Union of flowers: Czech artists bring splash of colour to Brussels
If you visit the European Council buildings in Brussels these days, you will see 12 colourful flower-shaped carpets decorating its main entrance. The installation is part of a project called Flower Union, created by a group of young artists, textile designers and graphic designers to represent Czechia during its EU presidency. Among its aims is to draw attention to the topics of nature protection and climate change.
I discussed the project with its curator, Michal Novotný, director of the Modern and Contemporary Art Collection at the National Gallery Prague and I started by asking him how it came about:
“Every six months, the country that is presiding the EU Council is in charge of decorating the European buildings. It’s a certain tradition. So it wasn’t initiated by the National Gallery but by the Czech government.”
How did you come up with the concept of Flower Union? What is the idea behind it?
“It was quite a complicated situation, because art, as you know, doesn’t like to be mixed with politics. But I believe times are changing and that artists will be able to speak openly about ideas that they cherish.
“When I was approached by the governmental office to prepare a presentation, I gathered nine young Czech artists and graphic designers, asking them if they would take part in the project.
“And they all agreed, because for them, it is natural to be pro-European. The European Union is an important part of their Czech identity.
“The second topic that is very important for them and for the whole generation of these artists is ecological consciousness. So we tried to connect these two topics in the idea of the Flower Union.
“But I would also like to point out that we are not exhibiting in a museum or a gallery. It’s a different space, so we also tried to conceive the project differently - not as an exhibition but more as campaign.”
The main symbol is a circular installation of twelve flower-shaped carpets, which obviously refers to the flag of the European Union. What is the symbolism behind it?
“First of all, it also represents a wreath, a flower circle that you put on your head. It is an old Slavic folk tradition and we obviously wanted to include certain Slavic elements in the project.
“But it is also a metaphor: when you weave a wreath, the more flowers you add, the thicker it is and the better it holds together.
“It also refers to the positive relationship of Czechs to nature, because I think almost everyone in Czechia enjoys spending time in nature. So we tried to transform this relationship to nature into ecological consciousness.”
There is also a large tapestry, woven from recycled textile fibres. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
“It is perhaps the most complicated and time-demanding piece that was created for the project. It was weaved by Johana Pošová and Barbora Fastrová over the period of six months at the National Gallery from fabrics discarded from factories.
“They cut the fabric into thin lines and somehow weaved them together. The monumental tapestry, which is 20 meters long, depicts certain topics related to ecological consciousness. It pictures, for instance, women picking up bottles from a river that are then transformed into fabrics.
“That’s because in other parts of the project, we actually use fabrics made out of recycled plastic bottles. So the tapestry is actually depicting the process used in other parts of the project.
“There is also the fact that weaving was traditionally designed for women and we wanted to elevate the practice into fine art as a sort of gesture.”
You have also furnished the interior of the European Council with furniture made of bentwood. How is this related to the themes that you were talking about?
“This is related to the fact that it’s not just a traditional exhibition. We literally had to furnish the rooms in the office building that are used on a daily basis.
“So we were thinking about what would be the typical furniture for our region and we decided that Czechia and the whole of the Central European region is known for bent furniture.
“We collaborated with the TON factory, which is still producing this type of furniture today. We also asked them for pieces of furniture that were discarded from the factory production and we bought some second hand pieces in antique shops and flea markets.
“Some of the pieces were combined together to create sculptures, but most of the furniture is normally used, although it was again done with the technique of upcycling.”
What was the biggest challenge of the project? Was it the location itself, I mean the office environment, which is not a typical space to display art?
“I think this was definitely a challenge. But I would say the most challenging thing, aside of the tight budget and deadlines, was how to deal with our art in the political context. This is definitely something artists are not used to.
“So I think the most challenging and also the most interesting part was how the group of artists, who formed this collective and who were taking the decisions together in a way similar to the European Council, dealt with the political dimension of the project. How they dealt with the fact that it is an official representation of a country and of a government.”
Who is the exhibition intended for? Is it accessible to the public? Will people here in Czechia have a chance to see it?
“People here in the Czech Republic can already see the videos that were made for the project and that deal in a very interesting way with the topic of political art. Those films are available on the website of the National Gallery Prague.
“If someone is in Brussels and wants to see the project, he or she can enter the atrium to see the monumental installation with the carpets or take a tour.
“We thought it was a pity for Czechs not to see the whole exhibition, because, as I said, it also carried a message for the Czech public. So in the end, we managed to convince the National Gallery committee and the project will be displayed there next year.”
The Flower Union is not the only exhibition representing Czechia in Brussels. Starting this week is another exhibition by Milena Dopitová called Even Odd. Can you tell us more about it?
“The National Gallery is first of all a museum of fine art. That’s why we didn’t want to do only the exhibition at the European Council premises but we also wanted to present Czech art sake for the sake of art itself.
“We proposed an exhibition to the Contemporary Art Centre called Bozar, which is a major art centre in the very centre of Brussels, and we suggested the artist Milena Dopitová.
“She is a mid-generation Czech artist who started her career in the 1990s and whose art can convey certain aspects of Czech culture to the potential international and Belgian viewers.”
Czechia currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union. Follow us for all the main news between now and the end of the year.