“Ora et lege”
              Emily McDermott
              Sister Francesca Stanislava Šimuniová gave a speech at the opening of “Ora et lege” (“pray and read”). I can only speculate about what the nun said—she was speaking in Czech—but her presence, along with that of Sister Lucia Wagner, reflected this exhibition’s point of departure: It is not critical of or in opposition to religious belief; rather, curator Monika Čejková proposes contemporary art as a way to bring values of the Benedictine Order into a secular positioning, namely that of the “holy reading” ritual. The six participating artists—Ed Atkins, Kamilla Bischof, Jesse Darling, Liam Gillick, Martin Kohout, Florian Meisenberg, and the collective Slavs and Tatars—have responded to the site through artworks and texts, reflecting the Benedictine daily practice of lectio, meditatio, and oratio (reading, meditation, and prayer). Entering St. Adalbert’s Church, Baroque frescos and architectural elements juxtapose Gothic wooden pews covered with graffitied inscriptions of Czech and German names, along with the occasional phrase. These markings were likely made by students at the grammar school that operated within the monastery from 1624 through to 1939—all but one, that is. On the second pew in the row, an uncannily new engraving reads “silence of the perpetual choire in heaven, 23 June …

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