Creating dialogues and building bridges
May 16, 2018

An interview with Elis Unique from Prague Biennale Foundation (Czech Republic)

Elis Unique, an emerging curator and coordinator in Prague Biennial, believes that contemporary art, which in this day and age reflects  all types of political, social, ecological and other problems, can be interesting for everybody. In this interview, the emerging curator shares her thoughts on contemporary art, the discourse that it may inspire and her interests as an art curator.

One of the primary missions of Prague Biennale Foundation is to build a platform to support the dialogue that includes the artists, curators and gallerists from different countries. Could you tell us a little about the Foundation and the ways it set the scene for such a dialogue?

The Prague Biennale Foundation was established in 2004 for the purpose of organizing contemporary art exhibitions at the Prague Biennale and thus supporting and encouraging the development of art, not only in the Czech Republic, but on the global scale as well. Its founders Helena Kontová and Giancarlo Politi are well known in the art world as publishers of the International Edition of “Flash Art” magazine. Moreover, in the past they were involved in the organization of several outstanding projects such as the legendary “Aperto 93” at the Venice Biennale, curatorial program of “Trevi Flash Art Museum” (Italy), founding Tirana Biennale in Albania and “Flash Art Event” in Milan. Currently the Flash Art editorial team organises exhibitions of newly established artists in New York on a regular basis. Helena Kontová is also a member of the board of the International Biennale Association, thus providing us with a potential to amplify our communication and increase opportunities to share our experience from cross-border cooperation to the global biennial network.

An important trait of Prague Biennale is that it constantly looks for the things in common between the different generations of younger/ beginning and older/ established artists and gives them a platform to meet curators and theoreticians from across the globe. An international exhibition like Prague Biennale serves as the stepping stone in the career of emerging artists in the region and brings global attention to the domestic art scene, thus making it more visible in the world. This has been the case with Daniel Pitín, Zbyněk Baladrán, Kateřina Šedá, Jiří Kovanda, Krištof Kintera and Victor Man, just to name a few.

Since you are the coordinator of “Flash Art” magazine, could you tell us a little more about it?

The Czech and Slovak edition of “Flash Art” is the only periodical version of this magazine. Since its inception in 2006, it has constantly focused on mapping out the local art scene and highlighting

what stands out in comparison to the global trends. Over the years, the title page of the magazine has featured both established artists (Milan Grygar, Zdeněk Sýkora, Stanislav Kolíbal and Václav Cigler) as well as many up-and-coming stars including Jiří Kovanda, Ján Mančuška, Kateřina Šedá, Jiří David, Miroslav Tichý, Pavla Sceranková, Eva Koťátková, Dominik Lang and Jiří Thýn.

The value of the magazine lies in the fact that it integrates the Czech and Slovak art into the global context and builds a dense distribution and subscriber network across both countries. Published in the Czech and Slovak languages, the magazine fosters a broader discourse on contemporary art in the form of monographs, theoretical essays, interviews with artists and other art scene protagonists as well as “polyphonic” panel discussions. Each issue strives to bring the most comprehensive approach to the theme chosen, identified as the most topical in contemporary art at the moment of publication. The most recent topics have included the artificial intelligence, the Anthropocene, art in the era of globalisation, post-internet art, photography and means of documentation etc.

The target group of this project includes both the experts (artists, curators, gallery operators and art theoreticians) and the wider audience interested in the developments in the art scene (such as art collectors, students, teachers, designers, architects and cultural event producers). The magazine is written in a language which is accessible to experts as well as everybody else who is interested in the contemporary culture.

Why do you think public involvement in artistic processes, which is also one of the cornerstones of Magic Carpets, becomes more and more important these days?

Besides the aesthetic value, art in general is a way of expressing ideas, sharing knowledge and experiences, evoking emotions and initiating dialogues between people. This is highly applicable to the contemporary art, which reflects all sorts of social, political, ecological, ethical problems that should concern the entire society. Two-way communication in relation to some issue is essential when forming the final statement.

Do you believe that the dialogue between art and its audience can help build communities and in what ways it can be done?

In my opinion, art certainly has a potential to express values a community is based on, thus fortifying the sense of belongingness. For example, mediation of personal stories often builds a bridge to an unknown territory, bringing external perspectives and experiences closer to us. By pointing out certain facts or highlighting controversy, not only art exercises their intrinsic critical reasoning, but it also initiates a discussion among people.

What does a community mean to you as a person and as an art curator?

I cannot really draw a strict line between the two concepts; however, as a curator, I usually deal with a narrower definition of community as people, whom I imagine to be the audience of the project conceived, and primarily derived from the location, historical background, and a group sharing specific interests or needs.

What are the most inspiring aspects of your curatorial activities?

The most exciting projects in my curatorial practice have been the ones, in which I have involved artists in collaborations and interdisciplinary projects.