Katerina Karhankova, Czech Republic – Kunsthøgskolen i Bergen (KhiB)

Photo: Ingunn Rauk

Katerina Karhankova, Czech Republic – Kunsthøgskolen i Bergen (KhiB)

Written by: Ingunn Rauk

Photo: Ingunn Rauk

Katerina Karhankova (23) had so many images moving around in her head she had to get them out on the screen somehow. During her stay at Bergen National Academy of the Arts (KhiB) she hopes to process her ideas on animation and projection so as to be able to use them for a very specific purpose.

 - I want to take animation beyond the film screen, Katerina explains. Having studied at Prague’s Film and TV School & Academy of Applying Arts (FAMU) for two years, Katerina was ready to explore her ideas on film making and visual communication in a different context.

Beyond the festivals
- I was growing impatient with what seems to be the most common destiny of academy films; they’re shown in film festivals and that’s it. They don’t reach a lot of people and many never really make an attempt at communicating with the audience.

Katerina sees great potential in moving pictures, and was eager to fulfil her ambitious project of applied animation.

 The magical hospital
- It’s important for me to have contact with the audience, and that my work can be useful to people. About a year ago I started developing an idea I had of using space and light to change patients’ perceptions of their rooms in hospitals. In short, my aim is to make the hospital rooms magical, especially for children. I want to create a story in the room by projecting moving images on the otherwise blank, depressing walls the kids are surrounded by.

The physical requirements for such a project are simple, you just need a projector. However, the technique behind it called mapping projection, was not taught at her former institution. She had the option of going abroad for a semester, and Katerina started looking around for a school that could offer her the education necessary for her to go through with her project, which she hopes will be possible next spring in Prague. Her main priority was the quality of the teaching, and not the location.

- Of course I would like to go somewhere nice, but travelling was not the top issue. Luckily I have been able to combine a nice place with a good school here, Katerina says.

 Space & Projection & first impressions
She first heard of it through Duncan Higgins, who was visiting Prague with his exhibition and also has a 20 % teaching position at KhiB. He told Katerina there might be possibilities for her there.

- I spoke to my supervisor at FAMU, and sent KhiB my portfolio as part of my application via Erasmus. I’m very grateful that I got accepted, Katerina smiles.

She is on the Visual Communicaton programme at KhiB, where students study graphic design of every kind. Within this field, Katerina has chosen courses dealing mainly with projection and space. Her first impression of the school was a bit chaotic. Together with the other exchange students at KhiB she had some trouble finding the information needed to sign up for courses, as well as other practical matters.

- At first I was a bit skeptical about the communication skills at the department of Visual Communication, Katerina laughs. - But once the courses started I saw that it was all going to be very professional. They know what they’re doing there.

 No work, all play?

Katerina will be following seven different courses towards the end of her stay. Her next months of studying will be demanding and time-consuming: Katerina spends her time at school from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days, but often longer. All students at the Visual Communication deptartment have their own desk, and will usually work from there with theses and assignments presented at lectures taking place at the beginning of the day.

Katerina often works with practical solutions to theoretical challenges towards the evening. Her days are long, particularly since she does not have a card for the city tram, Bybanen. This means she walks from and to her residence at Fantoft every day, whatever the weather.

- It doesn’t save time, but it saves money! It’s free exercise, and the rain actually doesn’t bother me, Katerina explains.

- Besides, although I’m working most of the day at school, it’s so much fun I actually feel like I’m playng all the time!

Fantoft friends and facilities
Despite the distance to her school’s location in the city centre, Katerina likes living in Fantoft. She shares kitchen and bathroom facilities in a double flat with a Tanzanian girl. A puzzling first weekend at Fantoft set her up with some of her best friends in Bergen so far.

- I came with a 20-kilo load of luggage on a Friday night, and somehow the keys for my flat were not ready for me at the reception. Luckily I met a girl there who insisted I stay at her apartment for the weekend, until I was able to get my keys. Through her I met other nice people, and they’re all important parts of my social network here now, Katerina says with a smile.

Leisure time = culture time
In fact, Katerina and three of her first Fantoft friends are running a small-scale puppet theatre, a kind of performing art with long traditions in the Czech Republic.

Although she keeps a busy schedule and there is always a project to work on at school, Katerina prioritises other activities in her spare time. She reads English books to improve her language skills, goes to cultural events such as gallery openings, and Katerina has been to almost all of Bergen’s museums. As examples of memorable events she mentions Study Bergen’s Rachmaninov concert at Grieghallen, free for all students, and Corps de Walk, a performance by the national contemporary dance company Carte Blanche.

Kraków + New York = Bergen?
Katerina also makes use of Bergen’s excellent hiking facilities in the mountains surrounding the city centre and Fantoft. It is important to her to have a flexible spare time with as few fixed activities as possible, and she enjoys just taking a walk around the city centre as well.

- It reminds me a bit of Kraków in Poland, in the sense that it’s very much a student city and loaded with culture in the central parts. From café windows I’m sometimes reminded of New York even!

She still thinks Bergen has an atmosphere of its own, different from her home town in many respects.

- I’m astonished at how patient the drivers are with pedestrians here! Where I’m from you need to watch your step much more carefully when crossing the street.

The light of the underground
Although Katerina feels very safe crossing the streets above ground level in Bergen, her favourite spot in the city is actually an underpass. Located between the tram stations of Florida and Danmarksplass, it provides food for thought in terms of Katerina’s next projection project at KhiB.

- I’m fascinated with the lighting conditions there, they carry great potential for the project I’m currently planning at KhiB, she smiles secretively, thinking of her exam exhibition which is still in the making.

The value of mistakes
Katerina is very pleased with the way all tasks given at KhiB are recognised as parts of a process rather than separate results. She sees the recognition of mistakes as a distinguishing feature of Norwegian teaching compared to arts education in the Czech Republic.

- Mistakes are not just allowed here, they’re valued as important, in the sense that they need to be talked about to get further in the process towards the completion of a work. I think Central European teaching is more result-oriented, mistakes are simply mistakes that should not occur. I have the impression that Norwegian art education puts more emphasis on the communicative and interactive aspects of a work as something processional, whereas my home country professes a more introverted attitude to art in general.

The Norwegian wall
Nevertheless, the difference in attitudes towards art is not proportionate to the dissimilarities between the Norwegian and the Czech people, according to Kate?ina. As many other foreigners, she perceives Norwegians to be less open than other people.

- Norwegians are shy, but I respect that. I think all defining features have a reason, and communities here have traditionally been small, so it might take longer for Norwegian people to trust people from the outside.

She compares the building of friendship with a Norwegian to the breaking of a wall.

- You may feel you’re stuck at the same stage over and over, it’s as if there’s only wall, wall, wall and then suddenly it breaks! From that point everything is possible, Katerina laughs.

Changing Czech art education – a mission possible?
Katerina has already come a long way filling in the blanks of her Norwegian experience, which previous to her arrival was mostly limited to knowledge of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt and the two famous Edvards, painter Munch and composer Grieg. She hopes it will be possible to get to know the country and the city even better, by coming back for her master’s degree. If she gets the opportunity, Kate?ina has her plans ready.

- Back in Prague I was already teaching individual lessons in animation, and children’s psychology and teaching is a field that’s very close to my heart.

Katerina has found inspiration in KhiB’s view that mistakes are ok and can in fact be a good thing. Her future mission is to introduce this perspective to a specific part of Czech education.

- If I can make primary art education a less stressful and settled experience for Czech 6-12 year-olds, nothing would make me happier, Katerina smiles.

Twist your brain a little!
She especially enjoys focusing on children in her work.

- Working with kids is rewarding to me because it’s such a challenge. They come as unexperienced participants, they’re honest and you just cannot trick them into reacting a certain way. If things work, they do, if not, you need to be patient and twist your brain a little to find a good solution.

Katerina recommends a similar attitude for people coming to Bergen as international students.

- Try to understand why things are like this here, and have patience with Norwegians – they are nice!

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