Club of Opportunities

Jakub Jansa

„Club of Opportunities“ is an ongoing exhibition series (eight episodes so far) started by multimedia artist Jakub Jansa in 2017. The series gradually reveals the anatomy of mythology and storytelling. Through mixed genres - from drama to absurd comedy - the club addresses current social issues and raises questions about authority and hierarchical relationships. The project's main characters are hybrid human-plant beings who deal with these issues and attempt to unravel the complexities of culture and class. Low forms rise in status to high and vice versa. Somewhere during this transformation, new possibilities emerge:

The protagonist is the overlooked vegetable celeriac, which is in a very low position in the vegetable hierarchy. In supermarkets we find celeriac on the lowest shelves, avocados are always highlighted in the middle.

The main narrator is Kami Nábělek, a rather eccentric philosopher who appears at the club’s openings and then occasionally during the run of the shows. He gives speeches full of scientific and pseudoscientific concepts, revealing key moments in current history. In addition to the Celerist - a rebellious hybrid between a human and a celeriac - we meet the SEER (Oracle), who ironically is no longer able to see the future and therefore has to deal with anxiety.

The SEER plays a main role in the latest episode, „Opening Ceremony“ (Ep. 8) - a film Jansa created for the „Flower Union“ exhibition at the National Gallery in Prague as part of the Czech Republic's 2022 EU Presidency. The supernatural figure of SEER takes over the direction of the second part of the film, activating decorative flowers in the form of an ecosexual festive ritual. The fortune teller shows the plants that by putting pistils and calyxes together they can reach the public and change the course of events. Thus, hopefully, her ability to see the future returns.

The episode before „Shame to Pride“ (ep. 7) shows the main character Celeriac in a surprising situation: he has symbolically risen in vegesociety and has been invited to avocado circles. At the same time, he can not quite come to terms with the new circumstances; he gets into an existential crisis and decides to “come out” about his class and social background. Jansa himself comes from a position outside the cultural center. The need to change the social structure, the difficulty of which in the art world is above all to grasp what the art scene is addressing, is also a critique of the mythology of work, sport and self-discipline as a tirelessly propagated possibility of liberation, a mythology of equal opportunity. In this, the episode reflects essential elements of the idea of the series.With each new show, new characters and storylines are introduced, creating situations that hover between reality and fiction, where the story is revealed through videos, various objects and ongoing live actions.

Jansa is the recipient of the 2021 Jindřich Chalupecký Art Prize and, as a result, was invited to New York's Residency Unlimited, where he currently works and spends time with his wife Karolína Juříková and daughter. PYLON spoke with him about the Club of Opportunities and his future endeavors:

PYLON: How is New York?

Jakub Jansa: It's great here. We've been planning to come since 2021. In the meantime, our daughter was born and the covid ended - two major positive events. I have a lot of great friends here in NY. I'm currently getting to know the city again from the perspective of our two-year-old daughter. So most of the networking is done at the playgrounds.

P: When can we expect a new episode of the Club of Opportunities?

JJ: At the beginning of November, I will open a new big exhibition at GHMP - the Prague City Gallery called „Garden of Problems“ and a book of the same name. Both cover all the previous episodes of Club of Opportunities.

P: Can you give a glimpse into the exhibition?

JJ: We get to the bottom of multiple problems here – with celeriac ontology, black magic, humor, losing vision of the future and especially with taking root. The exhibition takes place in the Gothic historical building of the Prague City Gallery in the famous house by the Stone Bell. And it is a great honor for me to do the exhibition there. The book is published by the Academy of Arts, architecture and Design in Prague, which is my alma mater, so I am also very happy that they decided to publish this book. The graphic design was done by fantastic Martin Groch and the book uncovers the themes addressed in the Club of Opportunities. Through the essays of the invited authors: Michal Novotný, Julie Béna, Kamil Nábělek, Noemi Purkrábková, Jozef Mrva Jr., Ernestyna Orlowska, Klára Vlasáková and Jan Bělíček.

P: The series addresses various issues of cultural and hierarchical structures through their multi-faceted characters. Some seem to evolve over the course of the exhibitions like the Celerist. How do you empathize with these characters that accompany you for such a long time span?

JJ: The Celerist is definitely a character through whom I try to understand certain problems. And I'm learning a new way of looking at the world through him. Sometimes he absorbs my own frustrations or personal transformations, sometimes I use him to portray political positions I disagree with (like the alt-right influencer in episode three), but in a new caricatured form. Which helps me to keep my distance from these positions and create space and time to think about them.

P: Speaking of current social issues: What role does gender play in the series?

JJ: The work does not primarily address gender roles or gender in political terms. If we wanted to, we could look for a certain crisis of masculinity in some of the Celerist developmental phases. But it is certainly not a closed or resolved topic for this character. He may have to deal with this problem in a future work.

P: Thank you!

Jakub Jansa’s work ranges from film to sculptural elements and installations to live performances. His practice crosses genre boundaries from drama to absurdist comedy, employing fiction, humor, and elements of the grotesque to develop complex exhibition environments that tell stories about today’s social struggles. His exhibitions tend to merge with the architecture of the spaces they inhabit. They are reminiscent of film sets or TV, in which the narrative gradually unfolds through a carefully conceived dramaturgy of different elements (video, objects, live action) as we – the visitors – move through the space

Jansa has presented his works in Tel Aviv, New York, Basel, Strasbourg, Prague, Zagreb and Ljubljana, among others, and is the recipient of the 2021 Jindřich Chalupecký Award. In 2017, after several works dealing with the topics of manipulation and self-development (Spiritual Fitness), Jansa launched Club of Opportunities, an episodic project starring hybrid human-vegetable creatures that question authority and cultural and class relationships. The latest, eighth episode of the Club, has been commissioned for the Flower Union exhibition organized by the National Gallery in Prague as part of the Czech Presidency of the European Council in 2022.