The Triennial of Contemporary Central European Art is the product of a long-term effort of the Olomouc Museum of Art. It is part of the Central European Forum Olomouc (SEFO) programme and complements the range of activities dedicated to this geographically and semantically unstable region. The triennial is thematically focused, community-oriented and open to partners, including the Palacký University, the Academia Film Olomouc, the Flora Olomouc Theater and the Olomouc Ecological Days, respectively the Ludwig Museum and Kassák Museum in Budapest, the East Slovak Gallery in Košice, the Kunstmuseum Lentos in Linz and the International Cultural Centre in Krakow.
The SEFO 2021 Triennial of Contemporary Central European Art is named Universum. This project is based on the long-term efforts of the Olomouc Museum of Art to embrace the Central European idea not only in the past but also in the present. Does Central Europe even still exist? Didn’t it break apart definitively in 1989? Has it been reduced to political caricature today? Or, on the contrary, is it an escape into the utopias of childhood or homeland? While the Triennial naturally cannot answer these questions, it can at least ask them.
One of the most typical manifestations of efforts to create a concept of the world, to know it and understand it, to encompass it, is a museum – a collecting institution that expresses the community's belief that it knows how things are and how they relate to each other. An art museum, of course, is a more complicated case, but it shares the same principle, at least to some extent. At a time of heightening criticism of institutions, we decided to dedicate the Triennial to the museum. The 2021 Triennial is focused on an exploration of the world and the ways in which we relate to it. Art is understood as an expression of the efforts of the mind, while paper, the primary artistic medium, is perceived as a means of deliberation, the carrier of the idea. The Triennial is interested in the issue of the system, which can generally be understood in two ways – as an ideal order that we discover, that we imitate and learn in an aesthetic way, or as an artificially formed construct which, often out of convenience, we call the truth. The fact is that we each design our own universe, but few of us can and want to share them. The museum does the same, only on a larger scale and with an objectifying aspiration. However, it is not the Triennial’s ambition to change the world, but simply to pay attention to it. Its mission is not to be engaged, but stimulating. It does not understand art as autonomous or, on the contrary, servile, but as capable of creating the world. And paper is the best metaphor for that.
Due to the circumstances, the triennial program is significantly adapted. One of the key changes is its spreading to the whole of 2021, with overlaps in 2020 and 2022. The path of smaller but targeted events is chosen, respectively the remote ones, in which foreign partners are involved. The triennial is also associated with new research projects of the institution, workshops and conferences. The current situation really serves as a starting point for us to think about the possibilities of a public cultural institution in the post-pandemic period, in a world that is undergoing intensive reconstruction.
Barbora Kundračíková & SEFO
The starting points of the SEFO 2021 triennial are the structures and systems, or categories on the basis of which we create and assess them. Structures are usually almost transparent, hidden in the myriad of things and events. They are products of a culture that we have adopted and that we share across various communities. And it is only our uncertainty or general unrest that exposes them. The basic structure we rely on is outlined below, however, it would be possible to talk about a number of others. The system is always variable and easily broken, it is fully functional only in our imagination. Its stability and variability form continuous vessels. This fact is also expressed by the logo of the triennial - concentric as the perception of our own position in the centre of the examined entities and areas, but disturbed from the beginning by the knowledge that it is a wanted and constantly tempted interpretation.
A museum is an institution that serves society. Its activity is motivated by the effort to create and develop, but naturally, it also manipulates and reduces. Therefore, in recent years, an increasing amount of attention has been focused on the mechanisms of museum operations. At the same time, the museum concentrates its programme and objectives in its acquisition policy and, indirectly, in permanent exhibitions, which represent the maximum of its thinking. The OMA divides its interests between collections of old, modern and contemporary art. All three of these require different treatment, and they also often generate different points of view. Our future aim is to connect all three contexts and, together with performative forms, to integrate them into the framework of the forum. There are, of course, a number of more general trends behind this effort. The three basic ones that each art museum primarily pursues concern media, institutions, and the interpretation of the possibilities of knowledge itself. At this moment, they all converge in another series of “-isms”, i.e., new institutionalism.
The Central European Forum/ SEFO is a long term research programme of the Olomouc Museum of Art dealing with Central European visual art of the second half of the 20th century, i.e., primarily the period of totalitarianism and the “unofficial” scene. Critical explorations consider possible approaches to it, connecting this quintessential Central European city with the broader Central European area. This territory is understood as a variable entity that nevertheless shares a certain historical, cultural and philosophical identity reflected in the cultural sphere. The SEFO project was created in 2008 with considerable (including political) support. In recent years, it has naturally expanded to include other contextual, historical periods and themes, other media and creative forms, and while this expansion comes with its own risks, we do not question its value.
A triennial, for that matter, is a format well-suited to contemporary art, its manifestations and strategies. These events are characterised by openness, engagement and interest in public space. The SEFO Triennial is not a competition and does not focus exclusively on progressive forms; instead, it strives to produce a synchronous view of art, naturally including reflections on institutions, i.e., museums and forums. It works with its own collections, which are subjected to critical analysis. Examples of contemporary art across genres and media are placed at the centre, and a complex of lectures, workshops, performative forms and theatrical productions are built around exhibitions of visual art. The Triennial also relies on partners and attempts to establish a dialogue with them.
Universum/ The world we live in is organised in some way. It is structured by a number of “great narratives”, stories and representations that take place in a specific time and space, and these conditions all our decisions. What interests us is the logical foreground of this process – which, moreover, the museum best embodies in the European cultural tradition, because the ideas it produces and shares are based on specific products of human creativity. Universum in the sense of the whole is the foundation and the presumed limit of human reasoning and imagination – we start from it and return to it, but with substantial experience from a personal clash between the external (the real) with the ideal. The individual exhibits and programmes of the Triennial therefore gradually ask questions related to sensory perception, cognition and categorisation, the creation of ideal systems and their communication.
Paper/ 20th- and 21st-century art is characterised by monumentality and intermediality. Nevertheless, there is a medium that is capable of maintaining its integrity, of simultaneously being a means of formulation, its carrier and its own entity. This medium is paper. The world of art knows five types of pictures: painting, drawing, prints, collage and photography. Art collections also include architectural plans, models, sculptures, furniture, books, posters, as well as archives and documentation centres. The exhibitions dedicated to them vary, and they identify the quite specific question of what paper is with everything that it makes possible. The first year of the Olomouc Triennial aspires to turn its gaze and ask how paper at the core of the “museum universe” works and how it influences it.