By NOAH BECKER, July 2022
Arriving at Václav Havel Airport in Prague via Amsterdam I was feeling far removed from North America. Soon, I was in an UBER doing the one-hour drive to Pilsen, Czech Republic. Upon arrival in Pilsen, I set up “Studio Noah Becker: Inkubátor Gallery” at the Ladislav Sutnar Faculty of Design and Art (aka Sutnarka) and got a feel for the city.
The next evening I was completely lost in thought and jetlagged. It was 6 p.m., I was staring at reflections on the glass windows covering one wall of the painting studio. It was the end of the day at Sutnarka and I was to complete a two-week residency in a large art studio on the main floor of the faculty building. The tinted windows at the studio are one-way glass – I could see outside, but people can’t see in – but in the evening, it’s the opposite. You see a reflection of yourself and the Czech landscape outside, but if you turn out the lights, peering in from outside is impossible.
Sitting in a chair looking at my paintings in the window, my mind shut off. My body was a silhouette in grays and blues reflecting in the window and through it and melding into the hillside near the studio, it was dusk. In photographic terms, it was a monumental double exposure.
In human terms, I was still delirious from the 10-hour flight to Europe. After the first stages of the evening’s darkness, my mind woke up and I realized it was time to go back to where I was staying. Sutnarka had organized comfortable and convenient accommodations for me near Pilsen’s city square. Bonding with the architecture of the Sutnarka faculty building and reflecting on the workday in the painting studio (visual and psychological), I packed up my bag and headed for the train. The sound of footsteps at dusk, walking over Pilsen’s cobblestone streets and the faint laughter of people gathered at the train station began to find my ears – the train station is near the studio and main entrance of the building.
The train (or tram as it’s called) arrived and I boarded. After a few minutes it continued rolling down the tracks. It was around 7 p.m. and there were only 10 people on this tram. That day I had been working from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. painting in the large art studio provided by the school. Earlier that day I was taken on a tour of several different departments at Sutnarka – it’s a school with varied programs and departments.
The next two weeks would prove to be quite an adventure for me, working at the residency and making paintings for my solo exhibition to open at the Inkubátor Gallery. My painting studio would be converted into the gallery when it’s time to hang the show.
The events leading up to the residency in the Czech Republic is a history I’ll try to share.
Here’s some background on how my residency at Sutnarka came together…
I originally met the Belgian curator Jan Van Woensel in 2007 when he acted as curator of the Whitehot Magazine launch festival on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in October of that year. At the time, Jan was teaching at NYU. Jan is an important curator regularly working in the international art sphere.
The Whitehot festival in 2007 was my first collaboration with Jan. We co-curated the Whitehot Magazine publications booth at the 2007 NADA Art Fair in Miami. Jan brought in the art of Lee Ranaldo and Leah Singer, an important New York based artist couple, and Philippe Vandenberg. Lee is an accomplished visual artist and also is a founding member of Sonic Youth. Leah is a prominent artist in her own respect. This was a highlight of that time period and part of how Whitehot Magazine was founded.
Before the pandemic, Vojtěch Aubrecht, the dean at Ladislav Sutnar Faculty of Design and Art, accompanied Jan Van Woensel on a business and research trip to New York. Jan Van Woensel was now on faculty at Sutnarka and spoke highly of the program, as did Vojtěch.
Nearing the completion of their journey to New York City, Jan and Vojtěch suggested I visit the Czech Republic at some point in the near future. Several months later Jan and Vojtěch kindly invited me to attend their artist residency in Pilsen CZ, at the Inkubátor Gallery, located in the Ladislav Sutnar Faculty of Design and Art. Vojtěch and Jan organized my residency from April 16-30, 2022 – I accepted the invitation.
This would be my first time in the Czech Republic...
The Covid-19 pandemic created certain unforeseen scheduling issues but thankfully travel restrictions had mostly subsided by the time I was set to do the residency. The Ladislav Sutnar Faculty of Design and Art itself is a massive building with the lower middle floor acting as a giant life drawing studio. Hundreds of students drawing from plaster busts, live models and models of the human skeleton filled the space and could be viewed from all floors of the building through an open plan and series of balconies overlooking Sutnarka.
The variety of programs was interesting and different than North American art programs. There, I had the feeling of what being at the Bauhaus might have been like. With a variety of craft, tech and design programs, I was looking forward to touring through the different departments within the school.
While organizing my studio at Sutnarka, I had a meeting at the office of its dean Vojtěch Aubrecht. I had not seen him since his visit to New York and he introduced me to books about several important Pilsen artists, some who were faculty of Sutnarka in past years. One book I found particularly interesting was about a sculptor Jiří Beránek, who made massive hand carved wooden pieces in various formations. It was a heroic size kind of Arte Povera and the materials were sourced directly from the Czech landscape. Vojtěch also had a large wooden desk in his office created by Beránek.
I continued down the hall from Vojtěch Aubrecht’s office and visited the office of Jan Van Woensel, curator at Sutnarka. Jan had just returned from a weekend visit to the 59th Venice Biennale. He had a number of book projects and curatorial projects in progress that he introduced me to. This included a book about Israeli artist Eitan Bartal, featuring an essay I wrote about the artist.
In addition to founding “zaraz Residency” – a residency program and initiative for emerging artists and curators from Ukraine, Jan had also organized a visit from an important group of Israeli curators and artists (including Eitan Bartal), to happen in conjunction with the “Shapes: Venus” conference. This was a conference celebrating the life and work of Pilsen-native designer and artist Ladislav Sutnar – after whom the school is named.
The international guests included Adi Karelitz, Yael Eylat Van-Essen, Eitan Bartal, and Golan Gafni from the Holon Institute of Technology, Israel; and Daniel Huber from the University of Art and Design, Linz. Also, important international designers and experts participated via video conferencing: Steven Heller (School of Visual Arts), Caitlin Condell, and Cynthia Trope (Cooper Hewitt).
At the faculty, I participated in a number of studio visits to get acquainted with the assignments and the quality of the work of the students of Sutnarka. To give you an idea, I visited the following faculty members who toured me through their classrooms: Jan Kokolia, Studio of Interactive design, where students were working on creating a font based on the growth patterns of mold. They were growing the mold and translating it into digital forms.
Vladimír Véla and Andrea Uhliarová at the Studio of Painting introduced me to the paintings of the students. A strong variety of abstraction and figuration was happening there. Vojtěch Domlátil and Jiří Barta at the Studio of Animation introduced me to an artist making a very original video game based on an analog clay animation process.
Kristina Fišerová and Rostislav Vaněk run the Studio of Graphic Design. Kristina was explaining the magazine and book prototypes she had designed. It was a book that folded out into a long string of pages or could also be read as a regular page-by-page publication. I had never seen this kind of book design before and found it extremely interesting and innovative.
Gabriel Vach, Studio of Ceramic Design introduced me to the moulding process that students were using to build sculptural forms in porcelain. The level of utilitarian versus artistic design in pottery is always a challenging goal and ongoing conversation. Zdeněk Fránek, Studio of Environmental Design for Architecture gave us a slide presentation of international architectural projects.
Jan Van Woensel curated the selection of my drawings and hung the show. It was a colorful series of paintings featuring figures in landscapes. The drawings had a more themes with landscapes and figures in various situations. A few of the drawings had been made during the Covid-19 lockdown. Other works in the show highlighted social distancing and isolation during the pandemic. My lecture was a chronological account of where my family lived over the years and how the migration of my family influenced my life as an artist, art publisher and musician.
In my interactions, I aim to have a creative exchange. Hopefully I learned something and perhaps informed something to others. My time in Pilsen at Sutnarka was educational and rewarding on a personal and professional level – a time to reflect and create. If I have any hunger, it’s for the right to create art. It’s interesting when you find yourself on a different continent. People are curious about who you are and what you stand for. All they know of you is what you paint or present to them – your creative output.
When I go looking, I search for community and creative like-minded people, Sutnarka provided that. Also, the Czech people seem very sensitive to art and generally interested in culture. It was important to me that I bring my experience as an artist and my experience in the New York art world to Sutnarka.
My time at Sutnarka was interesting because I could get the influence of the many different departments in the school. That interaction informed my research and planning for the solo show at the end of my term there. There’s been a great international response to me being in Pilsen and doing the residency at Sutnarka. The Czech Republic is unique and captivated the imagination of my friends in the international art world.
There is a feeling at Sutnarka of striving for creativity at its very best. WM
Ladislav Sutnar Faculty of Design and Art, Instagram
Ladislav Sutnar Gallery, Instagram
Ladislav Sutnar Faculty of Design and Art, Facebook
Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023.
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