Urban Archive (2018)

As the city of Prague embraces tourism and creates space for stag parties and Thai massage parlours, as the continuous parties and impossible crowds of people all try to take the same photograph of historical monuments, it is becoming more and more apparent that the residents are moving further and further away from the city centre and taking with them any semblance of the city's authentic life. The gaps they leave behind become AirBnB rentals, increasing the capacity for tourism and providing the owners with more and more money, the process self-replicating. As it currently stands, there are already around 14,000 AirBnB properties available, encouraging the rise of the souvenir shop and other imitation ‘cultural’ attractions at the expense of authenticity. Neon signs and garish decoration distorting the original architecture and character of the streets.

In contrast is the community of residents that still live in the centre, communities that know all of their members, connecting with each other in family-run restaurants or in members-only clubs. They exist in streets that aren't overtaken by tourism, that don't offer the same fridge magnets and 'I Heart Prague' t-shirts available in every other shop. Their streets still have a semblance of 'original' character and an amicable atmosphere but unfortunately, this is slowly disappearing, making it an important subject matter of the residency and my work.

As a part of the residency with the Prague Biennale, I was invited to create a new body of work to be exhibited in their Urban Skanzen exhibition alongside other selected Czech artists, held in the Clam-Gallas Palace in central Prague. The term ‘skanzen’ originally refers to open-air museums, but in this context, however, is a more sensitive, yet derogatory description of attractive historical parts of cities where the excessive inflow of tourism has deprived the city of authentic life. In response to the subject matter, I created the Urban Archive, an installation that combines a breadth of field research conducted during my month-long residency there.

The Urban Archive functions on three levels: one of domestic space, one of personal experience and one of quiet protest. While each is distinctive, the boundaries are undefined, allowing them to exist symbiotically and simultaneously through the same materials at the same time.

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The Clam-Gallas Palace was initially built for the Neapolitan viceroy Johann Wenzel von Gallas and served as the primary city residence for the Gallas family, and then the Clam-Gallas family, from 1747. Located on the Royal Route through the centre of Prague, this prime example of baroque architecture is currently the headquarters of the Prague City Archives. My intention for the exhibition, therefore, was to create an archive that became a temporary addition to this municipal collection of information, an archive of traditional domesticity.

Using a hand drawn map of Prague as a starting point, I began mapping destinations and routes that I had taken through my own experiences, marking locations of personal importance or highlighting specific tramlines or buildings. Complimented by documentation of isolated urban details, these subjective notations eventually encapsulated networks of local stories as I embedded myself further into the local community of Central Prague. The map functions as a record of experience and datamining that then disperses itself throughout the environment of a bedroom, reproduced on domestic objects and amongst the household items gifted to the installation by the people I met.

The installation, on first impression, could appear to be yet another AirBnB apartment appearing in an available space, but I wanted it to form the basis of a quiet protest - a reinstatement of authentic domesticity in the city centre, even if only temporarily. Including the wardrobe found in the hidden recesses of the Clam-Gallas Palace, and the bed donated by a particularly insightful resident, every item used within the installation was given to me by somebody that lived within central Prague, either before the exhibition opened or during the opening event itself.  The objects become totems of authentic life in a space where this no longer exists, in a district where this is quickly disappearing. 

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