Following last year’s pandemic break, PLATO presents what is already the seventh traditional artistic intervention on the theme of the Christmas tree. This time, though, is the first when the Christmas tree becomes a Christmas forest. The project titled The Need was designed by the members of the Spodní 27 Collective.
The Christmas Forest grows out of collective activities, participation, cooperation, solidarity, empathy, the need to serve and care, but also out of imagination, the interpenetration of art and life, reflections on the usefulness of art and its connection with social activism. The Ostrava-based collective Spodní 27 lives in a community in the socially dislocated area of the Jirská settlement of Přívoz city district. The collective lives in the area, or often stays there, specifically on Spodní Street in house no. 27. In August 2021, they organised a several-day event called Collective Castle at this address; it included building a castle out of wooden pallets. The structure became a temporary public space, a meeting place and a venue for cultural events. In building the castle, the collective had several goals: to bring the community together, to strengthen the awareness of their own value and the power of cooperation, to discuss with the community the possibilities of improving the site and their lives together, to fight racial prejudice, to connect the institutional-artistic world with the public, and to find a common language. The collective focused on these goals during the event, and it continues working towards them step by step.
In contemporary Czech society, countless needs of children from excluded localities can be identified. But what specifically do children from the Jirská settlement need? The Spodní 27 collective, in cooperation with the children themselves, has defined one of these needs to be a playground, which is missing in the Jirská settlement neighbourhood. And Christmas is a time of wishes and needs being fulfilled.
The collective has long met with the children on a neighbourhood basis. These encounters often turn into fun games. At one of them, the collective formulated the question of how the Jirská children imagined such an ideal playground. During the month of October, the children produced a large number of drawings and one of the most frequently drawn motifs was a crown. It’s a symbol they encounter every day in the Jirská settlement (and not only there) – on walls, in tattoo motifs or in children’s drawings. And the crown will also become the dominant element of the resulting intervention in PLATO. The collective started to develop sketches and 3D models based on the children’s drawings. The models will eventually be used to create the artwork as such – an object that will at the same time be play equipment. The Christmas forest will come to be by transporting and placing the work directly in the forest at Jirská settlement when the exhibition at PLATO is over.
This year’s Christmas exhibition at PLATO is therefore part of a longer-term process. In addition to the presentation of the mentioned drawings, sketches, models and photographs, an object / play equipment will gradually be created directly in the exhibition over the course of its one-month duration. All phases of the project will be recorded by TV Páteř and the resulting reportage will be published bit by bit.
The important elements of the artists‘ Christmas Forest are not only collective and community activities, collaboration and the creation of a real situation on a 1:1 scale, but also the stepping out of the gallery venue into the public space and the approach to authorship. The artists forming the collective come up with a concept, but their authorship becomes irrelevant; the implementation of the concept is done together. Rasheed Araeen, a British artist, theorist and curator born in Pakistan believes that “artists are endowed with a specific imagination and have the power to initiate processes useful to different communities.” According to Tania Bruguera, Cuban artist, activist and initiator of Arte Útil, “useful” art can be characterized by several criteria: “it brings a new social ‘use’ / it challenges the system in which it operates (at different levels) / it is ‘time-specific’ / it replaces artists with initiators, and spectators with users / it has practical and beneficial effects for the people using it / it seeks a balance while adapting to changing conditions / it rediscovers a system of change in aesthetics.”
Kolektiv Spodní 27 is a group of artists active in the Jirská settlement in Ostrava in 27, Spodní Street. The collective is open to its environment and aims at destroying barriers between art production and audiences as well as between socially-excluded locations and privileged Ostrava neighbourhoods. Kolektiv Spodní 27 wants to create useful and understandable art while not reproducing mass art; to create non-consumerist, participative art; to not narrate but communicate. Site-specific art cannot be created without people, who are an inherent part of the environment without which they can't identify with the art scene.