WATER ENOUGH FOR ONE ROOT

 

Barbar Benish was born in California and came to the Czech Republic for the first time in 1979 at the of 21. Later she participated in the exchange exhibit "Dialogue-Los Angeles" at Prague's Lidovy Dům Gallery, and since 1990 has realized several solo exhibitions here. Today Barbara lives in Prague, returning to the country of her ancestral homeland.

 

In early 1995 we had the idea to somehow celebrate this event. By chance, the lower hall of Mánes gallery was empty. Although it poses a complicated space for installations due to the uneven surface of the high ceilings. On the other hand, it is in a beautiful location in central Prague, surrounded by nature, with a meditative view of the green Zofin Palace and the flowing river.Barbara thought to create an installation that would tie in the surrounding nature; she wanted to take advantage of the beautiful spot on the river Vltava. In a later interview for the magazine Ateliér, she said :"the Vltava is the lifesource for Czechs, metaphorically and literally {at least historically}. My working process questions what this place {or any place for that matter} then means to the newly arrived foreigners; socially, economically, and symbolically..In the end, all these aspects are brought up about how far one can be acculturated and still preserve one's own identity or past."

 

I think that this worked in two ways. There probably is not a more symbolic site in all of Prague, perhaps in all of the Czech Republic, for representing the spontaneous and autonomous history of the arts and culture here than MÁNES (1, 2). It's hundred year old history has always been based on the representation of a "pure" national culture, fully conscious of its roots in order to open up to the rest of the world, with respect to specific individual ethnic groups. I'm convinced that an art of such cosmopolitan character, because it is completely responsible in transversing the border of it's own political-economic location. If consequently with this idea, the identity of Manes' past was disturbed, it is all the more reason, we agreed, to celebrate, that it is no longer as it was. The artist claims, "I wanted to find something like a homecoming, or a searching for roots."

 

The visitor to the installation went from the dark space below to the large, sun-lit room, filled with two large sculptural objects on the floor and three suspended from the ceiling, ten meters up. These objects were made of silk parachutes, blown-glass elements, and live flowers. Situated into the glass windows of the lower room, "CHRISTMAS FLOWERS", was studded with artificial flowers of molded resin, like a jeweled relief window. The rest of the glass surface reflected silhouetted objects against the Vltava river below.The whole environment was filled with the music of PHILIP NOSHIRO, whose compositions are concerned with tonality in contemporary classical music. As a Czech-Japanese, his work also questions the roots of his descent and the displaced relationship to the earth...

 

The large hanging "flowers" aim for the traditional woman's working materials like sewing, embroidery, fabric decoration molded baked goods, and flower arrangements. The parachutes are hand-dyed and silkscreened with decorated patterns. [MAMMOLOVNIK] Glass spheres which could also be rescue buoys or breasts flowers and other real materials adorn the work. This craft element traces back to a humanizing root of the advent of the natural and mechanical worlds. Perhaps it is reflected also in the tonal systems created in music, wherein a living folklore is made into a social tradition.

 

Perhaps it is a specific female attribute, the sense of genia loci, to realize the continuity of self into a space. A motto of Barbara's , who quotes Beckett, is that spiritual displacement exists only in the sense of deepness. She embodies the whole being of the artist, searching for roots, in order to ensure that her message is without boundaries in the world.

Vlasta Čihaková-Noshiro

 

Catalogue exerps: "Emancipation into Solitude", 1995