In their first Institutional diary, Jindřich Chalupecky Society’s director and curator Karina Kottová reflects on the challenges and responsibilities of the end of last year.
It was a hell of an autumn. Due to the pandemic and the postponement of many programs it so happened that we were running six exhibitions at once, each in a different city, country or even continent. Possibly even some of the large public institutions had less going on. Except for when it comes to comparisons, we are a small team where curating overlaps with production, communication and all the other practicalities that need to be done. We were overwhelmed with responsibilities, finishing one thing and jumping straight to the next, which was already behind schedule. At the peak of all this, our main production manager decided to accept another job offer and left. However understandable in his situation, the rest of the fall was then even crazier – running an open call in between an exhibition installation, stepping in and dividing up his tasks among the rest of us. Out of the many years we have already spent working, creating, succeeding, failing and making mistakes together, this was by far the worst year. Over the course of it, some of us went through major crises within our families or on the personal end, and apparently even our bodies gave out, as one person broke their arm and another twisted their ankle towards the end of the year.
A project near and dear to our hearts, the two final iterations of the exhibition called Beyond Nuclear Family occurred during this time, one part happening in Prague and the other in New York. It was originally supposed to take place back in 2020, but due to Covid-19 it became a pretty long-term endeavor. The project, which challenged the notion of the nuclear family, with its heteronormative and other restrictive qualities, brought us a lot of joy and beautiful encounters, allowed us to get to know artists and collaborators from very colorful and diverse backgrounds. We learned a lot, we got so much inspiration, we felt empowered; all that in an atmosphere of total exhaustion that came close to a collective burnout. What a paradox! Some of us were criticized by our own family members for proclaiming a revolution of family and kinship in a public program while working so hard that we had next to no time to devote to our private lives and to our loved ones. That is not supposed to happen. It’s exactly the opposite of what we hope for in our practice. We believe an art institution based on feminist and ethical values needs to be working well inside out, that the external programs and statements need to clearly correspond to its own inner workings. And although we consider ourselves quite far in our endeavors to put such thoughts into practice, working fairly, collectively and kindly in relation both to others and ourselves, this time the scissors between vision and reality truly swung wide apart.
What now? The exhibitions are concluded (alongside all those other shows and programs) and through the perspective of the art world, we could probably consider them a success. Even in other, less tangible respects – we still feel the warmth of it, still fueled up by some really beautiful words that came from our collaborators or visitors. We feel that Beyond Nuclear Family was not just another exhibition. If we, as a collective, are a somewhat of a family (with all its joys and downsides), then our chosen family now definitely includes some new members from across Europe and beyond. Sophie Lewis would surely ask us not to use the term “family” for this, as it too much recalls corporate language, restrictive politics, domestic crimes and all the other dark sides that we were also looking into via this project. She wouldn’t go for kin either, possibly rather kith, or comrades, alliances. However we name it, we feel that despite the extreme conditions under which we had to work, we created something that has the potential to last, to be expanded upon. But now, the real work begins – an effort not to just go with the art world flow (or, more precisely, sprint) and quickly replace it with another exhibition, another topic, another set of people; to learn ways to resist the imperatives of growth, success, and peer pressure, to continue what feels meaningful, and especially to find our own pace within it. With the speed of last autumn, even the best things were close to meaning nothing at all. We need to recuperate and learn to work differently, however challenging it is in the society and field we find ourselves in. Let this be our New Year’s resolution for 2023.