What we hoped to achieve through our involvement in the PQ 2019?

Miljana Zeković & Višnja Žugić reflection on Prague Quadrennial 2019 and Emergence.


A description of the involvement.

Our organisation – Ephemera Collective, an NGO based in Serbia and working internationally, artistically oriented towards the diverse site-specific practices – has applied and got selected by the PQ team to lead an interdisciplinary 4-day long result-driven workshop as a part of this year’s PQ Studio. The workshop titled The Quest: Performing with the Ghost took place in the abandoned school Nová strašnická škola in Prague 10 and at the time of the execution, gathered mentors – 6 professionals from different disciplines (architecture, dramaturgy, acting, directing and composing) and from different countries (Serbia, Portugal, Hungary and The Philippines), 9 participants from 7 countries (Canada, The United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, China, Spain, The Netherlands) as well as an assistant-volunteer and a technical team at particular time-slots, assigned by PQ. We have also taken participation in the PQ Talks, in the panel titled Scenography across Art Forms, presenting the ideas on spatial phenomena in wider interdisciplinary field through a moderated panel format. Our main goal was to try to establish a connection between these two involvements by sharing our thoughts on the workshop’s process and the experience in our PQ Talk.

A description of the cooperation with the project managers (PQ Studio / PQ Talks) and the PQ team.

The full process of cooperation with Viktorie Schmoranzová, the PQ Studio Manager and Brad Caleb Lee, the PQ Programme Coordinator went very well. Taking into consideration the circumstances that an organisation of a high-profile event such is PQ brings along, we could say that we got all of the information and all of the support that they could provide while simultaneously handling many different groups of PQ Studio participants. We would, further, describe all of the Viktorie’s involvement in the realisation process of our project as highly professional, friendly, punctual and creative in problem-solving situations, which did mean a lot to us and because of what we felt that we were supported and taken care of. We highly appreciated the offer to have an assistant – Jakub Rajdl, who helped us in everyday communication with the PQ team, since we were working outside of DAMU. What we did notice in the email communication prior to our arrival in Prague was that, at some point, we have lost the idea on what type of information came from Viktorie and what from Brad, considering also Brad’s involvement in the PQ Talks related correspondence, and we have lost track on some important information in too long chains of emails covering different aspects of our involvement in all of the PQ activities. Also, what we see as a shortcoming in the process is almost no contact with the PQ Studio curator, Patrick Du Wors, during the process of planning, execution and presentation of the results, once the project was finished.

While preparing for the PQ Talks, we have communicated mainly with Brad. All of his emails and requests were very precise, written with clarity and thorough in details, which left almost no space for misunderstandings. We appreciated that a lot. During PQ and especially on the day of our PQ Talk, we have communicated with Pavel Drabek, who, in our opinion, has to be credited for maintaining the fine balance between the informal atmosphere of the talks, and the structure and the dynamics of presentations, that resembled a sort of a conventional scientific conference. He was also encouraging the involvement of the audience, which we find important form both standpoints – that of a presenter, and that of an audience member. 

A description of both good and problematic aspects of the organisation of the event from the start to the end.

The absolute praise from our side goes for the PQ 2019 organisation in terms that from the very beginning of the process of our involvement in the PQ events to the very end of it, we did undeniably feel that we were ‘in the system’. This means that we did get all of the support that we needed anytime during the realisation of our projects, that the communication was clear and prompt and that all of the conditions for our PQ Studio project were fulfilled, which was not a light task, since we were executing a complex site-specific workshop that happened on a distant location from both DAMU and the Exhibition Grounds. 

As this review serves for the possible upgrade of the organisational processes for the future PQ editions, we would also use this opportunity to elaborate on items we found tricky and not quite easy to cope with. The biggest issue we’d like to stress out is the management of the participants’ selection process and we’d like to expand on that here. Although the process did begin on time, we have experienced a massive time-loss from our side until its completion. As our workshop had been opened for 12 participants firstly, we went through a detailed and thorough selection through over 40 applications, trying to make sense of the group. The interdisciplinary workshop’s success highly depends on the participants’ individual skills, and that is why the very selection is a major step in its realisation. After the first round we got only half of the selected people, because the applicants were allowed to apply on multiple calls. After that, instead to look further into the previously checked available candidates, we got a completely new 19 applications, which we have, again, checked in detail and tried to connect with the previously selected group members. In this process, we have rejected a handful of good candidates and we have lost contact with them. Eventually, what happened in Prague was that from 12 to 14 participants that we needed (and selected) for the project only 9 showed, with 2 of them that did not even go through the application process and were not checked by us at all. The group was quite heterogeneous because of all of that and it did ask a lot of additional effort from our side to lead it. At this point, we couldn’t possibly suggest a solution for this problem, but we thought that elaborating on it would bring it into focus. 

Regarding PQ Talks, what we found challenging was the deadline set for sending the final PowerPoint presentation, a month before PQ. One of the difficulties was the fact that we were a big group of people, from 4 countries, trying to collaborate on a single PowerPoint presentation. Furthermore, our plan to show the results of the workshop within the presentation sounded impossible if we were to follow the instructions given regarding the deadline. During the event itself, we became aware that there were workshop leaders who incorporated their workshops’ material in their PQ Talks. We realised that we could have insisted on that, but the instructions on preparing the PPT were so strict, that we didn’t even consider it. We do understand that this was possibly due to some lacking of communication from our side. 

A description of our gains from participating in the programme.

What we hoped to achieve through our involvement in the PQ 2019 activities was an establishment of a wider network of people interested in the similar phenomena as we were, which we have undeniably got by meeting the participants of our workshop. Ephemera Collective works internationally for years and the network of the participants in our projects is quite big by now. Our most important gains regarding participation in PQ Talks are related to experiencing a new format in public representation of our practice. 

What we did miss and would definitely recommend for consideration in some of the future PQ editions is a sort of a ‘reflection’ format in which, after a workshop is done, there is a presentation of its results and the critical reflection from a wider range of professionals interested in the topic. This way, all of the workshop leaders would gain not only a wider network of the people involved in their projects, but would get an instant and non-filtered feedback, which would be precious for their further professional growth.  

Finally and most importantly, we have undeniably gained a new layer of a PQ experience which we cherish and find very inspirational for our additional work and projects.

A description of what we missed in the overall experience and what we suggest for the improvement.

The overall experience of PQ 2019 was somewhat confusing for us, since we happened to be almost completely isolated in Prague 10, doing a workshop. In those hours that we managed to get to The Exhibition Grounds before closing, we could hardly navigate our ways around, since we found the PQ communication lines (at the site itself, as a subscribed member via email, on the website, on Instagram…) a bit inconsistent, overlapping a huge amount of events without clear idea how to resolve the possible paths and quite hard to follow by visitors. The structure of the overall communication is what we’d recommend for the possible improvement. Of course that it would be impossible to chase and attend every single event in the PQ world, but we’d appreciate a more structured and manageable approach to the events’ execution.

Speaking of our own experience with the PQ Studio execution, what we have missed in the end was a sort of a ‘closing’ – a format of having a word with the PQ Studio curator and the audience and a possible feedback after exhibiting the results. Due to some miscommunication with the PQ team, we have denied our participants and ourselves an opportunity to show and explain the process to a wider audience, which we think is the essence of the experience; to guide the audience through the results. We strongly recommend this aspect of showing/exhibiting the results of the result-driven workshops for reconsideration. 

Altogether, Ephemera Collective’s experience with PQ is a fruitful and joyous, from time to time challenging endeavour. We have grown massively through our different involvements in PQ since 2011, and we will continue to support, participate, recommend, analyse and help PQ improve in every possible way.