NJME: 4AM Forum for architecture and media

4AM Forum for architecture and media is currently situated and operates in the culture space of Praha in Brno. In 2010 members of 4AM started to come up and push through topics associated with architecture, art, politics and social accountability. Between January 2011 and December 2012 they ran Gallery of Architecture. Since the beginning they have critically analyzed and questioned social issues associated with urban living in their shows and events. Beside that they organize concerts, discussions, workshops and they invite foreign guests and experts to Brno. Wide range of their activities comes from the idea of 4AM as a platform that virtually and physically bridges various professions and opinions.

I was interested in how and why was 4AM founded and how do its members see its management. How did their priorities change since the start, how can one finance organization such as theirs and how do their plans and orientations evolve.

I have interviewed Šárka Svobodová and Jaroslav Sedlák. Other members of 4AM are: Petra Hlaváčková, Barbora Šedivá, Jakub Kopec, Lucie Valdhansová, Prokop Holoubek, Tomáš Hlaváček, Roman Čerbák, Klára Eliášová, Soňa Borodáčová, Jonáš Kucharský, Jáno Podracký and Zdeněk Tomášek.

Barbora Ševčíková

01 Move the City

02 Interview with Š. Svobodová and J. Sedlák

What is 4AM Forum for architecture and media – why did you start it?

Šárka Svobodová: For the start, I have to say that the two of us aren’t the only members of the group founded in 2010. It was initiated by Barbora Šedivá, Petra Hlaváčková and me. We were working together in Brno House of Arts and we lacked a space that would present architecture and contemporary art the way we preferred. We wanted to think about architecture and show it not just by presenting projects and individual authors. We wanted to create such a space; that’s why we started to contemplate the organization as a forum – a place for different professions to meet and think together about various topics. We began only the three of us and the other people started to join. Their number varies in time between 8 and 15 people.

What topics did you lack and what did you want to introduce?

Šárka Svobodová: In what way can one reflect architecture today and how should one react to what is happening in the city and the society. We wanted to start the discussion and comment on current issues, even political ones.

Why do you organize architecture exhibitions and who is your target group? How do you approach these exhibitions and how do you see the importance of your work?

Šárka Svobodová: When we started to talk about what we would like to do, we found out that Czech Architecture Foundation had announced an open call for the management of Gallery of Architecture. Our primary goal wasn’t to do exhibitions about architecture. We wanted to create a platform for collaboration. When an opportunity to have such a space arose we applied and won.

In that moment we had an exhibition space, our team was joined by people of various professions and we tried to do an exhibition. Beside that we organized discussions, lectures, film screenings, workshops; we even had a library in the gallery with publications and magazines focused on architecture, music, art and other topics. Our target group was and still is people reflecting upon contemporary architecture and art just like us.

In the exhibitions we wanted to present selected topics differently. For example, “Compact City” exhibition has shown how a city can look like or relate to area development. Curators (Petra Hlaváčková, Jakub Kopec and Szymon Rozwalka) tried to simulate the imagined moment, the principle of compact city right in the gallery space. One builds a compact city in an already settled space – the show itself functioned in a similar way. The first intervention was made by curators who built a black box inside the gallery which served as a lecture space for the duration of the show. We invited architects and artists and every one of them had to react to the installation and to the space. Individual participants reacted variously to each other and saturated the exhibition while there were lectures and presentations of experts going on.

Another example was a show by curator Petra Hlaváčková “Kill your own Fuchs” with a subtitle “Psychoanalysis of Contemporary Brno Architecture” which critically analyzed models and sources of inspiration of local architectonic scene of the middle generation. That was the culmination of our break up with Czech Architecture Foundation. Foundation had issues with the whole way we managed the space. We expanded our activities out of the gallery onto the street; we organized a lot of workshops and events that intervened into public space. Although the gallery was situated in a wide pedestrian zone in the city centre one had to enter it by ascending quite a long stairway into the first floor which could dissuade a lot of visitors. We saw it as a challenge. We worked with the visual image of both stairway and the façade of the house and we organized projects that couldn’t be missed by the people on the street passing by.

Czech Architecture Foundation discontinued our contract after two years because our projects hadn’t focused enough on architecture. We utterly refused this as an explanation. We have changed platform and kept the audience.

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Kill Your Own Fuchs. Psychoanalysis of contemporary Brno architecture – exhibition

What is then the role of Forum for architecture and media today?

Šárka Svobodová: By opening the culture space Praha in autumn last year we moved a bit more into sphere of culture and café business, but the role remains the same. What we do is based on the belief that architecture is more than design. Architecture and urbanism involve other meanings and intervene into city development. Thus we deal with a lot of connotations, e.g. architecture and its conservation, we analyze the way contemporary society views architecture. We want to incite discussions in architectonic community, because architect is an expert who should present his or her view to both experts and laymen.

Who is your audience? Do you succeed in finding its new members beside architecture students?

Šárka Svobodová: Our audience is varied. There are, of course, architects, too, but those with views similar to ours. And it’s not just the youngest generation. We are inviting people we find inspiring and who are mostly from the older generations. Thanks to the fact that there is quite a few of us in the Forum and that everybody comes from a different profession even our audience is quite heterogeneous. For example, people that come to see a concert get invited to a discussion about current political situation in Greece. Those who come to a social and political lecture get invited to a workshop “Move the City” that connects architecture, city and dance. We count on and work with the idea that the members of our audience themselves go beyond the their initial interest and think in a wider context.

Is it an advantage or disadvantage for the Forum to have more members? Do you have some code of rules or an agreement what decisions should be made and by whom by?

Šárka Svobodová: The way we collaborate changes over time. In the beginning we really wanted to do a lot of projects together. But we have found our specializations over time, each of us focuses on a specific area of topics we are interested in and we work on them practically side by side and time to time we combine them. If someone works on a topic that interests also some other member of the group then we collaborate. Our membership changes at time, we still welcome new members because it makes it all the more interesting.

Is there a formal leadership in the Forum? Someone has to sign grant applications, right?

Šárka Svobodová: It is the three of us who initiated and who ensures the dynamics of 4AM but right from the beginning wanted to do without a leader. All of the members have the same rights when it comes to content. But the fact is it is us three who takes care of the paperwork, organization and decisions.

Jaroslav Sedlák: When someone comes up with a project it is up to him to take care of it. Beside that we talk together about the topics we are interested in. Either we are looking for a common ground or everybody chooses a project he or she wants to work on. Our space allows us to invite freely people we care for to give lectures, or music bands that pass by.

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Move the City – workshop connecting dance and architecture

You have been operating for a few years now; did your viewpoints change somehow? How did the whole idea behind your activities change?

Jaroslav Sedlák: We can speak only for a part of the 4AM and for the projects that have been realized by the two of us; those about architecture and urbanism. I think that now we choose our projects more wisely. We pick topics and areas we are really interested in. Earlier we used to get excited about a number of projects; today we are able to reduce and revise.

Šárka Svobodová: The whole purpose of 4AM is also that we ourselves explore the viewpoints. It is and always has been a platform for experiments. In Forum we have an opportunity to try out a lot of things and make our own opinion. We wanted to learn about some topic and that’s why we started to focus on it. But I agree with Jaroslav that we choose more wisely today. But if I were to speak concretely I focus only on two topics now. I am observing the behavior of municipality when it comes to Socialist era architecture. Together with Jaroslav we are working on a project entitled Consonance of Modernism that reflects what takes place today in cities with heritage of post-war architecture. Say, we are inciting public discussion about demolitions of architectonically valuable buildings – for example now it’s a funeral hall in Brno-Židenice. It was designed by architect Ivan Ruller, built in 1970s and now it is threatened by demolition. We are looking for something that transcends usual meanings of architecture in the eyes of the society – for example how are the buildings erected in Socialist era seen today. The other area I am interested in is city development and discussion with city representatives. We are trying to offer them a different view and different options.

Jaroslav Sedlák: I am an architect, so I see it differently. A house in my eyes is a final product of a long collaboration. It is of course not just an investor and architect but involves many other professions including municipal departments that enter the process. Therefore the house changes over time as the things are getting clear. What is produced in the end is a matter of long time. People rarely know what it really involves.

What do you think is a meaningful way to write about architecture?

Šárka Svobodová: That’s what we are trying to find out in our specializations. We are trying to connect scientific research with topics we are focused on in 4AM and it’s a thing I am currently looking for. As a theorist of architecture I am comfortable in collaboration with different domains. Be it collaboration with an architect, artist or movie maker. I can mention collaboration with Martin Hrubý who made a short movie about the aforementioned funeral hall. It is good to talk with someone who sees the architecture differently and to look together for something that works. We did a number of commented tours for the funeral hall and a five-minute-movie can operate very well side by side with texts or even separately.

What are the defining aspects of the view you are looking for? For example when you are collaborating with a movie maker you must prioritize some things, that is to say, it is just like when one writes a text. Or do you just meet, start to talk and go immediately to shooting?

Jaroslav Sedlák: That’s the advantage of collaboration with Martin Hrubý who sees things the same way we do. And he is capable to record a lot of views and qualities for himself.

Šárka Svobodová: Or, on the other hand, Jaroslav, as an architect, is capable to draw his attention to certain moments. And I, as a person who knows the whole story, can identify for him another things I find essential. Together it makes a big picture that allows even an untrained viewer to see the situation of the house; it shows him also the context of the place where the house stands and so on.

So you are deviating from text and looking for other options?

Jaroslav Sedlák: Not really, that was just one example. Text is, in principle, very important because it uncovers the whole context of a building. And there are many buildings one cannot enter. It means that thanks to a text one learns there were used special technologies and that the house has its own idea of usage that determines also the shape of the house. It is something that’s hard to realize when one walks by the house. That’s why the text is essential; it prevents many decisions to condemn and demolish the house.

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Consonances of Modernism – a series of lectures on relationship between contemporary society and Socialist era architecture and visual culture

I have noticed that you mention grant support on your website. Do you rely only on grants, or how do you finance your activities?

Šárka Svobodová: We used to operate mainly thanks to the grants and because we have been active for some time now the support increases. So the biggest part comes from the Ministry of Culture and because there have been change in the political situation in Brno we have even received a year-long funding from the city, which makes sense. We regularly receive also a very small grant from Czech Architecture Foundation.

I ask because I wonder whether what you do can be, in principle, funded also in other ways.

Šárka Svobodová: We have tried to address potential sponsors and there were only a very few successful cases. One of them was the presentation in Czechoslovak pavilion at the Architecture Biennale in Venice, where our member, Barbora Šedivá, participated as a co-curator. Our projects went through a process of selection so thanks to a big presentation we were able to find sponsors, but otherwise it is essentially impossible.

Why do you think it is impossible?

Šárka Svobodová: We were unable to find such a person who would be interested in the form and content of exhibitions we do. Architectonic presentations get often sponsorships from software or construction companies, but in our case they are not interested.

For the culture space Praha we have created now “ltd.” and we hope that the café will at least start to pay for itself and we won’t need to take care of the financial burden of the space. It means that the rent and the energies would be ideally paid by the café profits and ther would be more money for the content and realization of projects.

Do you collaborate with similar organizations?

Šárka Svobodová: Beside Slovakia where we have a lot of permanent partners thanks to Barbora Šedivá we have been collaborating for some time with Forum of Experimental Architecture in Vienna and with Jan Tabor. Within Visegrád countries we intensively collaborate with Centre of Contemporary Architecture KÉK in Budapest. We maintain close ties with organizations in the east, e.g. in Moldova and in Georgia. In her projects Petra Hlaváčková works closely with French partners. We are looking for organizations with goals similar to ours and we are interested in topics they work on.

What are the future directions of 4AM activities?

Šárka Svobodová: We should keep being able to think critically about topics associated not just with architecture and art but also social and political situation around us and stay active accordingly. I would like us to be able to keep collaborating creatively and stay interesting for others so that the idea of platform gets fulfilled and not just new members of audience but also new members of Forum keep coming.

Jaroslav Sedlák: I agree, it sounds optimistic.

03 4AM Forum for architecture and media

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Brno, a city within enclosure. Film screening at an underground tram stop in Brno-Líšeň neighborhood

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Exposition of New Music - festival organized in collaboration with Brno Philharmonic

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Psychoanalysis of a space – residence in Laundry Bohnice

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Architecture Biennale in Venice – Participation on a show in Czechoslovak pavilion

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Urban Divan – workshop about street furniture

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Shaping the New – artist residence of sound artist Balázs Kovács (HU)xhibition anthology

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Praha in Brno – variable culture space

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The Day of Architecture – bikeride Brno-in-Progress in collaboration with ERA 21 magazine

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Introspection – anthology from a symposium of the youngest generation of architects

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Storytellers – discussion about future area development of Brno

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Compact City – lecture by Gabu Heindl

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Compact City – exhibition anthology

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People Revolting – installation in a former textile factory as a part of international project Art and Liberation. Europe 1943-67

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Exposition of a project

04 NJME: Not Just Marginal Entertainments

“Not Just Marginal Entertainments” (NJME) present the situation and standing of various cultural organizations. Beside the big institutions Artyčok deals with intensively and critically, the attention shifts to places that difference in their functioning, activities and financing in common. NJME explore the roles of contemporary institutions, their visions or the lack of them, and the reasons for their operation. They look for changes or, conversely, stagnations and the reasons for them; a stigmatization by past as much as following tradition and history.

The original project by Barbora Ševčíková will focus, for example, on a private museum of radios, a graphic design show or an independent gallery. It shall take a closer look at the situation they find themselves in, the ways of their financing, as much as the approaches to the management of a cultural organization. The selection of videos and photographs is left to the individuals in the question and their judgment in presentation of their work.

05 Exhibition credits

Author of the Project / Curator: Barbora Ševčíková
Author of Texts: Barbora Ševčíková
Online Presentation Concept, Editing and Realization: Lenka Střeláková
Translated into English: Palo Fabuš
Publikováno: 7. 10. 2015