Divus: presenting alternative art in Prague and London

Originally the concept of one Czech man, Ivan Mečl, Divus has grown into something of a mini art empire. The organization has offices in Prague, London and Berlin, and a magazine called Umělec published in Czech, Spanish, English and Chinese. I paid a visit to two of the organisation’s offices:

Divus’s Czech base is a spacious loft, filled with computers, in Prague’s Karlín Studios. Late last week I was shown around by a couple of those working overtime:

A: “My name is Alena Boika and I’m the editor-in-chief of Umělec magazine, and I have been working here from 2005. Originally, I’m from Belarus.”

P: “My name is Palo Fabuš, I’m from Slovakia. I’ve been living here in the Czech Republic for eight years now, and I’ve been working for Umělec since the beginning of this year.”

Can you tell me about the sort of things that Umělec magazine covers, and what sorts of things the magazine is trying to do?

P: “Well, as the subtitle says, it is a magazine about art and our culture, and these topics tend to be covered in the widest of senses. Of course, it concerns our taste too – the content is filled with things we like, with things we find significant and things we want to reflect and stuff like that.”

And am I right in thinking that Umělec is quite an international magazine, that there are not just people here in Prague writing it, but in the United Kingdom too, for example?

A: “Yes, first of all, we have our editorial teams working in Berlin, London, Vienna, and also in Mexico. If we are talking about Great Britain, we have a separate office/ studio there, and we use it not only as a place to meet authors, to invite people, but also as an exhibition space.”

So to London, and to the gallery that Alena was talking about, I go. My guide at Divus Unit 30 in London’s Shoreditch is Andrew Sims. He takes me round the current exhibition of Czech painter Vladimír Skrepl’s work, entitled ‘Yellow Eyes, Brown Lips’:

“When you first come into the exhibition, or at least when I did, I was first struck by the number of phalluses, breasts, and also the swastikas. From a British standpoint, it is important to see these kinds of things, to see this symbol, in this context – to see that it is a very real and visceral part of the European subconscious. And that is what Vladimír Skrepl’s paintings are, a kind of bloody sneeze of his subconscious onto canvas and paper.”

This is quite a small space and maybe quite far from the madding crowd, does this means that you get much of the madding crowd here, or is it a fairly quiet gallery?

“Um, most of the time it’s quite quiet, but especially around the times of openings we get quite a crowd in. We also have a number of events that we host, you know, speakers, art bands, and a number of the artists also put on performances or they give talks around about the time their exhibition is on. So, there are a number of events that draw different amounts of people.”

The Vladimír Skrepl exhibit at London’s Divus Unit 30 is not for the faint-hearted. It runs until September 26. Umělec magazine comes out quarterly and is available in galleries around the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom.