Johana Střížková: 10316 Days
In her dreamy and yet somehow understated video etudes, Johana Střížková employs human and non-human actors – animals, plants and objects – to stir echoes in our collective (un)consciousness. In her current exhibition, the main protagonist is the very building of the Czech embassy in Berlin housing the Czech Centre and its gallery. The architectonic work designed by the Machonins is so distinctive that it influenced the style of the surrounding apartment buildings. However, rather than merely focusing on the cultural and artistic value of the building, Střížková addresses its “historical memory“ which is still strongly present in many original interior elements due to the upcoming reconstruction.
The most striking element of the interior of the Brutalist building is the wooden paneling which inspired the material solution of the main architectonic element of the exhibition: a wall made of recycled raw wooden planks. The wall divides the gallery into two parts: one is accessible to the viewers, semi-dark, introspectively facing the inner part of the building via a three-channel projection. The lit part of the gallery, on the contrary, is inaccessible to the viewers, communicating with the outside world through a shop window. Here, instead of an audiovisual recording, physical props – remains of life – are placed; however, unlike in the case of the detailed image mediated by the video, the viewers are unable to examine them from close up and in detail; they can only do so through the irregular chinks in the wooden wall. This creates a dynamic of inside and outside, in front of the wall and behind the wall, the accessible and the inaccessible. In the figurative sense of the word, Střížková evokes the historical given of the embassy building constructed during Czechoslovakia’s Normalization era in former East Germany. While its interior furnishing can be characterized as a prime example of normalization design, the overall nature of the building ranks it among the few modern yet architectonically compact buildings in this part of the city. Thus, the building reflects the paradoxes of the era in which it was created, while to the artist, it represents a place of certain timelessness where the past merges with the future. The figures in Johana Střížková’s video seem encapsulated in their closed universe, with their repetitive actions seeming to lack further context and thus deeper meaning. Their uniforms may be a memento of the forced uniformity experienced in the past regime as well as an anticipation of the future. For our time, too, has its paradoxes: a tendency towards a homogenization of the society on a global scale along with the growing differences and opening gaps.
The symbol of the wall, which is tangibly present in the exhibition, including its real restrictive impact on the viewers, is telling enough in the context of Berlin. In the past days, we have been commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall (which was torn down on November 9, 1989 after ten thousand three hundred and sixteen days) as well as the collapse of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. However, walls – both factual and symbolical ones – are still present in today’s world, with many new ones still appearing. This gives relevance to the seemingly simple imperative of always realizing on what side of the wall we find ourselves in various situations, and knowing if it is time to go and tear down a wall together.