Meet iii resident Gabriela Prochazka
Gabriela Prochazka is a multimedia artist with a focus in light art. She often collaborates with musicians and sound designers to create a complex immersion in her artwork. For this iii residency, she takes a different direction. Gabriela’s web project Good Citizens will be unlocked from today.
Cybil Scott: Where do you find the line between art and entertainment?
Gabriela Prochazka: I like blurring the line! Since I finished my masters in digital media and conceptual fine art, using new electronics and lights felt strange on academic ground still, so I was drawn into club culture (and there was a budget available for that). I liked creating interesting experiences in the club, and VJing, making installations, putting together performances while accompanying sound artists. Some people don’t like the term VJing, but I’m ok with that.
When it comes to your word/projection installations, are you inspired by artists such as Lawrence weiner?
I’m more inspired by Jenny Holzer and Tracy Emin. Emin was doing neon quotes that I really liked; for instance, It’s Different When You Are in Love”. Her work is more personal and emotional. But I like it to be less subjective and more objective by not talking about an emotional state, but more about the world that is always changing. Maybe I’m too shy to make the quotes personal.
Who or what inspires you currently?
If I can recommend one book to everyone it’s Nicholas Mirzoeff: How To See The World. It concerns our visual culture and how we consume images, and what it says about society and how easily our perception can be altered. What I find inspiring is that it also suggests how to consciously use visual activism’ back at the system (If you happen to read it, you can quite clearly see traces of this book on my recent work).
“Totem light sculpture presents light as a visible energy, that we might admire both from the point of view of physics, and as a metaphor of spirituality.”
In this work, how do you use light a metaphor for spirituality, as science and spirituality tend to occupy two separate spheres?
There’s an ephemeral quality to light. In some spiritual practices that use meditation, colors represent something, or certain colors in an aura correlate to physical aspects. For instance, the color white is considered to repel other colors and energies, and scientifically white performs in the same way. It’s like using intuition as a different way of knowing. I wanted to experiment with “meditation manifestation”, like if there is some way to articulate my mental visions which are ephemeral and changing, because here light changes as you walk around. It’s like the mental imagery inside our subconscious; it’s a bit hallucinatory to see the spectacle of your brain which projects these things, but I’m not necessarily always making work about this.
How concerned are you with the scientifics behind light?
I regret not going deeper into being an electrician! But I’ve become like a DIY person that just started to play with electronic components while watching tutorials, and learning about the first diode that started to shine. I became a self-made nerd into this direction, following a fascination, starting with a vision and no idea how to make it, and then having to figure it out. Learning software, making lamps or lights, building a circuit and connecting the wires, it starts to become natural from practicing it all the time. With all this time at home during the corona virus it would nice to become a B class electrician officially….!
Do you prefer working in groups or doing individual projects? How does this change the outcome?
Since I started doing light art and new media, I always need a sound to go with it in order to create a deeper immersion into the project. I enjoy explaining and finding the right sound, researching sound design and collaborating with sound artists. Sound artists need some kind of visual artist if they want to experiment and express things beyond the realms of their practice and vice versa. Of course, as artists we are taught at our schools to produce on our own but it might be refreshing to reach out for new inputs. Personally, I really enjoy interdisciplinary collaborations, and I’ve been playing with different hybrid forms of melting art practices together such as dance performances in the clubs, audiovisual stimulation fields in a galleries, large scale laser projections for activists etc. and currently researching some ways to produce projects online.
Why do you use the metaphor that you treat light as paint?
I wanted to be a painter back in the day and I felt it was very limiting with a real canvas and paints. The moment I realized I could make the whole space move and escape the size of the canvas, I found it more interesting; the effect is more intense with visuals and sound. I like color field artists playing with frequencies of color; I thought I am following that with the idea of digital paintings, using a projector or any other sources of light to create images. The claim ”using light as paint” is a thought concept, similar to the claim earlier in this interview ”light as a metaphor for spirituality” that I used only for a particular installation where I wanted to research these ideas. It does not represent my whole body of work but I’m quite sure it might re-emerge again.
Do you view light as alchemical (has the power the change)?
You know when you walk into a room and think, “This room is too warm”, or you go to a club and the lighting is too cheesy? Something just feels wrong, it can be a subtle change that makes a big difference on your body.
We also know the light coming from our computers and phones is not healthy for our brain and melatonin levels. We all need some education on how to use it better and there’s some technology like f.lux for a computer that helps reduce blue or white light emission. I had this project with Czech organisation defending animal rights – OBRAZ- about farming industries using light on chickens, and how birds are more sensitive to light. Industrial farmers can literally program the chicken to turn on or off during their life cycle because we want them to grow and produce faster, and you can make them more fertile or less depending on the light spectrum. So I made an installation two years ago about those cycles with light bulbs in cages and information about this written on an A4 size of paper (the size of a battery cage). We are programming them, not treating them as sentient beings anymore. This is a perfect example of my ongoing research on how we humans use light in a dark way.
Are you after light projection as a form of activism or a way to hijack space?
The laser projections, “Light Messages I.+II.”, were linked to a climate strike and certain problems with our government not reacting quick enough and ignoring global warming problems. I was in touch with Greenpeace and other Czech climate movements in order to get widespread social and media attention. The intention of the projections were so they could be used as photos with doubly poetic meanings, instead of permanent installations. We also wrote press releases and a call to action. It was an influential moment so we wanted to bring awareness to these issues.
It felt rather powerful to project something of such large scale onto the chimneys of the factory in Chvaletice, and it was a way to show that we as citizens observed what the factory was doing. “The power of the people is greater than the people in power,” was one of the quotes I’ve used as a reference to a book by Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim, that presents lessons on how to unleash the power of crowds to create political change (Revolution 2.0: The power of people is greater than the people in power, 2013). The message is, if we use social media wisely, we can have a battleground. It’s a bit of a hardcore thing to do a project like this as there was no budget and it took a lot of planning, but it brought attention to the topic and pointed out that art (even without gallery spaces) has a role in bringing awareness and impacting broader audiences.
What is your plan for your iii residency?
I’m working on a dystopian manual How To Be A Good Citizen In the 21st Century. It started with observations of democratic rights of citizens in the Western world being reduced rapidly, in a matter of days with governments changing towards autocratic regimes. I will reveal the website https://www.goodcitizens.info/ and I treat it as some kind dystopian news channel where a synthetically engineered TV news presenter will talk about advice, tips and dos and don’ts on how to be a good citizen. I want to question the credibility of certain popular channels, how politicians are using propaganda, the role of TV anchors, fake news and the lack of real experts in the mainstream media.
I’m interested in the texture of the “Breaking News” phenomenon, motion design, jingles, anchors’ dramatic voices, vocabulary, dress codes, and how it tends to be universally similar all over the world. For this, I’ve been researching neural networks to create a universal “TV news anchor face”, synthetic text to speech, motion design, news website design and copywriting, tightening governmental restrictions, and the mechanics of home quarantine. In China, they are already starting to develop this concept about having non-human news presenters, because it’s so much easier to present information without biased human emotions and is more cost-effective. When reality is stranger than fiction….
How does a residency in quarantine differ from what you typically do?
I was quite shocked because I was supposed to fly to The Hague. On March 13, I stood by the door with my luggage, questioning am I flying or not, is it safe? In the end CZ closed the borders. In a way, I’m a nerdy kid and an aging millennial, so I always find tons of things to do on the internet. For me, the residency of iii and performing at the REWIRE festival were big dreams come true, so frankly I would have tried to quarantine myself and focus on the projects. Even though I’m sure we would have found time to hang out IRL with other artists in residency like Jesus, Pelle and Matteo, the curator of iii. But, I feel like we are all in this together, and we are keeping in touch virtually.
Is it important for you that there is a live audience experiencing what you make?
For instance, when I’m working in the club setting, I love the thrills before it all starts and there’s an immediate response, and the energy of the crowd completes the work. Basically, as a light designer in the FOH you oversee the crowd that becomes a tribe and you want them all to move, move, move. There are moments when you feel like a dark God or something and it’s at night and it’s so exciting! I do feel like I am retiring from club life though, I still like to go! – but I’m leaving my club-light-installation-job to younger collectives, there are so many good ones here in CZ. Club culture is super ephemeral and where I’m at right now, I’m dreaming about creating artworks with larger and more lasting impact.
Is club culture a good place for art?
Usually club culture has more thrills than galleries generally tend to have (here in CZ), yet the thrills are short lived. Perhaps more people can come to a party than to a vernissage so it might be interesting to find some way to combine them. On the other hand, not everyone feels comfortable in the club setting and some artworks can be fragile etc. In general, I think clubs are a good place to start experimenting in a more open and less judgemental way than in an art gallery. It’s easier to play in club culture and not make tough concepts out of it. Functional aesthetics are also fun, for instance, it’s more unique and more of an art piece to make AV(audiovisual) performance working one-on-one with sound artists.
My recent work from last year that I creatively directed was a hybrid AV performance ,Forbidden’ with an initially hidden dancer among the crowd and was part 3D movie and part concert (it happened during the Lunchmeat festival in the National Gallery of Prague, Convent of St. Agne) which was all about blurring art forms.
We are having this interview during a global pandemic. What is your outlook on the future and the cultural/arts sector after this?
I think it’s going to be tough, it depends where you get your news (because even with credible news you always hear politicians/journalists talk about the number of weeks of quarantine/restrictions which is juxtaposed to what independent channels and scientists seem to say about the future of the pandemic). But, according to one scientific research I read, it might take months or years, even in the western world. I’m in no way an epidemiologist, so I want to be cautious with my predictions here. What we now know for sure, is that this pandemic will define our era. Things are not going to be the same even when we hopefully tackle the virus.
Travelling, large gatherings, citizen restrictions, more home offices, a shift towards online and virtual spaces, faster deliveries, growth of e-shops, better fashion of day/night PJ’s, emphasis on local production…
How has COVID-19 affected you personally?
In the short term, I’m glad I could still participate in the virtual iii residency to work on the Good Citizen project. The hard part is what happens next. Producing online work was never my domain, but I’m checking Youtube tutorials and 3D softwares and such. I’m taking the quarantine rather seriously, so I haven’t seen anyone other than my family since the 13th of March.
One regret I have is that I wanted to project the TV news avatar video I am making for the website somewhere in the city, but I do have to say the situation here is tough. I don’t have the comfortable feeling that I am able to do things freely anymore, in this way. Also I’m looking forward to being able to produce more laser “Light Messages” at some point. It’s really strange, how the world changed so quickly. With this quarantine, many of us in the western world are suddenly faced with a new life that can bear resemblance to similar “monastic” ways in many religions across the world; in a manner of confining to a single place, avoiding human contact, searching for the right rituals/habits to manage the day, contemplating happiness and finding it in the smallest of things.
Gabriela Prochazka will perform for iii workspace online on April 4.
The planned original public event No Patent Pending #39 with Jesus Canuto Iglesias, Pelle Schilling, Gabriela-Prochazka, and Joana Chicau is postponed until further notice. Check out the website for the latest info.