Jonas Staal: Propaganda Station

Jonas Staal: Propaganda Station

Jindřich Chalupecký Society

January 29, 2024
Jonas Staal
Propaganda Station
Guest artist of the Jindřich Chalupecký Award 2023
November 2, 2023–February 25, 2024
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PLATO Ostrava
Janáčkova 22
Czech Republic
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Propaganda Station is a new complex installation and live program by Dutch artist Jonas Staal exploring the involvement of art and culture in the dominant forms of contemporary propaganda as well as the tools and possibilities of (counter)propaganda—forms that emerge from emancipatory grassroots and liberation movements. The exhibition is organized as a part of the program of the Jindřich Chalupecký Society within the scope of the international project Islands of Kinship: A Collective Manual for Sustainable and Inclusive Art Institutions. The installation will subsequently travel to Zagreb and Skopje. In Ostrava—the Czech Republic’s emerging artistic and cultural hub—Staal’s immersive project is being presented in parallel with the exhibition of this year’s laureates of the Jindřich Chalupecký Award, a prize that has been granted to emerging visual artists based in the Czech Republic annually since 1990. Both exhibitions are on view untilFebruary 25, 2024.

Reversed panopticon summarizes a decade of research
Propaganda Station is based on more than a decade of artistic research conducted by Staal on propaganda and counterpropaganda. The physical installation, as well as several iterations of the accompanying live program entitled Propaganda School, uncover the mechanisms through which the oppressive status quo is maintained in many aspects of our social lives. It is also a hopeful encouragement of individual and collective efforts towards meaningful action and potential change. 

The installation takes the form of a “reversed panopticon”—in Staal’s conception, the widely theorized circular prison model allowing for omnipresent surveillance of the prisoners by a guard situated in the center instead becomes a space for collective observation, where the “propagandists” are observed by the public. The outer circle presents earlier video works on diverse aspects and niches of propaganda—from climate propaganda to financial and liberal propaganda to ultranationalist or alt-right propaganda to geological and empire propaganda. Propaganda is understood here not only as a historical concept referring to totalitarian regimes of the past (or those repeating similar pasts in the present) but also as a quite vivid mechanism of northern democracies. Often hidden aspects are brought to light, observed, and reassessed in order to put our imagination back into play and discuss what kind of propaganda – as a tool used by activists, artists, and citizens – could “strike back” and help create new, more livable conditions and systems.

New film critically assesses propagandistic staging and role-play
The individual nodes are organized around a dominant focal point, which presents Staal’s new eighteen-minute film Propaganda Theater, Video Study, which was created for this occasion. The film attempts to critically assess the principles of propagandistic staging, role-play, and encoding of major (extremely problematic and intentionally misleading) narratives, not only through mass media but also mass entertainment, while the boundaries between both continue to blur. The spectators, Staal argues, are not only mere onlookers or consumers; they become spect-actors—active parts of the script, often without even realizing it. “Propaganda works best when it is not recognized as propaganda. It works best when the world we are performing feels like our own, our home, all along,” the film concludes.

Propaganda School unfolds with local activists and experts
The center of the “panopticon” also serves as a stage for the live program of Propaganda School, a platform for artists, academics, and activists to publicly uncover the mechanisms of mainstream propaganda and explore the potential of emancipatory (counter)propaganda that can facilitate wider discussions stemming from feminist and anti-racist movements and also advocate for greener and more egalitarian futures. 

The first iteration of Propaganda School, which featured artist Jonas Staal, visual culture theorist Andrea Průchová Hrůzová, and media expert Jan Bělíček, centered around propaganda from the perspective of media imagery and (dis)information. The second iteration, hosted by the Jindřich Chalupecký Society’s inclusion and sustainability coordinator Nikola Ludlová, discussed anti-Roma propaganda and forms of resistance to it with Roma activist and community organizer Edita Stejskalová and human rights activist, researcher, and translator Gwendolyn Albert. The third and final program of Propaganda School will be a discussion with Ostrava-based eco-activist Michal Feller on the topics of environmental and climate breakdown, possibilities for ecological renewal, and interspecies coexistence.

The exhibition is curated by Karina Kottová, the director of the Jindřich Chalupecký Society, and it is on display together with the Jindřich Chalupecký Award 2023 exhibition until February 25, 2024. 

Jonas Staal’s exhibition Propaganda Station is organized as a part of the program of the Jindřich Chalupecký Society within the scope of the international project Islands of Kinship: A Collective Manual for Sustainable and Inclusive Art Institutions, co-funded by the European Union, the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, the City of Ostrava, the State Cultural Fund of the Czech Republic, and the Mondriaan Fund, Amsterdam.

International overlaps of the exhibition within the platform Islands of Kinship: A Collective Manual for Sustainable and Inclusive Art Institutions
The Islands of Kinship project connects and transforms on a practical level six medium-sized visual art institutions in different regions of Europe: The Jindřich Chalupecký Society (Prague, Czech Republic), Frame Contemporary Art Finland (Helsinki, Finland), Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art (Riga, Latvia), The Július Koller Society (Bratislava, Slovakia), Faculty of things that can’t be learned (Bitola/Skopje, North Macedonia), and Temporary Gallery (Cologne, Germany). The main goal of the project is to create a long-term professional platform for joint artistic and programmatic production, sharing, and the exchange of knowledge regarding programming and internal mechanisms.

This new initiative also focuses on organizing symposia and meetings, sharing know-how, and developing new systems, methodologies, and practices disseminated through a series of podcasts, institutional journals, and public reports on the project’s progress. The project objectives include enabling new commissions of artworks dealing with the practical, ethical, and emotional aspects of the themes addressed by the project. These art projects are then presented as part of the exhibitions and public programs of the institutions participating on the IoK project. We are happy that Jonas Staal’s Propaganda Station is one of these newly created artworks.

The first phase of the Islands of Kinship (IoK) project will culminate in a printed publication presented in collaboration with Stroom den Haag in the summer of 2024.

Project team: Jonas Staal (artist); Karina Kottová (curator, Jindřich Chalupecký Society); Veerle Driessen (researcher and coordinator); Zuzana Šrámková, Ondřej Houšťava, Sára Davidová (production managers, JCHS); Paul Kuipers (architect); Remco van Bladel (graphic design); Ruben Hamelink (camera and video editing); Extended Production (construction); Lamija Čehajić (translation and subtitles, JCHS), Brian D. Vondrak (translation), Viktor Heumann (proofreading)

In partnership with: Faculty of things that can’t be learned (FR~U), Bitola, Macedonia (Ivana Vaseva and Filip Jovanovski); MoCA Museum of Contemporary Art, Skopje, Macedonia; MSU Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, Croatia (Zdenka Badovinac)

Exhibition partners: European Union; Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic; City of Ostrava; State Cultural Fund of the Czech Republic; Mondriaan Fund, Amsterdam 

Jonas Staal’s exhibition Propaganda Station is organized within scope of the international project Islands of Kinship: A Collective Manual for Sustainable and Inclusive Art Institutions, co-funded by the European Union, the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, the City of Ostrava, the State Cultural Fund of the Czech Republic, and the Mondriaan Fund, Amsterdam.

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January 29, 2024

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