“He had a really big career abroad”: Documentary shines light on late artist Mančuška

Ján Mančuška (2006)

The new film You Will Never See It All puts the spotlight on Ján Mančuška, a conceptual artist who is not so well-known in his native Czechia despite having works in the collections of Paris’s Pompidou Centre and MOMA in New York. The film picked up the Best Debut prize in the main competition at the Ji.hlava documentary festival, which is where I spoke to director Štěpán Pech.

“The film is about Ján Mančuška, who was an artist, and I was an assistant to him. When he passed away I somehow couldn’t cope with the death and after a couple of years I just decided that I wanted to meet him more – to spend some time with him and maybe get along with his death, through the process of the film.”

Tell me something about your experience of working with him as his assistant.

Štěpán Pech | Photo: MFDF Ji.hlava

“He was quite strict, quite demanding. But it was a great lesson. I think he was one of my most important teachers, and he was very important for me in general.”

What did you learn from him?

“Many things. For example, to be precise. To really work more. I was quite lazy at the time.

“Technically, many things. And I also sensed his sense of humour and sensitivity towards really tiny moments of life. But also many other things.”

He’s kind of known for not being so known in Czechia. Why do you think he’s not better known? Did he kind of profile himself as more international?

“Yes. He had a really big career abroad. He really started, around 2004, at Manifesta [in Frankfurt]. It was his first important international presence.

“Then he had a gallerist in New York, and in Berlin, and he was working mostly abroad and not so much here. That’s probably why he’s not that much known.”

You have different generations of his family in the film. How important was it to you to get them on board with the project?

“It was definitely crucial for me. Especially Vojta and Agáta, his children – they are something like guides of the film. The original task was that I wanted to provide them with this experience. The basic ethic of the film was that it should help them to meet their father and to find a new relationship with him.

“The generation of his parents was, again, very important, because there I could find the sources of his thinking maybe, and his life.”

Given your own association with him, do you feel that you learned something about him in the process of making the film?

“I think we became really closer. I was just surprised mostly about the size of his personality. I was constantly shocked how big he was, in the best sense.

“He had many sides, many qualities. And this interview wouldn’t have time to name all of them, I think.”

Your film is also itself visually interesting. Did you feel a kind of pressure to in a sense match him for artistry, and not just to make a straightforward film with talking heads?

“Sure. The original idea was not to do a film about him but also in a way his film. I was very much inspired by his way of thinking and creating, and I wanted to involve this into the film, into the language itself, as much as possible.”