“It is an action against lethargy, disinterest, a small revolution that activates, re-finds human sensibility”
The Bojárt Market in Bratislava has been a traditional shopping place since 1983. It is known for its exceptional postmodern architecture designed by Ivan Matušík. Many of the retailers sell products they have grown themselves, but there are also small shops offering services such as shoe repair, knife sharpening or tailoring. Shopping in the market is not anonymous or impersonal like in many other places. Here it becomes a specific social event. For many older people, the market is one of the few places where they can meet people and talk to them. For many it is the only place of daily social interaction.
The regular life of the market was disrupted from 21 to 23 May 2015 by an unusual happening: aiming to attract new shoppers, tranzit.sk together with Czech artist Kateřina Šedá initiated a game inspired by the Fort Boyard TV show, and invited everybody to participate.
Lýdia Pribišová, curator of the initiative, tells us more about it:
Why did you decide to organise a social game at the Bojart Market, how did you come up with this idea?
Lýdia Pribišová: I’ve been observing the destiny of the market for a long time, I remember it even from my childhood, as I used to go there with my grandmother. Then I started to be interested in the market again, when, together with Judit Angel, director of tranzit.sk, we were looking for the new space for tranzit.sk. We were guided by my friend, architect Martin Zaiček, who was working on a concept for the market together with a group of young activists from different fields – Dominika Belanská, Branislav Bibel, Jakub Lazarčík, Zuzana Žúžiová – at the invitation of the city officials from Nové mesto city district. Their aim was to develop a strategy in order to improve the market, to unify its space and to make it more attractive for new vendors and for the young generation of buyers. Unfortunately, they are not working on it anymore. In that period there were rumors in Bratislava about the market closing down because of its old climatization system. Fortunately, the city finally found a solution to reconstruct it. In general, the market is a unique space with specific and authentic retro atmosphere which is hard to see in other places in Bratislava. My motivation was to raise attention on the market, to stimulate the general public to visit it more frequently and, also, to draw the local government’s attention on the market’s value, which they should preserve or even enhance.
When Kateřina came to the market, it reminded her about something. After some days she realized that the architecture of the market and the social atmosphere are similar to Fortress Boyard, an abandoned fortress in France, but also the name of a TV series, which was very popular in Czech Republic and Slovakia in the nineties. It was the first reality show in our countries. The market looks from the outside as an impenetrable, desolate fortress, and inside, as a particular reality show space. It was calling for finding out the symbolic keys, which could open it. The game had this function.
How did you choose to work with Kateřina Šedá?
LP: I know Kateřina Šedá’s projects for a long time, for many years I wished to work with her. She often works with problematic places, with some complicated social situation, with the peripheral places to which she is trying to bring her help, to find a new quality of these places and conditions. That is why I thought that the market could be challenging for her, and that her artistic project could bring about some change. Her projects have the capacity of changing people’s point of view and behavior in the long run, raising their sensitivity and even level of happiness. I admire that, in the beginning, all her actions seem to be impossible to realize, but, in the end, she manages them all, bearing, throughout the process, a high respect for the participants.
Could you please shortly describe the game mechanism?
LP: The participants of the game received a catalogue with 214 images of architectonic details and objects from the market which are not for sale. The design was quite close to the shopping centers flyers’ aesthetics, but, unlike these ones, the catalogue offered objects which were not for sale. It presented talismans, cups and other personal things such as jewellery, moustaches, tattoos… The objects were divided in categories: Household articles, Jewellery, Literature, Care about the soul, Care about the body, Money, Furniture, House and Garden. People had to answer simple questions about the objects, but, in order to have the correct answer, they had to observe the shops very closely, and sometimes even the vendors. They could start on Thursday morning and had time to find the answers until Friday evening. We had more than 150 registered participants (we got a nice, wide room from the market as the office/headquarter), and more than 60 of them brought us back the filled in catalogues. We were quite surprised that a lot of them had amazingly high scores. That’s why 23 participants were invited to the final event on Saturday morning. After few more eliminatory steps, we finally had our winners.
Who did you intend to attract in the game?
LP: Our idea was to design a project, which enhances communication between vendors and buyers, which helps them to create a closer relationship. In the very beginning, we wanted to bring to the market people from the young generation, as the main customers are pensioners. Then we thought that it would be impossible, since close by there is a shopping mall and the young generation prefers this kind of places. So we designed the game for all generations, but with a hidden focus on the older people, with an intention to bring there even more elderly buyers. Surprisingly, the young people were keen on participating in the game. The elderly were either too shy or they didn’t believe that they could win.
How did people react, participants and non-participants?
LP: The vendors liked the project very much. It took them out of their usual, routine work and it showed their importance. During the game, they became the well-known, key personalities and they were proud about their role. They became fans of the competitors and they gave them important pieces of advice. Now they are asking us to do something similar in the future. However, the process of convincing them to participate was quite long, two months before the game we spoke to all of them, and only one month before the game we convinced them to let us photograph their personal belongings or parts of their body. We had to explain again and again why it is so important that they participate.
The people who participated also liked the game very much and they did it mostly for fun and not for the prizes. As many of the questions were funny, they laughed most of the time.There were also many observers who had maybe less time (the participation in the game took at least 5-6 hours or even the whole day).
The project was also very attractive for the journalists, we had many interviews taken by magazines, newspapers and radio stations.
Who are the winners and what did they win?
LP: The three winners are from the young generation, with ages between 21 and 28 yo. Eva Mrekajová (1st prize) is a law graduate in Slovakia and Netherlands, and she liked the project so much that she offered to Kateřina Šedá her collaboration on her future projects. Alena Kalivodová (2nd prize) is a veterinary student, and Lukáš Kováč (3rd prize) is an archeology graduate. They won prizes of 600, 400 and respectively 300 euro, which they could spend until 25.06.2015 only in the market. So the vendors become rewarded too.
What was the outcome of the intervention, besides the winners and their prizes?
LP: The outcome of the project is of symbolic value: Kateřina facilitated the communication in the market, she made it more attractive. People learned more about the market, they found out that it has a significant postmodern architecture, which Bratislava should be proud of. The participants now perceive the public city space differently. It could also motivate another artist to design here some projects.
The important thing was that almost all participants were from a non-artistic background. This way, tranzit.sk succeeded to promote a very innovative and experimental form of contemporary art to the wider public. People could begin to be more interested in art and in culture in general.
Why is a cultural platform such as tranzit.sk organizing a community game?
LP: The community game nurses positive social behavior, a fair play feeling. For tranzit.sk it is important to build a new public, to attract people from outside the usual art community. We actually had two main goals: to attract new buyers from the young generation, who are interested in the authentic, specific local market ambient, and thus to support local small business; and to increase the interest in innovative art. The people became part of the art process, they were co-creators. The project was realized in the public space, so it had a lot of visitors.
What differentiates this initiative from other, consumer competitions?
LP: The difference lies in the competition’s subversive character: it was in a way a mimicry, as it used the structure, principles, design and language of the commercial chains’ similar campaigns, but it promoted very personal things which are not for sale.
What makes it an art intervention?
LP: Kateřina Šedá often likes to declare that her projects are not art, but something else. She uses a seemingly simple, often funny language and that’s why she is able to involve the people who are not interested in art at all. In result, they find out that it is actually a form of art, and they start to create a positive relationship towards art. Art consists of the feeling of serendipity, heureka moment, the feeling that the light in your head was switched on. And this sensation is here. The deeper meaning is to reinforce humanity, the urge to behave and act positively. The work can be considered an action against lethargy, disinterest, a small revolution that activates, re-finds human sensibility. We should look more around ourselves to find hidden qualities of simple things.
Interview by Andreea Gurau