one gallery organization. I asked them what they needed, what they wanted and what they were interested in. I wanted to be an intermediary to help them realize their needs and ideas. That’s why I asked the Prague City Gallery about what troubles them most. Initially, the answer was low traffic. They feel that their premises are empty and that despite their location in the centre of Prague, the crowds of tourists usually do not visit the interior of the gallery. Therefore, one of their goals was to attract viewers/tourists inside. It was a moment/state that I found interesting and that I wanted to address. We thought about it in different ways and addressed Kateřina Šedá. We felt like she was something of an expert on tourism issues. Kateřina told us how she worked in Český Krumlov and we tried to use that as a jumping-off point. Of course, the situation then began to develop somewhat differently, mainly due to the pandemic. Well, if I were to simplify it, that was how it all started.
PK: Kateřina, did the pandemic bring any new insight into tourism that you are interested in different ways in different projects?
KŠ: Oh, definitely. Most of all, I was convinced that I was not mistaken. In the last few years, I have dealt with this topic a lot, even in Český Krumlov. I was constantly attacked by a lot of people, about how I understood the situation in Krumlov or how I commented on the topic. And I think I kind of predicted what happened now. In the book, I published in 2018, a Japanese man with a mask over his mouth is photographed. When the epidemic began, people joked that a pandemic was my project and whether I had any idea how to bring tourists back now. They also approached me with something I had been battling a lot for a long time. So I definitely see a lot of positive change for me. From my point of view, however, the city did not get into a situation where it could react in an interesting way. I’m not talking in general now, I can only talk about the cities I deal with. I think they would need – and this doesn’t sound very good, of course – for the pandemic to last longer so that they can tune in to the situation and get something out of it. So far, the situation is still in “we will return to normal” mode. And that normal is a time that was before, even though we often said in 2018 that where the cities got to is not right. So I’m trying to recapture the current situation.
PK: When you started meeting on the Dancing Museums platform there was a workshop that Katka called Tourists welcome home. What did it consist of?
KŠ: I got a simple – it sounds simple – but in fact quite a complex assignment. How to work with project participants who were supposed to come to a Prague that was originally full of people but who in the end did not go anywhere and stayed home. I assumed that people were closed, and that’s why the way I travelled, which I called the long-distance bridge, changed. It was a new way of travelling because people were constantly sitting around and phoning. I thought I could work on it physically. I invited the workshop participants to become guides around their apartments. To make and show their apartments to other participants via bridges at a distance. The specific task for the participants was to create ten points in their apartment. They had to build some bridges to cross their apartment without touching the ground. At each of the ten points, they were supposed to stop and describe what kind of place it was as if you were on a tour. We shared that with each other. As a result, we got to different places in the world at one point, as if we were travelling. That was my idea and the implementation was very interesting. Walking through the apartments of people you don’t know and whose home you’ve never been to. It was very interesting to see how the workshop participants approached the assignment.
PK: Can I ask both of you if have you undergone such a tour yourself and of the space where you live?
TO: I went through the whole workshop and I was part of the workshop prepared by Kateřina. So somehow I went through my apartment. I wondered how the others would tackle it. Exactly as Kateřina said, when I read the assignment, it seemed very simple to me, but then when I did it, I discovered that it was not that simple.
KŠ: I did it too because during the six months we were in lockdown with the children, I tried to come up with something fun we could do without killing ourselves. That was one of the activities we all tried at home.
PK: This activity actually has a dual direction. Centrifugal and centripetal. On the one hand, it can connect us with someone on the other side of the world, or elsewhere. On the other hand, the moment we look at our apartment with our own eyes, it is more of a movement inside, a slight redefinition of something familiar, which Kateřina touches on in a number of projects, and I believe that the dancers do too. How was this part of the project reflected in the installation we can now see in Troja Chateau?
KŠ: A lot, definitely. Tereza will tell you more about why I was invited to collaborate on the installation in Troja. I will only say briefly that I was given the task of taking hold of the exhibition so that it would resemble the apartments in which most of society were enclosed. It was about creating a living room in the gallery. She tried to deal with the form of how and in what way the living room can activate the visitor – similar to how I activated the workshop participants. That was my job.
PK: In the audio form of the podcast, we can’t connect the audience other than by invitation to that installation, to the exhibition that really needs to be seen, so that someone from outside can understand what it’s all about. Every exhibition, every space where “enter at your own peril” is written at the entrance, of course, comes with a tempting, adventurous invitation. I have to say that in this installation it’s quite understandable, this call for caution. At the same time, despite all the claustrophobia and narrow corridors, it is a space that strongly encourages interaction. After all, this is one of the principles you have imprinted on it. Tereza, what words would you use to invite someone to this installation?
TO: I read an invitation that invited people to the exhibition and it said that we recommend pants for women, which I found quite funny.
PK: For those who weren’t at the exhibition, just try to add why …
TO: As you said, there are different spaces that you must overcome, get through. You have to engage in physical activity to go through the exhibition and not only in the traditional way – by walking. The space creates obstacles, it’s a kind of climbing frame.
PK: This climbing frame, as you say, addresses people with a number of inscriptions, challenges that are set in that space. Did you intend, and now I return to the word “dancing”, to stir up something, something unusual to get visitors moving?
TO: Definitely. When we talked at the beginning about that everything came up with the tourist issue, we were motivated from the beginning to create such a guide. They also tried to create various guided walks through the gallery spaces in connection with a different physical activity than the ordinary gallery visitor is accustomed to. Various workshops were also set up. Therefore, it was nice that Kateřina created an installation that naturally motivates people to move and engage in other physical experiences. And when we talk about the Dancing Museum project, dance and so on, I think that’s what discourages people. At the exhibition, however, the movement is somehow natural, because you need to crawl somewhere and it does not have to mean that you are dancing or creating extra movement.
PK: I read the space and one of the tasks is, for example: what if we didn’t think about anything together for a while? Elsewhere there is the inscription: how to look with your whole body? Who wrote these challenges, jokes and questions?
TO: The exhibition is connected with a book that we wrote and published to sort out what we went through in the whole three years during the research project. It is a book called Subjective Guide to Galleries, from the Diary of Dancing Museums. It’s a summary of my notes of what happened. Nina Jacques, who accompanies it, also enters the book as an author. I invited her to the project for a dramaturgical collaboration to help me name individual outputs, processes and so on more accurately. She agreed with Kateřina that the book would become part of the exhibition. It will serve as a guide that the visitor can look into, and if they are interested in something at the exhibition, one of the catchwords or a video, they can find it in the book and read it to understand the whole context.
KŠ: I would add to that. At the beginning, I was worried because I could not figure out the unifying form of the output of the whole project. In the end, the book seemed to me like a good final output, and I feel that thanks to it the exhibition is three-dimensional. You leaf through the book and on each page there are individual sentences from the exhibition. You can read more about it and at the same time experience the complexity of the exhibition. You must overcome various obstacles, both in the exhibition and in the book. I felt that through the exhibition I needed to convey the complexity of the actors themselves, the outputs, and the project. The perilousness and the fact that you do not know what your assignment is as a visitor, how to react … That is a little of my intention. I didn’t know myself, I didn’t understand some things. Well, I understood that this is not a mistake, but that I should deal with it in a way that I can find a suitable form and present it to the public.
PK: So those underpasses, the moments when one has to hold on, and the arrows leading to the corridor in which one has to walk on all fours are actually materialized reading experiences…
KŠ: Exactly, exactly. When I read the book, I said to myself, to hell with what they meant, I don’t understand how I’m supposed to tell someone else…. I was figuring out how to materialize something I don’t even understand. And even though I’m not a dancer, I am involved in the movement. People were confined for a long time only to the space of their apartments, looking for various hiding places from their children to give them peace. I realized I should get this there. The complexity of the exhibition certainly reflects the era as well as the project itself. That’s why I think it was important to mediate this as well. But as I say, it’s my subjective view. I have been given enough freedom and I do not yet know how the authors of the project perceive the resulting concept of the exhibition from the outside. It occurred to me that it describes how complex the project was, how it struggled in the middle of a difficult situation, and how the tourism to which it was responding disappeared. What to do and how to do it had to be constantly redefined. That’s why it seemed good to me that when you go through an exhibition, there is a new obstacle around every corner and you have to deal with it.
PK: Perhaps someone would point out that the ambiguity or difficulty of the exhibition’s terrain corresponds in some ways to the difficulty of contemporary art and the terrain of the galleries themselves, in which you sometimes feel that you have to overcome or connect to something that is not entirely easy to connect to. Of course, the team does not want to accelerate myths about the incomprehensibility of contemporary art, but some freedom of interpretation, the diversity of languages in which we all express ourselves to this feeling here and there. Tereza, a simple question: If Tanec Praha is one of the initiators and co-producers of this project, is there anything of dance left there in the end?
TO: I think the whole project is struggling with the fact that it’s called Dancing Museums. Everyone is just imagining dance. But dance can have other functions and it’s great that we concluded that there would be no dance performance – if I can simplify it like that.
KŠ: I personally miss the show. But I think these are two different views. When the disciplines intersect, I understand that the dance goal is to get rid of dance and, on my part, to achieve it through various obstacles. Each of us then looks at a different perspective and I would be delighted if there was a dance performance in the exhibition. If the exhibition were a stage for dance other than just the installation itself.
PK: The exhibition or installation comes with an experience, although the space itself is exhibited. There are no exhibits in the true sense of the word. In one place, you invite visitors to take out the things they have in their pockets and bags and turn them into a small exhibition, and possibly look around at what others who are currently at the exhibition have exhibited like this. Nevertheless, the exhibition offers an experience, the sharpened perception exposes only the gallery space and the possibilities of how to behave in it, including suggestions to address the custodian, to talk to him as a person about his life, feelings and so on. Did any of you spend at least a moment at the exhibition, did you see any reactions or how visitors inhabit the space?
TO: Unfortunately, I was only there to open the exhibition, because the opening could not be done officially. Unfortunately, I haven’t experienced a regular visitor yet, but I plan to.
KŠ: Katarína, the producer who helped with the exhibition, sent me photos and notes that people leave there. I had a good feeling that it worked. Of course, I would like to go back to what you said before. In the beginning, we thought that because the space is large enough, we will only build the living room in the middle. Tereza originally approached me and said that they knew my living room, where the Music Marathon was played in Brno, and that they wanted something like that. However, I felt that it would be quite overwhelmed there, and at the same time I did not know how to activate someone with such a room. It would be very constrained. So, the best option I thought was to fill the space entirely. Let’s fill it with the real furniture of the people who were in those apartments during the pandemic. So Katarína, who did most of the work, brought in furniture from Prague and the surrounding areas from people who wanted to get rid of their furniture. And at the same time, if a visitor wants, they can mark the furniture and we give it to them after the exhibition. I wanted this interaction to occur as well. I wanted the gallery to serve some other purpose, like a playground for children or a bazaar, or a book tour or anything at all. Ideally, in my rendition, the gallery itself would disappear.
PK: Does this mean that before the exhibition is completely dismantled, I can look around and choose, for example, a chest of drawers, and afterwards the Prague City Gallery will hand it over to me?
KŠ: Exactly. Well, some things were already given away before the show even started. The security guards came and asked what we would do with the furniture. I told them that if they visited the exhibition, they could take it. They said OK and asked when it started, then checked their schedules to see if they would be there and marked some of the furniture before the exhibition started. And that was exactly my intention. Katarína also said that when she called some people from the bazaar, some were even willing to bring the furniture over on their backs just to get rid of it.
PK: Accompanying programs have been announced for the project. Tereza, can you tell us something about it?
TO: These are the workshops I was talking about. That word “workshops” is terribly misleading. These are other tours of the gallery space that we installed in Troja Castle. Next week there are two special walks with me. June 16 and 17, and then there is another event on June 25 called Silent Mob. This will take place outdoors, in the gardens of Troja Castle.
PK: I see that this is described here as an open rehearsal for your new project and director Petra Tejnorová.
TO: That’s right.
PK: Cultural life is slowly opening up, it’s kind of fragile, but at the same time things are already happening. You managed to have the premiere of a new performance, a new project, on the eve of our talk. Can you say a few words about it?
TO: It was not a premiere, it was also an open rehearsal. Because of the whole situation, we only met Silva Gribaudi, an Italian performer, when she was here and performing at the TANEC PRAHA Festival. We always met in the meantime of her performances, and we started working on the performance Insectum in Prague. It’s a show that talks about or asks different questions about insects.
PK: I see, great. Katka, can we also ask what’s going on right now, new projects, new ideas.
KŠ: I wanted to finish Brnox2 in June, which is a follow-up to the Brno Bronx guide – the publication. Now a mobile application is being created, a new orientation system, new furniture in the locality, which we should successfully install in June. And then in Austria, I am installing a project in a senior’s home that was supposed to have been installed a year ago, but it took me a long time to complete. With the individual seniors, with the help of their memories, I reconstructed the houses in which they lived all their lives. Then the architects and I created models of those houses, from which I created booths and feeders, and gradually I made the whole village in the garden of the senior’s home. They can go through the village and revisit their homes, their memories. Well, and the main thing I am doing now is in Slovakia with a whole city. It is a project conceived as a special compensation bonus for the year 2020. It is a large-format project that deals with lost experiences for the year 2020. I try to compensate the experiences in 2021 by multiplying them. That means duplicating. It covered all possible areas: gastronomy, culture, services, tourism… We are creating 26 large-format events. An example from sports – in one day, two parallel matches will be played on one football field. Hairdressers will cut people’s hair for a week or a month – we’ve arranged it so that you will always be cut by two hairdressers from two sides. It isn’t meant as a dull duplication, that multiplication is to bring some new form, some new shape. Two guides will take people through the castle in Trenčín. They will not talk with each other; each will say something different about the thing itself. This means that by multiplying something we are trying to find a new, better form of how it could all work. So, it’s one of those pretty big and challenging projects, in which I’ve involved the whole city and we’re trying, not only with this project, to compensate for lost experiences, but at the same time to set up some new forms of things in various areas.
PK: Thank you so much and thank you both for taking the time for today’s podcast. Dear listeners, I would like to remind you that the Dancing Museums exhibition runs until June 29 at Troja Chateau in Prague, produced by the Prague City Gallery and the TANEC PRAHA Festival, which is co-organizing the exhibition. Thanks again, I’m saying goodbye to Katka Šedá and Tereza Ondrová. Take care.
KŠ: Thank you for the invitation.
TO: Thank you.