Orient Express From Eastern Helsinki (and Eastern Europe) with LOVE

Bratislava, mon amour

  • Alexandra Barth's studio
    Alexandra Barth's studio
  • Anna Grzelewska
    Anna Grzelewska
  • Michaela Spurná
    Michaela Spurná
  • With Jozef Kovalcik at Svetlana Fialova's exhibition last year in Zahorian & Van Espen
    With Jozef Kovalcik at Svetlana Fialova's exhibition last year in Zahorian & Van Espen
  • Matej Fabian, Hostile Takeover
    Matej Fabian, Hostile Takeover

Bratislava is one of my favorite cities. It is not the most beautiful city of Slovakia, though. Košice, Prešov and Bardejov are visually closer to my heart. But Bratislava is charming, energetic and the place to be these years. It is half a center and half periphery, too close to Prague and Vienna to be a magnet of creative people, but different enough to not become overshadowed by its neighboring more mainstream cities. It has a relaxed atmosphere and I must say Slovakian cuisine is one of the most underestimated cuisines internationally.

The Bratislava Academy of Fine Arts and Design is a flourishing institution and most of my friends and colleagues I know in the city have a connection to this school. I visit the city and the university at least once every year as I write a lot with a Slovakian philosopher, Jozef Kovalcik. He used to be the vice dean of the AFAD but now runs a national fund for culture. Together we have edited a book on the aesthetics of popular culture and now we are working on an article about outsider philosophers. Writing a scholarly article takes time and this one has been in the making already for 4 years.

For years I have been coming to Bratislava 1-3 times per year but since 2011 I have been here in the end of November and/or the beginning of December. I have so grown well aware of Bratislava’s Month of Photography. The French Institute has a great location in the center of the old town, but it has often also hosted some of the most interesting exhibitions of this event. This year’s treat was Bernard Plossu, one of the establishers of Les cahiers de la photographie. Plossu's photos were visual poetry on a very personal and sensitive level. (I wasn't lucky with my photos on this, though.)

I also visited the Slovak National Gallery and some other smaller exhibition spaces during my day of art (the rest of the trip is reserved for philosophy). One of the pearls was the Medium Gallery at AFAD, which showed inspiring photography by young talents like Anna Grzelewska (pic 2) and Michaela Spurná (pic 3).

In the evening I visited the studio of one of my favorite young painters, Alexandra Barth (pic 1). Barth represents the wave of contemporary pop created mostly by young females here. After all these years that I have been admiring it, I am astonished that it still doesn’t have a name. I’d call it Indie POP. Why Indie POP? It is, besides cubism (I am thinking mostly about Sonya Delaunay) and interior design somewhat full of echoes of pop art, but not in the traditional sense, where popular culture was an object of criticism or political carnevalism. In what I'd call Indie POP the paintings are actually crafty and witty subculture as much as they are 'art'. They are fashion and visual trash, the everyday taken to 2.0. We are talking about a wave of female energy surfing on hipsters, horror, visual capitalism and clean-cut design attitude, bravely beautiful and in the end often quite minimalist. Other artists that I have grown an appetite for in this ‘school’ include e.g. Svetlana Fialova (pic 4, from last trip to Bratislava in 2014), who sadly today works in Kosice (I have to visit her studio some other time). Countless of other talented artists could be mentioned, but the most important thing to remember is that this ‘school’ of painting and drawing will one day be history.

The last treat of the day was Matej Fabian’s Hostile Takeover finishing party in the quite recently (June) opened super charming mini bar / gallery Beastro Bar (Mikulášska 27). The flood of semi-trashy drawings from dead dictators to the ‘unknown soldiers’ of our everyday life made me feel at home (pic 5), without forgetting the nice staff / beer which made the atmosphere close to perfect. Well worth visiting.

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