There Is Nothing There originates from a single image—‘Closer to the Clouds’ by the Czech conceptual artist Karel Miler. Documenting one of Miler’s ‘actions,’ this 1977 photograph shows the artist against an empty landscape, elevated from the soil while reaching upwards. Although Miler warns against reading his action metaphorically, stating that, “it is within everyone's ability to come closer to the clouds,” one cannot help but interpret this act as a wish to temporarily detach oneself from one’s land of belonging.
There Is Nothing There presents the work of Karel Miler in dialogue with four younger contemporary artists from the Czech Republic. If global contemporary art in the age of transcultural exchange is defined by cosmopolitan imagination—constantly outward reaching—then the Czech variant as presented in this exhibition can be seen as its understated other. Characterized by a decisive inward turn, these works focus on their immediate surroundings, be it the community the artists belong to or the landscape they are inevitably part of. This inward turn, however, shouldn’t be straightforwardly linked to provincialism, as it critically negotiates community regulations and social hierarchies, transgressing stereotypical representations.
Reconfiguring the social, historical, and geographic landscape, while decoding its cultural layering, the artists explore abstract ideas of belonging and identity, revealing a particular tension inscribed in the landscape and social fabric of the Czech Republic—a tension suspended between the failure of the communist utopia and relentless capitalist expansion.
For ‘Lisen Profile,’ Katerina Seda collaborates with hundreds of local volunteers in a search for the person whose profile best reflects the physical landscape of her hometown, Lisen. Eva Kotatkova’s ‘Mound’ displays discarded domestic objects in public space and its playful redeployments by individuals. In ‘If you leave me, will I change?,’ Zdena Koleckova reveals psychological and historical processes related to local specificities, whereas Michaela Thelenova’s ‘Scenic Landscapes’ zooms in on the ambiguous architectural reality of the post-industrial North Bohemian landscape.
There Is Nothing There is curated by Niels Van Tomme, Director of Arts and Media at Provisions Learning Project, upon invitation by the Czech Center New York.
The title of the exhibition is inspired by Katerina Seda’s eponymous artwork.