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Street AnimationUmělec magazine 2004/2
Ivan Mečl | en cs
Things you don’t know part 2,
Home Gallery, Prague, 2.4.–1.5. 2004
It’s hilarious. An artist invited to the country wasn’t allowed into the Czech Republic because he forgot to get a visa. A few days prior to entry into the European Union, not even intervention from higher officials could help him. The artist returned to Berlin and the performance didn’t take place. It was postponed. By now we are already in the European Union, but nothing has changed on the border. A gang of grouchy border guards continue to demand passports. Gossip is circulating among a few enlightened people that a few minutes before entry into “the society” premier Špidla received a call from Brussels.
Brussels: Mr. Špidla, we’re really sorry, but at the last minute it just didn’t work out.
Špidla: Oh God! how come?
Brussels: You can’t get into the Union. There’s nothing we can do. You almost made it!
Špidla: Damn… (remains silent for some time) … Do we have to make it public?
Brussels: No, not really. Just that nothing changes.
Špidla: Okay, we’ll let it be. Now, I’ve got to go. Our President is opening a bottle of champagne.
And that’s the way it is up to now.
He’s a guy wearing a sports outfit and a wool hat. Coming from South Africa, he most likely has had experience with everything that we might label subculture or underground. When he brings that to an artistic space, it seems slightly inadequate, but these are strong words because there is nothing more adequate than bringing the inadequate. In any case, at the front of the gallery he appears as a street kid.
It isn’t completely clear whether this inclines more to performance, photography or video. What is important is how it relates to his work. For example: In Johannesburg’s Rembrandt van Rijn Art Gallery, he sketched a bicycle on a wall and then behaved to it as if it really stood there.
“My interactive pieces can be seen as an attempt to foreground the way objects functions as signs before people see them as material things,” he says, with resolute seriousness.
No street urchin, this person is an intellectually defined artist, and as such he is no naive novice – even if he seems that way. Karel Císař, who curated the exhibition says, “He is in no way naive. He knows what he wants very clearly, and one day we will all be hearing about him – not about such small actions as this, as he will only do great things.”
A Gorgeous Trap
Prague’s Home Gallery is so great that with such a specific setting any below-par show would lose out to the space. Even among richer foreign galleries, there are very few spaces with such perfect skylight illumination.
Many exhibitors have not used that advantage, and perhaps anyone would suffer competing with the space’s unbalanced acoustics.
So even when empty Home looks better than the rest. That was noticed by many of the visitors to Rhodes’ performance at that moment that the action was postponed. Even that way there were many who enjoyed the non-happening and the emptiness in late hours of the evening. There was a peculiar, liberating feeling that first evening, as if all were relieved that nothing would happen in the end.
As soon as some clever artist or curator realizes what potential there is in a space, it can take the form of clammy grave stones, or other sacred spaces or perhaps some alien structure recently abandoned by alien inhabitants. Or the space can be desecrated; there are qualities in that. Most heretics who are punished for imperfect desecration, enjoy lots of suffering in the process. Such is the case with Jan Hus and that poor heretic from Munster. But pure sin and perfect desecration is valued and praised. Consider as a case in point that most radically dynamic curatorial duo of world renowned performance groups: Usama and George. They do their deeds well, and fulfill our souls.
If a gallery wouldn’t be tarnished, there’d be no reason to make use of such an elite space. The performence using street art doesn’t really work in galleries because the public tends to behave as they would at Cannes, with a red carpet and all; artists get embarrassed. Add a couple of cameramen and a photographer following a fews steps behind and the whole action feels like a video filming. To a certain extent it would be good to respect and remember that the camera has a lens that can be adjusted to drag the performer on the road.
To Understand and Assist
After filling the hall, and gathering all the smokers crowded at the front porch, a swarthy artist in a T-shirt hauled in a bucket brimming with bright paint, and with bold brush strokes, sketched a urinal on the wall. Immediately, he began to piss into it. After that, he painted the gray outline of automobiles on a side wall. After about ten minutes he filled the longest wall with five or six vehicles lined up bumper to bumper.
A traffic jam from the point of view of a passer by. Then the artist began to push them along. To applause, the dirtied artist took a bow and skipped off backstage. He had done all he could, but the audience reacted to his performance with as much gusto as they would to a piano recital. There was no cheering when the artist attempted with his whole body to push the cars along the bare wall. What’s more, nobody came to help him, even though he was obviously having a tough time. Well, what would you think about such people if you were pushing your dead car along a road and passers by just stared at you for the fun of it? Maybe they’re odious snobs and bourgeois who don’t want to get dirty. And they’d be thinking “Jesus God, what is he doing?” And you’d be screaming from the depths of your heart, “Damn it, I’m pushing my car! Can’t you tell?”
“Oh, I see,” the bourgeois and snobs would scream and delightedly come to your car. But it would be too late. The auto would have already turned over and you disappear with that not-so-warm feeling.
“And why didn’t you try to help?” they asked me when we talked about the show. I had to admit that it didn’t seem possible. The car continued to remain in one place and it really seemed like it would be a gesture in vain. And I really thought we’d have to move all six cars to get in the front of the line.
Most people who are too well educated or read skeptical authors would retort, “but yeah, in the end he succeeded in pushing it. What animation!”
It is a tremendous curatorial service to bring such an unique show to the Czech Republic, a country whose scene has not been recently recognized for such actions. But Czech artists and local curators have resigned from such performance art for several years. As a result the public is having increasing difficulty orienting. Perhaps the public could be given a preventative or explanatory lecture before they leave. They wouldn’t then be stuck saying to each other just “we liked that.” A subsequent discussion may then help understand such uncharted contemporary activities in Central Europe. With today’s unsystematized flow of information and our limping education about contemporary art, we can no longer say, “well, shouldn’t we know about it from the red issue of that foreign magazine?”