Review: Eliáš Urban’s “Urban Jungle” at Prague’s Kasarna Karlin
Eliáš Urban’s exhibition “Urban Jungle” is open to the public until 31 March in the Bazén Cafe in Prague’s Kasarna Karlin. Brno Daily’s Ruby Dark went to take a look at the artist’s evocative work highlighting the uneasy tension of modern life. Photo credit: Ruby Dark.
Prague, Mar 13 (BD) – Located in the Bazén Cafe within the Kasarna Karlin complex, Eliáš Urban’s exhibition of architecture and nature is easy to get lost in. When you enter the gallery space, it takes a few moments for your eyes to adjust to the sloping floor of the now empty military pool, which has been filled with tables and chairs as an extension of the cafe next door.
Urban’s paintings circle the walls of the pool, seeming to speak to their surreal surroundings. One painting, “Epidemická” (Epidemic), features three girls in party hats staring at their phones, their faces hidden by their hair and scarves. They’re standing on a reflective, blue tiled surface, as if standing in the pool itself.
Urban plays with colour, proportion and depth to create an uncanny sense of space in his art. Just like when entering the gallery space, you need to stop and pause in order to fully take in his large-scale paintings.
Urban says this choice of location was deliberate: “I was looking for a suitable placement for my paintings which would somehow resonate thematically. I approached Brick Gallery (a virtual exhibition platform), and together we came up with this location.”
The first painting that greets you is “Dvorek a Koberec” (Yard and Carpet), showing two armchairs perched on a colourful rug in a grassy courtyard surrounded by concrete buildings. The painting seems to reflect the Karlin barracks themselves, where outside and inside become meaningless boundaries. In the Kasarna Karlin courtyard, you’ll find deck chairs, a sauna, even an open-air cinema. Urban’s armchairs seem positioned as if facing a TV, but instead of an interior living room, the outside and the inside become one and the same.
Many of Urban’s paintings feature urban architecture confronted with natural growth. In “Doll house II”, a miniature model of a house sits in front of a wire fence, with a wall of trees on the other side, towering above the doll house. The forest seems to be breaking through the holes in the fence, creeping towards the viewer and the doll house, barely kept at bay.
In the titular painting “Urban Jungle”, we’re now on the other side of a wire fence, looking onto a serene winter suburb. A wild array of exotic leaves and flowers are pushing at the fence towards the tranquil garden blanketed in snow.
Is the wire fence keeping us safe inside our suburban haven? Or is it keeping us imprisoned, isolated from nature? Throughout the exhibition, the jungle creeps towards the urban, creating dream-like stories of nature vs. human.
To Urban, the “urban jungle” is both a space of escape and a reminder of the unease of modern life.
“Previously, the jungle was an environment where people adapted alongside animals. Now, we create such jungles for ourselves, and in some cases, we are too distanced from its roots. In our architecture, technology, and way of being in general. Henry David Thoreau would probably have a similar opinion.”
Urban’s bold, technicolor paintings are complemented and contrasted by the delicate pencil drawings of Barbora Vovsová. The two artists don’t intermingle, their works sit on either side of the pool, as if whispering to each other across the chasm.
Vovsová’s drawings cast shapes and shadows on fine paper canvases, like fossils or ancient animal prints preserved through time. Her greyscale drawings sometimes create organic textures, like seashells or tree roots, yet they simultaneously seem to be manufactured, resembling concrete or chain mail.
Her paper statues complement Urban’s paintings well, also slipping through easy categorisation. “I’ve known Bara very well for a long time and her way of creating is very close to me,” said Urban. “It’s more intuitive and gentle, and yet I feel our approaches are similar in creating their own system that will grow into reality. Even though my paintings are more narrative, I still try to disrupt something too obvious.”
Urban Jungle promises to play with your expectations and prompt you to reconsider easy distinctions – to find the jungle inside the urban and the urban in the jungle.
In the artist’s own words: “It’s about how well we set ourselves up and balance the jungle with what is our own. That means not having things programmed for you, but participating in their creation. The jungle is my space of imagination, and there, it’s an escape from modern life.”The exhibition runs from 3 to 31 March at Bazén Cafe, situated in Prague’s Kasarna Karlin, and is free to enter. Urban’s artworks are available to buy online at Brick Gallery.