Delicate Beauty of Apple Trees

Galerie mladých 17 01 — 25 02
opening — 17 1 2023

Markéta Wagnerová most often engages with performance, film and music with a trademark dose of ironic humor. Delicate Beauty of Apple Trees is an exhibition project spread between Galerie mladých and CIT cinema. It introduces a story of Markéta’s literary alter-ego, Amadeus Plankton, who, in his own words, writes C-rated prose and even worse poems. His first book, Delicate Beauty of Apple Trees, is a lesbian drama seen through the eyes of the four actors in the story, and The Screaming Horror of Decayed Orchards could be described as an erotic zombie horror with a touch of fantasy in the style of J.K. Rowling. Amadeus Plankton’s literary works are inspired by apple orchards and farms in Kent, where he goes on annual picking jobs with other students and graduates of the arts and humanities. Through documentary photographs, audiobooks and video collages he comments with kind self-irony on the everyday life of artists and intellectuals in their role as Eastern European day laborers. Delicate Beauty of Apple Trees is a time-lapse of sorts, reflecting the last seven years of work on a small apple farm in the south of England. The stories of artists-pickers in the photographs, therefore, unfold against the backdrop of events such as the death of Queen Elizabeth II or Brexit, which is commented on with disguised sarcasm. Shortage of ‘cheap’ manual labor from Eastern Europe is directly embedded in seasonal agricultural work in particular. The industry is thus forced to develop automated devices and harvesting systems, often completely bizarre or extremely slow and inefficient. 

A work visa is required to work in the post-Brexit UK, which is expensive and administratively very demanding for employees as well as employers, benefiting in particular brokerage agencies. A similar theme has recently been explored by Alarm reporter Saša Uhlová in her series Hrdinové kapitalistické práce II. (Heroes of Capitalist Labor II), which takes the form of a personal diary of various low-paid jobs in Western Europe (salad pickers in Germany, maids in Ireland, or caregivers for the elderly in France) and looks at the motivations of groups of workers, the progress of work and rest, and the often systemically unfavorable conditions of work. Although Markéta Wagnerová does not criticize and thematize exploitative working conditions as a main theme, she and Saša Uhlová both describe the daily schedule, close relationships that emerge under conditions of almost 24-hour sharing, and the specific freedom that accompanies this work and lifestyle. For many workers, time on the farm or in the hotel becomes a kind of detachment and liberation from the obligations of their “real” lives. For a group of artist-laborers, this work also represents freedom in the sense of a guaranteed income that allows them to devote the rest of the year to art. This also means that this type of work is not in danger of turning into identity work in the sense of absolute dependence. As can be seen from the group portraits from 2009 onwards, for many of them this work experience is only a short-term income and the focus of their self-realization and self-expression remains in their artistic work. Last but not least, this freedom and pervasiveness of art and collecting can also be felt in the many situational film and music performances or the photographic and literary series Delicate Beauty of Apple Trees.

The installation is far more critical of the consumption mechanism of capitalism with regard to environmental impacts and systemic food waste. A rough estimate of the food waste, the apples that rot in the orchards, comes out to about 10% of the total harvest. Meanwhile, 90% of the unharvested apples are edible but unmarketable because they are too small, too light, too orange, or too big for supermarket standards. Processing them further is not economically efficient for growers. Despite the abundance of local apples, apples from Australia or Africa are imported into the UK, ostensibly because of consumer demand for variety. Alibist corporate policy is thus much more evident and bizarre than ever before in its unduly sharp outlines. Markéta Wagnerová and Amadeem Planktonem make a mockery of it with equal sharpness. 

The factographic part of the exhibition was created in collaboration with researchers Tanya Stathers and Alise Kirtley from the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich, who are researching the topic of food waste and consumer ethics. 

The artists involved in the exhibition are MgA. Marek Hlaváč, MgA. Ondřej Horák, BcA. Tomáš Kouba, MgA. Barbora Kurtinová, Jan Mader and MgA. Anna Tesařová.