Artist Interview: Roman Štětina on ‘Shave and a haircut: two bits’
‘Shave and a haircut – two bits’ is a new site specific installation by Czech artist Roman Štětina, on view from 21 October – 19 November 2016 as part of the city wide visual arts festival Cardiff Contemporary. Curated by Louise Hobson, this will be Štětina’s first exhibition in Wales.
“Yesterday after the shoot, I told you that spending all day long there, without natural light, is like space out of time, out of the space”, says Czech artist Roman Štětina, whose site specific installation, ‘Shave and a haircut – two bits’, will be on view as part of Cardiff Contemporary 2016. “Even though the architecture is quite simple, and the floor plan is not that complicated, I felt like I was in a maze.”
I first met Roman at Residency Unlimited, New York, in February 2016, where we were both taking part in the same residency programme. Roman was the first artist I met with for a studio visit. I remember he introduced me to his practice through such works as ‘Tongue Twister’ and ‘Test Room’, telling me how he was interested in the processes of producing film, television and radio. I ask now about this specific interest in the tools, technologies and studios of backstage. He says, “the objects and the mediums I’m working with, I have to get into the basics of them, and these basics come to be a topic. Again it’s some kind of circle, some kind of loop. Since I’m working with moving image, I’m interested in the basics of the moving image, the background of this medium.”
It is Roman’s fascination with radio which led to the production of ‘Instructions for use of Jiří Kolář’, a new feature-length film currently on show at Spike Island. Made in collaboration with Miroslav Buriánek—a long-standing director of radio drama for Czech Radio—the film traces the process of recording a series of poems by the Czech poet, artist and translator Jiří Kolář.
We’re talking over breakfast in Cardiff, after Roman has spent the past two days making work in response to his exhibition space in the city centre. Roman explains, “It’s always very important for me to see the space, to be in the space. I was lucky, because it can happen that you receive an invitation to exhibit your work in a space which doesn’t communicate with you somehow, but this one is perfect. We have a nice dialogue.”
‘Shave and a haircut – two bits’ has emerged over time, moving through various iterations in response to the passage of time, and also logistical things like space and budget. As the curator, it’s exciting to see this work emerge bit by bit, to see it all come together. On asking Roman how he sees this process, he says “the process is to be open and to talk a lot, to brainstorm, because that’s how we developed this project. We were talking a lot, we were visiting each other, and so the process is definitely not about sitting behind a table, or googling some stuff, even though googling is necessary sometimes.”
As with the nature of proposals, a project is partly defined before it has even begun, but as Roman says, “What happened is what usually happens; you start to think about things, you become tired of some ideas because they are too simple, you start to complicate things, you are adding, adding, adding, and then when it’s over the top, you have to simplify again, get back to the original idea.”
That original idea which Roman mentions is a response to the Cardiff Contemporary festival theme of ‘communication’, and within that topic, the narrative of call and response. Roman began by looking at recurring gestures in his past projects and common motifs found in films, developing static video works that are more like moving photographs, or film stills. “These are situations which can last forever and still retain some tension. A burning cigarette without the smoker, a telephone of the hook without someone speaking, tuning the radio receiver without any success, knocking without any answer”, says Roman. Returning to the concept of radio, he adds “With the radio, someone is transmitting, you are receiving and there’s no way, if you are a listener, to answer. It’s about trying to reach someone, and not getting any answer. It’s about presence and absence, longing and letting go.”
On describing the exhibition venue, Roman says, “It’s very quiet. From some perspectives, it looks like a film set.” Over the course of the past two days, Roman has talked to me about making work for the space, and of the space, how “it can’t just be used to install whatever you want.” Part of the work is a mirroring of the space, a reflection of a reflection in a mirror of the present, as if somehow the space is perpetuating its own fiction, to the point of disappearing into an image of itself.
Roman expands on this further by saying, “When you are reflecting the space where you are, you are somehow supporting the space, again and again. This is the space reflecting itself, reflecting itself, reflecting itself, reflecting how it’s reflecting itself, itself, itself. So, loop, loop, loop, and then you place something there that doesn’t belong to the space. Something that’s coming from the other world, a different world. It’s a story maybe, it’s a narrative, an abstract narrative.”
‘Shave and a haircut – two bits’ has emerged as a site specific installation, one which you’ll find located between 7 and 8, on High Street in Cardiff city centre. On leaving the street, you’ll find yourself in a concrete corridor and as Roman says, “once you are inside, the noises from the street are fading away, and maybe, if I imagine myself as a viewer, I’m trying to find some artworks, but there are no artworks yet, and the corridor is quite long. At the end, you enter into a room, into another space, into another place. My impression is that going through the corridor prepares you for another story, to leave some things ‘in front of the house’, in the corridor.
Interview by Louise Hobson, September 2016.