MeetFactory stands at the end of a dirt road in Smíchov, an old industrial quarter of Prague. Wedged between a highway and active train tracks lined with derelict train cars, the nonprofit multidisciplinary contemporary art space, founded in 2001, occupies a newly renovated building, which was formerly a glass factory. The robustness of the center, which encompasses several exhibition spaces, a theater, a concert hall and an artist residency program, is indicative of the city’s burgeoning cutting-edge art scene.
Recently on view was “15,000 Years of Sameness,” an intriguing two-person exhibition comprised of a site-specific mixed-medium installation by Romanian artist Dan Perjovschi and 15 haunting, lyrical videos, photographs and objects by Czech artist Matěj Smetana. Although Perjovschi and Smetana are at opposite poles in terms of aesthetic approaches, both touch on sociopolitical and environmental themes while conflating past and present worlds. Together, their works suggest metaphors for the resilience and power of the human imagination or, alternatively, the imagination’s cyclical, often destructive, imprint on history.
Known for his spontaneous drawing performances, Perjovschi, who represented Romania in the 1999 Venice Biennale, aggressively covered the pristine white walls of MeetFactory’s principal gallery with graffitilike texts, cartoon drawings and newspaper clippings. Mordant references to the war in Ukraine and the Syrian refugee crisis were handwritten in large letters alongside clever wordplay, such as “Gang bank bang” and “art is not fair.” Painted on the walls, these mural-esque narratives suggested prehistoric cave paintings, testifying to the age-old power of visual expression.
Smetana’s disparate works, made in the past two years and scattered throughout the back galleries, were more ambiguous in their commentary. Playing at the end of a corridor was the eerie video Viper, which consists of an animation of a flying snake. Its body rhythmically undulates like wings as it rises over a bank of billowy clouds in a blue sky. A series of digitally manipulated photographs presented other hybrids, including a rhinoceros morphing into a unicorn. A grimmer augury in the series pictured a dog killed by a gunshot lying on a cube of dirt. Other images brought to mind earlier civilizations or objects culled from archaeological digs, such as a handmade hammer.
A poetic summation of Smetana’s concerns about the destructive effects of humanity on nature was effected through a mesmerizing series of four videos titled “Theater I.” In these works, twigs appear in close-up against a white background, their leaves gently stirring, seemingly agitated by drafts or breezes. Upon close scrutiny, one realizes that the twigs are tied to nearly invisible monofilament and are being dangled like marionettes. In a statement accompanying the exhibition, the curators ask, “Do we live in a civilization, or rather in a jungle?” Perhaps the answer is “unequivocally both.”