Zhanna Kadyrova and Jiří Kovanda at ZAHORIAN & VAN ESPEN

Artists: Zhanna Kadyrova and Jiří Kovanda

Title: (Almost) Involuntary Sculptures

Venue: ZAHORIAN & VAN ESPEN, Bratislava

Curator: Elena Sorokina

Photo: Leontína Berková

This exhibition creates a space for an encounter between Jiří Kovanda and Zhanna Kadyrova, and a possibility for the two artists to exchange about fragility in sculpture. Coming from different contexts and different generations, Kovanda and Kadyrova both take sculpture to its limits, to its margins and paradoxes. Their work often engages in profound detournements, inviting found and recuperated objects, and shaping elusive aspects of the quotidian into form, material or immaterial. In distinct, yet similarly counterintuitive ways, they volatilise the monumentality of sculpture through ironic gestures and introduce fragility as response to modernism’s heroic claims. For this project, alongside earlier work, the two artists have produced new work, incorporating the spirit of place, conceptual moments, charged ideas, and reclaimed objects from the Grössling Bathhouse in Bratislava, currently waiting for reconstruction. Today, when the pandemic makes us increasingly aware of our bodies’ fragility, the empty bathhouse awaiting new life retraces the various aspects and dichotomies of “body” across many centuries. Built in 1895, it brings back images and roles of the body as it witnessed throughout its existence, evoking rituals of cleaning, social interaction, healing and pleasure. It also draws out the radical shift to the ideologies of healthy, valid, and strong bodies promoted in the 20th century in both the former East and former West. In this particular moment, the absence of bodies in the currently decaying architecture of Grössling constitutes a perfect conceptual point of encounter for Kadyrova and Kovanda, both profoundly engaged with coincidences and fragilities in objects, bodies and minds.

Jiří Kovanda was born in 1953 in Prague, where he currently lives and works. One of the major protagonists of the European conceptual art, he organised his first interventions in public spaces of Prague during the mid-1970’s. In these interventions, mundane actions appear slightly off-key and off-balance, they undulate between apparent simplicity and poetic resonance, allowing us to sense the fragility of the individual in a society under surveillance. Although Kovanda’s minimalistic actions carried a very different political charge in the 1970s, they remain more than relevant in the current situation of digital surveillance capitalism. Today, Kovanda continues to create, still interested in sensuous encounters, separations and connections, and still inimitably subtle, poetical, and unsettling.
Jiri Kovanda is represented by the galeries: gb agency, Paris; Krobath, Wien and SVIT, Prague

Zhanna Kadyrova was born in 1981 in Brovary, Ukraine, and graduated from the T.G. Shevchenko School of Art in 1999. Around 2000, Kadyrova traveled to Prague, and it was her first trip abroad. Alongside other visits and encounters, she saw an exhibition of Jiří Kovanda, which influenced her decision to become an artist. Today, her practice is recognised worldwide for her unique take on sculpture and her work with found material. Kadyrova interrogates the transformations of “modern matter”, often using tiles taken from destroyed or abandoned buildings. Her objects reflect on the consequences of human activities which are often far removed from their initial emancipatory ideals.
Zhanna Kadyrova is represented by the GALLERIA CONTINUA, San Gimignano, Beijing, Les Moulins, Habana, Rome and ZAHORIAN & VAN ESPEN, Bratislava, Prague. 

Elena Sorokina is curator and art historian, she was curator of the HISK (High Institute of Fine Arts, Belgium) 2017-2018. Between 2015-2017 she was curatorial advisor of documenta 14 in Athens/Kassel. She invited Jiří Kovanda to participate in the exhibition “Spaces of Exception”, a special project of the Moscow Biennial 2013. She curated “Resistance of Matter”, the solo exhibition of Zhanna Kadyrova at ZVE and Galleria Continua in 2019. In 2006, Kadyrova as a member of the newly established group REP participated in the exhibition “Contested Spaces” curated by Sorokina at the CUNY University in New York.

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