Interview with Project Manager Andrea Průchová

“Our research wants to bring together people and disciplines”

Andrea Průchová discusses the current activities and plans of the Laterna Magika research team, the collaboration with international institutions as well as her personal approach to the phenomenon of Laterna Magika. She also tells us what it is like to manage such an extensive research project.

What are your responsibilities in the Laterna Magika research project?
As the project manager, I primarily have to synchronize all of the cooperating elements and teams in terms of organization and communication. My job is to follow the work of every single team and the particular activities in the given stage of research. I coordinate the historical team whose members are recruited from the National Film Archive (NFA) and the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague. I am in touch with Lucie Česálková and Kateřina Svatoňová as well as with the team of history experts who are in charge of interviews with contemporaries. As for the communication with the historical team, my task is to oversee their work within the given timeline; for instance, making sure that all the interviews are finished on time, that the material is collected and that we can start analyzing it. I try to continuously provide maximum institutional support so they have good conditions for their work, so that the individual archives communicate with them, provide access to more materials, help them even more, let them research for a longer time etc.

I also make sure that the communication with the National Theater goes well; which is, in my opinion, most essential for the historical team. The PR manager of the current Laterna Magika, Lucie Kocourková, is very helpful as well; thanks to her, we can access the archive, get contact information of the contemporaries, consult technical aspects. Lucie and the head of the artistic ensemble of Laterna Magika, Pavel Knolle, also put us in touch with the current dance ensemble as we need the dancers for the motion capture process; which is done by the team of Roman Berka from the Institute of Intermedia at the Czech Technical University in Prague. Our hopes were for the whole team, ranging from technicians through dancers to managers, to become enthusiastic about the project; which was eventually the case. If this communication and great collaboration didn’t work, I couldn’t really see our project taking place.

What about the communication with the team that is in charge of film material?
The film team includes solely experts from the National Film Archive; digitization is done externally with David Šmitmajer. Most of the activities, however, take place at the National Film Archive. We have two film operators who work solely on this project. What is important for me is to make sure that film material processing goes as it should. I initiate meetings between the film team and the historical team and see to it that they communicate, understand each other, share materials. The task of the film team, from the beginning to the end of the project, is to continuously watch the material, describe it, clean it, preserve it and then digitize it based on the priorities of the historical team.

In the film team, the individual research stages are not “stacked on top of each other” like in the case of the historical team, whose members have already started writing texts and scholarly studies. While their work is continuous, it is getting increasingly demanding due to the numerous materials we have decided to research based on our research priorities.

Could you describe the contribution of the Czech Technical University and CESNET?
The Czech Technical University (CTU) and CESNET provide data support and data protection; plus CTU creates multimedia data. Currently we are most involved in the motion capture process to preserve the motion of Laterna Magika dancers; several sessions are still ahead of us. I was the one to initiate the event and arrange the collaboration with the National Theater. An example of where the multimedia team of CTU and the historical team meet is setting the priorities as to which performances are to be recorded by the motion capture technology because they are interesting in terms of choreography and the mutual effect of dance and image.

As for the cooperation with CESNET, we need to create a description of the data of the historical materials consisting of archival materials, oral history interviews, film materials, audio and multimedia data. We had to find a person for each type of data to administer the description and communicate with CESNET. I am in charge of smooth communication and see to it that everybody has access to the data they need.

What about the presentation of the project to the public?
I oversaw the creation of the website, its design and administration, and communicated everything in coordination with the PR manager of the National Film Archive so that we could present the project at a press conference held in collaboration with Laterna Magika on the New Stage of the National Theater in March 2018. When experts, media and the general public want to learn more about the project, I try to answer their questions the best way I can, or pass them on to the individual members of the team.

You have already mentioned the planned outputs. Could you elaborate on them a little?
There are three types of outputs. The first type is that of research-oriented, scholarly outputs of a rather academic nature. These will include four studies, one of which will be dedicated to the international presentation of Laterna Magika at Expo 58 in Brussels and Expo 67 in Montreal. We will further write on Laterna Magika as a multimedia work, examining its individual components: the mutual communication of the media and the gradual development of technology. Then there will be studies on music and dance. These four studies will be published both in the Czech Republic and internationally.

We will publish a Czech and English monograph which will be written in a more popular style. We will also hold an exhibition at the Brno House of Arts in the spring of 2019 and at MeetFactory in Prague in the fall of 2019. Rather than focusing on the history and development of Laterna Magika, the exhibition will address several remarkable technological phenomena, such as the use of spatial sound and multiplicity of images. We will choose several communication tools that were specific for Laterna Magika and introduce them. Rather than creating a historical exhibition, we want to establish communication between these principles and contemporary visual arts. This will result in a conversation that will show that the phenomena pioneered by Laterna Magika are now commonly used in contemporary visual arts. We will do our best to present our exhibition abroad; at the same time, we would like to invite an international artist to work with the phenomenon of Laterna Magika in the Czech Republic.

The third output will be a digital collection that will include the data we are now processing – i.e. the materials we are now digitizing, interviews with contemporaries we are now making, multimedia data we are now creating etc. We are currently discussing the form and possibilities of making such a collection accessible.

Where do you see the challenges and pitfalls of the project?
To me, the greatest challenge is successful communication within our team. Each of us has a different theoretical background and a different research experience. However, I find it necessary that projects of this exact type exist. Laterna Magika is a fascinating cultural phenomenon which will be archived and professionally interpreted; not only from the perspective of film studies, like in the case of the film archive, but also from the perspective of media archeology. It is a challenge for us to show that such research is common and desired in today’s society. What is also crucial is the way the project is presented and communicated. The whole project, including the website, is designed so as to inspire people, to be both informative and entertaining, to look good and communicate its message through contemporary visual language.

Our research wants to bring together people and disciplines and be attractive. That to me is the greatest challenge of all: to show that research is vital and not divorced from reality; for we discuss something from the recent past, which still exists, strongly shapes our present and can attract the public. Our project could show that the work of scholars is relevant and that we can communicate and cooperate across institutions. If we manage to bring everything to an end, I believe that the project can show that science is important and attractive for the public.

The greatest pitfall, on the other hand, can lie in our dissatisfaction with the fact that we have only researched a part. We need to set exact criteria and limits for ourselves, define what in particular and to what extent we want to examine and stand by our decisions. For there is an infinite number of sources, in large part of bad quality, much of which will never be digitized; we even had to shred some of them. What we create is not a fact, a truth; it is a possible interpretation; one of a limited whole at that.

What does the phenomenon of Laterna Magika mean to you personally?
To me, Laterna Magika was never a phenomenon that I would strongly perceive and follow. However, it has always been intriguing to me for its political context: how it was formed, at what time and what special treatment it got in the political sense during the socialist era locally and internationally. To me, it was a question of the fascinating and complicated political memory of the institution. I found it a burning question which is worth looking into.

What makes Laterna Magika interesting to you professionally?
At this moment, knowing the individual components of Laterna Magika, I cannot picture how much energy and communication it must have taken to put the machine together, build it and keep innovating it. There may have been stronger and weaker decades, that is for sure, yet what is crucial is the art of interdisciplinary cooperation.

I also believe that it is worth following Laterna Magika from the perspective of a certain cult of personality, whether that of Josef Svoboda or Alfréd Radok; we can see how strong a mark a single person can leave on contemporary visual culture. Plus we can contemplate on what it means to use our imagination and creativity; to be able to envision technologies that are not yet available at the time. Where do these visions of the future, which they realized, come from? It is interesting to me to think about the source of imagination of the absolute innovation type.

The phenomenon of Laterna Magika and its productions has received little attention. It is obvious that the most illustrious period is over now. Today, Laterna Magika must come to terms with the latest technologies and come up with a new imagination, a new image. I think we could help with this, drawing attention to the ensemble and stirring new debate. We can show not only why the phenomenon was important in the past but also why it is relevant in the present.

How important is the cooperation with international institutions?
It is absolutely key. Currently, there is no other project of similar nature in the Czech Republic. It was never done before, it is difficult to conduct, it is pioneering in its interdisciplinarity and in the fact that it creates new tools for old data. We can hardly address colleagues with a similar research experience in the local environment; which is why we communicate with the international scene. For this reason, the project includes international trips for the representatives of NFA; both those from the historical part of the project and the ones working with film material. We travelled to the Library of Congress in the United States, we met representatives of MoMA and other film and cultural institutions, we attended conferences in Germany and the Netherlands to learn from others.

However, during our trips, we found that no such international project exists and that there is enormous interest in our project. As soon as we mention the scope of our materials, our research approach, what we currently work on and what the expected results are, it becomes clear that we could potentially be those that others will travel to and learn from. It was a surprise for us; at the same time, it shows the great potential of the project on the international scale. We currently communicate with numerous institutions, curators and scholars who want to be informed about the project and want us to share its results. That is why I believe that our international promotion and communication is extremely important. It is key that our website and exhibition catalog have its English version as well.

The international scene is crucial for us as we seek inspiration in projects of similar character. We have seen interesting performance and theater collections. In New York, we had an important encounter with local film curators who have shown us the specific role of the curator of a digital collection who follows the collection on its journey to the viewer, taking care of it as it is archived and exhibited. They not only process particular loans but also guarantee the interpretation of the work. I find that brilliant; the vision that our collection, too, will have its curator is really important.

On the other hand, institutions that conduct their own research on Laterna Magika approach us as well. We are able to provide some information and materials within the already established processes which we are happy about. We can see that this is how our project could function in the future and we could become a key source of information about the crucial cultural, artistic and technological phenomenon.

The interview was conducted by Veronika Zýková in June 2017