Petra Vargová belongs the generation of artists who entered the Czech art scene in the second half of the nineties. She studied at the Academy of Fine Art (AVU), where she participated at studios pursuing conceptual tendencies (Miloš Šejn) and multimedia work (Milan Knížák), until she settled in a studio for new media, being best suited to Art Naturel. At present she is the most important Czech female artist systematically using new technology in her work.
One of Vargová’s first works – Human Core Statue – was a transparent inflatable object which the viewer could enter, after which their movement was stabilised in a certain position by a system of inflatable cushions. Other viewers were thus able to see a statue with a human core through the transparent walls. This early, even classical, tangible though interactive, statue, is indicative of another direction taken by Vargová. From the start her interest was focused on the human body, more precisely on the intensive experience of subjective physicality, and on the possibility of its expression by means of technology. The video installation Monster (1996, premiered at the Zvon Biennale of Young Art) belongs to this category, in which the viewer is obliged to follow from immediate proximity a large projection surface featuring a swimmer, as well as the digital prints Pets (1996), 3D computer modelled objects with a surface texture reminiscent of an animal’s fur, and Stumps (1999), where Vargová uses a computer to transform 2D sketches into 3D objects, using her own scanned skin for their surface texture. Pets and Stumps work organically, though they arose only in accordance with the rules of computer programs. The resulting picture connects two modes of existence – the real (the texture of objects, human skin), and the virtual (the generation of a morphology) and characterises her extreme ambivalence toward the computer (pleasant-unpleasant).
Vargová also thematicises the physical experience of her own body in the works DNA (analogue photography, 1999), Secret Story (video loop, 2006) and Dead or Alive 2 (2001), a remake of a computer game in which she was transformed into a virtual warrior (this work later became part of the Rhizome ArtBase collection of the New York New Museum of Contemporary Art, presented on the internet).
The project Sphere (2001) for the Jiří Švestka Gallery represented the immediate interaction between the real and the virtual. By squeezing the tangible object of a sphere the viewer can control the picture of a sphere on the computer monitor, and by squeezing harder the virtual sphere explodes and the entire process begins again.
Another chapter of the artist’s work involves environments, be these virtual or material, in which an intensive sensuous experience is evoked: in Passive_6628 (2002, 3D stereometric projection), after donning polarised spectacles the viewer finds themselves in an environment of silently falling cherry blossom. In Sound Flowers (2007), they are again amongst morphologically stylised flowers, which are kinetic and upon being touched give off a light ringing sound and evoke the aestheticised experience of the northern winter landscape.
Recently Vargová’s has moved away from physicality in the direction of dematerialisation and purely visual perception. She is interested in the effect of colour and their juxtaposition and the random organisation of simple forms. This is again generated using computer algorithms. Formal freedom and the beauty of ideal forms (the circle) and the potential of infinity, which these open forms suggest, are crucial in her work.
Well worth a mention is the unique project entitled Blickarén (1998), which Vargová created in cooperation with Ellen Řádová for the exhibition The Art Work in Public Places, organised by the Soros Centre for Contemporary Art, Prague. This was a 30-minute projection on public television (ČT2), which was broadcast three days in a row late at night. It comprised a loop of audio-tinged animation of a yellow circular form which rhythmically extended and contracted. We could read the intensive, almost magnetic visual fascination of this loop as a commentary on the televisual interface. Vargová’s involvement with public media, which here figured as the genuine medium of a work of art, was completely unique and pioneering within the Czech environment.
Participation in Festivals:
2008 Hack.Fem.East Festival, Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, Berlin, Germany
2005 Entermultimadiale 2, Festival of Art and New Technologies, Prague, Czech Republic
2002 transmediale.02, Screening section, Berlin, Germany
2002 THE 18TH INTERNATIONAL SHORT FILM FESTIVAL HAMBURG, Bitfilm section, Hamburg, Germany
2002 Break 21, VI. International Festival of Young Emerging Artists, Ljubljana, Slovenia
2002 Ars Electronica 2002: UNPLUGGED, Screening section, Ars Electronica Center, Linz, Austria
1999 COMPUTER SPACE 99', XI.International New Media Forum, National House of Culture, Sofia, Bulgaria
2008 AiR, Kala Art Institute, Berkeley, USA
2007 Art and Technology AiR,Interactive Institute, Stockholm, Sweden
2001 Royal University College of Fine Arts (Kungliga Konsthögskolan), Stockholm, Sweden
2006(since) TransGenesis - Biotechnology Art Festival, Prague, Czech Republic
2007 Czech Radio Leonardo, Sound Flowers Exhibition Interview
2006 Czech Radio Leonardo, TransGenesis Festival Interview
2002 Czech TV2 Culture Magazine, Young Flash Exhibition Interview
2002 Arte TV, Dead or Alive 2
2001 Czech Radio 1 - Radiozurnal, Sphere Exhibition Interview
1998 Czech TV2, Blickarén
aktualne.centrum.cz/kultura/umeni/clanek.phtml (in Czech only)
artnews.org/artist.php (English resumé)
Interview with Petra Vargová:
(in Czech only)
2008 Kala Art Institute, Berkeley, California, USA - artist talk
2008 The Interactive Institute, Art and Technology Division, Stockholm, Sweden - artist talk
2007 Fringe#002, Kulturhuset, Stockholm, Sweden - public presentation
2006 300m3 Art Space, Gothenburg, Sweden - artists talk
2006 Valand School of Arts, Gothenburg, Sweden - artists talk & presentation
2006 The Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, Czech Republic - public presentation & lecture
2005 Centre d'art Passerelle, Brest, France - presentation
2004 Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Fine Art Teaching - artists talk
2002 Film and Media Forum, Barcelona, Spain - artists talk
1999 Computer Space 99', XI.International New Media Forum, Sofia, Bulgaria - presentation