It connected international contemporary art with activities for the local community, has concluded. The project continues with an online program.
The exhibition with the subtitle Come Closer took place in Prague from 22 July to 15 November 2020 in five main locations (the Prague City Gallery at the Municipal Library, the Prague Market, Panorama Hotel Prague, the plaza of the DBK Shopping Mall, and the underpass at the Holešovice railway station), and selected events also led viewers to other locations, such as the student cafeteria of the Strahov dormitory. The exhibition was unavoidably impacted by government measures taken in response to the pandemic, resulting in the exhibition being completely closed to the public in its final phase. Despite restrictions, the biennale managed to organize more than 80 events, some of which will now happen online. The second edition of Biennale Matter of Art will take place in Prague in the summer of 2022.
The exhibition presented works from more than 40 artists from the Czech Republic, Germany, Great Britain, France, the USA, Indonesia, Vietnam, Ukraine, Slovakia, Serbia, Slovenia, Lithuania, and other countries. The exhibited projects included, among others, the controversial video installation Labour by South African filmmaker and photographer Candice Breitz, extensive autobiographical murals exploring queer themes by Polish artist Karol Radziszewski, and a film dealing with the topic of assisted reproduction by British artist Lucy Beech. One quarter of the artists prepared new commissioned works directly for the exhibition, including that of duo Isabela Grosseová and Jesper Alvaer. Their project Audience Without Artwork combined elements of performance, installation, and conceptual work with human memory. Vietnamese artist Tuan Mami transformed one hall of the Prague Market into an extensive installation connected with a hostel. The biennale was also host to the first presentation in the Czech Republic of Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s video series Scenes from Western Culture. Ukrainian artist Anna Kravets prepared an original podcast series for the biennale, entitled Somebody There, which is available to stream online. A text anthology, Come Closer: The Biennale Reader, was also published in connection with the exhibition. It expands upon the theoretical context of the entire project and is available in standard book distribution from Sternberg Press.
The event program also included an extensive public hearing organized by the Institute of Anxiety. The hearing brought dozens of participants to the student cafeteria of the Strahov dormitory to engage in a series of short lectures, presenting the topic of imagination in a complex array of different perspectives.
Community Activities and Crossover into the Public Space
Another part of the exhibition was the Mothers Artlovers Atelier, a community center in the Prague Market in Holešovice. The freely accessible creative space for parents with children demonstrated the role artistic institutions can fill in relation to various groups of citizens in the city. The biennale also made a distinct mark on the public space with the collective mural All Power to the Imagination! Initiated by Ukrainian artist Volodymyr Kuznetsov, the work is now part of the structure of the city and can be viewed in the pedestrian underpass at the Prague Holešovice railway station.
As a part of the biennale’s online program a live discussion entitled Realism Yesterday and Tomorrow, revolving around the use and current function of realism in art, will be taking place on Friday, 20 November from 18:00. The discussion will be live-streamed on the Facebook pages of the Prague City Gallery and the biennale. The biennale organizers are also preparing a new video format for the planned event Shared Voices in cooperation with the NGOs ŽIVOT 90 and Slovo 21, which will tell the unheard stories of the older generation.
In September, an online conference was held by the East Europe Biennial Alliance. The international network of associated projects is comprised of the Biennale Matter of Art Prague, the Polish Biennale Warszawa, Ukrainian Kyiv Biennial, and Hungarian OFF-Biennale Budapest. Through the conference and other activities, the alliance seeks a path to a new narrative for the Eastern European region and new possibilities for the mutual collaboration of the cultural institutions there.
The organizers are currently working on the conception of the second edition of the biennale, which will open in June 2022 in Prague. A large international festival focused on performance art will also be taking place in the first half of 2021 under the banner of the biennale. It is the joint project of the international platform tranzit.org – the network of tranzit.cz’s sister-organizations, which operate in Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania.