Prague's Creative Boom of the 90s

Photography was always a part of life and a family tradition for Alena Kotzmannova. Taking pictures was a hobby her parents and grandparents also enjoyed, transforming their apartment bathroom into a dark room of her childhood home in the 80s. But for Alena, traditional photography was just the start. She tells us, “I wanted to study photography, but I didn’t want to study at the film academy because it was limited to classical studies.” Alena was more interested in pushing the boundaries. She tells us she wanted to, “cross the boundaries between photography, video, and experimentation with new technologies.” Today, she explains that this is common but when she was in school programs that crossed disciplines didn’t exist—she had to carve her own path.

Education was not the only area in which Alena was at the cutting edge of the arts in Prague. As a young creative in the 80s and 90s, Alena was part of an important moment in the history of Czech arts scene. She tells us she felt fortunate to be, “part of a major boom of a creativity after the revolution.”

She tells us:

“After the revolution everything was new—nothing was established. We all worked together to build the atmosphere. There were lots and lots of art openings - every day. It was a very important time. You could suddenly see some work of artists who didn’t exhibit during communist time but now you were seeing these secrets and surprising works that until that time were hidden. It was a really special atmosphere and it’s hard to compare to today. Then, there was such a focus and a common expression.

There was this special mixture of “old Prague” which wasn’t renovated and it was kind of empty so I remember I was going across old town square at 5am and it was completely empty and I went from school to home because I developed photos throughout the night, and you could stay there all night and you just had a key (which is impossible now) and Prague was still the Prague you know from the old photos but the atmosphere was changed and enthusiastic.”

Alena’s 20+ year career has taken her all around the world exploring thematic questions such as place, identity, and memory. On her website, she explains one of her most recent collections The Wing Just Leaving The Desert, stating, “the most important quality of our memory is the subjective ability to forget, meaning to determine what is important and what is not. This regeneration of memory allows us to reorganize lived and stored experience and thus to see things anew and differently, from a different perspective.”

For Alena, the memory of Prague in the 90s is nostalgic, her memories full of passion and excitement for the creative energy of that moment in time. She describes the city today as having become “a very touristic place” but asserts that there are still some “hidden surprises that can appear in special situations.”

One of these places is in Prague 4, “down by the river.” This area has served as inspiration for one of her installations entitled, 193 Meters Above Sea Level. As a landlocked country, Czech Republic relies on the imagination of the sea, rather than the sea itself. She explains that, “I think that people who have the sea just as imagination, they have the ability to imagine more about it than people who live right on the edge of the land and sea.”

Purchase a beautiful book of Alena’s photographs here