Jiří Kovanda first appeared on the art scene along with the second generation of Czech actionists in the late 1970s. He has recently been discovered in the West through his minimalist performances (he calls them "actions")which often have a melancholic poetic redolence. They differ significantly from older Czech Fluxus activities, which had pedagogical and utopian aims, and from those of his contemporaries, whose performances often explored physical and existential frontiers. Kovanda’s minimalist actions and interventions of the 1970s, were often so subtle they were almost imperceptible. They could not make an impact immediately, but they did have an effect in the long run.
There is a certain romanticism in his artistic gestures that may have been stimulating in the depressing 1970s, when it served as a contrast to so many traumatic and politically-laden performances. Simple actions like gazing fixedly into the eyes of people encountered on an escalator, for example, or intentionally-unintentionally touching chance passers-by on the street can be understood as attempts to make contact.
Meet Jiří Kovanda, Czech artist, whose brand of street performance is very strange indeed. He‘s been gently brushing past people in the street since 1977.
Passer-by: "He touched me ? I didn’t realise that. I'm a New Yorker! Whatever it is it’s good!"
J.K. "The content of this performance is to make some contact...some real physical contact... but at the same time it’s not real contact because it’s only touching without real contact. Because contact is not only physical but it’s more complex."
Jiří Kovanda continues to fascinate younger generations of artists and performers. His work seems more relevant than ever to our society today. In 2008, the Tate Modern in London invited Jiří Kovanda and younger performers to stage an experiment based on his principles of micro-performances. How can a simple low-key artistic action or performance influence the behaviour of people around you ? Click here to find out (btw the subtitles are not reliable!).
Today JK is considered with a certain amount of respect in his native city of Prague and as an established and successful artist he has now become the good-humoured target of younger Czech artists (see below). His influence can be felt in the conceptual performance styles of a number of contemporary artists, including Katerina Šedá (UNES-CO project in 2018 ), Ján Mancuska, Jiří Skála, and Barbora Klímová.