The Prague Quadrennial is a little universe with its representation of the whole outside itself
Aziza Kadyrova's reflection on the Prague Quadrennial 2019 Internship Program
I first heard about the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space from a friend who was a student of Dmitry Krymov. The title mesmerized me as much as it created an unexpectedly solemn, formal image in my mind: for the younger me, four years seemed like a lifetime of waiting, and the occasion itself sounded like a mixture of the Olympics and the Oscars with lots, lots of red carpets. Or maybe a lengthy academic conference on the achievements in performance design? I dove into research; in my uninformed judgement, I was both right and very, very wrong.
There were indeed some red carpets: though purely functional, matching the official colour of PQ. The Prague Quadrennial is a little universe with its representation of the whole outside itself: like a mesmerizing conglomeration of mirrors and a magnifying glass that reflects and amplifies the wonders, horrors, and mysteries of our world. For a performance designer, it's an excellent way to discover current global affairs through the lens of fellow creators. The visitors and participants particularly struck me - renowned artists and emerging practitioners - interacting on the same level, sharing, learning and forming professional relationships with an open mind.
I was lucky to experience PQ through the unique lens of being an intern, spending the most fulfilling two and a half weeks working alongside fifteen other young designers and connecting with them to form a supportive international network. The program offers a rare chance to participate in PQ's "behind the scenes". The group's enthusiasm, responsiveness and reliability were unparalleled; every intern, equipped with a specific set of skills and raw passion for performance, wanted to contribute as much as they could to this quadrennial event.
For the first half of the festival, I mostly worked with Adam Svoboda, the location manager of the Emergence exhibition. We had a good work dynamic, and I am grateful for the mutual trust we had with him and Hung-Ling when setting up the exhibition and making technical or creative decisions. At Emergence, I supported the representatives of several international organizations during the installation process. Their patience and understanding ensured the quick resolution of any problems and unpredicted circumstances. Some of them were curious about the interns' opinion of the thematic and content of each exhibition, which shows genuine interest in the perception of the artwork by the younger generation. The representative of the Ukrainian part (IZOLYATSIA), knowing about the political nature of their exposition, asked me to share my thoughts on the impact of the exhibit on me as a Russian citizen. It showed respect and a deep understanding of the sensitivity of the subject and acknowledged that there are many sides to one story, that it is crucial to express different opinions without invoking violence or harm.
The setup for Emergence lasted about a week, and, after the opening, space was mostly monitored by volunteers that reported to Adam, Rhianna, Hung-Ling and me. I went on to complete assignments in other organizational areas, receiving tasks from artistic director Markéta Fantová, Fragments curator Klara Zieglerova, PR manager Lucia Horňáková, and Internship program manager Sean Crowley.
During my work at the Quadrennial, I was always shown trust and was treated with the utmost respect, patience, and appreciation. The breadth of tasks received was significant and positively impacted my
skill development within the program. I participated in the installation of the Best Publication Award exhibition in the Central Hall. At Fragments, I reformatted and redesigned the labels for showpieces, supported artist talks, and even fixed models, which allowed me to gain a better understanding of the issues that inevitably come with curating an exhibition of such scale and significance. Having skills in graphic design software allowed me to assist the PR department with information posters and cue cards for the awards ceremony. I translated for jury member Liu Xinglin at confidential jury meetings and PQ Talks and offered my language skills to Chinese and Russian-speaking participants that needed translation support throughout PQ. Interpreting for Professor Liu Xinglin was a challenging but delightful experience – it was a great chance to pick a legendary scenographer's brain. Mr Liu approached with genuine interest and curiosity every opportunity to learn more about the newest technology and the ideas of the young generation of performance makers. This taught me always to keep learning and improving to avoid stagnation in my creative career.
One of the main takeaways for me was discovering different struggles – political, gender-based, racial, social, financial – of emerging designers in separate corners of the world. This diversity of experiences, concentrated in one place and majorly reflected in the national and student exhibitions, was manifested live through this group of interns and our daily exchanges. As young creatives, we fight different obstacles while trying to reach a common goal. Hearing about varied challenges across the world influenced by the local contexts in which performance design is practised raises awareness. It teaches you to understand other countries' unique takes on performance design - and vice versa. At PQ, I saw a juxtaposition of wondrous escapism and open protest, glossing over and simultaneously being extremely vocal about current issues. This contrast, this tension is what sparks a discussion without which art cannot exist. And the Internship, by allowing us to witness and participate, undoubtedly opens doors for future collaborations that are culturally aware and enriched by the multitude of experiences. Working with the PQ Team has been a fantastic opportunity to learn how to quickly adapt to interacting efficiently and respectfully with a diverse group of teammates that you have just met.
The reputation of PQ precedes itself, and that already guarantees a massive flow of participants and visitors at every edition. Nevertheless, the organizers managed to retain a high standard of operation that ensured the overall success of the event. Due to the international nature of the Quadrennial, financial and migration-related issues can become an obstacle for bringing projects to Prague; however, these complications have mostly been solved, which secured the diversity of the work presented. The balance of live performance, visual documentation of realized productions, and a wide array of workshops rendered the event culturally rich, managing to capture the representation of all performance aspects to create a more holistic image of contemporary performance.
At the same time, an event of this scale undoubtedly produces gaps and unforeseen issues that have to be solved on the spot. Some of the shortcomings are connected to factors that the organizers didn't have direct control of, such as force majeures in the form of heat and rain floods in the student exhibition tent, which would have had less impact if they had been addressed more promptly, and the
unwelcoming attitude of the outsourced security workers that had made many guests uncomfortable with their unsolicited xenophobic comments. These issues, of course, were directly tied to the location.
At the Industrial Palace, navigation at times needed more clarity, which would eliminate the disconnect between different parts of the exhibition, Site Specific Performance Festival, and off-site events in the Old Town. PQ's media presence, crucial for attracting younger audiences, felt rather insufficient, especially before the opening of the event. In our faced-paced information-hungry times, curating social media profiles requires meticulous and dedicated work that keeps online audiences in a constantly updating loop. To attract more people that, due to specific backgrounds and local contexts, are less likely to hear about PQ from their immediate surroundings, the promotion of the Quadrennial's multiple projects has to start way before the opening and employ a wider variety of channels. For many visitors, the information presented on the official websites for PQ and Emergence appeared somewhat scarce; the daily schedule section at MyPQ proved that a lack of ergonomic design could be quite frustrating. It is also directly connected to alerting visitors about changes in schedules: with a pre-built online audience, it can be easier to notify visitors about last-minute changes.
In regards to the Internship, despite the novelty of the program, it managed to create a bridge for emerging artists to access the previously unreachable resources. Giving the interns a possibility to get involved with their respective projects much earlier in the planning process can significantly improve the outcomes of the Internship, reaching the initial goal of putting young creators into leading creative and management positions. Understandably, this is much more difficult to achieve due to the international nature of the program and funding restrictions not allowing the interns to arrive earlier to start preparation work on location. However, certain parts of the process like admin or technical design work could be delegated to the recruited interns in advance to assist the project curators, which can also help establish a more trusting relationship between the two. Offering more support for intern initiatives – for example, multilingual tours proposed at this edition – can also create a morale-boosting environment.
The opportunity to work across several projects has given me a more holistic understanding of what PQ is and how it works as a whole. Some people did not get the same chance, which might have influenced their perception of the Internship program. Naturally, some projects such as live performance and talks required more supervision, so this question remains unanswered: how to find a balance for interns to experience more of the program and meet more people while effectively aiding their respective projects, thereby fulfilling the aims of the program?
Through the Internship, I gained incredible knowledge on organizing a recurring large-scale event that attracts people from around the globe. I met potential collaborators from various performance backgrounds; got offered to participate in planning new emerging designers online publication; found support for a project on the migrant crisis in Mexico; received invitations to participate in design education forums and academic events – the list can go on and on. The Internship program has great potential, and, while there is always room for improvement, it will remain an excellent way to encourage young practitioners to keep running the marathon that is a career in performance design.
A young Muscovite of Uzbek descent currently living in Beijing, China. Chose Art over Diplomacy. Experimental film photography, abstract drawings, fashion illustrations, mixed media - can't imagine my life without these. She holds a BA in Fashion and Textile Design at the Academy of Arts and Design at Tsinghua University.