There is hardly any information about Tomáš Uhnák (*1984) on the internet so far and that is why I took the advantage to write my own profile. But Uhnák himself makes it a bit more difficult for me (naturally in a constructive manner): besides an interview with himself which you can listen to in his profile video, this is also true for example about his favourite quotation from the mid-19th century which he considers to be the one that characterises him best.
„For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.“
(Karl Marx, The German Ideology, 1845)
When you have a look at his CV it becomes clear why he chose this particular quotation by Marx (and you also understand why nobody really rushes to describe all Uhnák´s activities): an artist who studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in 2006–2011 (studio of Jiří Příhoda) and an excellent cook and the greatest gourmet on the art scene (during the time when these two activities were interconnected he got the nickname „the Czech Tiravanija“) with a longstanding activistic past. From the beginning he was active in the academic senate at the Academy of Fine Arts and in the Student Chamber of the Council of Higher Education Institutions and together with Vasil Artamonov and Václav Magid he prepared a touring exhibition Possibilities of a Student Life (2011) dealing with the role of students as an autonomous historical, political and social factor. He was also active in the intitiative proAVU, which contributed to the long-standing need for structural and personal changes in the Academy of Fine Arts. Uhnák also regularly takes part in all the antifascist demonstrations and climate justice rallies and he also participates in official conferences on agriculture and politics of food production. You can see his name also in connection with the agricultural and food policy of the Pirate Party. The political economy of food systems has been a significant topic for him for a long time and he wrote a number of articles on this subject for A2, Deník Referendum, Alarm, Institut úzkosti etc. He decided to study „Food Policy“ at the City University of London and studied the paradigms socially, culturally and politically shaping the environment of Czech (and Czechoslovak) agriculture and landscaping.
A similar topic including a research of new agro-ecological and social models and their politically-transformational potential of food systems, is the subject of his PhD studies at the Agricultural University in Prague. At the same time he became the head of the Studio of Sculpture at the Academy of Art, Architecture and Design in Prague (2018–2019, together with Edith Jeřábká) for one semester.
He also participates in the activities of AMPI (Association of Local Food Initiatives), especially in international networking and forming of collective political strategies of food systems transformation. He also takes part in projects of different KPZ (an abbreviation for community surpported agriculture). Marx´s idea is not in fact very far removed from Uhnák´s truth, perhaps its fulfillment comes at random.
The number of fields and trends he devotes his attention to is misleading. In reality we can discover intersections and a „specialization“ of its kind, which is based on „expert generalism“, to use his own term. In other words in an effort aimed at intentional, conscious generalization and interconnection of different fields of interest. This is connected with constant negotiating related to the organization of different regimes of changing the world. Thus he roams between the escape from art and its critical, complicating and simultaneously liberating and often naive strategies to science and to all that is nourishing (literally) for us and in the opposite direction towards the protective enclosure of art.
Naturally, creation is not far from sowing and analysis of politics from post-critical art production – both require a certain amount of knowlede about the contemporary course of events, a desire to make society and oneself better, a certain amount of talent and a sense of perspective.
When I speak about „livelyhood“, I am not talking only about food, but what I have in mind are all creatures. Living creatures as well as inanimate ones and even non-creatures, or more precisely hyper-creatures (land, nature). We live due to mutual relationships and the desire to understand the complexity of the world and be its participating part is described by Uhnák by the term „metabolity“ which is also included in the name of his profile video. The dialogue between Renette of the Red Flag and Kumato revolves around the analysis of generating value in late capitalism, the analysis of exploitation and alienation of what we are used to calling nature and also around the so-called conglomerates of individual communities including their interests, i.e. the so- called social aggregates. Uhnák focuses on the terms of sharing and connecting: generally beneficial, firm and to a certain degree of critical boundary flexible relationships which are established on all levels and in all groups he deals with at a given moment. In the video we can hear a sort of motto of this entire tangle: „should I help to reproduce this environment or should I also reproduce myself?“ We can witness another important moment – the question of disemination (of power and desire): dissolution, which enables the consequent fusion with the environment, the refusal of the will to control processes in return for the possibility to become a part and thus save energy for moments celebrating the community. Whether through revolution or harvest – both have their own time and energy needed for further movement.
With reference to Uhnák´s art education I take the liberty to interpret the creation of relationships as an artwork of its kind – with all due respect we can speak about strategies of art research. He mostly finds time and energy for his work thanks to residencies abroad specializing on intersections of activism, food alternatives and art work (Kassandras, Athens; Delfina Foundation, London; Felipa Manuela Residency, Madrid). In the Czech Republic Tomáš Uhnák is well-known for his participation in the activities of P.O.L.E. (together with Vasil Artamonov, Alexey Klyuykov, Václav Magid, Pavel Sterec and Tereza Stejskalová). As a curator he took part in the program Festival Fotograf (2016) introducing the topic Nature – Culture, where he also prepared an installation of the most popular varieties of apples for the exhibition Joint Harvest.
Is it really necessary to distinguish between art and other activities? After all, isn´t there a bigger difference between a tomato bought in a supermarket and a tomato grown in a garden than between Kumato and Renette of the Red Flag?