Czech conceptual artist Kateřina Šedá creates works using some of the vastest canvases imaginable: a whole village in Moravia, a suburb of San Francisco, a vast chunk of central London; yet, centred as they are around the committed involvement of community members, they are also definitively intimate, allowing only the few who take part to experience their full force. It was thus fitting that the London debut of Mythmaking, a documentary about her work produced by Jan Gogola and Jiří Konečný, took place on the Floating Cinema, a venue screening films on a boat which travels across the capital’s canal network – making it arguably the most expansive cinema in London – albeit with a capacity of about twenty.
The film was shown as part of a summer programme following an “Extra-International” theme, exploring cinematic portrayals of borders and diversity, and Šedá’s art seems tailor-made for the series: the idea of uniting disjointed suburban communities is a hallmark of her work, perhaps most obviously expressed in her 2008 project Furt dokola (Over and Over), where she invited neighbours from a village in the Czech Republic to help each other climb over replicas of their garden fences at the Berlin Biennale.
Mythmaking follows two of Šedá’s projects – both of which may already be familiar to British audiences. For Líšeň Profile, Šedá invited inhabitants of Líšeň, the quiet suburb of Brno where she grew up, to draw profiles of the town’s skyline, find a human face in the profile, and then take to the streets to find a person who resembled their creation; 512 of the drawings were exhibited in Sheffield’s Millenium Gallery in 2011. The next stage of the project saw the public voting on a drawing and individual who best represented the area – an accolade which was coincidentally won by Šedá’s own father. The artist then set about turning the shy but affable video shop owner and heavy metal fan into a local celebrity, inviting schoolchildren to create myths about him, convincing a local ice cream parlour to name a sundae after him and throwing a “Rockoteque” party playing songs from his favourite albums – all of it captured by the filmmakers to hilarious effect.
For the second project documented, From Morning Till Night, Šedá brought eighty inhabitants of the South Moravian village of Bedřichovice to London, where she instructed them to live out their lives as they would do at home in a space which transposed their hometown onto an area around the Tate Modern gallery. Some of the film’s most entertaining scenes depict the villagers preparing for their trip, as everyone from the local kids to the village fire brigade deliberate on what to bring and what to do with their little part of London.
While Šedá’s art can seem at times esoteric and, as she is quick to admit, is not to everyone’s liking, Mythmaking manages to maintain a light-hearted approach that could assuage critics as much as it will undoubtedly please fans. The camera is natural and non-intrusive from beginning to end, and much of the film’s humour stems from its naturalistic portrayal of everyday events: Šedá and her daughter preparing for a public appearance, villagers packing for their trip to London, a couple deciding on the best place to hang a painting – though much of it unavoidably comes from Šedá herself: her insatiable charisma in galvanising her subjects to fulfil their roles in her work, her well-timed interruptions during public events and her constant deadpan comments to friends and family-members.
Many of these comments arise from the inevitable frustration and fatigue that the artist suffers at times during her work, and it is clear from the film that each project takes an enormous amount out of both Šedá and her family – though it is equally clear that her own life is inseparable from her art, which itself must be lived to be truly appreciated.
Mythmaking was screened at the Floating Cinema, moored at Merchant Square, Paddington, on 16th August in association with Jihlava International Documentary Festival and the Czech Centre.