This week, Kafkadesk spoke with Petra Widžová, co-founder of the fascinating “Artmat – Automat na Umění” project – an initiative that proposes to refurbish old vending machines to turn them into an open-air window into the work of promising young Czech artists.
Hi Petra! So tell us, how did you first get the idea of launching Artmat?
My colleague Josefína Frýbová and I were always thinking about new ways of connecting people with contemporary art, and we stumbled upon some project similar to Artmat in Germany. That’s when we thought: “Awesome, let’s do it our own way in the Czech Republic and present young talents of the contemporary art scene!” The difference between the German project is the concept: We go through a rather strict curatorial choice of artists, and pick those we think are talented and have some great future ahead of them. In this sense, the mini art format, always signed and created in limited amount, has its value.
Could you briefly explain the entire process of Artmat, from the machine refurbishment to the end product?
We buy old vending machines – former cigarette machines for instance – mostly from old bazaars or on online platforms. We then try to find some workshop that still knows how to repair them and, during that time, also start making inquiries about where we could place them. We also create the curated content of the boxes, write curatorial texts about artists and handle everything from production, finances, PR and events, etc. basically just us two. The art presented in the boxes is created in limited editions and is changed about four times a year. Each edition showcases five artists. The end product is also packed by us and then distributed to the machines.
How do you select the artists and creators you promote?
We do a strict curatorial selection, as stated above. We like to show the diversity of approaches to art, graphic design and illustration. We also love to play with concept and possibilities brought about by the very format of the boxes. We mostly collaborate with students of art universities or young emerging artists.
Do you know of similar initiatives elsewhere in Europe?
Yes, there is a huge project similar to this one in Germany, and we’ve also heard of something in the U.S.
Can you tell us a bit about your and Josefina’s background?
I’m a graduate of curatorial studies at the University of Jan Evangelista Purkyně in Ústí nad Labem, and work as cultural manager and independent art curator. Josefína, for her part, studied art history and works as production manager for Art Festival M3 / Art in Space and for the residency program at Bubec center and as an independent curator. Together, we also founded the gallery Vitríny Frýdlantská and the festival Open Studios Prague.
Any plans for the future?
Sure! We plan on continuing working on our podcast and organising workshops connected with the works of the artists from each editions. We also plan on expanding abroad and preparing more diverse types of machines.