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An interview with Eduard Ovcacek by Lukasz Bialkowski

An interview with Eduard Ovcacek by Lukasz Bialkowski

An interview with Eduard Ovcacek by Lukasz Bialkowski

An interview with Eduard Ovcacek by Lukasz Bialkowski

An interview with Eduard Ovcacek by Lukasz Bialkowski

An interview with Eduard Ovcacek by Lukasz Bialkowski

An interview with Eduard Ovcacek by Lukasz Bialkowski

Lukasz Bialkowski, 2011-12-03

Lukasz Bialkowski: In July your exhibition was in Krakow in the Pryzmat Gallery. You showed your works together with Zbynek Janacek and Marek Sibinsky. More than half a year ago there was also your individual exhibition in Rondo Sztuki in Katowice (Poland). Your relationship with the Polish artistic community is strong and it started in the 60s when you participated in the Krzywe Kolo Gallery exhibitions...

Eduard Ovcacek: It is a really long story, that started in 1961 when I wrote a letter to Marian Bogusz and our contact continued until his early death twenty years later. Marian Bogusz was very well known among the Czech and Slovak avant-garde. Everyone knew that he was an organiser of modern art exhibitions that he was showing in the Modern Art Gallery – Krzywe Kolo in Warsaw. In the beginning of the 60s my contact with Polish art and artists was the most intensive. I got to know a lot of personalities within the Polish art scene. Let me mention Henryk Stażewski who is an authority of art, as well as a lot of artists of my generation. Around that period (1961 – 1980) I wrote a long text entitled Arguments of freedom, that was supplemented with a lot of documents, reproductions and photos. It is a document about the co-operation between the independent and unofficial Polish and Czechoslovakian art scene. I participated in an international open-air workshop in Koszalin (1963) and the 1st Biennale of 3D Forms in Elblag. Now the contacts are still valid through art schools. Our art department of Ostrava University co-operates with the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, Katowice, Lodz and the Art Institute in Cieszyn as well as other cultural institutions. It is this very interesting atmosphere of an energetic presence and a confrontation of personalities that co-creates contemporary European art.

L. B.: What was the co-operation between Poles and Czechs under communism? It seems that you were refused a passport and during the art opening in the Krzywe Kolo Gallery you were just present by phone?

E. O.: In a totalitarian communist regime of course the free development of personalities was made difficult. However, in Poland the situation was a bit better than in Czechoslovakia. For this reason, the co-operation with the independent artistic milieu of Poland was very attractive for us. In Poland it was even possible to buy specialist art books. In Czechoslovakia it was impossible, because foreign books were not imported. It is true, that we were only able to participate in the art opening in the Krzywe Kolo Gallery by phone. For today’s generation it must appear funny and hard to understand. The whole exhibition was taken illegally from Czechoslovakia to Poland by the Tatra mountain rescuers, among whom we had friends.

L. B.: Polish art historian Piotr Piotrowski says, that the Czech artistic community was quite apolitical and that especially after the invasion of the Warsaw Pact army no one tried to cross the limits set by the authorities. What do you think about this opinion? I’m asking about it especially in the context of the fact that you were among those who signed Charter 77.

E. O.: You are probably asking about the situation after the invasion of the Warsaw Pact army in August 1968. Some projects were continued into the spring of 1969 yet. I participated in a project entitled Europahaus in Vienna. But in the second half of the year a hard socialist normalisation was entered into, and Czechoslovakia was ‘temporarily’ and totally occupied by the Soviet army, and it was all over. From 1970 I could not travel abroad. Independent artists went underground. Not until 1976 were we able to install an exhibition of graphics of 66 Czech and Slovak independent artists entitled ALBUM*76 in the Pryzmat Gallery in Krakow. We remembered this project 34 years later with our exhibition TROJKA again in the Pryzmat Gallery. Charter 77 emerged just after the New Year in January 1977.

L. B.: The question is important, because it seems that you have quite clear political views, but your art is totally apolitical. If it is any kind of declaration, it is never a clearly ideological declaration, but only an artistic one. You experimented with various techniques, concentrating on formal and technical issues, printing techniques etc.

E. O.: The very fact that some Czechoslovakian artists were painting abstract and were inspired by Western art was a kind of political view – it showed an opposition against the official art. We did not have access to galleries. One more part of my art is figural, grotesque and concrete poetry, and the series entitled LEKCE VELKEHO A above all emerged as a reaction towards the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact army. This substantial part of my artistic activity is directed clearly against the political regime. Artworks from the series were published in 1968 and 1969 in various periodicals abroad. However, the basic and main part of my artistic activity is experimental, devoted to ‘concrete art’ and lettrism, it oscillates within a new sensitivity and geometry, but it is also a reflection on how I feel about reality…

L. B.: You are named by art critics and historians as one of the creators of lettrism. Is this true? When did you come across the lettrists and which one inspired you the most?

E. O.: I’m not, as it is often said, a typical representative of lettrism. I don’t agree with such a statement. My art refers to concrete art, but also to the “new sensitivity” and geometrism. My work with letters is subjected to this doctrine. I never penetrated just one art trend. When talking about representatives of lettrism, I can’t list anyone who would be especially interesting for me. Maybe Robert Indiana?

L. B.: How does what you are creating now refer to your previous work?

E. O.: I think that my current work is internally connected with my previous creation and its tendencies. The exception to this may be the existential hidden meaning within my art informel from the first half of the 60s.

L. B.: Your latest works – installations and low reliefs that are a continuation of the threads on which you’ve been working since the 70s, reveal your inspiration from minimalism. How do you refer to this trend in art?

E. O.: Minimalism is one of the aspects of my art activity and based on that principle many of my works are built – minimalism does not exclude concrete art, just the opposite – it complements it and makes it unequivocal!

L. B.: In science it often happens that scientists unknown to each other make the same discoveries hundreds of kilometers away from each other. Do you think that is possible in art?

E. O.: It is true. In the world of knowledge the same discoveries happen independently of one another, the same thoughts and ideas show up. I think it is not important who is first – we are not in a stadium where records are beaten. In art the fact is that one thought or idea may have a lot of excellent and equally good variations that may show up elsewhere in the world. Since pre-history art is developing as a climbing spiral, the same subjects continue to emerge, only the perspective, point of view and artistic means are different.

L. B.: I’m asking this question because both your achievements in lettrism and sculptures, or the low reliefs that you create, seem to be individual and a result of your search for technical possibilities. You have created a parallel to the lettrists and minimalists, but you say that those trends were unknown to you at that time.

E. O.: Here I must say, that no one acts or exists in a void. There is the inseparable continuity of the past – the emotions and all the experience of the preceding generations. Each of us must handle the situation oneself and if we are able to do so – build a new vision of the world.

L. B.: If the situation as the one outlined in my previous question is possible, then it would mean that the value of an artwork is not the result of the market, fashion or a symbolic capital owned by trendsetters, and that one should with more respect treat the technique and craft from which contemporary art is derived from. What do you think about that?

E. O.: Artists easily get fooled by the siren song of curators and art becomes a dishonest ‘trade’ and a dance around a golden calf. The inflated importance of various biennial, triennial, awards and prizes is a present example. I don't know any artist who would not have received some kind of award. I am an optimist who creates based on internal feelings and the state of mind and I believe that some trends that are fashionable today are only temporary phenomena.

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