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Last October, Karíma wrote me a letter to let me know about the kind of work she was involved in right then, where she also noted: “I miss a message, and a sense of enjoyment there.” This was meant as her commentary on the present condition of Czech Conceptual art, a scene of which she herself is also a part, though she has now been living for over a year in Berlin, at the Greenhouse. There, she moves in an art-oriented community named after one of the two existing chimpanzee species, bonobo. An important part of the social life of these chimpanzees is played, apart from sexual intercourse, by team work, a penchant for learning, and the sharing of food, all of which are also practices pursued by the Berlin community. Thus for instance, Karíma currently attends guitar lessons. In other words, this particular place, along with Berlin as a whole, have been furnishing bountiful impulses propitious to an overall transformation of Karíma´s approach to artistic creativity.

Her previous output was centered chiefly around a pre-defined system: for instance, her series 28x1209/2011/12 was inspired by instructive videos and urban legend stories dealing with practical applications of the principles of physics in the household. In the series, Karíma put to test 26 instructive manuals, some of which proved useful – such as No. 10, an instruction on how to secure a swing using the negative pressure air stream from a vacuum cleaner, or No. 11, an easy-to-assemble suspension system capable of supporting an array of bookshelves on “two books interlocked by mutually overlapping pages.”

Karíma´s exhibition Dear Valued Customers features a single work, a site-specific installation made of an ancient wooden beam, a burka-clad figure, sounds of the Berlin metro, a vase, and – with something of an overstatement – a painting (in fact, a washed primer with a pre-drawn Christmas pattern for embroidery).

How, then, should these disparate objects, set in this specific context, offering multiple variant explanations, be tackled by a person brought up by western civilization, accustomed to thinking within the boundaries of definite, simplified models? What we are confronted with here is, on the one hand, the standard motif of embroidery which cuts through the wooden beam and the burka, and which after all relates to the painting as well, and on the other, the fact of work with ornament, plus, not to forget, there are the various physical objects, each a fairly complex emblem in its own right. Thus the wooden beam is something Karíma has worked with for quite some time now, including a previous experience of coupling it with embroidery. Previously, these objects stood separately, adorned merely by more or less numerous abstractly-shaped stitches of needlework. In the case of Dear Valued Customers though, the old beam enters into a broader context, both by virtue of a decorative embroidery in the shape of a creeping vegetable stem with leaves shooting out of the top of the wooden beam, and spreading out like the branches of some primeval tree, like pillars of the universe; and also, as it is set here in the living space of that anonymous burka-clad person. In styling the burka, Karíma embroidered it with a specific motif of an Arabic ornament. Ultimately then, the beam and the burka become vehicles of a synthesis of the semantic contents of decorative needlework and the object to which it has been applied.

The sound, the vase and the painting are equivalent parts of the whole installation which sets things in mutual contrast, engenders a new environment, and confronts us with the task of setting all of this into a broader context of our own invention. In aesthetic terms, the installation is loosely inspired by Berlin´s neatly arranged shop windows. The show´s title, Dear Valued Customers, derives from a web site´s offer of new collections of women´s burkas. This stark juxtaposition of the undersoil of different cultures is set to infringe on our long-cultivated mindframes, and this particular approach may relate to the artist´s distant roots, to her seminal pattern of thought.

Karíma Al-Mukhtarová (b. in Prague, in 1989) graduated from the studio-department headed by Jiří Kovanda at Jan Evangelista Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem. She is currently in her third year of studies of Intermedia Confrontations, a department headed by Jiří David at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. She is winner of the ESSEL ART AWARD 2013.

The Studio of Conceptual and Intermedia Confrontation (later abbreviated to Studio of Intermedia Confrontation), a department at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague (AAAD), came to be newly headed by Jiří David, with Milan Salák as his assistant, in 2003. By the time of taking up his post at the AAAD, Jiří David already had a previous teaching experience as head of the Studio of Visual Communication at the Academy of Fine Arts (1994 – 2001).

Last year, his AAAD studio marked ten years of its existence, an occasion which entailed the publication of a catalogue, and the launching of an exhibition centered around the catalogue´s contents. A scheme of things, therefore, which may seem a bit inverted, as well as perhaps more than a bit complicated, yet one which actually tells a lot about the character of this particular art studio.

As its name suggests, the studio´s work is focused on critical thought, and therefore it has been, and continues to be, run along the lines of collective polemics, verbal and visual alike, of which the former has more often than not ended in an impassioned polemic between Jiří David and Milan Salák.

In 2009, the Personality of the Year poll organized by the magazine Reflex was won by Jiří David, as the most influential figure of the Czech art scene in the last two decades. In his approach to students, he has concentrated chiefly on cultivating the all-round scope of their intellectual horizons, a process in which he has never ceased to query them about the exact meaning of their pursuits and aims. He never misses an opportunity to engage in a debate, acting as a tireless commentator, in the positive sense of the term, on the situation of the Czech art scene. In this, he has had a most systematic opponent in the person of his assistant, Milan Salák, among other things also his former student (incidentally, more than a few of David´s former students have become involved in teaching). Milan is currently availing himself of a term-long sabbatical (as was Jiří David himself in 2008, when he was temporarily substituted in his post by Marek Meduna, the moving spirit behind the project of the studio´s own Galerie 207, subsequently managed by Luděk Rathouský; both of them also happen to be David´s former students). Milan´s interim stand-in is Petr Zubek.

Monika Doležalová