Jiří Žák

  • Czech Republic (b. 1989 in Zlín)
  • Currently in Prague.
The Incantation of the Real

The Incantation of the Real

  • 2019
  • Sound-installation, 31min 29s

  • The work deals with the climate crisis through the lenses of anxiety, enchantment and the spirit of revenge. Keywords: the geopolitical dimension of the climate crisis, Middle-east, the European privilege towards ecological issues

  • Fbr 4987
  • Fbr 4941
  • 0
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    The Incantation of the Real | 2019

The Incantation of the Real is Jiří Žák’s project which was created for the Cursor Gallery in Prague with the support of the Center for Contemporary Arts Prague and Edith Jeřábková. In short summary, it deals with the reality of climate crisis through the lenses of anxiety, mobilizing sadness, enchantment, exorcism of fossil corporations and the spirit of revenge. An important theme of the work is also the geopolitical dimension of the climate crisis which is shown through the perspective of middle-east. Žák developed the critical footprint in the narrative regarding the privilege in which the Europeans approach the ecological issues and climate crisis. He articulated his experiences from his research in Jordan and collaboration with the artist Yazan Set Abouha. The narrative consists of three different characters using three different languages: Czech, English, and Arabic. The Incantation of the Real is a series of works. The main part is the sound-installation with several pieces of designed exhibition furniture which serves also as big speakers and together creates kind od sound landscape. Another part of the work is three video-loops which shows a wandering through different types of land in which is embedded sometimes almost invisible watermark of fossil fuel corporations logos.   ________________________________________________________________ Keywords: the geopolitical dimension of the climate crisis; enchantment; exorcism of the fossil fuel industry; Middle-east; the European privilege towards ecological issues;  sound-installation; video  ________________________________________________________________ See the adaptation of the Incantation of the Real on EVEN: ________________________________________________________________ Jiří Žák interviewed by Edith Jeřábková: ________________________________________________________________ Edith Jeřábková: This new work is a departure for you, both as regards its emphasis on the permeation of sound, music and text, and also in terms of the ratio of political content and space devoted to the method by which it is communicated and experienced. At present we are facing a crisis that bears upon both climate and politics (and I think it is important it not be depoliticised), and your hallucinogenic work is a mixture of instructions, advice, personal experience, reportage and confession conveyed through the music of popular culture (Rihanna, Tommy Johnson) and your own sounds, images and music. As an artist, how do you feel about the necessity of combining individual experience and global action? ________________________________________________________________ Jiří Žák: For a long time I have both perceived and experienced political, social and environmental problems (both local and global) as existential in the broadest sense of that word. These issues form the horizon of my thinking and I make reference to different aspects of them in most of my work. So although I sometimes examine historical themes, it is always as they relate to the lived present. For about the last year and a half I’ve been working on some research that, amongst other things, is about the identity of Central Europe (and therefore the Czech Republic) in relation to non-European identities (to put it simply). And so The Incantation of the Real is something of a departure. The climate crisis, which I am monitoring closely, is one of those existential themes I experience internally. To a certain extent this work is a verbalisation of the anxiety I feel because of it. The old feminist saying that the personal is political is true the other way round, and in the case of climate change this is completely and utterly so. The fact that the majority of people don’t see it this way is due to the failure of politicians and the media. So to answer your question: in my opinion the individual experience of crisis (of whatever kind) is a precondition for the initiation of action, on a local level undoubtedly, though the situation is more complicated on a global level. ________________________________________________________________ In my everyday life I try to support and participate in social and environmental activism, though I wouldn’t call myself an activist. I really respect the work of Limits Are Us! and Kolektiv 115, who are devoting all their energies to these problems. And I also like the way these organisations see environmental and social problems as interacting on each other. I’m convinced they can’t be separated. ________________________________________________________________ As far as the role of art within the context of climate crisis is concerned, I guess I’m sceptical. It’s good that art is taking an interest in environmental questions, though its impact will inevitably be limited. The important thing is to devote your energies to activities in civic life rather than simply reflecting upon things. This is why I wouldn’t even call my art engaged. It adopts a political and intellectual stance, of course. But this isn’ t enough. The way I see it, being engaged means intervening actively in the social body, and very often there are better way of doing this than through art. Art is not a utilitarian political tool. However, art institutions and artists themselves should leverage their social status so as to apply political pressure in the right direction. ________________________________________________________________ Edith Jeřábková: You recently had a residency in Amman under the aegis of the Institute of Anxiety, and your research project “Epilogue of a Long Friendship” examined the history of Czechoslovak arms exports to Syria from the 1950s to 1989. How did the residency impact on the work you are exhibiting? ________________________________________________________________ Jiří Žák: It had a huge impact. For me personally it was important to get to know the Arab world first hand. In terms of its influence on The Incantation of the Real, that operates on several levels. When in autumn 2018 I travelled to Jordan, a country that is largely desert, to conduct my research, several regions were hit by flash floods in which people lost their lives. The local experts said this was a direct result of the climate crisis. This situation then occupied a place in the background of all the themes I was reflecting upon. As a consequence, even in respect of its narrative The Incantation of the Real is in part situated in this region of the Middle East. ________________________________________________________________ The trip also gave me the opportunity to familiarize myself with the privileged position we Europeans enjoy when we approach certain environmental issues. This relates mostly to ethical consumerism, which I believe is politically problematic and within the framework of art is often close to being moral kitsch. One example will suffice: when someone in Europe calls on us to give up drinking bottled water, this same demand in Jordan would mean that nobody could drink water. A country that is suffering a desperate shortage of water sources cannot permit itself such luxury ethical choices. And so ethical consumerism is far from being a universal solution to environmental problems. These are like a Gordian knot tied to social and geographical issues and will require comprehensive and structural solutions. ________________________________________________________________ The last major influence that my stay in Amman had on The Incantation of the Real was purely personal. I struck up many close friendships that I want to maintain. One of them is embedded in the cooperation that took place on the work itself. The artist Yazan Set Abouha, who is interested in the point of intersection of drawing and performance, contributed to the work in his capacity as actor, singer and even author. ________________________________________________________________ Edith Jeřábková: What are you driving at through the use of different languages? Should we interpret this mix of cultural allusions as a symbolic challenge or as a commentary on the fact that we are all responsible equally for the crisis? And are we? ________________________________________________________________ Jiří Žák As far as the combination of languages is concerned, I’m not sure how to answer that question. It’s not yet completely rationalised in my mind, it’s still too early in the process. I have worked with different languages in the past, including English, German and Portuguese, and this always arose on the basis of the theme or narrative I was working with. Here it is more intuitive. The only thing I can say, I guess, is something banal along the lines of every language being a medium of its kind. But leaving that aside, the decision to use a language that is not my own always impacts fundamentally on the nature of the work. ________________________________________________________________ As far as the second part of your question is concerned, the answer is no, we’re not all the same, as I said above. It’s true that we are all facing the climate crisis, but the conditions under which we live are diametrically opposed, and it is these that determine what options we have when confronting this crisis. ________________________________________________________________ Edith Jeřábková: Could you describe for us the individual audio and visual levels present in this work? ________________________________________________________________ Jiří Žák: I don’t want to analyse things too much. The script that was created for The Incantation of the Real is in part narrative and in other parts takes the form of a kind of invocation and evocation or exorcism and incantation. It is poetic, but also contains elements of realism. And it is keen to point its finger at the culprit. In terms of its audio component it is a collage of different field recordings combined with music and sound-design by the musician and producer Enchanted Lands. The visual part, i.e. the televisions present at the exhibition, is autonomous and is not necessarily linked to the text. There’s obviously more to be figured out and interpreted, but I’ll leave that to the viewer. There are small visual accents, but the main section consists of the sound landscape that surrounds them. ________________________________________________________________ Edith Jeřábková: As you say, you have collaborated with two other people. Could you introduce them and tell us a little about the nature of the cooperation? ________________________________________________________________ Jiří Žák: The music producer Enchanted Lands, who works here in Prague, made a huge contribution to the end result. I contacted her because I love her work, which contains elements of electronics, ambient and even ASMR samples. It’s a strong, atmospheric and captivating collage. It occurred to me that her way of working would dovetail perfectly with the “sound landscape” I wanted to achieve. So basically I explained to her the problem I was dealing with and the overall mood I was striving for. But then I left things up to her. Generally speaking what interests me about a collaboration is what the other side brings and how individual levels slot together. I’m definitely not a control freak. I’ve already spoken about the artist Yazan Set Abouha. We’re friends and working on an artwork together is a way of being in contact. Nevertheless, he was really important in terms of the genesis of the work, both in terms of the conversations we had in Jordan and his active involvement in the final outcome as performer and singer. The experience he brought from Jordan, his sensitivity to the natural world and his remarkable powers of observation were of huge importance to me.