I realised this week that is has been two years to the day since Amy and I set out on our adventure by train to Prague. It is one my favourite experiences and I can’t quite believe it was whole two years ago now. The memory is even more prominent in my mind because the thought of such a journey right now, still in the midst of the pandemic, seems so alien now. Below, I revisit a blog post I wrote, originally for the SeriousGeoGames website, about it.
The Prague Quadrennial of Scenography and Design is a conference for theatre makers, unsurprisingly held in Prague every four years. It’s a huge event over 11 days where 15,000 people attend. My wife, Amy, is a Lecturer in Theatre and Performance and was chairing a panel at the conference, so I decided to tag along – I did so four years ago and found it inspiring, check out my previous blog from then.
Amy’s first book – Meyerhold and the Cubists – was long-listed by the conference
Information boards in central Prague showcasing water’s importance to society
At the Prague Quadrennial, or PQ, countries (and regions, like Quebec) are invited to exhibit the best in their scenography and design over the past four years in about a 6m x 6m space. How they choose to do this is up to each country and there is a lot of variance and creativity on display. I was pleased to see several of the exhibits making use of VR but was a little disappointed that most did little more than show flat, low resolution, 360 videos on them – Ireland’s was notable as using high resolution, stereoscopic video, interlaced with graphics (including a creepy eyeball) to show the work of some of their best designers.
Several of the exhibits featured virtual reality, including some with modified headsets
Several of the exhibits chose environmental themes. I was taken by China’s exhibit as it revolved around a long distance train journey Chinese designers travelled to get to past PQ’s – in contrast to today, it was more expensive to fly so had to go by train.
China’s exhibit used lighting, projection, and mobile phones to showcase design inspired by a long distance train journey from China to Prague
Quebec explored whether reducing our use of resources was at odds with creative freedom, asking whether the performing arts holds the key to renewed environmentalism. They showcased the best in eco-scenography and invited visitors to complete a questionnaire whilst powering a pedal-powered propeller.
Quebec’s exhibited highlighted their designs and use of eco-scenography
Switzerland used a ski-lift carriage and a canvas held on hydraulic rods to visualise snow depth data in three dimensions, responding dynamically as the data changed resolution on the screen – you had a different perspective whether you were on the ground or one the lift.
Switzerland’s ski-lift could visualise environmental data dynamically and in three dimensions
France was one of the winning exhibits and several I spoke to said that it had moved them to tears. On the outside, harsh lights displayed the warning “No Nature, No Future” and on the other side a smoke-filled room with haunting piano music was inhabited by shaking and shivering figures made of the waste of man-made materials. It was bleak and dystopian.
The French exhibit made the waste materials of the artist into human-sized living creatures. It asked what we would be without nature
The conference itself engaged with environmentalism, with espresso-sized Keep Cups for sale, and an awesome scheme where if you bought a plastic bottle then Soda Stream, one of the sponsors, would refill it for free with fizzy, flavoured water – this was 200 czk (about £7) well spent, and I really want to buy a Soda Stream now!
I love a conference sponsored by Soda Stream with flavoured fizzy water on tap
The way the exhibits are put together was really inspiring and we have incorporated some of the ideas we saw into the design of the Earth Arcade, particular The Forest. You can find out more about this work on our poster for the European Geoscience Union meeting in 2020.
Portugal’s exhibit, Windows, featured mirrored metal boxes with small holes to peer through – inside were lit up models of stage designs. I would love to use this to hide away scenes of possible futures based on climate scenarios – dare you look inside?
Portugal invited you to spy on miniature design scenes through small windows
Cyprus featured a board room table with a bubbling pool of water in the middle – what about hosting a dinner around this where the water rises and falls, occasionally floods, and dinner guests can choose to purchase food, wooden blocks to hold back water, or extra place mats to raise their dinner?
A board room with a risk of flooding, from Cyprus
In Hungary’s student exhibit you had to walk through hanging plastic sticks and as they cascaded against each other it sounded like rain – through the clear floor beneath your feet were examples of design, details you cannot see outside of the ‘storm’. This was so simple, yet so effective.
Walking through a rain storm – Hungary’s student exhibit took you on a experiential journey through the clouds
I am always sad when we leave PQ, there always seems to be more to see and explore. It also means I have to leave Prague, which is a city I adore and would like to live in one day. With it being two years since the last PQ that means, all being well, we’re now half-way to the next one in 2023 – the organisers are now beginning to release details with an official announcement to be made on June 22nd. We plan on visiting again and by train, of course.