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PCU graduates show how thin the line between design and art can be

by Larissa Petryca, on 10 September 2021 10:15:08 CEST

In June, graduates from Prague City University’s art programmes presented four exhibitions in physical and virtual forms. So what did art critic Barbora Čapová take away from these?

In recent times the pandemic has caused cultural limitations but its also accelerated a new era of art presentation - an era in which the physical environment cannot be completely separated from the virtual environment.

The graduating students of Prague City University had to devise the best ways to present their work which led to interesting experimental elements. The students also combined contemporary art and design. This interdisciplinary approach was managed very intuitively and showed they can think outside set parameters. The exhibitions commented on current topics and used innovative technologies all while retaining creative authenticity.

Conscious Home Made Design

The series of exhibitions began with the multimedia project Home Made Design, where 22 graduates from Graphic Design presented their final works. The hybrid model that they chose was based on the focus of their programme, one that encourages combining digital and physical interfaces.

graduates Home Made Design refreshments
Whether it is a physical or virtual exhibition, it must not lack stylish refreshments.
Photo: Prague City University Archive

As well as the exhibition at PCU’s Bishop's Court campus, the audience could get acquainted with the works through a livestream presentation and website. The exhibition offered a physical encounter with the works, the website a deeper visual examination, and the livestream the form of guided tour with the creators themselves.

Graduates present their work at the Home Made Design exhibition
The presentation of projects at Bishop’s Court was reminiscent of a friendly creative brainstorming session.
Photo: Prague City University Archive

The students' work was not associated with one single concept, each of them addressed a topic that compelled them the most. A wide range of topics were shown, from graphic visual identities, strong environmental positions, to experimental social, cultural and historical references. The works combined complex and practical thinking, where even the least tangible ideas acquired a concrete and usable character. Students focused on current digital communication formats such as mobile applications and video and the exhibited works were presented as finished, marketable products.

graduates celebrate their Home Made Design exhibition
Students addressed the exhibition in their own way. Photo: Prague City University Archive

Reflection in a pond: an authentic experience on the border of two worlds

Another in the series of exhibitions was presented by students of the Fine Art Experimental Media programme. They exhibited over two floors of the Bishop's Court Campus, creating a complex installation of communicating objects from otherwise uninhabited anonymous rooms.

graduates are not afraid of experimentation and conceptual thinking
The installation over two floors presented the works separately, but at the same time thre were fine connections between them. Photo: Prague City University Archive

Most students focused on the use of new technologies providing visitors with a multi-sensory experience. The installation Intimate Immensity combined virtual reality with a physical environment creating a completely authentic experience on the border of two worlds. With the help of unspecified but generally recognised scents, it led to memories that we may never have had before.

On the upper floor, the intergrowth of individual works and installations intertwined, almost parasiting on each other and together they inhabited the otherwise impersonal space of the gallery.

graduates demonstrate interconnected and intuitive creative work
On the edge of visuality and sound, new technologies and crafting. Photo: Prague City University Archive

The exhibition Reflection in a pond demonstrates diversity and an interconnected and intuitive creative atmosphere that prevails within this programme. Students are not afraid of experimentation and conceptual thinking, which they combine with practical technical skills. Good work!

You can take a tour here of their show and also visit the Reflection in a pond Instagram page here.

Dystopian visions of the Utopia project

Utopia and dystopia are like two sides of a coin balancing on the edge of a table. There is only a thin line between a prosperous dream and a distorted vision of the future, which we try our best to balance. The graduates of Foundation Diploma in Art, Design and Media Practice, the preparatory year for Bachelor's study, feel the same way. They opened up on current societal questions under the topic of utopia. What forms of today's world were reflected in their works?

graduates from the Foundation programme
Graduates of the Foundation Diploma chose a purely digital presentation in the form of a web platform. Photo: Prague City University Archive

The final works of nine artists resembles a virtual tree with a crown branched in many ways - a visually unified web base links to other sites that function as separate works. The conceptual thinking of the authors thus clashes with their solid design and technical skills. It is an aesthetically clean, dynamic website that reflects current programming trends. The works themselves were mostly in the format of videos, animations or stop-motion recordings, through which their creators told emotionally charged stories.

graduates present in an unorthodox, creative work environment
Exhaustive work on projects required an unorthodox creative work environment.
Photo: Prague City University Archive

An interesting moment is to grasp the topic of utopia, which, on the contrary, reflects difficult issues of a personal and general nature. Whether we are talking about mental disorders or the perception of humanity in the context of our world, these are deep reflections based on the current setting of our society. In order to achieve utopia, we need to understand the dystopia that we and our entire planet are currently experiencing. The individual works show a strong emotional intelligence and the ability to empathize with the feelings of their peers.

graduates present in an unorthodox, creative work environment
In addition to the website, graduates also provided visitors with a virtual guided tour.
Photo: Prague City University Archive

It is possible to visit the exhibition virtually on the utopia website or watch the live stream, where the authors themselves comment on their works.

Metanoia and Letters from the Future absorb Pragovka

The last performance for this year's Master's degree graduates was Metanoia and Letters from the Future, which took place under the baton of the Fine Art and Future Design programmes at the Pragovka Gallery in Prague. How did the unprecedented post-pandemic period imprint on the themes and forms of these experimental disciplines?

Metanoia exhibition
The large spaces of the Pragovka gallery were filled with magnificent buildings and installations.
Photo: Prague City University Archive

As the names of the studio themselves suggest, the work of the graduates mixes an inclination towards the classical form with a speculative, visionary way of thinking. This fusion was further exacerbated by the current societal changes to which the artists decided to express themselves in various ways and to design new perspectives through personal experience.

An unspoken time pressure and acceleration, a phenomenon due to most of today's philosophical considerations, runs through the entire exhibition. This acceleration is reflected not only in instant digital communication and technological progress, but also in the perception of our own identity. Through works, artists look for their place in society and at the same time try to estimate where that society will move in the near future.

Metanoia exhibition
The experiment became a key element of most works in the main exhibition space of Pragovka.
Photo: Prague City University Archive

The magnificent space of Pragovka is dominated by the imposing, but subtle installation of Monica Mills, blurring the boundaries between convention and controversy. Textile objects represent the LGBTQ + community and key issues that its representatives have to deal with on a daily basis, such as discrimination or same-sex adoption.

We also find a certain blur in the work of Jakub Grosz, who, through the metaphor of the technical image, comments on current philosophical questions of the ubiquitous acceleration and instability of our existence on the border of digital and physical space.

Kjertsi Austdal views new technologies and artificial intelligence from a ritual, metaphysical point of view and in a more classical way, Sean McAlorum, for example, contributes to the exhibition with his paintings. In the same way, other exhibited works oscillate between the aesthetic and intellectual, even research level, and confirm the experimental character of both programmes.

graduates inituitively combine classical creative media and audiovisual digital elements
Graduates intuitively combined classical creative media and audiovisual digital elements.
Photo: Prague City University Archive

The Future Design programme presented itself less conspicuously, choosing the location of a café connecting the exhibited works with the free movement of visitors. A video projection capturing the works of all graduates, it functions as an independent, closed universe and with its thematic topicality it also bridges into our world.

Individual projects follow the path of research and experimentation, trying to look at current ecological and social issues from a different angle and look for possible solutions. The creators do not let themselves be bound by conventions, on the contrary, they set out on the path of greater friction, they are not afraid of controversy. The outputs connect current audiovisual trends with a progressive design view of the issue. Like the programme itself, the Letters from the Future exhibition projects outlines the fact that a global way of thinking is needed to achieve global change in failing infrastructures.

PCU Letters from the Future graduate exhibition
The work from Future Design presented video projections absorbing the shared space of the Pragovka gallery café. Photo: Prague City University Archive

Metanoia and Letters from the Future functions as a distinctive, comprehensive exhibition, opening new ways of thinking. If you did not manage to visit the exhibition, you can explore the works on the accompanying web platform from Metanoia or Instagram for Letters from the Future, or look forward to what the graduates will come up with next year.

For detailed interviews on the final projects with the Master’s in Fine Art and Master’s in Future Design graduates please visit the PCU YouTube channel here.

Adapted and republished with permission from Czech Design and journalist Barbora Čapová. First published (in Czech) 31. 7. 2021