Interview with Kateřina Olivová

Posted on: July 25th, 2016 by & No Comments

&: We went to university together. What influence has the Faculty of Fine Arts in Brno had on you? Has the influence been positive or negative? Is there anything in which the studies at the Faculty of Fine Arts have been significant for you? Which artists do inspire you the most?

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K: I totally adore the Faculty of Fine Arts. It is a beautiful place where you feel at home and meet all these incredibly interesting and inspiring people. That sure applies to the teachers but I am talking mainly about the students. Without the Faculty of Fine Arts, I would definitely not be doing what I am doing now. I have to say I felt really great there after having graduated from the Faculty of Arts. I entered the world of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the perfect time and the contacts that I made there are truly unique. It has also been essential for my curatorial activities. When I was an art theory student, I couldn’t begin to imagine that I would actually hold an exhibition someday.

Currently, I am a PhD student at the Faculty of Fine Arts. It is an incredible driving force for my work, a huge inspiration and a joyous return. I wouldn’t like to idealise it, though. I sure didn’t hear the most essential things for what I am doing now in the lecture rooms.

As far as my artistic inspiration is concerned, I have to mention my beloved female performers: Annie Sprinkle and Marina Abramović. I also love drag queens such as Divine, I admire the colourfully sparkling world of Pierre et Gilles, I adore the 80’s films and music and I also enjoy artwork of many of my friends – Anita Somrová is the first to come to my mind. At home, I am surrounded by paintings by Mike Diana and photos by Nan Goldin – these are mainly my husband’s, but I like them too. Also, the Gelatin Group caught my attention when I saw their brilliant catalogue last time I was in the studio.

&: Whenever I hear you talking about your art, you always sound incredibly natural. What role do educational institutions play in the field of art and how important are they for the quality of art? 

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K: For me, studying was mostly about the encounters – I would say that educational institutions play a huge role in this respect. Such a heavy concentration of interesting and creative people often leads to collaborations and art discussions. When an interesting teacher joins in, you can talk about perfection. Anyway, what you don’t have within you is hard to find. I don’t believe art can be taught. However, it is possible to polish the way you think and work. You get to try out a whole variety of technologies and different types of media. You can work with no unnecessary ambitions. During the studies you have dozens of opportunities you can follow up in the future. Another important aspect is the time which you can invest into art and exploration when you are a student.

&: You create your artwork using several types of media: performances, videos and other activities such as forming supportive breastfeeding groups, curatorial activities in Umakart Gallery, Vytvrzení Performance Festival, Breastfeeding Guerrilla, talking about motherhood on your radio show Milk and Honey etc. Yet, in each type of media, you clearly apply a different kind of sensitivity and address different topics. Do you consider all these activities your art or do you see some of them as more social or activist rather than artistic? What is the current focus of your artwork (also with respect to the type of media)? Could you summarise your artwork with a single title? 

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K: When I was supposed to do my PhD presentation, I had a hard time separating my theoretical and practical activities. I am generally not very good at separating things. Life equals art, art equals life. I guess my activities could be summarised by saying they are “lived performances”. People have already called me an absolute performer, an “everperformer”.

For me, all the abovementioned activities are very close to each other and therefore make most sense when performed together. Of course, they are separable in a way. I do not see, however, any reason for separating them.

I consider myself a performer, an activist and apunkish production manager. Most of the things I do are somehow coherent and often based on each other. There is a certain continuity and logic.

Sometimes I am not sure about the amount of other people’s involvement. I therefore talk about many of my activities in plural, i.e. saying “we did” despite having no clear idea who exactly “we” stands for and in what way somebody else is involved.

&: Your husband and your little son often appear in your artwork, sometimes even in demanding physical and intimate situations. The next question is more than predictable: how do you discuss artwork with them and how do you handle their own willingness to participate on your artwork? 

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K: I collaborate with my husband Alois mostly on performances and videos. Sometimes people want to hold our joint exhibitions. In most cases, I play the leading role and Alois turns into the “material”. This suits him, as it relieves him of any responsibility. At the same time, I have to say that he truly has a great performing talent. He often comes up with absolutely essential ideas and details concerning individual events/installations which help us point the artwork to the right direction. He is my source material and I enjoy the possibility of working with a different body than mine. Our activities are based on the real dynamics of our relationship and they are also a kind of our healing power.

Our son Lev is inextricably intertwined with me. He brought new topics, new sensitivity, new types of media and commitment into my life. He is the reason why my art is what it is. I treat him with the same respect and tenderness I use when working with myself. His active involvement in my artwork keeps changing as he is growing. I see him as an artist as well as a work of art.

Currently, I cannot really anticipate whether and how he will be involved in any performances, and I have to say I find this very refreshing. We often talk about art and at the age of three, he’s pretty much used to regularly using terms such as “art”, “performance”, “gallery”, “installation” and in a way, he even understand these terms. Considering the way we live, all of the abovementioned are actually normal situations for him.

&: Currently, it is hard for artists to make a living by their artwork. Especially then for artists who are involved in the field of intangible media. What is your strategy? Are you okay with the current situation or do you think the rules should be set differently? How? Wouldn’t art get somehow spoilt if money played even more significant role in it? Do you, as an artist, have your utopian vision of a perfectly artist-friendly world? 

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K: Since I’ve become a mother, I’ve been feeling the need for at least some material security. Living with excessively tightened belts has turned into quite an unpleasant image for me. Anyway, the current life of an artist is very complicated, as not everyone is able or willing to do art for a living or to get involved in the grant and residential system.It is hard for me as well. I am on maternity leave, I have an income from my studies and occasionally from some of my other activities. However, most of them are purely voluntary or not very financially rewarding. If I were a single mother, I most likely wouldn’t be able to do all these activities. I have a child – which is a 24/7 job – I have my studies, my art, I am the cocurator in Umakart Gallery, I have breastfeeding groups in Moravská Gallery, I host a radio show, I have Breastfeeding Guerilla, I make badges, I also love reading and watching films. All of these activities are equally important to me and I want to do all of them. I really don’t know how I’d fit in a decent job.

It is very sad that artists seem to be these forgotten, undervalued members of society. It is quite challenging to pursue something you cannot imagine your life without despite the fact that it devours all your time and money. And believe me, gettingalmost zero evaluation, no financial reward, not even a feedback saying that what you do is meaningful and functional doesn’t make it any less difficult.

I think it would make perfect sense if artists, activists etc. would receive some sort of basic income.

&: Do you read any specialised art literature?

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K: At the moment, I’m reading mainly literature connected with my studies. The topic of my dissertation is “Art and Maternity”, I am therefore searching for new artists, information, contexts and theoretical texts. However, what I currently enjoy reading the most are books of interviews with female artists.

Even though I am a PhD student, I am not an entirely intellectual type of person. I think through my body, through movement, mass, touch, glitter and scent. However, I also love browsing through books, piling them around my bed, building this sort of book fort and spending beautiful long hours in it.

&: When is the last time you were artistically impressed? 

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K: What I’ve enjoyed most recently is attending the presentations of diploma and bachelor theses at the Faculty of Fine Arts. The most intense experience was Zuzana Kleinerová’s diploma thesis presentation. I had the opportunity to observe the evolution of this project quite closely, so I was really looking forward to seeing its final form and Zuzka’s way of presenting it.
It was a long term project in which Zuzka teleported herself to her friends/family places of residence. She never brought any personal things and she always tried to meet the people she had chosen. The project was taking place in various weather conditions and in different places all around the world (e.g. in France and Iceland). Zuzka stood in front of each person’s house (school or elsewhere) for an hour with her eyes closed and she waited for the person to notice her, recognise her and address her or not. She then spent some time with the person and returned home. Sometimes they met, sometimes they didn’t, sometimes she had to take the trip several times.

She was testing this approach thoroughly and over a long period of time. Eventually, she chose a great and powerful way to give the final presentation. A group of people whom she had visited came to the Faculty of Fine Arts and talked about their experience with the project. There was Zuzka’s friend who came all the way from Iceland, her partner who travelled from France, her friend who popped in from Slovakia, her hometown friend and her mother. It was a very strong and moving experience which perfectly mediated the spirit of this complex artwork and its countless layers and directions.

&: I’ve noticed that your artwork also addresses audience which usually has no deeper interest in contemporary art. Do you count with this ability of yours while creating artwork?

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K: Generally, I don’t really count with the audience, its existence, traits and capabilities. I approach art and life in a rather selfish way and I create it purely for myself. On the other hand, I am no autistic, naive artist either.

At your instigation I took a look at my Vimeo channel (my most played video has 60 thousand views and the one I uploaded yesterday already has 140 views). When reading the comment section, I realised that my art meets pornography and its audience and I am yet to decide what exactly this means to me.

Otherwise I have the feeling that my focus on body and my not so fundamentally conceptual approach may stand a chance to appeal even to people outside the artistic sphere. And it makes me truly happy.

&: I would say that your video takes on totally new dimensions as a screensaver. What does it mean to you? 

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K: The video was made quite a while ago as a kind of by-product of one shooting session. Alois and I had an exhibition in D9 Gallery in České Budějovice (Petr Božek was the curator) and I wanted to use the gallery premises which are really bizarre to shoot a video for the exhibition.

The original plan was to create some sort of misty pool. However, the actual work with the mist was totally different from what I had imagined. Eventually, I gave up on that plan and went for something of a completely different nature.

For me, this video is mostly about the intuitive work of a moment which shows my fascination by mass, body and animality. The video can also work without any context, however its meaning is then much more gentle and tactilethan I expect it to be here.

The context of a screensaver is very strong and I believe I can anticipate the questions and topics it is going to raise. However, I still see it more as a pet you can watch crawling up and down the monitor. Just like spending hours by watching puppies being cute.

However, I see absolutely no problem with people searching for their own meanings in my artwork. I like to keep it wide and open to various kinds of interpretations.



Translated in cooperation with PAF—Festival of Film Animation and Contemporary Art, Olomouc


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