LOST IN TRANSLATION?  – 1-19 November 2010 – Riverside Studios


When I first moved to London in 1995, I lived not far from the Studios and would go for double bills of Spanish films for a £3 student ticket, so I have fond memories of this place! Czech Centre has invited me to curate a show there to accompany a festival of Czech films – check out the film programme on their website HERE.

The theme of LOST IN TRANSLATION? – the issues of assimilation, one’s culture and identity – has been on my mind for a long time as I’ve lived abroad most of my adult life.

LOST IN TRANSLATION is an exhibition exploring what it is like to live in another country through the works of British and Czech artists with experience of living in the opposite countries. Each work here tells a different story about coping with the change of the environment, but what unites them all is that it’s impossible for an artist not to be influenced by it in their work.

Mostly, it doesn’t matter to people where they are from until they move elsewhere. That’s when you really start to see who you are; to the point of surprising yourself with unexpected yearning for the national identity and culture, which is suddenly becoming comprehensible and visible to you. The language barrier especially is something that even those resumed to visual communication can find staggering. Settling into another culture is an emotional and adventurous process.

The wonderment of things being different – cars on the other side of the road, learning to talk at great length about the weather and the tube announcements in an alien language. You take it all in with all your heightened senses, initially feeling displaced and uprooted, but gradually beginning to grasp your environment and redefining your identify.
You are never going to be the same.

This photo lends its title to Lesak’s series in progress which started at the time of the artist’s change of living environment. The important point of this image is that it depicts a division of two different spaces. ‘This series is honest and intuitive for me. It was made in times which were very dark for me.’

Part of an ongoing series of photographs made in the Czech Republic over the last six years. The work explores themes such as identity, belonging, values and transition, during a critical period in Czech history. Born in London to New Zealand parents, and shortly moving to Brno, Spacek have been seduced by the Czechs complete conviction in their feelings of national identity and unquestioning sense of belonging, in particular their attachments and connections to nature and the land. Alongside this run elements of everyday life that only an outsider might find strange.


Melancholia is series of photographs (originally on Polaroid) taken on London bridges, in the same way Kudlaceks father did many years ago in (then) Czechoslovakia. The person holding the flowers remains unknown. The image gives an imaginative possession of the past and a feeling that we can hold on to something that does not exist anymore. Kudlaceks work investigates the way we construct memories, attempting to put them in a meaningful context. Foreign places awaken new constructed memories and generalize new thoughts and imaginations.

‘Born in Czechoslovakia, Kudlacek moved to Germany and later to the UK. The assimilation of my family forced a certain view of the story of my own origin, which was reflected by the prohibition to use the Czech language at home. I critically use re-enactment, the aftermath of historic scenes in order to make the construction of memory visible. While moving to Britain meant learning a new language, way of life and subsequently hard work, it also inspired me and I found different way to look at my own background and place of origin.’

‘We all have a special sensitivity when perceiving places that are new to us. As we get used to these places, this sensitivity lessens. While cycling back home from work I became fascinated by the citys nocturnal landscape – the lighting, the colours, the shabby streets and tunnels, the old brick factories and yards. I enjoyed wandering around there at night but, due to the high level of crime in the area, the walks always felt dangerous. When I thought about this it brought to mind the story of Little Red Riding Hood. One feels that Little Red Riding Hood is fascinated and worried by wandering around in a scary and dangerous place; for her the scary place was the woods, for me it was the inner city at night. Both situations engender a tension between irrational fascination and the rational fear of what is new or undiscovered to us. It is a tension familiar to everybody, and one that is immortalized in the childrens story. I decided to create a photographic reinterpretation of Red Riding Hoods walk as a contemporary tale placed in the nocturnal East End.’


Dostalova first came to the UK in 1999 and has been documenting her life through drawings since, creating over 500 of them. ‘They range from occasional linear drawings from pubs, different venues and countless travels. They also document my relationship with my ex-boyfriend, who joined the drawing sessions and the results are a unique blending of ideas and reflections from two people who, at one time, were very close. It is the drawings that translate my understanding of the life here, mixing dreams, wishes, design ideas and interests with philosophical concepts and visual jokes. The drawings are still an ongoing preoccupation for me.’


‘In particular, Londons sprawling urban landscape, its seemingly endless buildings, roads and concrete, has proven to be vertiginous. I have found refuge and my own way to come to terms with this industrious city through its pockets of nature. I have come to realise that there is peace to be found amongst this bustling city and that, even within its urbanised landscape, heavens of trees and animals can be found, from an animal farm in Hackney, to the great leafy neighbourhoods of North London. These discoveries have enabled me to start feeling more settled as I have found a common ground in nature and animals. I have represented these increasingly into my artwork, which has helped me build a new sense of my own identity in London as a foreigner. This painting is of trees that can be seen from my kitchen window. By not including any man-made industrial structure I aim to directly comment on how as an inhabitant of this city I have chosen to embrace its natural environments, forgoing the urbanised ones.’


‘Although we inhabit the same physical space as other people, we each live in our own individual world, our own universe. Which galaxies these universes have? Moving to a new country is like arriving to an empty Space with no stars formed yet. As we stay, we start to discover our surroundings and create emotional bonds not only with people, but also with places : “my” tree where I like to rest, “my” café where I have breakfast on Sunday mornings….

I believe that the feeling of “being at home” is partly based on these bonds with the landscape we inhabit. These drawings represent my individual process of becoming “at home” in the town of Farnham in Surrey where I eventually lived for nearly five years. Each star represents one place significant for me. The positions of the stars depend on the geographic coordinates of these places. The geographic data, on which the drawings are based, were recorded in 2004 and 2008 as a part of a larger “Earth on Heaven” project I was working on during my stay in UK.


Martin has recently published a book of his polaroids and writings I Should (But I Dont Think I Will) Change The World about his experience in Czech Republic.

‘It was easy to leave England. I hated it. And when youre offered the opportunity to attend a University in the Czech Republic by a reputable Czech photographer, it doesnt really make sense to turn said offer down. Especially if the alternative is failing to find work in Cannock. Im sure that I stuck out like a sore thumb when I arrived in Ústí nad Labem, wearing shorts throughout the bitter winter and reading the names of forthcoming bus stops aloud to practise my pronunciation. But I learned a lot. I learnt never to say “life is peachy” to a Czech. I learnt that you should probably cancel any plans you happen to have for the day following Easter Monday. I learnt to follow a rolled r with the s from measure. I learnt to look human beings in the eye again.’


Buskova came to the UK in search of adventure and found that her interest in the heritage of her home country became stronger and stronger as the years past. ‘This developed at a faster rate when I moved down from Northern Britain and soaked myself in the hectic and richly multi cultural city of London. In the UK I also experienced a greater sense of freedom and individualism, which was not introduced to me outside of my family life during my childhood in a non-democratic country. Becoming more and more liberated in Britain, nostalgia for my Czech land steeped in history and rich traditions suddenly entered my life in a new way that I have never felt before. The “obvious” that was surrounding me whilst growing up in the Czech Republic became something new and unexplored. I became hungry and excited by the beauty of our long established customs which seem to unite people in a way that is often forgotten in rapidly developing countries where people seem to struggle to value each other. Beheading of the Cockerel depicts a surreal portrait of Moravian rites of passage. This work is not just built on the existing facts of past folk traditional practices, but a female exploration of the feelings and fantasies bound up in our rich festive celebrations.


‘My drawings deal with the experience of changing not only the environment I live in now but also the way of thinking as a stranger in the country. I am the stranger who has escaped the past to build a new life but always will be the foreigner. However, part of this is to also realise that slowly I have become a stranger in my own country. I am trying to show the struggle through the process of making. I use collage imparting the idea of overlapping the visible and hiding what is not to be seen yet is there. Utilising scalpel to carve in the card is to reflect the pain of making decisions of leaving something of a past behind. The concept of using the Czechoslovakian stamps and letters is to have connection to the origin of my culture. I still see myself as a Czechoslovakian rather than Czech. The stamp is a mark but also a symbol of travel, sending letters to friends and receiving some news of loved ones. My work is closely speaking of the relocation from the Czech Republic to the UK and the struggle of living as a foreigner in a new country looking for my own identity but carrying the past within.’

‘I have lived and worked in the Czech Republic on two different occasions, firstly in Brno as a student and then returning to live and work in Prague and a nearby village to undertake a 1-month residency and exchange project between Phoenix Brighton Studios and the Arts Institute, Prague. The experience of living and working in Prague led to a series of works focussing on Czech holiday homes. I developed the installation piece “Chaty” constructed from domestic materials exposing the vulnerability of the building and the emotional vulnerability of myself; whilst responding to the feeling of alienation and dislocation I felt living in an East European country. Chaty is created using paper and found objects the eclectic style reflects distinctions between the two cultures and a sense of alienation.’


‘I work on several different projects which map my own reflection about being in another country. Dream Drawings depict my dreams in which I travel back to Czech Republic. I discovered the world of dreams when I moved to London for an exchange student programme in 2002. I didnt speak English very well, studied very hard all day and the evening was the time when I went back home. It felt very natural and I expect this is quite common for people who leave their home country. I started to concentrate on the dreams and discovered a method how to remember them well. Today, I am not so concerned about being lonely in a big city, but in my dreams I still visit home or all sorts of surreal places.


My work is influenced by the experience of migration from one culture to another and thereby is an investigation into the notion of place and identity. My intention is to extend the imagination, capturing the moments in those transitional and psychological journeys. In my work this photographic fossilization of modernist/functionalist socialist architectural forms, is put through a process of readdress and reworked as photo-sculptural hybrid which references modernist paradigms and tropes while bypassing the onus to situate the architectural practicalities of the works subject, it is a returning. This can be understood in terms of nostalgia for the 20th centurys great fusion of politics and form: the dream, salvaged from the wreck of the disappointment of daylight realization.


‘I always carry a small camera with me, trying to catch all the unexpected unique moments with photos-video-sound, despite the fact that any attempts to recreate the moments of our life as we truly experience them is pointless and impossible.

When I took this photo, I was in my home country where VYCHOD means both EAST and EXIT and also ORIENT. I remember realising this when pressing the release button. When I was twenty years old, the world was split into EAST/WEST and my country was in the EAST side. I left it (EXIT) going WEST. My life abroad was determined by this separation. Nowadays, the opposites – EAST/WEST/ORIENT – gain new meanings and determine destiny of other groups or people and generations.’


‘My photographs are a visual record of my own apprehension about reality in a foreign environment. My “betweenworlds“ are different every time, they originate from new situations and challenges. As soon as the old ones disappear, new ones are created and replacing the old. One example of a betweenworld is a conversation (dialogue). When I talk in English, I look at and hear myself from a distance; its like coming out of my own body. I keep asking myself again and again: Is it me who is talking? / Am I saying what I want to say? Its a feeling of separation from my own self-conscious. Its a feeling of having two bodies – the real one and its perfect reflection. Two bodies so similar that I have to ask myself which one I should return to? And secretly I wish that both of them become just one someday.


‘I’m making investigations into how a traveller creates a sense of place in his mind with seemingly random sets of foreign visual stimuli.’ ‘While these photographs have a consistently inquisitive and contemplative mood, their subject matter ranges wildly from people praying in the temple, passing by on the road, to grazing sheep on fertile grass and busy bright market stalls. These images stem from the eye of a traveller or the eye of an outsider tuned and less likely to take details for granted while searching for meaning in unknown place.’ (text by Meredith Gunderson for the exhibition New Photographic Work by Krystof Kriz 2008)



Extract from blog http://czechproperty.blogspot.com/

I now know this for a fact rather than a fancy, because a week ago I actually had a dream some of which was in Czech. Am I certain it was Czech? No, as I didnt entirely understand what was said in my dream, but I understood bits of it. Nevertheless I rather think that my brain has been processing Czech without me realising it.



Extract from Cramps of West:

I waited for a guy to show me that place. I waited for one and half hour. His wife or girlfriend invited me over and she showed me their place. Stunningly beautiful. That place. And she too. Then he came home. Very nice guy. Showed me the place that he wanted to rent. Too small I thought while saying how beautiful it was – smiling. Tiny box with central heating. View of the pool outside but no access to it. Of course, flats with gardens were all gone. On the way back, I leaned my forehead against the window on the bus. And I thought “When is this looking for looking for – going to end”. I have no connection to this place. I have no passion for its streets. I have no vital energy. I am dead of looking for. Dead due to looking



Extract from a play Irish Dance around the Czechs:
We, Irish, always come late, and AJ is almost half Irish. When someone in Ireland invites you for dinner at 7, it’s impolite to turn up before 8 o’clock. It’s indecent, rude. But you say, I’ll come at 7, and 5 minutes to 7, you’re standing outside the door and I haven’t got anything ready. You guys also turned up 5 to 7, so why are you surprised? Jesus! And on top of it, Irish are mostly Roman Catholics, you are protestants or atheists.


Extract from a short text Czech Language:

One upside of understanding Czech imperfectly means that where I don’t understand things I simply fill in the gaps, or understand what it amuses me to understand. Consequently I have created an alternative universe in which Monika’s parents own an animal hospital which treats squirrels, foxes and pigs recovering from extreme marihuana abuse, Maria’s Mum works in a morgue and does unspeakable things with the bodies and Slovak Tom is on the run from the Irish police…


Extract from a blog: http://lucieslondon.blogspot.com

So I threw the pen through the air, acting like I didn’t care at all, which was a bit rude, a bit random, but still nice. I didn’t want to get to know this person. I preferred the mystery and the fantasies that could only live as long as we remained strangers.

The pen fell on his lap and he was surprised in a what-the-hell sort of way.

Then he smiled.

I smiled back.

He got down to his writing.

I went back to reading my book.

We shared this moment on the Tube. With no words. No names exchanged. It was perfect.



I first visited Prague in the last days of the old Czechoslovakia, at Christmas 1992, and returned many times after. I recorded in my poems some of my reactions to the country and its culture, from the annual ritual of the Christmas carp to the musicians of Terezin and the fate of Václav Havel after becoming President. My visits had a life-changing effect, as they ultimately led to my appointment in 2004 as curator of Czech and Slovak at the British Library.

Extract from a poem Small Massacres in Prague
(winner of the Weyfarers Prize for Poetry)

The crisp breeze, whetted with ice,

ruffles the rippled grey silk

of the Vltava’s shivering waves.

Whirling like wind-scattered flakes,

the shrill gulls splinter and slice

through the silent December air

of this merciless city.

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