WHEN JAKUB Nepraš completed his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (AVU) in 2006, his video installation Cultures won plaudits as the most convincing diploma work of the year. The animation of a huge number of individual images into a unified,pulsating,organicstructurebecame the principle of Cultures and subsequently other works such as Fresco Plant (2006), Fossil (2007), Ayahuasca (2007) and Brainstorming (2007). In 2010 Nepraš (born 1981) was the youngest of the artists invited to participate at the Czech exhibition at the World EXPO 2010 in Shanghai.
Jiří Ptáček: You have just completed your largest ever project for the Czech pavilion at the Shanghai World EXPO 2010. Since very few Czechs and Slovaks will get to see it and EXPO press releases are never terribly informative, I wonder if you could describe the project for us.
Jakub Nepraš: I exhibited the video sculptures Metropolia, Cultures and Anomalies and Auras of Communication. I placed Metropolia and Auras of Communication in boxes above the heads of visitors, so that they looked at them from below or lay beneath them. Thematically speaking with Metropolia I tried to capture the rhythm of contemporary cities in a kind of hypnotic cycle, which gradually appears and them descends back into darkness. Auras of Communication makes reference to relationships which may not at firstsight be clear, though we have a feeling that they play an important role. Just as the thoughts and feelings we emit enter a collective awareness and return to us like a boomerang. I wanted to do justice to this complex relationship, with all its interconnections and feedback loops. I also used sign language as a subliminal communications channel which “speaks” about the same topic. In the third work I examined the intricacy of the whole of human culture and the disturbances which take place to stable structures by virtue of anomalies, which regularly crop up in every system whether we want them to or not.
JP: The interplay of natural and civilised elements is a common feature of your work. It is already apparent in Tower, an ongoing sculpture you are creating amongst tree roots on land not far from the town of Veltrusy. In your portfolio it says that you began this work in 1992. This would make you eleven years old. I assume you didn’t build it with the intention of creating art.
JN: At that time I was more interested in creating a private space for myself. Not because I wanted to escape from my parents. On the contrary, I’m grateful to them for not nagging at me to stop. Slowly but surely the tower rose to a height of eighteen metres. Recently it has grown more in bulk. The impulse to preserve the tower, which came later, was by then an artistic impulse prompted by the interest shown by Professor Aleš Veselý of AVU, whom I registered with in 2000. These days, as well as artists and enthusiasts, Tower seems to appeal to children. Along with the SOS Foundation we helped organise several children’s days there and it all seemed to make sense. Over the years the “grounds” have been used for a whole range of events. I would also like to create a land-art video sculpture in the nearby thicket of the riparian woodland.
JP: You followed up Tower with the project Tree Houses, in which you created wooden architectural constructions in the crowns of trees. However, Tree Houses never got beyond the design stage. Why didn’t you complete it? Was the idea to create a kind of utopian architecture?
JN: It was more a case of realising that for the time being the easiest thing was to keep quietly building away on our land. At middle school I didn’t have the energy for grants and dealing with the authorities. Who knows how things would have panned out if I had? It was much simpler and more natural to spend several days every summer sitting in a tree with friends, taking a break from the computer and not to flitting from office to office.In anycaseI still have visions of similar architectural projects and given my years of experience I don’t think they would have to be utopian or serve no purpose. For the moment I am content to let them mature.
JP: What kind of theoretical underpinning does your view of nature and human culture have?
JN: I guess science and the laws of nature. I’m not that interested in local themes, I tend more toward general concepts – the unconscious, subliminal symbolism and intangible relationships, the very existence of which we can only suspect. Through art I try to discover or concretise the concealed abilities of a person. The combination of media offers me a way of looking at life, a philosophy of being.
JP: In your video sculptures you take the bustle of people within the structure of a city and the flood of advertisements and media images and place it all within biomorphic ground plans based on the microscopic shapes of plants. What appeals to you about this metaphor?
JN: In nature we find forms which everyone has always had more or less subconsciously stored in their inner world. We’re talking about a certain frequency at which communication flows. For instance, I take a well-known natural form and transfer the soul or symbolic contents of the emotions of a society into it. This creates new links and offers you the possibility of realigning yourself for a moment and looking at familiar objects in a new light. This is an important level of communication which is absolutely crucial for my installations. The viewer acquires a certain distance when they move from the pulsating whole to a single detail, and then with an awareness of the whole follow individual situations in which they catch a glimpse of themselves.
JP: The relationship between technology-based civilisation and the natural world, whether this take the form of conflictorsymbiosis, has become central to discussions on a global scale. In your opinion how should the artist respond to this, if indeed he or she should?
JN: I think that at the very least it is interesting to try and discover this relationship through art. After all this is at the crux of our current philosophical-social phase of being. It is a bundle of topics which relate to each other and to the direction we will take in the future. I would like art to take centre stage once again. I feel that at present the situation is ripe for a new renaissance. And if you look at it another way, these questions simply can’t disappear in art.
For instance, I am discovering how important for me the process is of creation, i.e. how much I can realise in reality of my original ideas and emotions. Possibilities expand through the combination of illusion and reality. It is a natural, basic principle of self-knowledge, a process by which a person asks questions, sometimes receives an answer, and then moves on. When you really get into the process it becomes a kind of joyful game.
JP: I certainly think that the current social consensus, in which ecological-social issues play such an important role, helps in an understanding of your work. Do you weigh up how receptive you want to be to this consensus?
JN: I don’t think that ecology, for instance, is the main theme running through my work. To a certain extent it is there, but as a term it would be misleading. Of course I am trying to findthemeaningofeverything and achieve a certain standpoint, both in art and in life, but I prefer to allow myself to be surprised. I have no lack of themes. I am not frantically trying to turn up more and more of them in order to be original. And in any case all themes eventually encounter each other at some social point.
JP: Exactly. Shortly after you organised a lecture as part of our programme entitled Play Brno at FaVU in Brno, I introduced students of the Video Studio to Written Assignment. One question related to the impression which you left on the students. And one of the replies has stuck in my mind. It was a critical comment to the effect that your video installations are all similar, that they are based on a similar principle, i.e. the animation of a large number of images into moving, pulsating clusters, which are framed by the plant structure. Is this similarity of fundamental significance to you?
JN: I might have touched on this in my last answer. Often, perhaps unconsciously, I draw on natural symbolic forms or principles, which seem similar to each other and the details of which are imperceptible at firstsight.Butwhenyoulookaroundyou, apart from the would-be clean lines of 3D architecture and design everything in time approaches this camouflagedform,which of course contains huge order within it. This is how I prefer things and it goes against the grain for me to resist this. In a certain way using organic forms is dangerous – this is something else I have discovered. But the essence of these forms involves simple, strong principles like the circle, spiral, nucleus, outer shell, node, irregular anomalies, etc., and a certain hierarchy is in operation. For me it is the end result which is important, and I hope that this is always distinct in some way. But this is also one of the critical questions which I ask myself. For instance, I have discovered that Cultures as exhibited at EXPO has now been superseded, and I will possibly not return to a similar form.
(This is an abridged version of an interview which first appeared in the Czech-Slovakedition of the magazine Flash Art)
Jakub Nepraš (born 1981 in Prague) lives and works in Prague. Since 2006 he has been a member of the Trafačka association and studios.
JAKUB NEPRAŠ, Metropolia, 2010, detail of video installation, 10 min. loop, 350x350x100 cm, photo: artist’s archive.
Magnetic Stone, 2011, sculpture and animation.
Look-out Tower, 2000, photomontage with drawing.
Preceding page: Auras of communication, detail of video installation, 2010, 10 min. loop, 350x350x150 cm. Photo: artist’s archive.
Jiří Ptáček is an art critic.