The Löblhof & Artgrund art studio is based in Staňkovice in Litoměřice county, providing space for short-term residencies, symposia, and workshops, in addition to exhibitions in the recently opened Masthall exhibition hall. The V zahradách / In the gardens symposium project focuses on the topic of locality-specific interventions in the form of landscape installations, and the relationship between people and gardens, which it analyzes from various perspectives. The theme of any given year looks at gardens in various ways.
Löblhof & Artgrund also provide space for relaxation and reclaim a sense of tradition and rural life. It is a creative space which cultivates a timeless atmosphere, one without which people cannot live to their fullest. The project’s founder, Jan C. Löbl, is a textile designer and educator, and head of the Garment and Textile Design department at the Faculty of Art and Design of the J.E. Purkyně University in Ústí and Labem. He focuses on the textile and garment history of the Krušné Hory / Ore Mountains region, and is also active as a costume designer and scenographer.
Is Staňkovice a historically important place? Do you consider yourself carrying on some tradition, or has this idea of creating the Löblhof & Artgrund summer art house been your own idea since the very beginning?
Staňkovice is not in any way special. Had it been in any way significant in the past, I simply don’t know. This house which my father bought was originally a traveler’s inn which got closed down in the 1950s. Some years ago, I opened the house to artists and started running a summer symposium called V zahradách / In the Gardens. Gradually, the house and its surroundings changed and we started running more projects. It finally became a great source of inspiration for us. It is important that it remain a source of inspiration and a sort of sketch pad for artists who might stop here for a while, reflect, and create.
How did you start working in collaboration with the J.E. Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem? Has the program in some way been formed by this cooperation, or do you continue to develop the activities on your own and do they stem from your personal collaboration with artists and dramatists?
The collaboration with the Faculty of Art and Design developed naturally, also because I am a teacher there, as well as the fact that the house stands very near the school. The studios organize plenaries here, prepare exhibitions, find inspiration in the landscape. It’s similar with the theater projects. Kult produced the project Kredenc a Bermudský trojúhelník / Kredenc and the Bermuda Triangle, and many plays were rehearsed in the space. We don’t actually do theater here, but rather use the space as an external rehearsal room. Löblhof & Artgrund is not financed from public funds, as we think that such funds are put to better use in developing marginalized localities. And the whole administrative process in Czechia makes it further difficult to make your own artistic decisions.
You are running the wonderful Masthall gallery. How did it get started, and what is the exhibition program?
The idea to create a long-term gallery came about as we were gradually renovating these spaces and were searching for ways to use them. We thought about making a family-type gallery in parallel to the space for openings and traditional symposia. We wanted to present our residency program, as well as the work made by artists in residence. The gallery reflects contemporary topics.
What is the process of selecting artists for residence? Is it connected with the aforementioned university?
Just before lockdown, we approached the photographer Jiří Dvořák, whose work focuses on the perception of landscape, which he stylizes through lighting composition. Dvořák graduated from the studio of Applied and Advertising Photography from the Faculty of Art and Design of UJEP, where he works as an assistant professor. The idea behind getting people for residencies is that we approach a resident who then invites another author, who then invites the next. The artist thus provides the impulse to continue in the same vein.
What topics do the artists in residence most often approach in their work?
They see the place as being somehow pure. They might work to uncover certain splinters of the past, which they attempt to put together, or work with the landscape itself. In this independent space, in the forest and the surrounding landscape, but most importantly beyond public space, we can create temporary objects or sculptures. The work has been significantly inspired by the dramatic volcanic landscape of the Bohemian Highlands. Also, the history and atmosphere of the house itself shows a strong connection to the years preceding and following the Second World War. New borders were formed along here, new relationships between Czechs and Germans were forged. The borderlands and the impact of war are still very relevant topics here — Litoměřice and Terezín are also very near. The expulsion of the German populace is an important topic in this regard, but I personally find most interesting what is happening some 70 years after the expulsion, at this time when we are somehow trying to understand this place and explore its social dynamics.
I find the study of those who came here after the war and started changing the surrounding spaces to be most interesting — the fading out of certain landscapes, the creation of farming cooperatives, the expansion of industry. The second thing I find very interesting is the post-revolutionary wave, which also brought about a new approach to the landscape, as well as the search for a new story to be told. Every generation growing up in Northern Bohemia seems to attempt to plant its roots here, but fails to provide a nurturing substrate for the generation which comes after them. There are only a few families who might have resided here for more than two or three generations. My story is a bit different, as my family comes from Most, and they were separated following the Munich Agreement, then by the Beneš Decrees, and in the sixties the family home was lost to mining operations. I have nowhere to really return to, which is interesting. I am able to accept it as a certain advantage. This house was bought by my father in 1971, and I am the second generation to have lived and worked here. I have since come to regard this as my native land, a home.
Every year it gets cozier and cozier. Do you maintain things here at your own expense in order to not have to deal with the hassle of grants and subsidies? How does that work?
I don’t want to draw on grants and subsidies for repairing the house, or for things relating to the functioning of the space, as I think these things ought to support organizations or groups which aim to preserve or create space for wider, community-focused projects. And we are a private entity. Along with Tereza Nováková we work out the events curatorially. Because the spaces are largely repaired and ready, we are now free to consider financial support for artistic projects and residencies. We want to focus on the residency format, as I consider it important. This is not an exhibition space, but a space or gallery where the works are actually made and created. They have potential in that they can become a sketch book or a node of inspiration for the author. Writers, poets, musicians — all can work here, and this approach can also resonate in the spheres of theater. This rural space has great potential to become a setting for a story about mutual ties and relationships, so I think the connection with literary work would be perfect. It is a good moment to be in this space and to search out its deeper relationality.
We are in fact looking for some new model for residencies, and we don’t want to copy what is happening elsewhere, but rather provide space for an author’s original vision of the world. Due to the summer symposia, we know that there will come various people who will know nothing of the history of this locale and who will work to uncover some of the latent histories. It often happens that people uncover similar moments, or similar access points in their attempt to connect the place to their own personal theme, but it is always necessary to search further and to go deeper. I don’t want to push people to make some public presentation, as I find that stressful. I think just relaxing and drawing strength for further things is completely fine. It is a pleasant moment, and that is enough. I also have this connected with something of the past, and what is missing nowadays — summer art homes. Artists would go for the summer somewhere into the countryside, where they would work, make art, or find inspiration. And the second thing I find interesting is the fact that it is not based with some institution, but rather that the artists are invited into the family. It is not really an invitation into an established gallery with a set program and a long-term curatorial plan, but rather an invitation to a free, creative space.
Apart from positive reactions during or after the residency program, is not this caretaking of artists exhausting for you?
No, it’s not exhausting. It became interesting when my family also adopted a similar approach to things. Eva has gotten used to a different relationship between the private and the public spheres for example.
What are the reactions of people from the village? Do they attend the exhibitions or symposia? How do they perceive you?
This hamlet is currently mostly for cottagers. It is a small settlement, some 20 houses. During the summer, people regularly attend the openings. It’s true that the farms have largely disappeared, we’ve lost spaces for meeting, there’s no pub. Our symposia have been taking place over the last ten years, and after those ten years in operation, I think people genuinely look forward to them. Our house is a former traveler’s inn, and so we are bringing it back to life in this regard. I think a house needs to have people in it, a public, and be open in some sense.
Do you see any problems which might be characteristic for your locality, and which you can name?
We started out here as cottagers. I think there is a great difference between people who go out to the countryside on occasion or seasonally to tend their cottage, and those who live there full time. There are many social differences between them. I could never put my finger on where that problem lay, as I always perceived it as a form of misunderstanding between the cottagers and the local community. Now, as I have been spending more time here, I can see that it might have something to do with the fact that the residents live here, in one place, and have no chance to travel and go relax elsewhere. They are in constant connection to their house and their farm. There is a difference between coming here for the weekend, having fun, enjoying the space, and showing off to the locals that they somehow don’t take good care of their property, aren’t as sensitive to their surroundings, or that they’re generally doing all kinds of things wrong. But then I realized that it’s not up to me to judge the situation like that, as it is very complicated and demanding for all involved. I live here only seasonally and am gone November to March and am in no position to say such things and enforce my opinion.
I started comprehending much more where these problems are coming from. For us, it’s great to get out of the city, into the countryside, but the long-term residents of these small townships and villages usually don’t have these opportunities. I think the situation of the village must be accepted as such and must be worked with on its own terms. People ought to be humble and ought to respect the local social ties. There are so many houses for sale here, because the old cottagers have died or have left, and the coming generations and their families no longer have a connection to the place. There is nothing to tie them to this place.
The interview was conducted by Dagmar Šubrtová.
Translation by Vít Bohal.
The closing seminar of the Cartography of (Eco)systems: Black Edition project will take place 11 June 2022 at Veřejný sál Hraničář in Ústí nad Labem.
This is part of a series of interviews with artists, cultural managers and initiatives published as part of the working process of the project Cartography of (Eco)systems: RurArtMap and Perpedian Map Black Edition. It is a continuation of our efforts in creating the Perpedian Map, in which we present profiles, overviews, and articles describing some of the smaller cultural initiatives in the regions of the Czech Republic.
This project is supported by the peoples of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA Grants.