Kristof Kintera - the Czech Republic's answer to Damien Hirst
My guest for One on One this week is Kristof Kintera, an award-winning artist whose work appears in many prestigious collections such as that of the Czech National Museum and the American Museum of Fine Arts. He has also sold many pieces to private Czech and foreign collectors. This 33-year-old sculptor and designer is something of an enfant terrible of the Czech art scene. His bizarre creations ranging from human figures made out of potatoes to depictions of household implements having sex are always daring and provocative in a manner reminiscent of Damien Hirst. I started by asking Kristof Kintera how he felt about being compared with this notorious British artist.
One of the things you've done recently was organise an exhibition of pieces called Gross Domestic Product. Your poster for the event consisted of a shoe box, which I presume was a reference to Tomas Bata, with a big turd inside it. That strikes me as a very Damian Hirst thing to do. What were you trying to say by doing that?
"Well it's simple. Basically it's a kind of provocation. I'm also a very big fan of shit because it's a kind of taboo. In this society we don't have very many taboos. You can buy all sorts of porno magazines at any gasoline station.
"So everything else is sort of pronounced but shits are not so visible in advertising and posters, etc. I was just trying to be provocative and to take this everyday object - after all each of us produces these things everyday - and juxtapose it with the most well known symbol of Czech economic success. It's a provocation. It's meant to attract people and to ask some questions about the economy as well."
Speaking of economics, are you able to live off your art? Or do you have to do other work as well?
"Most artists in the Czech Republic have to prostitute themselves doing different kinds of jobs - they do advertising and paint sets for American movies and so on. It's the same with me. I still have to do certain jobs just to earn money."
It's probably easier to make a living as an artist these days, but is it easier to make good art? Or were the dark days of communism, for example, more conducive to the production of "good art"?
"Of course it was much more difficult before, because living under communism was not very pleasant. But it was also more obvious in other ways, because the enemy was very obvious. There was just one enemy and barricade to confront. Nowadays, I think the 'enemy' is much more sophisticated, because the bad guys are all around us so to speak.
"But of course it's much easier now for artists. At least we can do whatever we want. We can say whatever we want. I have a feeling that we are living in quite a free country now. It's much freer than countries like Russia, for example, and the United States."
You say it was much easier in the past for artists because they knew who the enemy was and now the enemy is trickier. Are you saying that the role of an artist is to identify enemies in society and create works of art that expose them? Is that how you see it? Do you think artists have a particular role in society or do they now just make nice things that people can buy?
"Of course, it's not about making nice things to sell. But on the other hand it's not about targeting the enemy or something. It's about pronouncing things. It's about communication. For me it's not about revolution anymore. That's just probably just something from the 1960s. I don't believe that art can make political changes or foment revolutions.
"It's more about tender, invisible energies or things that are not pronounced by the media or commercial companies. Art is something very tender in a way. That's why I like it."
You're also quite well known for interesting copulation pieces such as an electric carving knife having sex with a melon. Could you tell me where is the tenderness there?
"Well, this piece is really not tender. I was perhaps wrong to use this expression. Maybe 'delicate' is a better word. But sometimes art can be very simple and rough as well.
"It can be easy to get and it can also exaggerate the bizarreness of everyday life. It doesn't have to be tender. In fact, I actually don't really do tender pieces, but I like it when art is delicate.
"Art doesn't have to be political and it doesn't have to have any deep meaning. It can be just nonsense, because nonsense is beautiful as well."
And the carving knife having sex with a melon... Was that just a nonsense piece or were you trying to say something?
"Of course it's nonsense, but on the other hand I think good art always has a lot of different layers and levels in terms of how it can be read and understood.
"Naturally I can always try and explain everything by using language. I do that very often but I don't like to do it because it's kind of like giving people a manual for my work.
"People can interpret things without having a manual. Of course with this piece I can say it's about the bizarreness of using household tools. The electric carving knife is already a work of art in itself. It's so bizarre and it's not something you really need. It's just an electric knife.
"I was trying to push this absurdity even further by suggesting that this electric knife was really having wild sex with a water melon."
Who do you sell your art to? Once you sell your art, do you just let it go or are you interested in whom it goes to once it's out of your hands?
"That's a good question. Partly, I'm interested but most of the time I don't know precisely where the piece goes to."
"I'm usually happy when it goes to institutions like museums. In a museum you know a piece will get feedback from a lot of people because it will be exposed to them."
"But sometimes a piece ends up in a private collection and I don't really know if it just becomes a decoration in some living room with a pool table. I haven't any guarantee that the piece is in the sort of context I would like it to be in."
Do you care?
"This sounds pretty bad, but the answer is 'no, I don't'"