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Petr Štembera

Petr Štembera is among the key Czech performance artists of the 1970s. He was one of the leading figures of the Prague body art circle and from 1970 mediated contact with important performance art representatives both in the West and in Eastern Bloc countries.

In the early 1970s, Štembera’s interest in extreme physical and psychological experiences led to extreme body art pieces that he began to document in the manner customary in American body art: a black-and-white photography with a short description – a report on when and where it happened. Štembera’s first performances took place in nature and a number of later pieces dealt with the relationship between the human body and a natural entity, such as “Štěpování“ (Grafting) (1975) when Štembera grafted a bush sprig into his arm in a way common in arboriculture, or in “Spaní na stomě” (Sleeping in a tree) (1975) when, after three sleepless nights, he spent the fourth night in a tree.

Štembera’s early work is still in the artist’s self-searching phase and only arose within the closed circle of his fellow-artists Karel Miler and Jan Mlčoch. Only later did Štembera’s body as a subject of inner experience become for him an object and instrument at the same time.  This is very apparent from the time when the Prague body-art trio conducted their performances before small audiences. It was at these “evening performances" secretly held at various places that Štembera conducted a number of extreme body art performances in which he exposed his body and sometimes even the viewers to danger. Štembera’s courage supplemented by skills learned from yoga enabled him to undertake very demanding performances. Their excruciating nature and symbolism strongly resonated with the “normalization” years in Czechoslovakia following the Soviet occupation.

Like Karel Miler and Jan Mlčoch, Štembera decided to stop his performance activities in the late 1970s. This was due to a feeling of exhaustion, but also a feeling of awkwardness to carry out artificially risky acts in light of the real perils faced by those involved in the Charter 77. Štembera’s interest in other psychophysical activities, such as oriental martial arts, also played a role.

P.M.

1945, Plzeň / CZ, at that time ČSSR

Štembera, originally a painter, started performing actions in 1971. They mainly took place in Prague (Czech Republic), but also in other European countries as well as in the USA. Together with fellow artists Jan Mlčoch and Karel Miler he organized and performed actions from about 1970 to about 1980. At the beginning of the 1980s all three stopped performing and afterwards became curators.

Lives and works in Prague, Czech Republic.


Solo Exhibitions (selected):

1980     “Petr Štembera”, Papala Gallery, Karlsruhe, Germany

1977     “Petr Štembera”, ANA galleria Oppera, Genoa, Italy

1976     “Petr Štembera”, Studio 16/e, Turin, Italy


Group Exhibitions (selected):

2011     “Museum of Parallel Narratives. In the framework of L’Internationale”, MACBA Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

2009     “Subversive Praktiken - Kunst unter Bedingungen politischer Repression“, Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart, Germany         

2007     Prague Biennale 3, Prague, Czech Republic

2005     “Support 3. Fluxus, Happening, Konzeptkunst“, Neue Galerie Graz, Graz, Austria

2004     “Kurze Karrieren”, MUMOK Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna, Austria

2002     “Corps et traces”, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon, France

This bibliography provides a list of books available in the
ERSTE Foundation Library

Books/Exhibition Catalogues

 

Neuburger, Susanne, Saxenhuber, Hedwig, eds. 2004. Kurze Karrieren: Stephen Kaltenbach, Christine Kozlov, Lee Lozano, Konrad Lueg, Karel Miler, Jan Mlčoch, Hilka Nordhausen, OHO, Verena Pfisterer, Charlotte Posenenske, Petr Štembera, Goran Trbuljak. Cologne: König [Exhib. Cat., Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien (May 20-Aug. 1, 2004)]

 

Karel Miler, Petr Štembera, Jan Mlčoch: 1970-1980. 1997. Curated by Karel Srp. Prague: Galerie Hlavního Mesta.

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