“Third Space” by Petra Gupta Valentova by Zbyněk Janáček

New exhibition “In Between” opened on Wednesday, December 12 in Gallery Beseda, Ostrava, Czech Republic. Below text from exhibition’s catalog by Mr. Zbyněk Janáček, which in my opinion excellently captures the essence of my current work.

“Illumination is an idea and a term of St. Augustine. The term and the idea remained long, throughout the Middle Ages, in the entire medieval philosophy. According to this view, we come to knowledge through mind enlightenment. In such a moment of enlightenment, the mind sees the truth directly, just like the eyes see the real world. It sees it immediately, without thinking. Illumination is not a mindless ecstasy, trance, on the contrary – it is a potentiated idea. To achieve this state, it is only necessary to have a pure heart. Purity of the heart is more important than the work of the mind”. (Zannussi, K., Illumination, 1973, movie story to the movie Illumination) “Even for the ancient Greeks, Aristotle and Plato, infinity was something imperfect, something worse than infinity…. For modern man, naturally, the idea of infinity does not have any quality; it is neither perfect, nor imperfect. At the same time, it has stopped being the subject of some kind of fascination. We use infinity daily in our calculations; infinity has turned into a mathematical concept, it has stopped being an idea”. (Krzysztof Zannussi, The Structure of Crystal, 1969, movie story to the movie The Structure of Crystal in: Zannussi, K., The Structure of Crystal. Prague: MF, Proud edition, 1981) “If you try to understand the entire universe, you will not understand anything. If you try to understand yourself, you will understand the entire universe”. (Buddha)

Petra Valentová (*1974) is an author working across multiple continents and various media. She studied sculpture and she likes to experiment with various types of material: bronze, marble, plastic, rubber, porcelain…; she moves between media: drawing, sound, video, performance, multi video, installation… But she also belongs to the generation that received its institutional art education in the second half of the 1990s: she graduated from the Prague Academy of Fine Arts in 2001. Therefore, she entered the art scene under entirely different circumstances than her one generation older colleagues. And it must be said at the very beginning that even other determinants of her artistic, but also personal life are in their own way significant for her generation and naturally also for those that followed. It is certainly due to the opening up of the education space in the 1990s not only to Europe but mainly to the United States (during her studies at AFA, Valentová studied in Finland and in the United States of America at first through an internship with the Cooper Union and then after graduating in 2003 through a Fulbright Foundation Scholarship at Hunter College, NY, from which she graduated in 2005).

The experience with Euro-American university art education, the possibility of comparing approaches, but surely also the creation of an opinion of them, however, mainly the authentic, unmediated experience have been what ultimately decided that today Petra Valentová quite naturally operates on the international scene. If we have a look at her exhibition activities only in the past two years, it is not at all surprising that Valentová handles transatlantic transfers with astonishing ease and almost equally participates in exhibitions on both sides of the Atlantic. For comparison: 2012: Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning, Jamaica, NY; Art Gallery for Children, Prague; 2011: Tina B, Art-Eco-Bio, Prague; tART Year 8: Self Curated Show Arts@Renaissance, Brooklyn, NY; Theatre Mundi, Gallery of Critics, Prague; Chain Letter, Shoshona Wayne Gallery, Bergamont Station, Santa Monica, California; Art for Japan, ISE Cultural Foundation, NYC; Sweet + Sour, Summer Space, NYC; A Lot of Possibilities, Gallery MCLA 51, North Adams, Massachusetts –Flowers (thick & pregnant) Hoffman Studio, Prague etc. Regardless of the fact that, as she admits, she does not consider this situation to be ideal.

The original bilingual name of her exhibition in Ostrava refers to it not only at the formal level, but mainly at the contentual level. She herself reflects the “interspace” of this duality as a kind of limit, when she admits that “…sometimes I feel that here (author’s note: in the Czech Republic) they forget about me, in New York they don’t know me and I find myself in an interspace”. But at the same time, she considers this artistic, but also personal, family “internalization” to be important, essential, allowing her to maintain relative independence and freedom, when she adds immediately: “…do what I want. And I would not change that. I am an artist on the edge, both here and there. There are times when I tell myself: “Well, it could be better if I were here”, but the personal balance and freedom are much more important”. The statement ‘on the edge’ is exaggerated and it is an expression of the author’s undue modesty because her representation in the Prague National Gallery, Art Museum Kemi in Finland and particularly in a number of private collections in the Czech Republic and abroad (USA, Finland, India) indicate a lot, but definitely not an edge. If we are talking about the determinants of the work of Petra Valentová, then we also need to mention the Asian, specifically Indian experience, in addition to the Euro-American context.

If Petra Valentová defines herself as an “autobiographical artist” (sic!), then it is not a proclamation. The project “Finding a Sami / Cookbook”, a sort of media-sociological performance, was probably the most significant example of the above and it eventually resulted in – one can only guess whether it was planned – an “Indian wedding”. “Defining someone’s location is not only a geographical question, but also a psychological question. I am obsessed with mapping. In New York, I was ‘mapping’ everything and everyone: myself, my trips around the city, my family, my friends and others around me. In my obsession, I wanted to determine the location of the original inhabitants of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Russian peninsula of Kola called Sami. I have been interested in them since I spent some time fishing on frozen islands in the Baltic Sea in Finland. Around 100,000 Sami live in the Nordic countries; half of them live in Norway. They speak languages similar to Finnish, Samoyedic, Estonian, Hungarian and Turkish. About 30,000 people of Sami origin also live in North America. I was single and I was alone in New York. I decided on a simple process – I linked the process of finding a man with the process of finding a Sami person. A Sami man and the man of my dreams coalesced into one object of my desire. I started to look for him using the Craiglist.org search engine. I told myself that even if those who contact me are not Sami, at least I will educate them about who Sami are. I gave them my time and they gave me theirs. I them was different, of a different origin. I got 12 recipes: for appetizers, soups, salads, fish, meat, desserts. I tried to cook dishes following these recipes. Then I ate them. I tried the dishes myself and with them even part of those men I had met. I also met one Sami man – my Sami, one that corresponded to my ideas. My trip was coming to an end and I had reached my goal; the object of my desire was sitting opposite me. But something was wrong. It was the right man, exactly according to my requirements, but it was not HIM, the right person. The Sami and I talked. He gave me a recipe for a Sami dessert and shared the history of the Sami people in Alaska and in the United States. As I became interested in the history of his nation, my interest shifted from the man to the history of the Sami people and my project gained a socio-political character. I contacted a Sami community in Alaska and started to cooperate with them. I initiated my personal adventure – an imaginary expedition to Alaska. In this book – Cookbook, the Search and the Expedition are introduced and described: food and relations mix together and talk about my adventures. The result transforms strange into familiar. Narration has always been the main topic of art. The stories that I gave them information – and an explanation – and in return I asked them a favor. I asked them for a recipe. A recipe for a dish. I wanted to know what they like. What they would serve to me. What they would cook for me. Which dishes they would choose. I wanted to own something that belongs to them. I wanted them to share something with me. I met 12 men. Each of tell try to expand other senses by the oral traditions as the method of transmitting and receiving historical”. In this project ‘the search for a partner through an ad’, which is, however, a great simplification, there was an absolute connection between the author’s life and art work and eventually an impact on her personal life and subsequently on the work of Valentová was absolutely crucial. “I influence my projects and my projects influence me back. When the physical part of this performance ended (note: it took almost two years) and I started processing it, I decided that I was not having fun being alone in New York and I had to do something about it…”. And finally, even the way Valentová comments with disarming candor on the conclusion of the “traditional” search for a partner through an ad “… and in about three months I met a boy, who I decided to marry and who I also eventually married. I think that the performance helped me a lot to clarify what I wanted, what I was looking for and stopped me losing time with things and relationships around…”; it is important and determining for forming human and subsequently artistic attitudes.

Besides, it offers a comparison with the context of our Judeo-Christian culture” “the concept of human life as the fullness of happening life relationships… That means, however, theologically speaking, that human life completely consists of relationships that do not belong to me…That is, however, not an anthropological insufficiency, but rather the actual wealth of human life, that is that a person can only live in relationships, that he/she cannot expose himself/herself to himself/herself without having a relationship to something else (and mainly God)… When one does not leave himself/herself, he/she will never reach himself/herself. When he/she does not have a relationship to something else and other people, he/she does not have a living relationship to himself/herself”. (Aberhard Jüngel). And when talking about the Indian experience, I am not only referring to direct, motivic influences given by the immediate merely visual (ornament), and the unmediated, therefore about simplex thematization, which often unconsciously happens when imagery and themes of the action are taken in, but about the influence of religion and philosophy, especially Buddhism. (Note: e.g. lotus… in India, but also in Egypt (!) is remembered in the context of the creation (prime beginning in water), see below properties of the leaf – not a single drop of water will stay on it, i.e. a strong will which will not be ‘run down’ by bad thinking… Lotus even before 2500 was linked to the cult of the mother-goddess, later Buddha. The symbolism of lotus is associated with the daily course of the Sun. According to Pliny, it appears at sun rise above the surface, under which it hides again at sunset. And in the Old Testament, lotus is confused with lilies, e.g. the description of the heads of the Temple of Solomon etc. And again it is not a mechanical perception or inclination of ritually practicing Buddhism, but it may very well be an instinctive connection, i.e. in the sense of sharing general, universal values. It is the realization that despite the diversity of the cultural context and other educational experience, the western and eastern concepts are closer than could be expected just from the different civilization practice. It is certainly not a new, primarily discoverer finding, but I consider it – next to the nomadism of Valentová – another context, through which her work must be viewed and understood.

The author’s emphasis on physicality is significant in previous contexts, and not only on open sexuality, but also hapticity, surfaceability, unbounded unbiased materiality (…from polystyrene to marble…) which is so important for the special work of Valentová. And there is also the American experience with activist feminism. It is again not only declaratively agreed with, but authentic, lived, which cannot be considered surprising in the North American context. Motifs of f lowers as a symbol of femininity, gender, erotism, sexuality, motherhood… but also the depiction of a penis in its instrumentality, practicality… The author herself agrees: “I think that femininity is amazing and erotism is amazing. These penises say a lot about my attempts to get pregnant… And I kept having dreams about penises and erotism”. After all, not only in the ‘trendy verbal’, but lived, see active participation in artistic groups, e.g. tART (www.tartnyc.org) and BadCat, are an authentic artistic, not mediated experience. Active practice is part of a real discursus e.g. about so-called women’s art. Petra Valentová does not declare, mentor and make her nomadism or feminism an advantage, but neither, mainly thanks to her previous work, a limit or restriction. She inhabits her (inter)space with confidence, with a humble distance, just with an emphasis on freedom and independence. And recent exhibitions in the Czech Republic are proof that her broad-based work quite naturally moving between the media, but also in a natural, non-dogmatic space of an activist approach to art work, is accepted by Czech curators. And once again back to the spiritual experience of Valentová unrelated just and paradoxically with that part of her work which is based on motif affinity or on the passive acceptance of cultural patterns.

In the above mentioned physicality, sexuality, haptic experience, but more generally in life practice, we can find surprisingly many similarities with Buddhism. It considers a human being as mutually interacting moments / energy formulas, which are usually referred to as five components: physicality, feeling, perception, imagination, volition. Physical sense organs the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind come into contact with the sensory object and trigger individual feelings (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral). A person perceives an object through perception. The perception leads to an idea, the person gets to know the object from an idea. And finally there is volition, volitional behavior in relation to the object. The continuous variability of the components does not actually allow the origination of self-identity, no ‘I’… The combination of components creates the illusion of a permanent ‘I’, a black substrate, which is experiencing physicality, feeling, perception, imagination and volition. Just like light observed from a distance, which moves in a circle, creates an illusion of a stationary light wheel. In reality, there is no similar ‘I’, a person is a process, a constant arising. “They say: A being of a previous moment of perception lived, but it no longer does and will not live in the future. A being of a future moment did not live and does not live, but will live in the future. A being of the current moment, did not live, does live now, but will not live in the future” (The Path of purification). The words of the author about the unity of life and work, the search, experimenting as a kind of program, are a practical implementation of the above… “not to find out that you are successful at something, and then you are making one piece after another. It is beautiful for me how this World is open”. (Author’s quotes from an interview with Kateřina Lišková.)

Zbyněk Janáček

Petra Valentová – Třetí prostor / In Between
13.12.2012 – 24.01.2013
Galerie Beseda – Moravská Ostrava
Jurečkova 1811/18, 702 00 Moravská Ostrava a Přívoz, Ostrava
+420 596 278 835







%d bloggers like this: