A tour through a world of performance design at the Prague Quadrennial
Last week we told you about the opening of the Prague Quadrennial, an unparalleled showcase of world scenography – design for artistic performance – that began in 1967 and only comes around every four years. The exhibits cover everything from costumes, sound design, and theatre architecture to multi-media theatrical and performance art… in short, if you imagine a wildish menagerie of all things theatre, then you’re half way there. For today’s Arts I spent an afternoon walking around one of the most special attractions at the Quadrennial, which is the pavilion of installations from 60 different countries and regions, all entirely unique and hosting some of the best and most imaginative of scenographic work the world over.
I think I’m in the English exhibit now, and we’re watching some videos – interviews with artists. But instead of sitting and watching it on television, the televisions are hung from the ceiling and we’re watching the reflection of the video in the water that is on the floor here… it’s very interesting. Actually I didn’t notice the water until I was standing in it…
“I am Martina Svobodová and I am the curator of this part of the PQ, called “PQ for Children”. It’s a programme for children from small ones to 99-years-old, because many adults feel like children also. We are preparing a game that guides the children through the exhibitions, and the other thing we have here is a Cabinet of Curiosities: the children make small objects and they put them inside the cabinet, so the installation continues to grow. Another important thing is that each child can vote for the one country’ whose exhibit they like the most, and tomorrow we will give the awards to the three countries with the most votes from the children…”
You’re from Iceland? What are you doing? You’ve been walking around wearing this, slightly scary white wedding dress…
“I shouldn’t be walking around, I’m supposed to be sitting in my white house, but the electricity went off, so there’s total darkness and I thought it would be a bit creepy to sit there alone and scaring the kids. So I’m trying to fix it – I should be sitting silently and knitting.”
So what is the point of the Icelandic installation?
So you’re waiting for 10 days?
“Yes, for ten days, for ten hours every day. Every day represents ten years and every hour a year. It’s a little bit like meditating. I read – everything is white, we have white books and I read them – and I knit, and then I drink water and milk, anything white or clear, so I have stuff to do and I do it really slowly, so maybe for two hours I’m just drinking a cup of something…”
“This is the Portuguese pavilion. We have an inner cube that you can go in to, and there’s this compost on the ground that remains after making wine, because our company is from a wine region. And if you go up to the balcony you can watch our actors, who are doing short theatre scenes in the bar below several metres away, and you can listen to them on the headphones. They are doing short scenes from the book “Blindness” by Nobel laureate José Saramago; they do sixd modules of five minutes each in a loop eight hours a day. It’s an open presentation, so they have to bring all the things around them into the performance, because everyone else, without knowing, become part of the set, an extra…”
We’re in the basement of the National Gallery now; what’s going on here? This is the Norwegian exhibit?
And is there another meaning to it than that, or is it just intended to hypnotise the audience?
“There’s not like one meaning attached, there are lots of meanings. The way we make these things is we like to keep them open in the sense that it’s easy for people to put meaning into it – there’s not, like, one fixed meaning, it’s a well of possible meanings…”
You still have Saturday and Sunday to see, or rather experience, the exhibits in the National Gallery and elsewhere around Prague. For the rest of the festival programme check out the website at pq.cz.