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6. 5. 2011, 13:20

Daniela Pařízková is involved in the preparations of what is already her third edition of the Prague Quadrennial (PQ). In 2003, she was in charge of organizing the accompanying program, and four years ago she was the main coordinator of PQ. This year, she will participate in the preparation of the extensive festival of scenography in the capacity of executive director. In the following interview, Daniela Pařízková speaks about the history and tradition of PQ, its position in the theatre world, and its goals.

What is the position of the Prague Quadrennial in comparison to similar events held abroad?
PQ is unique in the context of similar events – it is the only one to focus on the visual side of contemporary theatre and the performing arts. Unlike other large events focusing on the visual arts, PQ has always, since its inception, been “grounded” in theatre. With the evolution of contemporary art, the last several years of the Quadrennial have naturally shifted away from traditional theatre and towards performance, installation, and visual events; still, its main purpose remains the presentation of the visual aspect of theatre: theatre design, scenography, costume, lighting and sound design, as well as multi-media, so frequently used today - but which nonetheless must always be used as part of a performance.

Is there in fact a comparable event anywhere abroad?
I believe there is only one event in the world working in the same field, World Stage Design (an international exhibition of staging, costume, sound and lighting design). This is a relatively new exhibition, however – it has thus far been held only twice – between editions of the Prague Quadrennial, meaning that it is also held every four years. At WSD, a jury makes decisions concerning participating artists, selecting them after an open call for entries. In contrast to WSD, the Prague Quadrennial is based mainly on national representation – in this respect it is similar to the Venice Biennale; then we also further complement the national shows with our own curatorial projects. PQ is nonetheless exceptional also in terms of scope, as the national exhibitions count exhibitions from over sixty countries; in all its projects, artists from almost eighty countries participate in PQ. 5,000 professionals participated in the last Prague Quadrennial; we had more than 30,000 visitors over 11 days. I think that no other event in the Czech Republic attracts as many foreign visitors.

What makes PQ important for professionals worldwide? What is it that draws them to Prague to participate in this exhibition and the events related to it for two weeks?
Alongside the WSD mentioned above, the Prague Quadrennial is the only event where they can meet and place their work within the context of the work of other artists, while at the same time presenting it to the general public. As a rule, in theatre actors are the “protagonists”, or perhaps the director, but the authors of the visual aspect of a performance remain in the background, although this aspect has lately been gaining in importance. And it is precisely the scenographers and other creators of the visual side of theatre that the Prague Quadrennial brings to the fore. At the same time, these artists can see the work of their colleagues here and meet with them, as a large number of the artists attend in person. These encounters are important for them, as are the discussions that take place, often giving rise to future collaborations and new projects.

An important part of the PQ is the space allotted to students. Has this been the case ever since the Quadrennial was first founded?
A number of participating professionals are in fact themselves professors or lecturers who teach at academies, and so they bring their students along, to present their work in the student section. For the first time, students presented their work at the PQ in 1975, when it was a kind of “off-section”. However, back then organizers found that they formed an interesting counter-point to the professional section, and so in the following Quadrennial the student section was in fact one of the main sections. Student work takes up an ever-greater part of the PQ, it is a vibrant, not to say elemental part of our festival. At the last Quadrennial, students formed one of the key themes, and Scenofest was conceived as an extensive educational project, with workshops, lectures, performances and seminars. It will also take place this year. Although the student section will no longer be the main part, Scenofest and its programs will be open for approximately  1,500 students from all over the world.

Do the responses of the students indicate that this way of becoming aware of scenography projects from various parts of the world is interesting to them?
Apart from large countries like the UK or the USA, where you can find a number of schools and a whole range of approaches to the teaching of scenography and theatre in general, most countries have one or two schools of this kind. Students thus have a relatively narrow outlook and limited access to the subject. When they come to PQ, they can see the approaches used in 60 countries, of a thousand other artists, thus expanding their horizons vastly. The most frequent response of students to the past Quadrennials was that it was only here that they understood all the things that scenography can actually do, that it can consist of a great range of approaches of which they had until then only suspected, or which they had not known at all. Moreover, they bring their own work which is then submitted to the critical feedback of international professionals. 

What makes PQ attractive to visitors, both local and foreign tourists?
Already in the last three Quadrennials the festival has always included events which would draw visitors from outside the circles of theatre professionals. Our aim is to show scenography in different ways than the national presentations, to put it in the context of the city as such.  This will be even more pronounced this year, for we will have art projects made specifically for the streets of Prague, for its squares and often obscure nooks, so that through them even a tourist will be able to discover Prague in a different way than usual. What is more, we will take viewers out of the centre, to areas few tourist guidebooks invite them, to places such as Bohnice or Holešovice. We would like to make Prague come alive with culture, just as Venice does during the Biennale. Still, even the national exhibitions have in recent years been prepared with the view that they will be visited also by non-professional viewers; it has long ceased to be simply an exhibition of mock-ups and designs, often the exhibits are very interactive.

The Quadrennial also has child visitors in mind...
The project PQ for Children has two parts, one linked directly to the national exhibitions, where we prepared an adventurous journey through the exhibition for children. They will receive a plan of the exhibition, and at several selected expositions they should complete tasks, which help them explore what each exhibit is about. We also prepared several small workshops where they can try out various techniques in order to understand what scenography is about, and to learn to work with space. The second aspect is a key one for us, as it offers children the experience of creating something. Each edition of the Quadrennial addresses a specific theme, which we send to schools who register for cooperation, together with dramaturgical and educational materials. According to our outlines, children prepare their projects which they then bring to the exhibition. Last time for instance they were assigned the theme of a Czech coat, and the things they managed to create out of various materials were in the end much admired even by professionals. Children’s imagination is so boundless that they were a match for the experience of professionals. Children continue to be important for us also because if they participate in the PQ, they will grow to become an informed public, returning to future editions of the Quadrennial.

How do you finance such an extensive cultural event as PQ?
PQ is an event officially held by the Czech Republic, organized by the Ministry of Culture, which regularly sets aside funds from its budget. The funds from the state now form about 40 % of the PQ budget. This means above all that we have continuity in the organization of the event, and enables us to pursue further grant money. The program Culture 2000, for instance, which awarded the special Intersections project together with other European partners a grant of 1.5 million Euro, in fact requires 50 percent co-financing. Among our other sources are foundations and grant programs both in the Czech Republic and abroad. Our great traditional supporter is the American foundation Trust for Mutual Understanding; together with two other grants from the U.S.A. we have more than 1 million CZK from American sources this year. It is important for us that we may show eventual Czech supporters that even partners abroad are willing to invest such major sums of money into PQ. We are also recipients of the support of the foreign culture institutes in Prague, and among our traditional supporters is UNESCO, which grants us subsidies for the participation of economically under-developed countries. However, what is most difficult is achieving private funding. Regardless of the present economic crisis, PQ has the disadvantage in being held in four-year cycles, for thus we cannot offer sponsors the continuous cooperation which they are primarily interested in. We thus have to renew our cooperation for each edition of PQ. Among our traditional partners is the City of Prague; however, their partnership has not been as substantial as we would hope for. The city should understand that cultural tourism is an important phenomenon – a perspective embraced by a whole range of major European capitals. Even the state contribution nevertheless provides but an illusory guarantee of the continuity of the Quadrennial; for instance this year we had to struggle hard for it. If we did not already have some funding from abroad, which showed the great significance of this event, then very likely there would have been no PQ, for the cuts affected every field. And the state support for the PQ is a substantial sum, which could help a number of projects if it did not go to PQ. This year, there were even thoughts that this edition of PQ would be cancelled, and only the next one held. However, we have fortunately succeeded in explaining to the Ministry of Culture that you cannot break a forty-year long tradition, as this would probably break all of the contacts we have abroad, among other things. 

How did the Quadrennial come to be, and how did it evolve over the 12 editions that have already been held?How could it evolve in the future?
The Prague Quadrennial emerged in response to the striking success of Czech scenography abroad during the 1960s. At the Biennial in Sao Paolo, then the most significant event in the area of scenography, they won the highest award several times in a row. The organizers of the Biennial started to consider an alliance with a partner in Europe, in order to secure a higher European presence for the future. At that time, the Czech scene was a Mecca for European scenography. Since this was the 1960s, the country was favourable towards international cooperation, and the first edition of the Quadrennial was held in Prague in 1967. The very first year was a success, with 25 countries participating, as well as drawing rather large numbers of the general public. Still, until the early 1990s the PQ was perceived chiefly as a specialist event, targeted at a specific audience. However, it was also attributed (and is attributed to this day) a certain significance in that it brought to Czechoslovakia the work of artists from the West, many of whom attended personally. After 1989 we had to look for ways in which to open the Quadrennial up to the general public, in which we have succeeded. It is a path we would like to pursue in the future. We will continue to focus on the fact that we do not represent theatre alone, but also projects on the border of theatre and the fine arts, theatre and cinema, between theatre and architecture, projects that use the devices and visual language of a variety of art forms, but which still in some way relate to the use of space. Prague needs a culture event which takes place all over the city and which draws both foreign experts and audiences, being barrier-free in terms of language. The Quadrennial could be for Prague what the Biennale of fine arts is to Venice, where the city lives with art over the course of four months, with people from all over the world flocking it in the pursuit of culture.

Interview was conducted by Markéta Horešovská, editor ČTK