How to Build a Platform

Šaloun – The Studio of the Visiting Artist, is hosted by the Academy of Fine Arts, Prague, and based in the former studio of the Czech sculptor Ladislav Šaloun. Led each semester by a different international artist, in Spring 2017 John Hill worked with Tomáš Džadon and students from AVU, UMPRUM and UJEP, as well as Erasmus and International exchange students from China, Australia and the UK.

Starting with the title How to build a platform the group worked with an adapted, and adapting, version of cybernetician Stafford Beer’s Team Syntegrity. Beer’s Syntegration organises a group of people into smaller subgroups. With each participant a member of two groups work and ideas are spread evenly across the members. With no centralised point of decision-making, there is no position of leadership available. Instead the structure or shape of the group allows for what Beer termed Syntegrity, where co-operative ‘compression’ and critical ‘tensile’ forces balance each other and allow ‘reverberation’ of ideas that give the group a coherence and identity without the need for an external positions from which the process can be guided. The group is self directing.

Generating and selecting six broad themes, members of Platform Šaloun then arranged themselves into a double-pyramid octahedron, assigning themselves groups to create a balanced structure. These groups were the platforms upon which participants could generate individual and collective works over the 16-week programme.

01 Beyond Dispute

The final stage of the project was to take these parts and their connections and draw them back together into a reverberating, syntegrated whole. Take it’s title from Stafford Beer’s book detailing his experiments with Team Syntegrity, ‘Beyond Dispute / Navzdory Sporům’ was an installation and hour long performance that was presented on three occasions in June 2017.

Disassembling the components allowed the group to join elements in new ways, swapping and sharing the work done separately to allow for new forms and actions to emerge in ways that made their origin and authorship irrelevant: a livestreamed karaoke cooking show, a human statue, a compulsory cigarette break. Documentation, re-performance and new invention spilled into one another, while the cycling of the performance itself enabled its continued evolving.

02 Ritual

Connecting the approach of five very different people, we worked to find a common theme and way to create a visual language. We chose beehives as a motif of a defined structure, ritual and team work. The outcome was two performances.

The first of these was a reworking of a fertility rituals in a contemporary context, taking aspects of folk traditions, namely Easter whipping traditional in then Czech Republic and weddings, with singing of love songs, dancing, serving foods (pies) and drink (honey wine) in traditional dresses. This was set up in a park, next to an outside gym, with all the testosterone-filled guys exercising. A folk group was singing love songs, while one of the performers was dancing around and whipping a beehive, which was camouflaged with photographs of its surroundings. We were met with the surprised looks of people passing by, receiving the wine and pies and sometimes stopping to look and listen to the music.

For the second, we set up a stage right next to the studio building, with theatrical lights, with two beehives on the small hill leading to the football ground. Two people then sat next to the two hives located about ten meters away from each other, writing questions of an unskilled beekeeper and senseless answers taken from official rules of beekeeping society of Czech Republic, burning them into the wood. While at the same time several other performers went around with special polinatin stick, taken from an documentary about the loss of bees in Sichuan, China. They were doing the bees’ job, while other burned the formulations onto the wooden hives.

03 Sound Export

INTERACTIVE APPLICATION! Each window contains specific sound.

Sound Export worked with powerful and eerie sounds that created a feeling of disturbia. The sounds were recorded and played and then re-recorded until the sounds became unrecognizable to the initial recording. These sounds were played through objects that had a connection to the origin of the sound.

Together the object and the sound act as records to a moment where these artists experienced a sense of discomfort to acts and problems made by man. The use of repetition signifies how humanity has become numb to these problems. Also produced by sound export were a series of photographs of a CD of the recorded sounds under a microscope. The photograph were abstract but can relate and express the nature of the sounds recorded on the CD.

04 Augmented Reality

gallery image

Augmented Reality’s first event, Š: Live, in May 2017 layered music and noise, algorithmic and physical control on top of the Šaloun studio.


For the second event, Š: Reloaded, We created a copy of the studio to reunite the group across continents and time zones. In this virtual arena of ideas teams battle to see who is the studio’s greatest living artist.

05 Trip

slider image 01 | 05

I was interested in East European or Russian text on the factory in this photo, which captures the very gloomy atmosphere of Usti nad Labem. The city is one of the most unpleasant places I've ever visited.

slider image 02 | 05

A visit to the Jewish cemetery full of tombstones growing up through the dead plants, where everybody lives and life is relative.

slider image 03 | 05

I took a picture of this because of the sound it was making, which I know doesn’t makes sense. The paper was clapping to the board, trying its best to escape but underneath this there was more constant metallic hum as the wind pushed through the supporting structure, changing in volume and pitch with each gust.

slider image 04 | 05

Everything that is created we own together. Every video, photo, audio file is put into a common external drive. We create installations, performances, trips and whatever comes in to our minds altogether. For our decisions about money we run Cobudget. We analize texts on Genius. We create games to rejoin. We love Jan Hus.

slider image 05 | 05

There is a concern within the Czech art scene, has the wide fanclub of Tomáš Džadon become dangerous? In order to infiltrate the opening of his retrospective exhibition in Jurkovičova Villa, members of the fanclub tried to take over his artistic identity. They did this by stealing the original design of his T-shirts and launching several different introductory speeches at the opening, thus confusing the unsuspecting Brno public and making them question whether Tomáš Džadoň is his first or second version at all or whether he even secretly supports MDŽ (International women’s day) because women who are members of the fanclub made false introductory speeches raising the question of whether a woman is hidden behind the identity of the Slovak artist DŽ.

06 Radio

A sound experiment based on the format of a radio broadcast. Broadcasting in real-time. Radio broadcasted over the internet. A closed platform of five artists. Closed into itself in a 24 hour loop. Five soundtracks, one specific day, five author’s translations of personal diary records from the day. Blending these individual tracks together metaphorically creates a tangle of sounds, expressing the reasons why we can never meet.

07 Public Space

Public Space was represented by a group of 4 people who’s installations and performance art works were trying to define the concept of home and private space. It was a street intervention set on a lovely intimate roundabout garden square in Žižkov. The audience was random but very responsive. Both installations were metaphorically representing matrixial (womb) safety, offering as well tactile fun and adventure.

The performances were durational. One highly interactive, was an attempt to build walls out of beer boxes, conversations and social connection.
The other performance was representing the journey to find home within the body, spirit and mind of the performer. Both performers were moving about the square (Škroupovo náměstí) interacting with curious passing by people from the neighbourhood.

The other part of work of Public Space group was an installation titled “last cigarette”. It was a human-height pinched cigarette placed on the stage of a bar. A vacuum cleaner was put inside to control the inhalation and exhalation, inflating and deflating the sculpture. Installed for one night to coincide with the 2017 smoking ban, the installation raised question about what was considered a public space. The concept of “public” to the group was performed by all the Šaloun members who stood on the stage and lifted their last indoor cigarette.

08 John Hill: Tension and Integrity

“We are standing in Šaloun, within a construction that existed before us, and one that we have built together. We enact a series of movements, and we perform them again and again until the resonances of these actions and interactions reinforce themselves so that any semblance of their origin, with perhaps the exception of the base structure, is discarded. What you can see, then, are the connections between parts, articulated by a shared but not singular voice. We regard this not simply as a re-presentation of absent work, but more as a way to make explicit the collective foundations that are, for us, beyond dispute.”

‘Beyond Dispute’ is the title of the 1994 book by the British cybernetician Stafford Beer that describes ‘Syntegrity’, his system of organising a three-day, open-agenda meeting in which 30 people can come to an agreement about 12 different issues. Beyond dispute, which as an idiom means a state of certainty, is here to be taken more literally. Instead of confrontation, this is a process that allows ideas to be developed and refined until they can receive the support of everybody, through consensus rather than conflict.

This is one of the structures that existed before we started ‘How to Build a Platform’and which we adapted to our specific situation and needs as part of the four month project. But it is not the only one. There is the building itself, its history and its singular purpose – the production of the Ladislav Šaloun’s Jan Hus monument for the Old Town Square. There is also the shorter history of what Šaloun has become, the students and teachers that have worked together there over that last 10 years. There is AVU, which Šaloun sits partly within and partly outside of, and there is the idea of ‘international’ – in terms of art and education – where the programme places itself. There are the existing structures within the people involved, ideas of how to be creative, how to be expressive, how to teach and how to learn.

These different structures are often in tension but – drawing on the ideas and geometries of Richard Buckminster Fuller – Beer emphasises the importance of tension as a balancing force, allowing things to be responsive and resistive to external pushing and pulling. Tensions can help keep a structure flat when its being pushed or pulled to become a hierarchy.

It’s the ‘arche’ of this hierarchy – this leadership – that for me is the strongest pull. How to make something anarchic within a system, or from a system, that might not want leadership but certainly expects it. It is the tension that’s the hardest to balance. We need leadership. Without it we can do nothing, or at most we can only keep doing what we were doing before. This is the reason to invite a visiting artist. The power of leadership is not about who gets to make the decisions, it’s much more about who gets to say what needs to be decided. The jury decides, but the judge leads, by framing and constraining the available options.

For Šaloun I was not just invited, I was also being paid to lead the studio, leadership was my job and my responsibility, not something I can abandon or just give away. To lead others towards leaderlessness is contradictory. It has a tension that can too easily snap back to the old way of doing things, at best democracy, trial by jury, and at worst a chance to input into decisions that have already been made.

Beer solves the problem by making a system that – in theory – no one is able to fully control. Communication is constrained in such a way that it’s impossible for any single person to get a commanding view. And for us, this worked, to an extent. There are things about our programme that I still don’t fully understand, works and choices were made that I simply had to accept. But structures re-emerge that demand a gods-eye view. Exhibitions – which in our case was largely a performance – are meant to make everything that matters visible to an audience. Documentation, like the material presented here, renders the world as it appears to a single eye, the eye that directed the camera (and that eye was mine). This re-presentation of absent work – part archive, part document, part exhibition – is now the fixed point from which this project can be seen and judged, but all the decisions have already been made.

To lead a studio is first of all to take a position from which your judgement is correct, because you make the context in which things must be judged. But accepting the role is part of the structure of the academy, you accept that you’ve been judged capable of this role by the institution. By leading you follow the rules from above, you give people grades and feedback, within a system constrained by outside forces. You might be judged upon your judgements, but not from bellow, where your judgements take effect.

How can you oppose this hierarchy? What can be put against its pull so that the tension remains productive, and doesn’t just snap. One answer is to reverse the direction of judgement, which would be institutional critique, but pushing or pulling something as big as an institution tends to require a lot of energy, which the institution can easily absorb. Another is to hide, or at least obscure, the work and workings of the group, putting them beyond judgement and critique from outside. This works up to a point, but to follow through you must also reject exhibition, archive and documentation. By refusing to account for how you’ve spent your time, the value of what you’ve done is unrecognisable, and at the end of the project it is likely to be lost.

One answer is to learn as well as teach, to follow as well as to lead. This means that the context and framing of your judgements are changed, so that those judgements become not fully your own. This will happen through discussion, perhaps through dispute, but also intuitively. It’s important to be aware of the tension that exists between selfish learning and selfless facilitation, neither of which are leadership. This is the approach I took, and I hope that it’s a tension I managed to keep in balance for the duration of the project, but its limits were clear. When it mattered, the power to frame and to judge were all mine.

Is it possible to go beyond this? Is it possible to lead others into take the lead? It needs a lot of time and space. But the idea that you can simply allow others a moment to take the lead, for their judgements to have power, is not enough. Real tension comes from not knowing whether they will allow you to have that power back.

John Hill, Summer 2018

09 Credits

“Beyond Dispute” documentation filmed and edited by:
Jan Vidlička

3D model for “Š: Live” by:
Park Dong Joon

All content created by:
Agnieszka Berger, Sarah Dubná, Linda Hauerová, Jan Hladík, Barbora Lepší, Kateřina Vazačová, Štepán Rubáš, Iva Polanecká, Sandy Scott, Tina Gu, Jakub Pospíšil, Václav Nosek, Kristína Vazačová and Ondřej Vicena supported by John Hill and Tomáš Džadoň

Produced as part of Platform Šaloun made possible by Šaloun: The Studio of the Visiting Artist, AVU, Prague

Thanks to:
Ms. Došková, Hana Janečková, Anna Daučíková, Katka at Sběrné suroviny, Park Dong Joon and Jan Vidlička

Online Presentation Concept, Editing and Realization:
Janek Rous, Lenka Střeláková and Palo Fabuš

Published: 12. 9. 2018