Zoja Smutny, Artist – Athens, Toronto

Zoja Smutny is an interdisciplinary artist who uses choreography and liveness as an entry point into making artworks. For the last several years, her practice has laboured over two questions: “How will we spend time together?” and “How can dance make an object?” Through this line of inquiry, the concept album Rosé Porn, a collaboration with music producer/artist Victoria Cheong, came to be. The exhibition Rosé Porn opens on July 13 at Zalucky Contemporary with a performance at 4pm.

Zoja was born in Czechoslovakia to a Greek mother and Czech father during the time of the Russian occupation. In 1977, her family was forced to escape and moved to Canada. Her work is influenced by her personal history of displacement, the desire to belong, finding ways of communicating, movement, music, fashion, pop, images, and fantasy. She is deeply devoted to collaboration and it informs the core of her practice. Her main body of work has been produced alongside photographer Guntar Kravis (CDN) and visual artist Athina Stamati (GR). She received a Masters from UDK/HZT in Berlin.

  1. Practice

Performer: Zoja Smutny. Location: Folegandros, Greece. Photographer: Athena Stamati.

For the last three summers I’ve been living and working on the Greek island of Folegandros. I run a yoga and wellness studio there. I’ve been visiting this island since 2005. I kept going back for the obvious reason that it’s just an incredible place to be, but also the island continuously teaches me about the body, presence, embodiment, listening, and endurance. By walking the rock that is Folegandros on a daily basis I become a part of its nature. I have developed a do-or-die attitude through my experience on the island. The walking, the heat, the rocks, all prepare me in cultivating a presence for my work. As a performer I have developed a performance practice that has nothing to do with going into a studio with all the right conditions. I use nature to receive and listen to, and no longer rehearse but rather become the thing I want to share with my audience.

  1. The PAD Project

I spent the winter of 2018 living in Athens (I am half Greek). I went there to work on a new art project and ended up volunteering with the refugees living in the city. At first I volunteered my time by offering healing touch reiki in the women’s space at Chora Community Center. Soon after I started to raise money for sanitary pads through my connections and network in Canada. Being born to a politically displaced family and an immigrant myself, it felt like the only natural thing was to work with the refugees. I learned so much on so many levels – too many things to write about here. The main thing is I finally felt that my healing practice came into some real use and it gave me a way of communicating with people who changed my life and my outlook on humanity and politics. We all have it in us to practice love. We all have it in us to help to transform, to heal. The PAD Project continues each time I pass through Athens, which is about four times a year .

  1. Fantastical spaces

When creating Rosé Porn it was very important to me that I created a space and atmosphere that was more of a fantasy space, a play space. I wanted people to feel comfortable and curious to explore the space. That’s why I had palm trees and gold sequins, pink lights, and neon pink tape designs on the wall. The aesthetics of spaces are something I spend a lot of time thinking about, being in, and creating. When I’m creating a new performance work I usually start with what I want the space to look like. After all, we will be spending an hour in there together. It is important for me that the audience feels good in the space, because then they are available to not only watch the work, but to be a part of it. I travel often and am very influenced by the spaces I encounter, be it a bar, an office, a club, nature, abandoned buildings, the gallery. And let’s face it, I’m a major Instagram addict and scroll through images of spaces as a daily practice. I like to think of myself as an artist who wants to bring you an experience of joy through space in order to open the conversation to what the possibilities are when we share space together.

  1. Collaboration

Choreographer: Zoja Smutny. Photographer: Guntar Kravis.

Collaboration is the core of my artistic practice. Sometimes I think I make art just so I can be in a collaborative experience. It’s where I learn to grow, feel, and deepen the artwork, the performance. I can create things I never thought would be possible (like the Rosé Porn album) through collaboration. My main body of work is with Toronto-based visual artist Guntar Kravis, but there are others who have deeply influenced me and changed my entry point in creation. Brendan Jensen, Victoria Cheong, Anthony Burnham, Florian Kowatz, and Jenn Goodwin, just to name a few, have had a huge impact on my collaborative practice. I continue to go to them for feedback and conversation regardless if we are working on a project together or not.

  1. Theater vs gallery

Still from Rosé Porn. Photographer: Aundrea Bell. Artist in photo: Victoria Cheong.

I have been very much engaged with the topic of the value of an object in the gallery space versus the value of the body in the gallery. It seems that many institutions that are primarily object-based have become more and more excited about having the live performance body in their spaces. The excitement and interest are there, but the way the body, the human, the performance is treated is not on the same level as the actual art object. The body can’t and never will be an object. It is born, it dies, it gets sick, it feels pleasure, it creates, it destroys. This is what is completely intriguing about it and why so many institutions have become obsessed with it. They need to start valuing live work in the same way they do the object. Come see my version of this conversation in my latest incarnation of Rosé Porn at Zalucky Contemporary in Toronto on Saturday, July 13 between 3 and 5pm.