Even the day-to-day flow of the PQ in general (and of Fragments specifically) was spectacular
Jyles Rodgers reflection on Prague Quadrennial 2019 and Emergence.
I served as an intern for the Fragments exhibition, curated by Klara Zieglerova. Fragments was a showcase the “living legends” of design in which each participating country nominated a designer considered to the greatest national design artist living. I also worked on the installation and upkeep of the exhibits with Jiří Pecinovský, the production manager for this team. Most of my tasks and responsibilities were assigned by Klara, who graciously allowed me to function as the assistant curator of the event. In my role as assistant to Klara, I monitored the progress of the installation, maintained one particular exhibit, and assisted with the Gallery Talks.
Beyond those general responsibilities, I worked to aid Jiří with difficult exhibit installations, both by assisting personally and in recruiting volunteers to help in myriad ways. The process was fairly straightforward: I requested the allocation of people from the volunteer manager, Rhianna, and she would assign the number of volunteers requested. As an example, Paul Brown, the designer nominated by Wales, utilized a representation of his study for the exhibit. This representation was quite detailed and thus the installation was complex and meticulous, so much so that two volunteers were solely assigned to work on the Welsh installation for the first several days of the exhibit. I also attempted to serve as a secondary source and resource for the designers and their teams. If there were any special requests, I would work to fulfil those requests while monitoring the progress of the installation, as a means of assisting Klara. In addition, I acted as a liaison between the designers and their teams and the manager and curator, relaying information to both Jiří and Klara.
I was also asked to maintain one particularly interesting installation requiring special care and attention. This display, the Switzerland installation, was designed by Thom Luz, who created a beautiful sound exhibition incorporating balloons filled with helium, tape reels, and tape. Over the course of the day, the helium would seep out of the balloons. Further, as the tapes moved through the reels, they ran the risk of being damaged. Thus, each morning the balloons had to be re-inflated with helium, the tapes replaced, and the reels cleaned and maintained. Mr. Luz supplied all of the equipment and he and his partner taught me how to set up and take down the exhibit, and trusted me to maintain the installation.
The Gallery Talks were organized by Klara so that people could hear these living legends discuss their development as artists across the arcs of their careers, and how the specific exhibit was chosen for display reflected their artistic evolution over time. The exhibition itself was designed to showcase a piece or “fragment” of the designer’s career and thus did not, in and of itself, explain its place in the thought process of the designer. These talks offered a forum for the artists to give their personal perspectives on their art form and the situational background of the specific work on display.
I was also given the opportunity to interview the designers who were also speaking at the Gallery Talks. The interviews, which are titled “Disappearing Visceral Landscapes,” were structured as a conversation between a young designer (me) and the established and well-known designers of today. These interviews focused on how the world has evolved over time and the impact that evolution has had on the designer’s work. We explored the changing geographic, political, and social influences that have been brought to bear on the process of creation over the course of each artist’s lifetime and discussed the lessons that each designer took from the interplay of those external forces with their personal vision. Finally, the designers were asked what words of wisdom they would leave to the next generation of artists.
The organization of the Prague Quadrennial was, in my opinion, extremely well done. Despite the increase in the number of performances, installations, and exhibits in this PQ, the schedule was nearly flawless and the program ran smoothly. Of course. there will always be minor logistical issues but for an event this large, I believe the end result was spectacular. Having said that, it must be remembered that I was simply an intern, and my opinion might be somewhat underinformed.
I was offered an internship position about 5 months before the PQ opened and only assigned my role about 3 months ahead of opening -- and because of that I feared that there would be little for me to do. However, after I was assigned my role with Klara I contacted her and she gave me an explanation of Fragments, access to the Dropbox account, and a task to begin. I was provided with information on all of the designers, their projects, and the dimensions of each piece. Prior to my landing in Prague my introduction to the Fragments team was complete. I was able to jump right in -- which was tremendously helpful.
Even the day-to-day flow of the PQ in general (and of Fragments specifically) was spectacular and I would think that the reason for that was because the team was very small. There were very few mistakes made and each of these was remedied speedily and with alacrity. The only real issue was in finding clarity regarding the definition of roles. At the beginning of the summer, there was no clear definition of my role (and with good reason, as this role was subject to change based on my performance) and this proved to be a slight problem early on. Fragments needed help on both sides, production and curation, and so there seemed to be a little confused about my role within the Fragments team. After a discussion, it was quickly decided that my primary role was to assist Klara and, just as this was preferable to me personally, it was also quite sensible for the integration of all members of the production team. This was truly the only issue within Fragments and a very minor one at that.
The sole problem that seemed to plague every group was that of gender role assumption. These stories always appeared during the construction phase of the installations and seemed to derive from “assumptions” about the physical (and strength) characteristics of the women engaged in the work. Even the female volunteers were sometimes underestimated. In truth, however, the flawed assumptions of gender roles were not coming from any member of PQ organization but rather from members of the production and construction crews.
It is my belief that being a part of the PQ can be life-altering for young artists. In truth, the arts are, sometimes, rather insular. Most artists and designers (particularly young artists and designers) are nationally or regionally focused, their artistic worldview defined by the “standards” and “norms” of their particular place and time. Expectations, even vision, can thereby become legalistic, almost ritualistic – as though some law exists to prescribe what theatre is and must be. But spending time at an event like PQ shakes the foundational assumptions of the young artist and demonstrates that theatre is limited only by the boundless borders of imagination.
As a young, female designer I was inspired by the number of strong female leaders involved in the PQ. Almost all of the exhibits, including Fragments, were curated by female-identifying people. Theatre, especially theatrical design, remains the hereditary preserve of the masculine (and, in North America, of the Anglophone). To be a part of an international theatre event – an event that many refer to as the Theatre Olympics -- created, organized, and made manifest by strong women and female allies was personally motivating.
Being an intern for the Prague Quadrennial was an indescribable honor. I have never before been a part of a group of more inspired and passionate people. The PQ introduced me to a wonderful group of people who have become mentors, inspirations, and collaborators.
Not only was I inspired by the work I was seeing and hearing but, more importantly, I was discovering what type of designer I want to become. While I have not completed this discovery -- for it is a life-long journey -- I did see in the designers those qualities, both artistic and personal, that I will strive to incorporate. Just having the opportunity to study some of the most intricate and well-made theatrical models in existence has, among other things, motivated me to return to woodworking and to practice building furniture.
In my own soul, I will carry with me the images of the designs I saw in Prague, and those designs and my exchanges with these greatest living designers will form the inspirational foundation for my work going forward. The PQ opened my eyes to the possibilities of theatre, showed me the type of designer I want to be, and introduced me to a passionate company of artists who will continue to inspire me through their work and remain my friends for life.