Where everybody knows everybody… Small/Big World

Lucia Gavulová

The survey is part of the project entitled Small/Big World curated by Judit Angel at tranzit.sk. In response to the offer to draw up and select interviewees, I posed three simple questions to more than twenty artists, theoreticians, gallerists and curators, whose activities are related to Bratislava. The questions were formulated with a view to acquiring a more comprehensive picture of the character, positive and negative aspects and the possibilities of the local art scene from the perspective of the people who are creating it. The interviewees were selected according to the visibility of their activities and their impact on operating galleries, exhibiting local artists, cultural activism, pedagogical activities, artistic initiatives, creation and curatorial work with genre over-laps with architecture and activities of independent labels. Not everyone addressed was able to respond due to time constraints; as a result, the responses of architect and curator Dominika Belanská, artists Jana Kapelová and Ilona Németh and cultural activist Mária Rišková are missing. The opinions of the others regarding the issues are similar; almost each of them mentioned the same problem areas as well as the positive aspects. However, the key aspects of any healthy art scene operating under normal circumstances, such as international overlap, openness and constructive criticism are missing.

1/ How would you characterize the art scene in Bratislava?
2/ What are its positive aspects, challenges and weaknesses?
3/ If you could change one thing about Bratislava’s art scene what would it be? 

APART (artist collective)
Denis Kozerawski, Peter Sit, Andrej Žabkay 

1/The scene in Bratislava is very segmented with many micro scenes which have their own spectators and only rarely come together which is perhaps understandable. 

2/ We see challenges in our conditions which appear as disadvantages. This is a specific feature of countries such as ours, where we must adjust, look at disadvantages from a different perspective and turn them into our advantages. It is the smallness of our environment which frequently frustrates us all and which is the precondition and challenge for the acceleration of discussion and direct action that will lead to an improvement of our scene. Separation is not good in this case. However, we have the feeling that more non-institutional initiatives have begun to appear, which we perceive as a positive feature. At the same time, it is important to maintain a dialogue with the institutions on the scene, which should not close up but become revitalized. For example, this is necessary in the case of the Academy of Fine Arts and Design. 

3/We definitively lack expertise and criticism which are important for moving forward. 

Peter Barényi
visual artist, pedagogue, member of the artyčok.tv/sk creative team

1/It is small, competitive and composed of many closed groups.

2/The fact that we all know each other is both a positive and negative. I regret that we try to copy what is happening elsewhere and don’t appreciate our own views. I consider properly functioning constructive criticism to be a challenge.


BRATISKA (local brand)
Palko Bartoš, Viktor Blaha, Johanka Grigarová, Barbora Jakubová, Michal Maco

1/It’s small but with quality, interconnected in relations, but critically divided, colorful, but sometime similar in themes.

2/The closeness of the scene is in fact a strength and weakness at the same time. Someone who is skillful can quickly make a name, get to know the right people and blast off. This is usually more difficult in larger cities. On the contrary – the limited source of inspiration and the smaller circle of art consumers is a threat. As an art consumer I can feel these limitations in my own skin. However this situation is improving, I have a feeling that there are more and more skillful people and the selection is getting bigger.

3/The ability to accept criticism and to give constructive criticism. On behalf of BRATISKA answered Michal Maco.

Juraj Čarný
director of the Slovak Visual Arts Center and Kunsthalle Bratislava,
president of the Slovak section of AICA

1/ 2/ I perceived the Bratislava art scene peripherally from my childhood. And I’m pleased to say that things are changing dynamically and I believe for the better. I’m amazed at how many new exhibitions take place every year, how many new curatorial projects are imple-mented, how many reviews are written, how many galleries and museums are opening (and closing), and the number of reflections of domestic activities abroad. I began to deal more intensively with the art scene in Bratislava during my studies at the Department of Art History at the Faculty of Arts of Comenius University at the beginning of the 1990s. I noticed that all of the important art historians were extremely critical and even hateful towards each other; they seemed to be trying to destroy each other. And I wondered if the arrival of our generation would change something, however the laboratory environment of the school did not motivate us to understanding and cooperation (with the exception of the initiative of students themselves – specifically Rovná sa (Equals) by schoolmates Alexandra Kusá and Petra Hanáková). Before     I started school I spent two months wandering around Scotland and England with a friend who was a geologist. He told me fascinating stories about the cooperation of teachers and students, their common exploration, research and travel. That made my arrival at the Department of Art History even more painful. It was clear to me that our generation had to bring new, better standards to this profession which would allow us to overcome personal antipathy and jointly build a better art scene, better art history. The situation could be substantially better today if many of us realized that we’re only at the beginning of a complicated path.3/I would take away pettiness from the art scene in Bratislava. When you arrive in New York you find out that the possibilities are huge. The whole system is set up so that your abilities stand out. This is because Americans are aware of the fact that if they support you and you turn out to be really good, everybody will profit from your abilities. In our country it is the exact opposite they’d rather trample all over you just to make sure that you don’t get ahead. Only a few enlightened managers surround themselves with professionals who are better than they are. Ironically, artists and curators are afraid of competition and fail to realize that joining forces can mean much more on the local and international scale than short-lived, personal benefit.

Ľubica Drangová
CEO Mladý pes

1/As Mária Rišková said on March 18, 2016 at the event entitled Creative Mornings: “It is diverse and dispersed.“

2/I have the feeling that there is too much hate and not enough solidarity. We waste time and energy on petty conflicts when so much work and joy are out there waiting for us!

3/More experimentation!

dsk. (artist collective)
Iva Durkáčová, Ľuboš Kotlár, Ján Skaličan

1/After deliberating over a suitable response, we made our way to the issues related to a specification of the Bratislava art scene itself. This notion seems to us as estranged, if we even discussed this topic we never tried to focus our attention exclusively on the area of the capital. Slovakia itself is too small a playground to break up the scene into even smaller and smaller pieces. On the other hand we must admit that we lack an over-view of the work of our colleagues outside of Bratislava, which does not necessarily mean that our scene is closed and that this notion must be more swiftly anchored.

2/ The fact that the art scene is relatively small we perceive as a positive, and as a result of this we notice each other and are in contact with each other. In other words, a more or less family atmosphere reigns here and we all know each other. This is also very negative, because collegial relationships frequently conflict with personal relationships. This leads to the paradoxical grouping and erecting of barriers, which on this thin ice is more than counterproductive…

3/We would like to shift this scene to a new state, a heretofore non-existing, utopian...

Zuzana Duchová
cultural activist, curator, mover and shaker, Salónik

1/ The Bratislava scene is small but definitively viable and diverse. It has great (and frequently untapped) potential, which is perhaps true for all of Slovakia.

2/Smallness can be pleasant, but also boring, self-absorbed, etc. And I’m fascinated that despite this smallness, there are days when absolutely nothing is happening and other days, when five vernissages are taking place at the same time. We could use a coordinator of events as one colleague of mine said :). But then there wouldn’t be any reason to hate somebody or distance yourself from them… So in fact I enjoy this spontaneity and lack of coordination.

3/Maybe you want to hear some witty cultural managerial solution, but I don’t have one! Everybody who tries to create something or manage something must begin from his/her own person (no matter how pathetic this may sound). I don’t want to be mean, but there are people among us whose work couldn’t be helped even by the “fattest” grants or better cultural legislation. But it’s impossible to exist without that legislation and money. So it would be ideal to change everything together and continuously! Not only one thing at a time.

Petra Feriancová
visual artist, gallerist, amt_project

1/People here are convinced of their own irreplaceability and they ignore each other.

2/The positive aspect is that Bratislava is my native town and wherever I go I will always think highly of it. Because “Don’t spit in the well…“ and nostalgic optimism always works. Older artists – the generation active in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s constitute a challenge. Most of the good artists from my generation have become bitter and the young have their own business plan. The problem is that nobody is interested in anything. Not even us.

3/ I don’t have such an opportunity. Everybody is trying to do their best. I will continue doing what I’ve been doing. 

Viktor Frešo
visual artist

1/The Bratislava art scene and Slovak mentality share similarities which can be designated as local animosity. It is very indistinct, full of complexes, and in essence harmless, but very uneducated, so much so that sometimes it breaks my heart :).

2/I don’t have enough time to name all the weaknesses, because I have to mow the grass, but the positive aspects are that it is no big deal; in essence, this is a training platform where one can learn how it could work somewhere else. You can also succeed and exhibit along with the artists who are successful internationally, since the domestic scene is small, which is not so common in most countries.

3/We need to bring more flexibility and dynamism to the institutions which can present current art for the benefit of the contemporary Bratislava scene, which however would mean personnel changes in several institutions such as Bratislava City Gallery (which is a city gallery after all)...

Andrej Jaroš
gallerist, curator, Flatgallery

1/ In my opinion, the art scene in Bratislava is relatively diverse, but it lacks unity and openness. I would even dare to say that it is immensely inconsistent in certain matters and only manages to find common ground when addressing urgent issues inside the art community itself. It has already become an unwritten rule that circles or groups are forming which have led to the creation of certain barriers in communication. Personal problems and disagreements are also frequently carried over to the professional level, which, considering the close constellation of a group of people, is completely undesirable and hinders development. Nepotism and the favoring of “the chosen ones” is rampant in Slovak society, politics and public life. Even our small art scene has fallen victim to this bad habit, which I perceive as one of the negatives. However, I have noticed certain positive steps and efforts in the form of civic associations and young enthusiasts – activists who are trying to do something good and valuable for the general wellbe-ing of society.

2/The positive aspects are a result of the “small town” infrastructure of “everybody knows everybody” and where everything is concentrated within the center of town. Communication among art genres such as visual art, music, dance, theater and creating a universal and viable city platform, which would jointly defend its rights also represents a great challenge (although in the past two years a similar group by the name KU.BA – an initiative of civil, nongovernmental and independent cultural and artistic organizations and professionals for improving the conditions for the development of culture in Bratislava has begun to form). In my opinion, one of the weaknesses is the hermetic sealing of our own world within a kind of bubble which should protect us from the “bad” outer world, but which eventually leads to isolation, stagnation and the fossilization of the entire system. Prominent state and private galleries lack exhibitions that feature prestigious international contemporary artists. It’s a good thing that Vienna is so close…

3/I think that people on the art scene should communicate with each other more and open themselves up to new thoughts, ideas, and projects, and not to form closed groups, create a caste system and behave competitively and even enviously. Art should be discussed more, not only among experts in closed art communities, but within the general public as well. To promote art altruistically, as I did just a few years ago when I was the editor-in-chief of the lifestyle magazine Sea-son Report, in which        I created a section called Art & Antiques. In addition to specialized articles on art, I provided space for media support for various private local galleries such as SODA, Krokus, Kressling, etc. Without charging a fee for PR articles... This is a persistent problem and as a gallerist I have problems with the promotion of Flatgallery exhibition activities in influential print media...

Dorota Kenderová and Jaroslav Varga
artists and curators, HIT Gallery

1/ Despite the fact that the majority of stakeholders on the scene know each other, individualism prevails over collectivism. This is perhaps caused by the fact that most active artists and curators have developed foreign cooperation and created their own circle of non-Bratislava and crossborder contacts which with respect to the limits of the environment and the effort to remain in the profession is natural and necessary. Ultimately, this is an enriching element of the Bratislava scene.

2/ The possibility of quickly making a name for yourself is an advantage of a small scene; the possibility of quickly falling into oblivion is a disadvantage.

3/ When I look at this from the perspective of the long-term program orientation of the HIT Gallery, we were interested in enriching the scene by such expressions and forms of contemporary art which exceeded the limits of Bratislava and Slovakia, and not only in terms of the import of themes and new perspectives from abroad, but by generating an in situ discussion. I would most definitively improve the conditions for support and professional reflection of the activities of out-of-the-way spaces which in Slovakia and Bratislava represent a very active aspect of artistic operations and frequently take the place of activities of institutional spaces which have long been absent here.

Mira Keratová

1/ In relation to the global world of art, I think that non-cosmopolitanism is one of the basic characteristics of the Bratislava (and Slovak) art scene. In addition to the overlaps with the Czech scene (with respect to our recently shared common historical and cultural context) and partial or occasional exchanges with the artistic environments of other countries of the Visegrad group or with Austria (which are particularly stimulated by the grant policy within the region) there are only exceptional and hard to achieve occasions. That is why I would characterize the Bratislava scene as a national scene. This is perhaps not only one of its characteristics, but also one of the circumstances based on which it is formed. It is documented by the discourse which has been developed here, either within the continuing reconstruction of art history or in contemporary art, which to a great extent is based on national identity and memory clusters; and here       I would include streams which are apparently obstacles towards this, but because of the lack of knowledge of other contexts they are only eclecticizing or aesthetically used as a kind of visual trend.

2/ The weakness of the local situation is the inability or impossibility of building autonomous discourse and creating an authentic apparatus for grasping phenomena beyond the national framework. This limitation also harms transferability, especially for the less unique or already exported, albeit continuing or even prevailing specialties of the local environment. As a result, this leads to the frustration of people who create the Bratislava (and Slovak) scene and to whom the framework established in such a national way fails to offer further possibilities for development, while also failing to give them any possibility for existential sustainability. The general frustration of this Bratislava (and Slovak) small big world is then a shared emotion. But when we look at it in a positive light, this situation supports the development of solidarity, which seems to me is growing, maybe even due to the developing infrastructure of independent centers and initiatives. This is not only a positive feature, but a challenge. Solidarity may help to overcome many limitations, which may shackle open-minded people, which means almost everyone in the art world.

3/ Many other people from the Bratislava (and Slovak) scene agree with me. Various initiatives arise whose aim is the support of solidarity, as well as a better system of funding which has been desperate here across the board for a long period of time. This also contributes to a certain isolation in which the Bratislava (and Slovak) art scene, already situated on the European periphery, exists. It’s not only the weak communication and insufficient networking with other scenes, it is almost excluded from the public social discussion in Slovakia (and in Bratislava); it operates under the threshold of the sensitivity of the general public as a kind of exotic and redundant diaspora. In short, I would advocate a radical, not only ideological, but also conceptual reform of national cultural policy.

Gabriela Kisová
curator, director of Krokus Gallery

1/ I think that it has a lot of untapped potential. Artists, curators, theoreticians, gallerists and other stakeholders often engage in petty conflicts instead of cooperating and inspiring each other.

2/ The smallness of the Bratislava scene has its advantages and disadvantages. Smallness in space and human resources. Everybody knows everybody and we can help each other quickly if necessary. At the same time, this is dangerous because one can easily slip by reaching for simple solutions: inviting friends in a tender or a jury, only allied artists for the exhibition, colleagues in the commission, we write only about our friends, we agree about reviews, we are moving in a circle, we complain to one another at the vernissage and then we pat each other on the back. We frequently encounter the opinion that it is too far to travel to a different town, that if an artist has a studio outside Bratislava, nobody comes to see him/her if the exhibition is not in Bratislava, as if it didn’t exist. The idea of a center exists here, but from the outside looking in, Bratislava is a complete periphery. The mobility of artists and curators doesn’t work properly, there are almost no foreign teachers at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design, we have only a few foreign students, our students participate in exchange internships in Prague… Vienna is just around the corner, Budapest is two hours away by car, but there is very little cross-border cooperation. One of the big problems is the lack of strong ambassadors who would tell the story of contemporary Slovak art in the international context and operate as “connectors” between the domestic scene and the world. Accreditation for the master’s study of art history at Comenius University was just revoked, which in my opinion is almost a disaster; it is one of the oldest university specializations. The identity of the Oskár Čepan Award is not clear even after twenty years of its existence and its future is questionable. These are factors that weaken the scene.

3/ It is difficult for me to respond to this. But let’s say that if I had a magic wand, I would accelerate the reconstruction of the Slovak National Gallery, so that future artists, theoreticians, collectors, visitors from abroad and the general public could finally go and look at the permanent exposition of Slovak art of the 20th century, for example. I consider this to be another big problem and a large hole in the cultural identity of our capital. If we don’t know our roots, how can we intermediate them to others?

Jaroslav Kyša
visual artist

1/ The Bratislava “scene“ is diverse and in essence very small, but dynamic.

2/ The various independent exhibition activities and events in private apartments (amt_project, Flatgallery, Žumpa...) and industrial spaces in Bratislava and its surroundings (PRFR, 4D gallery, Cvernovka...) are a strength. I personally consider the establishment of Kunsthalle and the quality program of the SNG to be a significant and important part of the life of the scene. I can see weaknesses particularly in petty conflicts, envy and other disagreements and the lack of unity. The Bratislava “scene“ also lacks a commercial background, there is no contemporary art market. The capital has no residential program for contemporary artists from abroad which is limiting and prevents us from establishing a link to the map of contemporary art in the world.

3/ I feel the lack of solidarity and team spirit, the coming together to achieve a common goal. I had an idea about how as a national scene we could intervene in the Slovak Fine Art Union and try to change this institution from the inside or “from the bottom up.” It is quite obvious that it does not sufficiently fulfill its role according to the law. Not to mention the Fund of Fine Arts with its problematic sale of valuable property and buildings such as the chateau in Moravany nad Váhom...We lack a unified voice.

Tereza Maco, Gabriel Sebö, Ján Skaličan
artists, ŽUMPA Gallery

1/ It is quite spread out in terms of the number of stakeholders. It never occurred to me to break down the Slovak art scene into even smaller units. But within the development of art it is definitively necessary for our town to think about that...

2/ It bothers me that individualism prevails over cooperation. There are enough people here and the majority (if not everybody) knows each other personally. New gallery spaces, off-spaces are constantly being created; hopefully even the Slovak National Gallery will be reconstructed, we have the Academy of Fine Arts and Design here. Žumpa at its creation strived to constitute an alternative space, interspace. It’s good that it has survived and sort of functions. It’s just a pity that no discussion liberated from individualism exists in such a small town. Cooperation among the galleries…

3/ Perhaps this is currently impossible, but society’s view of art and culture in general should not be on the periphery of interest. But this is more complicated and relates to education up to cultural awareness… I especially think about that but my influence isn’t strong enough yet to make some changes in this respect…

Ján Skaličan answered on behalf of Žumpa Gallery.

Matej Myslovič
visual artist, musician, poet

1/ I must confess that I did not actively follow the Bratislava scene during my studies, I was closed up in the “vacuum“ of my classmates. I was interested in different things and to be honest I couldn’t care less about it. However, gradually I began to find my way in the activities of people in the studio and in the circle of other friends, and then it started as an avalanche. But getting to the core of the question: the scene which I follow with my peers does not seem to be very active in relation to artists. But I understand not all people are gifted and have the ability to organize and arrange or to contribute in some other way to the development of this scene. On the other hand, there are several active cells that are working hard and therefore it suits me and I don’t mind it. Art is a sieve, it gets rid of the dead bodies and this is the princi-ple based on which the two aforementioned poles operate active and passive. Active artists are on the path to a good career and their activities also pull other less active, but skillful artists with them. So to summarize, I follow my generation which is looking for a path and solutions and I’m quite satisfied…

2/ The most unfortunate and negative aspect of the Bratislava scene is Bratislava itself. Not the city, but all the mayors and managers who are trying their best to turn the city into a pile of shit. They shut down everything that has the scent of a cultural center or something similar, even illegal galleries cannot be considered in this town as a possible contra. On the other hand, this situation forces us to work hard on ourselves and those who want to do so; in the spirit of the slogan “the city doesn’t give a shit about us – we do it ourselves”, i.e., theD.I.Y. principle. This is how very fruitful and interesting projects such as galleries, fanzines, samizdat, spaces and small festivals are created here...

3/ In order to do something in a private or a public space you have to obtain so many papers, make arrangements, persuade authorities and even bribe them. For me this is the biggest problem of the Bratislava art scene. Because it takes so much time to jump through hoops people often abandon their projects…

Lýdia Pribišová

1/ The art scene in Bratislava is not completely small; powers from all over Slovakia are concentrated here, and artists, theoreticians and curators from other regions work here. It is comprised of certain groups of people created on the basis of friendship, who from time to time also cooperate on art projects. Individualism reigned here for a long period of time, however people from various fields of art have begun to cooperate and meet. This was initiated by the individuals around A4, they founded the KU.BA platform which also became a partner in negotiating with the city and the Bratislava region at the political level.

2/ Certain themes, ideological streams and types of art are lacking. For example, only a few artists and curators of the younger and middle generations deal with ecological themes or sound art – there is a lack of visual artists who work with sound. There are a few, but it would be quite difficult to prepare a quality larger group exhibition. Intergenre activities featuring the cooperation of musicians and visual artists, people from theater or even natural scientists are still quite rare. It is as if all of our artists are dealing with similar matters; their work is either centered on social-political themes or introspective matters. However, I consider the fact that a significant part of artistic production is intellectually very rich to be an extremely positive feature. Many artists have a strong theoretical background, which is reflected in their work. Artist-run spaces are missing, there are only a couple of them but many are short lived, only HIT Gallery is still on its feet. There aren’t many classical commercial galleries either. We lack an international dimension as well as foreign artists and theoreticians and curators living and working in Bratislava. Residences for foreign artists and curators, which we can find in smaller towns, are missing here.

3/ I would create a dignified space for the presentation of contemporary art. Although we have Kunsthalle, in terms of space it’s more suited for small format exhibitions, such as illustration biennials and others. If contemporary visual art were one of the priorities for the city, I would propose the reconstruction of the Istropolis building into a Kunsthalle or a contemporary art museum, and this monumental socialist era architecture would finally be used with dignity. Bratislava is anxiously awaiting the reconstruction of the SNG, however its function and orientation are wider – it is only partially devoted to contemporary art. The study of the theory of contemporary art and art criticism and on many levels is lagging behind. Recently the accreditation of the master’s studies of art history at the Faculty of Art in Bratislava was revoked! In my opinion it should be extended, but the proper academic conditions are missing. Older theoreticians and teachers should guide the younger ones and open the doors for them, but the opposite is frequently the truth. For years it has been almost impossible to become an assistant professor, not to mention professor. It hasn’t been possible to do doctoral studies at the department of art history in Bratislava for a longer period of time, and at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design we have witnessed a devaluation of academic degrees, ArtD. in particular (the degree acquired after defending a dissertation of artist at the AFAD).

Michal Stolárik
curator and critic

1/ Although it isn’t huge or completely diverse, it does exist. It is relatively modest, but despite that it can be spontaneous and capable of surprising you. It exists with various petty sub-scenes defined by different generations, orientations, “pubs,“ allied institutions, as well as circles of friends and enemies. Overlaps are possible and everyone can go wherever they want. The scene is characterized by a mutual selflessness rather than open animosity. Certain exceptions exist, however they remain in the background and are manifested by indifference at best.

2/ Its positive aspect is that it is small. Its negative aspect is that it is small. Challenges arise from these two antagonistic lines of perception.

3/ I can imagine more galleries, cultural institutions and other public spaces. Everybody would be professional and reliable. I would also be pleased to see greater interest from the general public and the media. More financial resources and job opportunities. But most of all, we lack a functioning network and thus the natural characteristic of active agents who can unite, recommend and thus create new opportunities.

Filip Vančo
artist, gallerist, Photoport Gallery

1/ The questions in this survey are based on the assumption that something specific like a Bratislava art scene exists. I think that it is not like that. Unfortunately, Slovakia is a strongly centralized country and the position of Bratislava is a result of this. Perhaps Košice is the only exception, but this comparison is based on historical foundations, partially overlapping in the present. Right now I do not see any specific features which could be monitored, as for example in the 1990s. Bratislava is the key place for the Slovak art scene as such, for better and for worse. So if we want to talk about the “Bratislava scene,“ we can more or less talk about the Slovak scene as a whole.

2/ The Slovak scene is miniature and peripheral and fragmented into small circles of artists and curators, depending on their personal relationships. I can also see a weakness in the malfunctioning of educational institutions and almost non-existent critical discourse. I don’t see any courage among curators or artists to take a risk. On both sides of the barricade – theory and practice – I can feel the absence of opinions, principal standpoints, and artists and curators should be the bearers of all that. Rather, the scene operates on opportunism and greed. With honorable exceptions, naturally. We need to cooperate much more!

3/ I would restore the operations of the critical portal hentak.sk.