In the Secession catacombs of the former sewage plant in Prague-Bubeneč a glittery kayak protrudes from a round peephole. From time to time, when the golden level overflows, the calm water surface is disturbed by the stream of water. A whirl of light created by the twisting of the screw of the floodgate is projected onto the brick wall. This exhibition’s theme is the light but the main role is in fact played out by the historical space. That is what almost 20 artists brought together by Petr Nikl in the Labyrinth of Light exhibition wanted. The exhibition that started on Tuesday is full of “touchable” objects that were created directly for the industrial space. It will be open until 14 July.
Painter, musician, fairy-tale writer and performer Nikl could be said to own a copyright for playful exhibitions. Two years ago he initiated Orbis Pictus, an exhibition in the Prague Museum of Music and together with dozen other artists filled the space up with original musical instruments. Nikl is also the main creator of the renown exhibition Nests of Games (Hnízda her), which took place in Rudolfinum in 2000, and he created the Garden of Fantasy and Music for the Expo in Japan’s Aichi.
“We would like to rid people of the prejudice that art is some sort of a nonsensical appendix created by an elitist sect of artists for themselves,” Nikl said. For him, it is important that his sculptures only gain sense after they are touched by the visitor. His Eyeball stands in the centre of the main hall in the sewage plant. It is a giant round tent with lenses that you can walk into. The visitor inside the eyeball can be seen through the lenses as if through giant pupils.
Building as the main “character” in the exhibition, can best be seen in the labyrinth of the underground corridors. “Can you see the preserved brick vaults? Nobody can build that today,” said Ondřej Smeykal, who is a co-organiser of the exhibition concept with Nikl. Pieces of art seem more like accessories in the catacombs directing the attention to the nooks of the building. This is how the above-mentioned projection through the floodgate lock by Pavel Mrkus works, as well as a dioramic picture-object placed in the alcove called Neverending Eyes by Slovakia’s Ingrid Višňovská. Sometimes the artists only lit up some detail in a precise way, for example the elegant brick spiral of the ceiling shaft that turns from an ellipsis into a round opening.
The exhibited objects play with the light; glass cuboids disintegrate the light into the colour spectrum (mobile grid by Milan Cais). Other objects reflect the light or create fairy-tale-like shadow plays (such as a mirror table with fantastic figures that move thanks to magnets by Smeykal). Swiss guest Ueli Seiler made a garden mist sprinkler for the sewage plant garden, when the sprinkler is turned into the right direction against the sun it creates a rainbow. The only non-light object is a treadle machine with flutes by Jiří Konvrzek. When treadled it makes a sound in between an organ and a fujara (shepherd’s fipple flute).