KRA* (Kravín Rural Arts)
*KRA = “floe” or “iceberg”, perhaps too obvious allusion to ecological problematics?
*KRÁ = “caw” or “kaah” relates to raven as a symbol of art, playfulness and creativity. Ravens, among the few wild animals, make their own tools to play with; raven in mythology is often a trickster, who disobeys rules and conventional behavior.
*KRAVÍN = cowhouse. Because it is to cows we are indebted for this place.
The base is the place! – former cowhouse at the side of the village Hranice u Malče. Here an artistic residency center is emerging, dedicated to the development of ecological media art, with local, as well as international scope. Its program will be situated across the disciplines: artists of all crafts, scientists, writers, ecologists, craftsmen, as well as local denizens. We would like to create a space for meetings, play, and experimenting in rural environment; space for crossing the borders between existing and imaginary. Space, where various groups could share their experiences and enrich themselves – inhabitants, residents, and visitors.
Hranice u Malče is located at the foothill of Železné hory area (Iron Mountain), in Vysočina region of the Czech Republic, in a natural protected area. The closest city is Chotěboř (6 km). The village has abour 50 inhabitants, the administrative center Maleč with surrounding villages more than 700. The closest shop and pub are in Maleč (cca 1,5 km). The former cowhouse is located at the border of the village. It used to be a part of the farming estate and like the other farms in the neighbouring villages (Víska, Předboř, Lány…) administered from Maleč castle.
Kravín is the space, clearly marked by various historical periods – once a part of the larger farming compound, which was in 1862 bought by František Ladislav Rieger, important Czech politician, economist, and political writer, active in patriotic circles. It remained in the assets of the family until 1948 when it was nationalized by the communists. The cowhouse in Hranice was then administered by the agricultural union (družstvo), which used the stables for storing the material, the ground floor of the residential house for offices and floor was rented to tenants. Several needless walls were built, and all the floors bathed in concrete. In total these changes contributed to the damage of the building in aesthetical as well as functional way. At the beginning of the 1990s, the Maleč castle was given back to family, and a half of the cowhouse with it… That we gained in 2009, and year afterwards also the second half, with the aim of establishing a cultural center here. Since then we have been disclosing the historical layers, brick by brick, taking away barrow after barrow full of concrete…
The building (obviously from 1898, but probably some of its parts are somewhat older) is actually formed by two joint buildings: house and stables.* The main entrance into the house was in its front. It went into the office and through the hall into another two rooms inhabited by workers, and to a former coachman’s flat. From the groundfloor the staircase leads to the cellar and to the first floor. In the first floor the flat of the farm administrator was located, with lounge and two side rooms, and guest rooms on the other side of the hall. All the rooms are vaulted. From the first floor, another staircase leads to the attic.
From the house there was a door directly to the stables; these are walled today. The stables are vaulted on two rows of columns. The smaller and evidently newer space at the end was used as a heifers’ stables and cutting room. The building has a large, hand-made wooden roof and its attic is lit from the dormer windows and a row of smaller windows on sides. The facade is welted with the jagged belt of red bricks.
In the past, three other buildings comprised the enclosed whole – sheep stables, grange and barn, which burned down after it was struck by the lightning at the beginning of the 1990s. The opposite house, today private living, was used as an administrator’s house and sheep stables. The grange on the fourth side used to be one-floor brick building, today adjusted into house for living. Our neighbour, who grew up here and whose father used to work on the farm, remembers a row of poplar trees in the middle of the courtyard. Also many other inhabitants of Hranice and Maleč used to work on the farm in various periods.
In the early Middle Ages, the Libická path used to pass through this area, connecting Bohemia and Moravia. On the nearby hill Hradiště perhaps a watch settlement was located, and the customs house on the side of Hranice (which actually means “border” in Czech). Although lately the existence of the path is disputed by some of the historians, its existence as a local legend is perhaps more important…
*We extract the information about how the buildings looked like from the document Velkostatek Maleč – Inventář (Dr. Erik Bouza, Lada Koupilová, 1960; Hranice a Velkostatek v Malči. Dvůr Hranice, dated March 5, 1937, created by Ing. Josef Kruml 29/04/1937). It is kept in State regional archive in Zámrsk. So it describes the conditions of the end of the 1930s.
How do we plan to use the buildings
After the step by step reconstruction, the part of which is the removing of the unpropitious past alterations, we plan to create two flats in the groundfloor for residents – artists, writers, researchers as well as ordinary visitors. In the first floor the library is being established in the large hall, with books about local history, ecology, gardening, media, and arts…, accessible for residents, by request also for common visitors. Here the private living and working space is located. After the reconstruction of the attic and the roof, an additional accomodation will be made, studios for visitors, artists, lecturers, participants of various events.
The stables are an ideal space for combining a number of activities. Except from the workshops (for working with wood, metal and another materials) and beekeepers’ working space a flexible space for organizing a number of public events will be kept here: exhibitions, discussions, screenings, lectures, concerts, workshops, meetings, celebrations…
We plan to creat a (bio-) cafe here with facilities in the former heifers’ stables, offering a number of local specialities: home-made bread, honey, apple cider, slivovitz from yo-yo plum trees, cheeses and another diary products, vegetables, mushrooms… A place for pleasant meetings under the cowhouse roof.
The garden was overgrown and dilapidated, partly it was used for storing the building material and agricultural machines and tools… However, a part of the garden was used by tenants for growing vegetables and fruits – we discovered the leftovers of the strawberry beds. There used to be horses in the wooden shed, and pig in the cote and perhaps also some dogs later. It was surprising to find out, how many kinds of plants and animals found their habitat here: snakes, snails, lizards, partridges, hedgehogs, various birds and insects. That is also why we decided to keep a part of the garden wild. But there is still enough space for gardening, a new orchard with various old and local types of fruit trees, natural vegetables and herbs garden. Three bee colonies already live in the garden, and the other hives will follow, the less traditional ones, created according to old and new construction principles.
Garden of art tools
A part of the land we would like to change into a publicly accessible garden, and at the same time a place for work of artists, natural art laboratory. Also a place for rest, play, meeting and experimenting, a stop on the road… The garden – laboratory will be created during the discussions with the locals, with residency artists and experts. On the spot where the barn used to be we would like to build a passive house-wathtower, used as an ecological-artistic study center, powered by solar and wind energy.
We received contribution from Belgian art group Various Artists for buing 28, 57 m2 of this garden. The group thus became the first contributor of the Garden of Art Tools.
Idea and program
The program of KRA center will be aimed at the interconnection of ecology, art and actual media. Except from the art and other creators residencies, it will include also various other activities. We want to start from the surrounding rural and agricultural environment, and combine the local knowledge with the possibilities of actual technologies and media.
One of the main themes is the disappearing of the ecological and cultural diversity of the countryside. We are interested in local traditions, but not as a nostalgic reminder of the past nor as tourist atraction. We want to use the traditional methods and practices for creating new, actual things. The art residency center based in the rural space is obliged to work with various different and often conflicting cultures – beekeepers, hunters, fishermen, cyclists, footballers and their fans, normal inhabitants lacking any interest in anything close to art whatsoever… Each of these groups has its specific knowledge, and KRA space could work as a certain conjunction, a contact zone, the activity of which is constantly metamorhposing.
Our activities can be divided into several areas:
• Eco-artistic practice: is dedicated to DIY work with media, and its integral part is sharing of the resources and tools. Old and newly developed tools could be focused for example on the use of natural resources (solar, wind energy), monitoring the natural processes, used for observing the bees, gardening, landscape history, researching the local recipes, historical and alternative ecological building methods, the history of agriculture and the treatment of soil in general…
• Lidová univerzita Kravín / People’s university Kravín: publicly accessible lectures, workshops, courses – with participation of artists and experts from various disciplines, local inhabitants of all ages -, focused on working with image and sound, natural materials, gardening, beekeeping, mushrooming, local history…, its part could be:
- Kino na beton: casual summer outside film and video projections, with live music, sound improvisations…
- autumn marching band festival: local bands and those from elsewhere, playing in various configurations in landscape, marching on the old paths – perhaps traditional festival, but at the same time a bit different…
- walks and talks: villages, meadows, woods, hills; stories, memories, art interventions, sharing the stories of the landscape, various ways of documenting and mapping of the path…
• Informal neighbourly meetings
While another residency program are usually restricted on a certain group of disciplines, we try to connect various approaches to ecology and culture. Residents from any field should in their projects reflect the environment, eventually involve the local inhabitants (or let themselves be involved in theirs), stories, activities.
The residency program urges us to ask questions: How can artists participate in a sustainable life of local community? How can they reflect and use new technologies and approaches as well as changes in the environment. What alternative and meaningful use for abandoned countryside buildings can we find together?
Our space is open to artists from various disciplines, using various tools and media (electronics, video, sound, performance, text, sculpture, architecture, plants or another organisms…). But we are interested in artists who are develop longer-term projects, and are able to modify their work in a dialogue with the environment. We expect experiments, which do not have to necessarily lead to installation or exhibition, but should contribute to the environment. The length of the residencies will be scheduled individually, based on the planned activities. We also welcome theoreticians and researchers from various fields and disciplines, interested in the dialogue at the border of disciplines.
We do not understand ecological only in the sense of using the natural materials or dealing with the pollution of the environment. Ecology can be taken as a critical and interdisciplinary approach towards the surrounding world, and an alternative way of creating and sustaining communities. According to French philosopher and psychologist Félix Guattari, the world has to be perceived from the perspective of three ecologies: social, mental, and environmental (Three Ecologies, 1989). Guattari also believed, that aesthetical praxis in connection with science and technology could offer the most efficient answer to environmental questions. Or differently: according to Matthew Fuller, the new art methodologies are opening a space for “a meta-antidiscipline that is broken, twitchy and brilliant”. The actual advanced art forms and ecology perhaps share a certain subversive potential – or a revolutionary way of thinking. “From an ecological viewpoint, the reversal of organic evolution is the result of appalling contradictions between town and country, state and community, industry and husbandry, mass manufacture and craftsmanship, centralism and regionalism, the bureaucratic scale and the human scale.” Wrote in 1964 Murray Bookchin alias Lewis Herber.
Ecology is becoming an attractive alternative life-style especially of the inhabitants of bigger cities. City bees are said to produce more honey than the rural ones, and city people obviously consume more products from “farmers’ markets” than village people. How does and could countryside look like? A space for spending weekends for people working in the cities? Rural open-air museum, keeping and periodically animating traditions long since dead? Or are there alternative visions of living countryside, to which also ecological media artists could contribute – as a new and somewhat strange group of villagers, who possibly bring a useful corpus of knowledge and skills?
Ecological media artists – young/old/amateurs/professionals/you/us… – create a new aesthetics based on the sensitive approach to the specific places. It is an open field of research, its methods and aims changing in time. Ecological media art combines in manifold ratios the elements of ecology, media and arts. On one hand it is firmly rooted in various local communities, on the other it is movable in an internationally connected network of allied initiatives. Its endeavour is to improve the situation in the given place, but at the same time feel as a part of global processes.
With KRA initiative, we would like to make these themes a part of the general public discussion. To involve the locals, international artists and visitors in our program, not as passive audience, but as active partners and co-creators of the project, together making change in our living environment.