This year’s 4+4 arts festival hones in on the problem at Wenceslas Square

Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, source: Official website of the festival

The annual multi-discipline and multi-venue contemporary art festival called 4+4 Days in Motion begins in Prague this Friday. Now in its 18th year, the festival looks at some of the controversial and problematic topics surrounding the modern city, through dance and theater performances, an exhibition, public lectures and discussions. In today’s Arts, we speak to the festival’s producer, Markéta Černá, who talked about why they chose a vacant palace, situated on Wenceslas Square, as the main venue.

Palác U Stýblů,  photo: Oleg Fetisov
“A sort of a tradition of the festival is that we try every year to find an abandoned building in the center of Prague and to, sort of, artistically squat there. And we knew about this building for years, but we couldn’t get in touch with the owner, and luckily we did this year; The owner was so nice and so kind and let us in and allowed us to squat at his house for this year.”

And Palác U Stýblů, why was it an attractive venue for the 4+4 festival? How will you be using it?

“There are two main parts. One is the palace itself, because it offers a place for a big exhibition of contemporary art, then it offers a space for a site-specific project, for discussions. And then there is the Wenceslas Square itself. We are always trying to point out the place of the festival itself. So, we prepared walks with architects of art historians, who will be giving tours of Wenceslas Square for the public. And then there will be a debate about the future of Wenceslas Square, where we invited the mayors of Prague and Prague 1. It will be about the current state of Wenceslas Square or how it should be changed, what is the purpose and what Wenceslas Square should bring to the inhabitants of Prague.”

Markéta Černá,  photo: archive of Markéta Černá
Today the square is a very touristy place it almost seems like it belongs to the tourists. How do you think that in the future the local art community could interact with or even take over parts of the square?

“First of all, I don’t like the current state of Wenceslas Square at all, because I don’t understand why it is a parking lot without cars at the moment. It is more of a question for Prague city authorities – what can they provide for the artists to work there and to show their art.”

The main exhibit of the festival is called ‘Problem is Here’. What is the problem? What is it about?

“Well, Wenceslas Square is a problem. And it’s sort of our feeling today that we are surrounded by many problems, and some of the problems are very local and some of the problems are global. And for this exhibition we wanted to find artists and artistic works which show some of these problems.”

And as for the performance art at the festival, this is the first year that you’re hosting an Indian group. Can you tell us a little more about them and what we can expect?

Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts,  source: Official website of the festival
“This is a very interesting group. They are called Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts and they are actually one of the first dance or performance groups who are trying to show modern dance and are trying to persuade the inhabitants of India that there is more than just khattak dance, but that there are many other forms that are considered dance as well. So they are actually much more easily accepted in Western Europe than in India itself. And they are bringing a performance which is combining the traditional and the modern dance.”

Can you tell us about one or two highlights from the program, the performances you are looking forward to in particular?

“I look forward to the opening performance by Motus, which is political theater, and it’s about Greece and the riots which were there in 2007, when a 15-year-old boy was killed the police and how the riots started. And it’s about corruption, about the things that we are living with, basically. It’s very good. It’s a performance we wanted to present two years ago, and because we didn’t have money last year we couldn’t, but this year it happened and we are really happy to have them here.

Motus,  photo: Pierre Borosci
“And then I’m looking forward to Campo with the performance called Victor, which is a very intimate duet between a grown man and a 13-year-old boy. And Campo productions from Gent are probably the best production house that works with kids. Two or three years ago we presented a Gob Squad performance ‘Before your very eyes’ which was performed only by kids. And this is another performance which was made especially for the Campo production house and I think it is very good as well.”

And speaking of intergenerational performance and art, you are also holding a symposium on the perception of the elderly by modern artists. I think it’s a very hard topic to talk about, especially in this country where the older generation and the young people are worlds apart. What are some of the answers Czech artists are giving?

“We will see. That’s why we’re holding this symposium. It is a co-production with Elpida, which is an organization which is trying to improve the lives of the older people. And they came up with this idea and we were very happy, because we want to be a festival for everybody, not just for one group of people. So, we will see. There are about 12 visual artists invited to the discussion and we hope that it will bring some positive answers.”

Do you think that in the Czech Republic today, young performance and visual artists reflect on the culture and heritage of their grandparents, or are we still at a stage where they’re trying to get away the communist past and look towards modern-day Europe?

Palác U Stýblů,  photo: Official website of the festival
“I think this has changed. There are definitely artists who are working with this topic. Ten years ago we produced a performance by Kristina Lhotáková and Laďa Soukup called ‘A Question for Next Year’. And that was a performance by the two of them and an 80-year-old lady. It was very successful and it toured all over the world.

“So, I think it is not exactly mainstream at the moment, but there are artists that are definitely reflection on this topic and they don’t connect it with the communist regime at all these days.”