Founder on 15 years of DOX: “It exceeded my expectations”

Leoš Válka

Prague’s DOX Centre for Contemporary Art is now celebrating 15 years of existence. The biggest independent institution of its kind in Czechia, it runs multiple exhibitions – and holds various events in a distinctive wooden structure resembling an airship. In connection with its 15th anniversary, I visited DOX to meet founder Leoš Válka.

DOX has been operating now here for 15 years. How has the reality of running this venue been, compared to what you expected 15 years ago?

Leoš Válka | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

“The fact is it exceeded my expectations, which were not very specific. I just wanted to run a place which would allow for mixing different aspects of cultural performances and exhibitions, but mainly what I wanted to do was visual art exhibitions.

“The original idea was something like a kunsthalle which organises exhibitions which are coming and going. And a kunsthalle in the sense that we were not planning, and still do not plan or have, a collection.

“So it is supposed to be a place for projects coming, going, happening – and this was like an open concept.”

Over those 15 years, for you what have been some of the most important exhibitions, or other events, that have taken place here at DOX?

“For us, probably the most important exhibition was Brave New World, which was maybe seven or eight years ago. It was based on the work of three dystopian writers – Bradbury, Huxley and Orwell – who were all writing about our possible future, which at the time of their writing was not very optimistic and promising.

“We combined their stories with art inspired by their writings.”

Photo: Jan Slavík,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

I guess the biggest physical change at DOX over the decade and a half has been the installation of the Gulliver Airship. What has that added to DOX?

“The intention was to make an intervention, from the point of view of our modern, modernistic, architecture. I wanted an intervention which would run against this kind of architecture, something which was made of wood and would be a bit bizarre, something which would be surprising.

Photo: Jolana Nováková,  Czech Radio

“If you saw it, you would be shocked, surprised, by this unexpected structure, which is floating, maybe even flying, between the earth and the sky. And that’s what happened.

“Also it has a very concrete function. It works as an auditorium and we are using it for presentations and authors’ readings – basically connecting literature and art.”

How has the landscape of institution like yours changed in Prague over the years? Now there is the venue called Kunsthalle, which does something similar to you, though many people say that the National Gallery currently in a moribund state. Is that something you think about, the competition?

Photo: Jan Slavík,  © DOX

“Not at all. For us there is no competition [laughs], but not because we are so good. We simply think that the more of any activity helps the cultural environment, or places where people can go and enjoy different kinds of experiences. It’s better.”

“The fact is that we are quite a large space, probably one of the largest in the Czech Republic. We have over 10,000 square metres, so it gives us the opportunity to have different projects going on simultaneously.

“We would like to think of ourself a place where you can spend the whole day.”