The 9x9 Exhibition

Plasy Monastery 1981
Catalogue text by Anna Fárová

This text by Anna Fárová was published in the book “Plasy 1981”, (Torst: Praha 2009) edited by Anna Fárová, Joska Skalník and Dušan Šimánek, texts Anna Fárová, et al. pp. 6-7. Courtesy of the Torst publishing house. Photos courtesy of Iren Stehli and Dušan Šimánek.

Plasy - it was realization, but first and foremost it was just a dream, a completely abstract dream. At first, none of us had any idea where we’d go. – When Miroslav Pokorný came to see me in the autumn of 1978 with the sudden idea of ​​making photographic exhibitions in the foyer of the Činoherní klub (Drama Club) together with Joska Skalník, we probably did not understand where he was heading. – The idea was sudden and could suddenly fail. Keeping the idea going and completing it were two different things. It would not have happened if it were not for friendship, faith, and consistency. In fact, everything about exhibitions has been said in both catalogues – 9 and 9 & 9: searching for meaning, chaining of exhibitions, concatenation of photos, creating ideas. To put it simply, the context, and it is the context which really matters. Context – continuity – design – similar words expressing connections and interconnections. – The exhibitions that preceded Plasy were mostly not taken from the finished artist´s archive, but were created, designed, and adapted for the future.

Plasy was mainly about the team collaboration and the culmination, explanation of previous practical activities of individuals, an attempt at merging them into one meaningful unit. It came from the desire to do a test somewhere in a large space, to check the potential of the small 27 exhibitions that took place in the Činoherní klub. Also, it originated from the need to find out whether, as was intended, there will be a clear continuity of this mosaic puzzle, if the whole intended picture would indeed appear here and now.

It was necessary to find a space. The option to exhibit at the Plasy Monastery opened up. Josef Juha, the foreman of the reconstruction works, was on board. He did much more for us as well: offered us to reside in his house while we prepare. He was a true host, both in the monastery and at home. There will always be people who help things to be born – they are active, positive, and they trust others.

The idea slowly started to snowball. We had the so-called Oktogon for our use, which was a regular exhibition space where we added panels for 18 exhibitors. Then there was "Strettiovka", which was also a normal exhibition space for other works and for guests, and finally there was "Metternich’s granary", which used to serve as the summer refectory for the Cistercian monastery - a huge space just asking for some sort of dramaturgy. As soon as we saw the granary – Dušan Šimánek, Iren Stehli and I – we knew that the exhibition cannot happen without us making use of it, and we started dreaming and creating. It was there that the “big play” was supposed to take place: reality and non-reality, illusion and phantasm, conceptual performance about our contemporary perception of the world in which we are all cast. It was an unbelievable space just screaming for creativity. We left the illusion of reality behind – and the format copied this gesture by expanding, as even the people on the photographs were just barely larger than in real life. The archetypes of our age, banal, real, whatever. The photograph became a wall, a window, a door, a tapestry, a pavement. Where there was a window, we hung a picture of a walled up window over it, and the fabric streamed down and over the wooden frame – it was just its image, the cross was covered by tiles, but its holiness reflected in the simple still life of the interior.

The wallpaper on the photograph created the illusion of a room, the sign ‘Pivo’ was hung up high on the scaffolding, one alcove became a window, somewhere else a stranger staggered. At dawn, the white doggy looked like a small deity. A couple from a Hašek novel drinks beer while the butcher holds a pig’s head under his arm, a Smíchov street with all its sewers and street corners – the individual images were torn from the photograph series of 18 authors. But here, it was no longer about authorship, but about harmony, conspiracy in this newly founded strange symphony, a composition about today without any description, just through emotion, encounter, and communion. We did not even expect to make this space public – it was enough just to experience it. Four years of continuity, personal work, warming up to the work and its principles, meeting people. We found each other, encountered others’ work, their characters. In Czechia, we don’t banter readily – it takes effort and sometimes alcohol to untie the tongues for conversation. Of course we networked in the pubs. Four years we met, variously, frivolously, alcoholically, industriously, lazily, angrily, etc. But always after the event – the exhibition. That helped.

Plasy was about connecting. We worked together on expanding and preparing the place in Kubelíkova St. at Dušan Šimánek’s and Honza Malý’s place, along with Ivan Lutterer and Jiří Poláček. Luboš Kotek finished whatever was left over from Kubelíkova at Četka without any strings attached. The preparations were grandiose and large-scale, much like the journey to Plasy, the stay at Plasy, the work we did there, being accommodated at the Juhas’ place, from breakfast to dinner, from dusk ‘till dawn. We worked – the job was coming along and we were happy. After a full week of work we opened the exhibition. It was Septmeber 26th, 1981. We had no idea what was in store for us. My friends came, I had no idea. I invited only Marc Riboud who brought along with him Henri Cartier-Bresson, Martine Franck, Sue Davies, and others. About 500 people came from Prague. Jim Čert played for them, it was beautiful, and the sun was shining on the courtyard. We staged Klusák’s Plasy Melancholy in the chapel, Jim Čert played at night in the chapel of St. Bernard something like a mass and a Gregorian chant. It was rapture. At the end of the exhibition, towards the end of October, we put together the final concert. The songs were sent by Yves Montand, Jana Koubková sang musicians came who played – Milan Munclinger, Jiří Stivín, Anne Phillip, and Agatha Gailard came from Paris. We closed the event with Chinese fireworks and a feast in the local firefighters’ club. We still haven’t de-installed it.

Strettiovka – 458 photographs
Oktogon – 474 photographs
Hallways – 150 photographs
Granary – 25 photographs
Total – 1107 photographs.
That’s how many photographs there were in the monastery.

Altogether, 18 core photographers from the Činoherní klub exhibited:

Jarcovjáková, ŠimánekPoláčekPokornýPálkaŠtechaHořínekMalýLuttererRampákováHůrka

And three new ones – the guests Ján RečoAntonín Malý a Lubomír Kotek.

And the two of us collaborated, Joska Skalník and I.

That’s 18 + 3 + 2 = 23.

The granary remained the same, and the photographs silently stretch and wind on account of the humidity, they meld into their surroundings. We leave them there to rot as homage to the space. 

Note: In 1992 in the summer refectory, one could really still make out some large photographs, most likely those of Iren Stehli. Later, they were transferred to the hall of the prelature, but they were unfortunately later lost.       

Miloš Vojtěchovský, 2017

About the exhibiting artists

Anna Fárová (1928 – 2010) was an important Czech art historian, translator from French and a signatory of the Charter 77. From 1946 – 1951 she studied the history of aesthetics at the Faculty of Humanities of Charles University. She specialized in history and critique of art photography. Fárová was a pioneer of writing on photography as a high art and helped to set it as an academic, art-historical category. She is the author of the first monograph on Henri Cartier-Bresson, she processed the work of Josef Sudek and Fantišek Drtikol, she founded and compiled the photographic archive in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, and was a long-term collaborator of Josef Koudelka. The exhibition 9x9 in Plasy would never have happened without her, and the same goes for many significant photographic exhibitions of the 80s and 90s.

Iren Stehli (b. 1953 in Zurich) is a Czech–Swiss photographer. She studied photography at FAMU in Prague (1972 – 1979) and continued also in her post-graduate studies there (1979 – 1983). Between 1993 and 2001 she was director of the Swiss cultural foundation Pro Helvetia Praha. Her work usually consists of long-term projects in the field of photographic social documentary. After leaving Switzerland, she reacted to her experiences with socialist ‘normalization’ of the 1970s by proactive creative work and eventually created series such as Pražské ulice (Prague Streets), 1974 – 1976; Pražské obchody (Prague Shops), 1976 – 1995; Pražské výlohy (Prague Shop Windows), 1976 – 1996, Taneční (Dance Classes), 1974 – 1977; Rybí bufet (Fish buffet), 1976 – 1977; and Libuna, 1974 – 2001. The 1981 legendary exhibition 9x9, which took place in the Cistercian monastery in Plasy, constituted the culmination of the generational circle of photographers which formed around her friend Anna Fárová. Her friends and schoolmates from FAMU were part, for example Ivan Lutterer, Dušan Šimánek, Jan Malý, or Jan Poláček. Iren Stehl exhibited both in the Czech Republic and abroad, and she received the Nikon Prize in 1983. Since 2001, she has been working as an independent photographer in both Prague and Zurich.

Joska Skalník (b. 1948 in Prague) grew up in Kolín and during his school studies he already showed a talent for art, which he further developed at the People’s School of Art. Later, he was very much influenced by the community around the painter Karel František Foltýn. After basic school, he went on to study business, but left after three years to attend a middle school for decorative arts. In 1969, he took a break from his studies due to health reasons, but finished a graduated a year later. He worked as a painter of decorations and lettering at the Státní divadelní studio (National Drama Studio) and, from 1977, in the Činoherní klub (The Drama Club). It was there that he co-organized various exhibitions. From 1970, he was active in the Jazz Section, which he was also a founder of. He actively collaborated on the creation of samizdat publications and periodicals (Revolver Revue, Originální Videojournal). In 1986 he was arrested, taken into custody and sentenced to three years’ probation. As a friend of Václav Havel, he took part in founding the Občanské fórum (Civic Forum), and he briefly served as Havel’s advisor. He left after one year in office, and he has since been devoting his time to artistic practice. He lives and works in Prague.

The photographer Dušan Šimánek (b. 1948) works at the intersection of art photography and visual art which uses photography as its medium. In the 1980s he exhibited with a group of like-minded artists around the theoretician Anna Fárová in the Činoherní klub (Drama Club) and in Plasy. His works are kept in exhibitions around the world, like in Centre Pompidou in Paris, or the JCA in Tokio. His photographs have been acclaimed by critics for their painterly features. As if they were less about capturing interesting places and details, and more about transposing them into a form which destabilizes the viewers: they are no longer sure what they are observing, leaving them wondering whether the works are speculation, a chance occurrence, a “live” photograph, or a product of digital manipulation. They are always original photographs however, technically meticulous, and always predicated on finding visual details – waiting for the proper light, time, and all the craftsmanship which goes along working with a classical form.  

Bořivoj Hořínek (b. 1948, Vilémov u Šluknova) is a photographer and typographer who lives and works in Ostrava. He is one of the founding members of the KV’art collective, a member of the Asociace fotografů (Photographer’s Association) and of the Unie výtvarných umělců (Union of Fine Artists). His works are exhibited in the collections of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, The Museum of Western Bohemia in Pilsen and The Gallery of Art in Karlovy Vary. Between 1973 and 1977 he studied at the Department of Photography at FAMU under the tutelage of prof. Ján Šmok. In 1980, he had a solo exhibition at the Drama Club in Prague and was one of the authors featured at the 9x9 exhibition in Plasy.  

Jan Malý (1954 – 2017) was a photographer and co-author of a long-term documentary from the cycle Český člověk (The Czech) from 1982 to 2010. He took part in the 9x9 project at Plasy. Between 1973 and 1978, Jan Malý studied photography at FAMU. Apart from continuing in portraiture, after his studies he mostly photographed architecture. After the death of Ivan Lutterer in 2001, he continued in the Český člověk series in collaboration with the Langhans gallery, with which they created the last part of the series in 2010.

Jan Klusák studied composition with Jaroslav Řidký and Pavel Borkovec at the Academy of Performing Arts  (1953 - 57) in Prague. Since then he has been a freelance composer, theatre and film actor, prose-writer and author of libretti for his own operas. As a composer, his starting point was Neo-classicism (I. Stravinsky, S. Prokofjev, I. Krejčí). Since the autumn of 1959 he started to compose for Libor Pešek's Chamber Harmonic Orchestra (Pictures for 12 Wind Instruments, Four Small Voice Exercises on Texts by F. Kafka, 1st Invention). This gave Klusák the impulse of new creative orientation towards the then New Music, and during the sixties he has been shaping his individual method of composing (particularly in the series of inventions for various combination). He got to grips with the dodecaphony and serial techniques of the Second Viennese School but he has also acknowledged his indebtedness to A. Bruckner and G. Mahler as his favourite masters. Klusak's masterpiece from this period of time was the highly acclaimed Variations on Mahler's Theme (1962). Astrology and some magic practices are known to have played also a part in the formation of his style, while the composer himself described his method as neo-Platonic. At the suggestion of Alois Hába he began to devote more time to become better acquainted himself with the spiritual teaching of Rudolf Steiner. During the sixties Klusak also did a great deal of work in film - as a composer of film music as well as directly as an actor. After August 1968 he was marginalised by the communist regime. At this time, however, he also found some sort of artistic satisfication in collaboration with the satirical theatre of Jára Cimrman. He was further developing his own individual form of invention and in 1975 created another milestone work in the form of his 3rd String Quartet.

After the Velvet Revolution in 1989 Klusak became a public figure, taking on various roles in the world of Czech music, including those of President of the music division of the Arts Society (Umelecka beseda), Vice President of the Czech Council for Music, member of the National Theatre Council, he was also a member of the Arts Council of the Music Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts, of the Prague Spring Festival Commitee and in some other organizations. He was recipient of a "Classic 1995" Award for his work in composition and for his Fifth String Quartet in particular.
Translated by Vít Bohal