writer and curator
Kateřina Tučková (1980), a writer and curator, is a Masaryk University graduate who is making her dreams come true. As a student of art history at the Faculty of Arts, her goal was to be a curator. Her organization ‘ARSkontakt’ is a major organizer of contemporary art exhibitions, and many periodicals publish her expert texts on art. Her second study programme, Czech Studies, influenced her to also become a writer. Her second book was published in September 2010.The Expulsion of Gerta Schnirch [Vyhnání Gerty Schnirch] tells the dramatic story of a young German woman who was made to leave Brno at the end of the Second World War.
You have, considering your age, a fairly decent position in your field of specialization as an art curator. How did you manage to succeed and gain respect so quickly?
I am constantly fighting for it (laughs), and to a large extent the fight has been related to my young age. I started working as an independent curator at the age of 22, before finishing my degree. I was trying to do things all over the country. I was mainly working on ‘Confrontation’, a meeting of young artists, which I still organize today and which involves students from the art studios connected with university art departments. Especially at the beginning, it was a terrible job, because, since I was so young, I had to gain the confidence of the heads of departments while at the same time trying to organize something for their students who were often older than me. It involved a lot of persuasion, a situation that recurs for me even now, as I am still younger than most people in this profession. The need to earn their confidence was also related to the fact that I am a freelancer, so I have no institutional support.
In an interview a few years ago, you said that you would someday like to work for the Moravian or National Gallery. Do you still have that dream?
That would be beautiful, but what kind of job could I do there now? There are very few curatorial jobs for contemporary art. In addition, I have already scheduled exhibitions for two or three years ahead, and they are not projects I would like to give up. I would like to cooperate with state art institutions as I do now, but to be an employee of any of them would be hard. I don’t even know if they would be interested in me anyway. In addition to bringing in some contacts, I would also come with a number of ongoing projects that I would have to work on, at least partially. Furthermore, curators are sometimes just an administrative force, and this might not be the right work for me.
Can one make a living as a freelance curator today?
I’ve just passed my final doctoral exams, but somehow I forgot to think about what will happen after my stipend runs out (laughs). Being an independent curator really isn’t very easy. When I look for funds for a project, I’m usually happy if the exhibition gets paid for, and it is not unusual that the financial deficit has to be covered by selling some art work. Without other activities such as journalism, writing theoretical works for specialist magazines, and advisory work, it wouldn’t be possible.
What about the novel writing? Is that just a time-consuming hobby?
That has been the case so far. If I could earn my living writing novels at some point in the future, that would be great. However, it is almost impossible for the youngest generation of writers to be able to make a living only by writing from the very beginning. But as I was awarded a Förderpreise für Literatur Sudeten deutschen Landsmannschaftu prize in 2009 for The Expulsion of Gerta Schnirch, I might have the opportunity to get a book published in Germany and thus on a bigger market. If this was successful, it would allow me to spend some time preparing another book. The Czech Republic is, unfortunately, too small a country to be able to support all its writers. This means that there’s nothing you can do except hope that your book will gain sufficient attention abroad.
The Expulsion of Gerta Schnirch deals with the very delicate theme of the expulsion of Germans from Brno. How did you come to this subject?
It came from my location. I knew almost nothing about the whole subject, until the historian David Kovařík told me about it, and I, as a Brno patriot, got interested in it. I live in Brno on Bratislavská, which is a part of town that has actually become a Roma ghetto. I wondered how it was possible that such a remarkable part of the town, with many beautiful classicist buildings from the 19th century, could have changed so much. I found out that Germans used to live there, and that they were forced to leave. That information didn’t sufficiently satisfy me, and the whole thing developed into a three-year research project, the result of which was a book, following the fate of a girl who had been expelled. I actually prefer using the expression ‘made to leave’ over ‘expelled’ because the fact is that the generation of adult women at that time in Brno who mostly came from mixed Czech-German families were not much to blame much for the Nazi disaster.
It is a kind of topic that readers wouldn’t expect from a writer of your age without any personal connection to the theme. Wasn’t this a disadvantage for you?
Maybe that is why I could write a book about this subject. I opted for an objective and chronological order of events and took into account the German interpretation of these events, in which there were up to 10,000 victims. I also worked with the Czech point of view, which concluded that there were 1700 victims. The fact that I don’t have any personal connection to the topic allows me to remain neutral. I attempt to present the events objectively from the 1940s until 2000, when the story ends at the point when Brno has not apologized to the expelled Germans. I think I made good use of my previous academic experience, gathering as much information as possible and subsequently processing it with a rational distance.
The topic of the German expulsion still provokes a negative reaction from Czech people. Has this been your experience?
Someone going by the name of ‘Mr. Penicillin’ wrote on the Internet that the book is really terrible and that he can imagine me as the toughest Gestapo warden. Some people haven’t made peace with it and they don’t understand that we should talk mainly about the memories, culture, and cooperation, and about finding new paths. But there are still ongoing property disputes and, in addition, there is a general resentment toward talking about the topic at all.
How is the book perceived by Germans?
At first, they were wondering why I started with such a topic, as no one in my family was expelled, and I’m neither a German studies scholar nor a historian. But when I explained what I was trying to do and gave some reasons for being led to this topic, even the contemporary witnesses opened up to me. The oldest people remembering the expulsion and the generations that followed are glad to see that the subject is handled by someone who looks at it with fresh eyes and independently, from the third post-war generation point of view.
Do you have any kind of writing goal you want to achieve?
I wouldn’t want this book to be the key and the last one. Even though I think it was very exhausting, and that I really, thanks to the editors and historians, achieved the best possible result, I wouldn’t want to end it here. My next step is to organize an art exhibition that reflects on the expulsion of Germans from Bohemia, and then, of course, there’s another book that I’ve already started to work on.
In what way did your studies at Masaryk University help you in what you do now as a curator and a writer?
In relation to writing, I am very glad I could attend the creative writing seminars led by Zbyňek Fišer. It motivated me and opened new horizons in a way of writing and looking at writing. I had been writing stuff even before, but I had a feeling that it could never work out. However, when we, at the seminar, talked about the writing as a job that should lead to an end, meaning to publication, my point of view changed.
And when it comes to being a curator?
In curatorial work, my studies gave me all the necessary insights into the history of art. It was important, even though this type of knowledge can be acquired with some effort by reading books outside the university. On the whole, I am very grateful for being able to study at the Faculty of Arts, because I have, thanks to a number of excellent teachers, learnt how to be focused on the work and its objective evaluation. And this, I believe, is the most important thing. I gained respect for knowledge. And, I hope, I also acquired the ability to further develop this knowledge, both theoretically and artistically. But only time will tell.