John Sanborn: Notes on Us

Kunsthalle Praha hosts the first-ever solo exhibition of John Sanborn’s work in the Czech Republic, titled Notes on Us. Sanborn initially rose to prominence in the experimental video art scene of the 1970s and 1980s. Subsequently, he contributed to the heyday of MTV’s music video aesthetics and later to the contemporary boom of digital art in Hollywood. Visitors will have the chance to see his monumental nine-channel video installation V+M (2015), which is part of the Kunsthalle Praha Collection and thematizes the mythological story of Venus and Mars. Together with a series of four digital portraits titled Mythic Status (2015–2016), these works explore themes such as love, self-love, and fluid gender identity. These immersive large-scale projections will bring to life the walls of Gallery 3.

John Sanborn
Notes on Us

1/3 2024–3/6 2024
Gallery 3

Curator: Barbora Ropkováa

„I think Sanborn’s poetic interpretation of contemporary topics through the language of mythology and the dynamism of music and movement can be engaging and accessible for a wide audience,” explains exhibition curator Barbora Ropková, who is also Collection Curator at Kunsthalle Praha.

Inclusive collaboration as well as cultural and gender diversity have always been essential to Sanborn’s work. As he describes: “I am a sponge, absorbing and notating bits and pieces of language, gesture, sound and image – moving and otherwise…” Characteristic features of his style include radical editing, effective rhythm, work with associations, and dynamic use of music. Sanborn’s mentor, friend, and collaborator was Korean artist Nam June Paik (1932–2006), a seminal figure in video art.

“Sanborn was never an activist artist, yet all his videos from the first decade of his career were made in collaboration with women and celebrated what we can now call difference. Already in his early work, one of his main interests was interpersonal relationships, which naturally blended with his passion for storytelling,” elaborates Ropková, offering insight into the content of Sanborn’s art.

His work regularly features his friends and performers from the LGBTQ community. It thematizes topical issues related to life in the USA at the time, such as multiculturalism and the AIDS epidemic. “Each one of us has the will, means, and opportunity to change our part of the world. It begins with me, and I’m passing it on to you. Let’s go change it together,” urges Sanborn, whose art deals with topics similar to those addressed by the young generation of contemporary video artists, while remaining distinctive in its optimism and poetic qualities.

The video installation V+M (2015) was first exhibited at the Videoformes international festival in Clermont-Ferrand, France, where it was specifically designed for the space of a Baroque chapel. Subsequently, it was shown at the Camerawork festival in San Francisco and recently featured in Sanborn’s 2022 retrospective at the ZKM Karlsruhe. “Sanborn translates poetic stories from classical mythology into a contemporary social context, where gender has become diverse and fluid. I therefore consider the main message of his work to be a belief in equality and openness towards difference, which can be a great inspiration for viewers,” explains Barbora Ropková, concluding her reflections on one of the most important figures of contemporary video art. The exhibition at Kunsthalle Praha will mark the first presentation of Sanborn’s work in the Czech Republic and will be personally introduced by the artist himself. 

John Sanborn (born 1954), a key figure of the second wave of American video art, presents his most recent work. This exhibition, which also features an audiovisual installation V+M (2015) from the Kunsthalle Praha Collection, offers visitors the first-ever chance to see the art of Nam June Paik’s student in the Czech Republic. Sanborn’s poetic artworks blend visual elements with movement, spoken word, and striking music. They address topics such as love and fluid gender identity, thematizing them via the language of ancient mythology.

You can also read texts by curator Barbora Ropková and writer and publicist Marek Torčík.