Prague Blog

Černý Causes Havoc by an Ironic Euro-Mosaic

2925 days ago Filed under news

Entropa: an installation by David Černý at the European Council building, is yet about to be set in motion, but it’s filling headlines already. Černý based his work on stereotypes about European states. Romania is “defined” by Dracula, France seems to be on strike and so on. The CR’s frame is a display of quotes of Vaclav Klaus. So far so acceptable.

Denmark is made of Lego and resembles the Prophet Muhammad caricature, which led to massive protests a few years ago. In this case he is sort of reviving a wound not yet healed. But it’s not demeaning.

The Germans are criss-crossed by highways, which seem to form a kind of Swastika. That’s cruel, but it’s also witty enough and, well, the Germans are used to it. During previous decades they grew very patient and humble about their history and the constant (and rightful) reminding of the Nazi period is a part of their contemporary European experience. So, in fact this fulfills the concept perfectly.

The frame of Bulgaria is filled with a Turkish toilet. Little wonder the Bulgarian officials are infuriated: are we supposed to be represented by a toilet? Is that all we are to be known for?
Definitely not- and that’s the point. It’s all stupid stereotypes, that’s exactly what the installation is about. The question remains whether this is really the best way to express this thought- which is, after all, quite banal.

Černý is well known here for rejecting the notion of Czech patriotism and “national identity”- he describes a typical Czech as a fat, brute, beer-loving coward who spends his free time watching other people playing football. He doesn’t have strong sentiments about our glorious past either: one of his famous works in the statue of St Wenceslas in the Lucerna passage. The statue is a copy of the one on Wenceslas square, only here the horse is turned upside down. The horse looks like dead meat and the Czech patron looks ridiculous as he maintains the same heroic pose while sitting on a corpse.

Among many other works, Černý also made the black babies crawling the Zizkov TV tower. Less provocative, quite nice I’d say. His third (the earliest, actually) most well-known work was the tank on Klárov. For many years it was a memorial of the Russian army on the square by the Malostranská Metro station. Černý, a student at the time, gave it a pink coating.

The tank was an answer to 20 years of Soviet propaganda. On the other hand, it was a memorial for the dead Russian soldiers who liberated most of the Czechoslovakia in 1945. We all know what followed and the memorial was part of the post- 1968 propaganda, but the soldiers really died here, thousands of them. For many Czechs this was too much: it seemed not only to reject the occupation and the Sovietization of our past, but also to ignore, or ridicule, the sacrifice of the individual Russian soldiers.

This sort of brings us back to Entropa. It is, again, a concept that is both understandable and questionable. Sometimes it is necessary to be annoying, but sometimes it can just be counter- productive, self- conscious and elitist. The dividing line is almost invisible.
What we should not forget, while forming an opinion on the mosaic, is whether it’s really good- it should not be made a 100% political case.

All reservations aside, it seems almost redundant to add that it, of course, should NOT be taken down or changed. If Černý now bowed down and gave the Bulgarians some “nicer” stereotype, he would completely ruin the concept- there are no “good” stereotypes, we should, as we’re in the Union, try to liberate ourselves from all of them.

From M to ZZZ: Contemporary Latvian Art in the Langhans Gallery

2946 days ago Filed under prague-events

In the basement there is an installation consisting of three projecting units and three large screens. The project is called Solitude and was created by Katerina Neiburga.

What you see are stills, combined so that they resemble shots, showing you an untidy apartment. The series of photographs move, mostly one or two at a time. They show you the home, various objects, mostly deserted, only with parts of human bodies often reaching into the frame. You may hear sounds of a common household in the background: people talking in another room, children, doors slamming etc. Then the pictures move to the streets as our “narrator” drives a car. There is an effective illusion of movement and a lot of street noise. It takes about ten minutes, requires a bit of patience, but it’s worth it.

Solitude and emptiness are recurring themes in the following exhibits. Sometimes it is quite explicit. Other parts of the exhibition also deal with photographs, films stills and their combinations. On the first floor there are some impressive photos (by Inta Ruka) and some, in my opinion, over- stylized photo-graphics, which show hollow interiors with people merging with wood. But the most attractive object here is a screen, showing very short “films” by Arnis Balcus. These are black and white, told in stills and clearly inspired by B- movies and 70’s cheap action thrillers. It’s funny and imaginative, with a nicely eclectic musical score.

There is also an LP, which consists of two broken LPs glued into one. One half is a Soviet propagandist song, other is an Latvian folk song, which you can also listen to in a provided CD player. The resulting effect is pretty bizarre: you always hear about a second of one and then a second of the other. Since it’s mostly a pompous choral and a slow, modest ballad, it sounds strange indeed.

In the last room there are more photos, including a series of fictional film stills- photographs stylized in the way that they resemble frozen frames of a film. What you see are results of Andrej Grants’s project ZZZ. The first part of the exhibition’s name is provided by M by Girts Korps. An experimental video project catches most of your attention in the last room. It combines video and photograph into a layered visual product. It’s quite difficult, supplied with appropriate, but not really pleasant, noise music, and definitely not recommended for epileptics.

This short summary doesn’t do justice to the authors of this inspiring exhibition. It is often quite avant- garde (if the word itself isn’t already an anachronism) and it definitely requires patience and will to accept something new.

The Langhans Gallery was opened in 2003 on the same premises that were accommodated by Jan Langhans (1851- 1928), a very famous photographer of his time. The gallery aims to promote progressive art forms and combinations of various formats. The entrance is quite cheap. The full admission is 60Czk and it’s a pleasant little place.

Prague TV Going Digital

2967 days ago Filed under news

The Zizkov Television Tower has, in many ways, become a symbol of the whole quarter. Not that it would fit in with its architecture, it does fit in with its essence: it’s very high (216 meters) and plain, somewhat arrogant and reckless. And it’s also humorous, since David Černý placed those bizarre crawling babies on its body. As such it is not completely out of place in Žižkov, which is known for its very high density of pubs, old houses and slightly hazardous atmosphere, a bit harder than other parts of Prague (if we don´t count Karlín).

This summer, there was a festival called Žižkov sobě, a series of cultural events with the purpose of promoting the city quarter’s qualities. It’s no coincidence that it began and ended with two events taking place under the Žižkov TV Tower.

And on 6th of October, as the Czech TV networks took further steps towards digitization of the television signal. The antenna on the tower had to be replaced by a more up- to –date model. The new antenna weighs about nine tons, so in order to move it safely, it had to be separated into two parts and a special helicopter had was used. The Russian Kamov Ka-32 is a double-motor, heavyweight machine, able to maintain a position in the air and to carry as much as five tons of weight at once. This power gave it its „flying crane“ call sign.

The park under the tower was temporarily declared a no- go area. Since Prague parks are not separated by walls from their surroundings, this was mostly up to the police. People in nearby streets were able to enjoy the unusual sight and some say they enjoyed the minor spectacle.

The most difficult part was finished in three hours. The operation was a success, though it wasn’t cheap: it cost many millions of crowns. The organizers praised fair weather and reliable equipment. A similar operation, using similar equipment, will soon take place in Pilsen.

The digitalising of Czech TV networks is a long- running process. It was halted once, as some commercial subjects, mainly TV Nova, objected to the way licenses were given to contenders. A license- related dispute is somewhat piquant in relation to this particular TV station, the most popular one in the republic. When Nova acquired its license in 1993 it did so under conditions it didn’t really follow: promising a program concerned with education and feature films, including the European ones, it quickly moved to endless American series and soaps, which were later replaced by the very fruitful South American soap production. Anyway that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have been right in this case.
Now it goes on quite slowly, as people need to get accustomed to the changes and, mainly, to be thoroughly informed.

Not everyone welcomes the process. Yes, there will be more channels and better picture quality, but many people don’t need that. Czech TV viewers are thought to be quite conservative, content with Czech soap operas and sitcoms, weather old or new. And as the signal goes digital, the analogue one has to be terminated. Which means everyone has to get a receiver, whether they like it or not.

The Treaty of Lisbon Verdict

2975 days ago Filed under news

The Czech Constitutional Court has just decided that the Treaty of Lisbon does not collide with the Czech constitution. That means it can be ratified either by parliament, or by referendum. The latter option is not very likely at this moment, since all the major political actors, except the Communists, are in favour of the parliamentary way.

The court is seated in Brno. The justices are appointed by the president with consent of the Senate, for a minimum ten-year term. That means the current Court is not full of Klaus’s people, although he nominated quite a few of today’s justices. Actually it’s not the point, the justices are not to be chosen for their political affiliation and President Klaus knows that well enough. It’s supposed to be independent, and it can be said it is. The truth is the court gives verdicts that contradict the president’s opinions, notably in the case of Judr. Brozova, head of the Supreme Court. She was in a dispute with the president over his interventions into the Supreme Court and she won the case, which led Klaus into statements about “judiciocracy”. No surprise for those of us who know our president long enough: many of his opponents, critical journalists or activists were already labelled as a “danger to democracy”.

The court was asked by some ODS senators to examine the Treaty of Lisbon. The senators expressed their doubts about some of the treaty´s features, yet some of them are simply known to be anti- EU. Some suspect the senators of merely delaying the process of ratification. Unlike the government, they are more bound to the president than a wish for efficient cooperation with the EU member states. President Klaus seems increasingly unhappy with Czech EU membership and has recently called himself a dissident in the Union. It seems a bit awkward to call yourself a dissident while being a president of a republic, unrestricted in any way and with daily possibility to fill the media with your comments.

At the court the president and the government were on opposite sides. No wonder. The government needs to get things done. The CR will chair the European Council next year and it would be nice if it would ratify the treaty until the end of the chairmanship. The president, it seems, has a different agenda. He doesn´t like the union and so acts like anyone else: he keeps saying what he thinks. There is a minor problem: his presidency is not about saying anything he thinks or feels, he is supposed to be a statesman. He should take the government (led by his party) and the Czech interests within the EU into account before sending the whole Union to hell.

His views will not do him harm in the CR, where the population is not too excited about the Union, but they do harm him abroad and they probably do harm us. Many of the views are not shared even by the right-wing parties or journalists. Last month he endorsed the Irish anti- EU campaigner Declan Ganley, while on a state visit, invited by the government he thus turned his back on. This event was not far from a diplomatic scandal.

The Czech EU presidency is just around the corner. Who knows what will happen next, with such unpredictable actors involved.

November 17, 2008, Neo-Nazi demonstration

2981 days ago Filed under news

The memorial day is a symbol of two events: Nazi violence and repression against students in 1939 and the Velvet Revolution, the second usually getting more attention than the first.
November 17, 1989, saw a crucial demonstration. A large group of students was cruelly beaten by security forces, an act which appalled the public. Not only because the crackdown was unprovoked, also as the protesters were sealed off by the police, given no chance to escape.

The following events are quite familiar. Every year politicians and various demonstrators gather in Prague and elsewhere. Apart from the official act, this year we see an anti- radar base demonstration and a demonstration for some corrections of the Czech political scene: notably decrease in the influence of lobbyists, an end to the MPs’ legal immunity and some other points. There are also some smaller actions taking place around the November 17. Last week it was a series of documentaries and debates, depicting the economic transformation and emergence of today’s political situation mostly in dark colors. The event was co- organized by the same organizations that participate on the mention demo for corrections in the Czech political system.

The day also attracts extremists, mainly nationalists, who like to point out that the post- 1989 development brought a loss in power of the nation. Our elites betrayed us, they say, as they opened door to the multi-culturalist tidal wave of dirty foreigners and their integration, which will soon make us perish. Of course it’s rubbish, but it also shows an aspect of the memorial day. Most people associate it with hope, mainly former hope, and often with unfulfilled expectations. In a way it is a bitter celebration.

This time tensions were unusually high. Neo-Nazis (they prefer to be called “nationalists”) staged a demonstration in Litvínov, where they gathered to siege the local Roma ghetto of Janov. Usually these actions have been covered or whitewashed by some neutral cause: a demonstration against drugs or crime. There were no pretensions this time: the neo-Nazis were quite clearly going for a battle. The police prevented a confrontation between the two groups, for a price of a violent crackdown. The Czech news networks have shown images of confiscated material: knives, axes, machetes. The neo- Nazis, and some of the Roma, weren’t preparing for a fist fight, they were lethally armed.

We know there is an extreme right movement, bands of bloodthirsty primitives actually, but there is another alarming point. There was some support of the local people, who claim the municipality is deaf to their complaints about the behavior of the Janov Roma. They may not have racist beliefs, rather they were failed by their local administration. As a ghetto, Janov is said to be isolated, dirty and dangerous, its inhabitants mostly unemployed and often criminal. Noise, waste and petty crime are spreading beyond its boundaries, infuriating the locals who live nearby. It’s the municipality’s job to do something about it. But it’s a lot of work. It’s well known that of all the answers to the Roma questions, ghetto is the worst: there the nihilism, neglect and crime can spread freely, its inhabitants deprived of any chance of breaking out. Among the public, unconcerned with ideologies, racism is not the cause of their anger. It’s the other way around: ignored problems and socio- ethnic tensions are a breeding ground for racism.

Cities, regions and the state must do all to solve these problems before they evolve. The date is supposed to celebrate revolt against aggressive ideologies, both Nazi and Communist. We don’t want to see the next year’s 20th Anniversary shattered by an anti-Roma pogrom.

Skoda Auto

2983 days ago Filed under culture

Two men stood at the beginning of Skoda Auto: Václav Laurin and Václav Klement. In 1899 the founded a company specialized in manufacture of bicycles. Soon the range of products widened. After a successful introduction of early motorbike in the region, Laurin a Klement Co. went on to produce the first model of a car in Czech lands. After the 1905 Voituretta, the company became a successful producer of sport cars, becoming the biggest car producer in the Austro- Hungarian Empire within five years.

This period ends after 1918. Europeans, devastated by war, had little interest in sports cars. The company resolved to merger with Skoda Works. Emil Skoda founded the company in 1869. For many years it concentrated on manufacturing steam engines, components, various machines and weaponry. The factories were modernized and new models soon created. The company name changed again in 1930, but Skoda remained the name of all the types it introduced on the market. Just before the World War II, thousands of Skoda cars were produced annually (up to 7000 in 1937) and it made the car industry a major part of Czech export.

During the war Skoda was forced into the Herman- Goring- Werke conglomerate and its production was reduced to arms manufacture. After the war, with its name damaged and facilities ruined by Allied forces’ bombings, it was soon nationalized.

The central planning economy was in many ways damaging to the company. During the following decades, it gradually became technologically inferior to the Western car- makers. But it took many years to be so: during the late 1960s, its production was progressive and very popular, not only for its price. Skoda sold very well in the Eastern bloc, but it was also popular car abroad, although, even in the 1980s. It was cheap and simple and was easier and cheaper to repair than the more technologically advanced, more expensive cars. Also, the 1987 Favorit model, strongly inspired by Western models, was quite efficient and its design suited tastes of the period.

Skoda cars are said to be extremely popular on Malta, for instance. The island is quite small, so the motor does not get exhausted crossing it from one end to another. That means the Maltians often do not encounter the biggest disadvantage of old Skodas: engine failures and constant minor faults when used for long distances.

After the Velvet Revolution it became clear that Skoda Auto was not ready to enter a competition with the West: it was far too dependent on centralised Soviet bloc economy for too long. So, against wishes of those, who believed the new born business sphere in CR should be dominantly 100% Czech companies, it became part of the Volkswagen Group in 1991. Patriotic, or proto- nationalist sentiments soon faded away: under the new owner, Skoda Auto experienced major growth and progress in all aspects. It seems a bit like a parallel to the merger of Laurin a Klement with Skoda Works nearly seventy years earlier. Some still have reservations, noting that Volkswagen, having larger and more important branches, will never have Skoda manufacture a true hit, it will keep hot inventions for its own brand. It may not be very nice, but it makes sense.

Skoda cars were and are popular, solid and relatively cheap and its producer proved to be a survivor several times in its history.

El Instituto Cervantes in Prague

2986 days ago Filed under culture

Cervantes Institute is an cultural institution, which was created in 1991 by Spanish government, to promote Spanish language and Hispanic culture around the word. It has its branches around the word. The Czech one was created in Prague in 2005, and officially opened in September 2005 by Spanish prince and princess themselves. It is located in a beautiful building in Na Rybnicku street number 6, in Prague 2, very close to Jecna Street, best accessible from Metro stations IP Pavlova or Karlovo Namesti.

Cervantes Institute is well known for its courses of Spanish language, but it may be interesting also for those who are not interesting in learning Spanish language, but have some interest in inspiring Hispanic culture, and wish to enjoy its touch in the centre of Prague.

There are held Art exhibitions. At the moment it is the one called Palome Herida (Which could means Wounded Soul), presenting Artworks of Paloma Naveres, who was inspired by the world of literature. The exhibition is quite interesting, and there is no entrance fee, entrance is for free.

And if you have some Czech or Spanish language knowledge, Institute offer much more for you. There are interesting lectures on Hispanic culture as well as Hispanic movies screened. And all of this for free. Movies are quite interesting, but they are mostly only in Spanish, without subtitles.

More information about Prague Cervantes Institute can be found on its website, available either in Czech or in Spanish, address for the Spanish version is: http://praga.cervantes.es/es/default.shtm

Flames Lighting the Prague Night Sky

2993 days ago Filed under news

Two major fires scared and excited the Prague public during the recent days. Luckily, none of them claimed any casualties. The first claimed a major historical building and the second may have an unwelcome impact on the attitude off the majority towards the Vietnamese minority in Czech Republic.

On 16th of October, the Industrial Palace at the Prague Exhibition Ground (Výstaviště) almost burned down. One of the reasons of its partial collapse was its construction: the steel skeleton of the building probably cracked after it was heated by the flames and then abruptly cooled down by water from fire extinguishing machines.

It’s not the whole building, only its left wing, but the loss is enormous. It will be a conflicting question whether the previous form should be copied, or a completely new architecture developed out of the rubble.

The Exhibition Ground was built to host an exhibition of great importance, the 1891 celebration of the 1781 exhibition that took place in Klementinum. The preparations took three years and it seemed the whole business will have to be postponed, as Prague was damaged by major floods in 1890. The organizers managed to keep with the timetable. The palace was opened at the same day as the exhibition: on March 15, 1891. Technically speaking, it did not, and does not lie in Holešovice, but in Bubeneč, on the area taken out of the Stromovka park. The palace was the first major building with steel construction in the area of today’s Czech Republic. The design carried modern features, but generally it was built in historicist style, not the then- dominant art noveau.
During the five months it was open, the exhibition was visited by approx. 2,5 million people. Many large exhibitions and international fairs took place at the site since then. In 1948 its status was changed, the Industrial Palace was renamed as Congressional and it hosted the Czech Communist Party conventions. It remained so until 1991, when a jubilee exhibition marking its hundred years of existence was opened. Unfortunately it was not very successful.

Then, on November 6, a large Vietnamese marketplace was up in flames. It took fifty- three firefighter units (more than 400 firefighters) sixteen hours to defeat the fire. There was a huge cloud of waste, people living nearby were told to stay at home, traffic was complicated.

It took place in Libuš, in the commercial area called Sapa, or Little Hanoi. The fire was not that terribly large, the main problem was that the marketplace/storage was stuffed with various goods. The firefighters didn’t know what was inside, whether there won’t be an explosion, or when the roof would collapse. For safety reasons, they decided to extinguish the fire from the outside.
It’s possible that safety standards inside the building were not met. Little Hanoi is said to have been quite isolated and the suspicion is there. Also, the fire bothered many people nearby, the operation cost millions and it was potentially dangerous to other objects. These points are likely to add to the reserved attitude of Czechs towards the Vietnamese minority in CR. The relationship is not actually bad, Czechs often admire the Vietnamese shopkeepers’ determination and ability, after all, they’re working hard, but the Czech attitude is still quite patronizing and often suspicious. There is a stereotype of every Vietnamese being an uneducated shopkeeper and of their goods being faulty and often fraudulent. Any case like this one may add to the suspicions and latent xenophobia that may sometimes be seen in the Czech public. While stereotype- breaking examples are scarce and little accented by the media, images of a Vietnamese market covering its neighborhood in smoke, is not welcome.

So far it seems both cases were accidental, although the second is yet to be investigated.

Ground Collapsing for Blanka

2993 days ago Filed under news

Stromovka is a 740 years old park, originally a hunting game-park for Czech monarchs. It’s a large area with various plants (trees mainly), several buildings and ponds. The latter were, and still are, watered by the famous Rudolph’s tunnel. The park has been opened for the public since1804 and during the century many new trees, including kinds from abroad, were planted. Until 1891 that is, as the construction of Výstaviště Prague Exhibition Ground began and a substantial part of Stromovka was swallowed by the new project.

It survived various misfortunes, echoes of war or natural disasters. The last blow was the damage done by the 2002 floods.
It’s still large and beautiful enough to attract Prague residents. Especially in the middle of a big, polluted city, it’s quite a valuable place.

Now there’s a bit of a nuisance. A tunnel, Blanka, is being dug under the park. Blanka is part of the famous Prague by-pass highway, an enormously expensive project that is said to take up to seven years from now to be completed. While there is probably no better choice than to build it, in case of Stromovka and Letná, the pill becomes pretty hard to swallow.

In June, a 10- m diameter hole appeared on a peaceful Stromovka meadow. The soil collapsed because of the digging that was taking place below. Luckily, no one was strolling or resting in the grass on that exact spot, the person would have quite possibly been buried alive.

Anyway, accidents happen, this was not a tragic one, so let’s just hope it won’t happen again. Well, it did happen again. In October, a 30 m diameter crater developed on the park green. Again, nobody was hurt, and it didn’t happen instantly, it was rather a process. But it caused quite a sensation- Now, for the rest of the digging, the whole endangered area on the surface is to be encircled by a fence, so the security problem seems to be solved.
The question is at what price. The price is that the park will lose its function for a time. A large part will be sealed off by an opaque fence, which could give the park a touch of a construction yard atmosphere. That doesn’t seem very desirable.

Better not to get hysterical, it’s more of a minor problem, currently entertaining the Prague media. But it reminds us, yet again, how difficult it is for a big city to solve major rise in traffic. Letná is now a construction site altogether, in relation to the same Blanka digging. It’s nice to get the main line of traffic underground, though it’s not really much more ecological: the emissions don’t get absorbed by soil, the waste will have to get to the surface through ventilation. At least it reduces the noise levels. But the future of the Letná park is as uncertain as ever and its current – though temporary – state is depressing.

It will also need at least one more bridge across Vltava, one that would serve exclusively the transit traffic. The criticism of the project is heard and it probably will be for some time. I wonder what the evaluation will be in the end, right now it’s quite a test of patience.

Beings from nowhere

2996 days ago Filed under prague-events

There is an interesting exhibition you can visit in City Gallery Prague, which is situated in the 4th floor of the main building of the Prague Municipal Library, Marianske Square nr. 1, not far from the Old town Square.

The exhibition is called Bytosti odnikud, in English Beings from nowhere, with a subtitle Metamorphoses of Academic Principles in paintings of the first half of the twentieth century. The title of the exhibition quite appropriately says what it is about. It presents works which were made with aims to present human body, somehow following academic principles of its depictions, set centuries ago. Although those principles were seriously “overcomed“ by avant-garde movements in late 19th and first half of 20th century, there obviously still were authors, who followed old academic principles of realistic depiction of human body, and especially popular depictions of female naked body. But their works were in history of Art put behind those done by progressive avant-garde authors. This quite extensive exhibition now “puts them on light“. If you like realistic painting, and especially painting of female nudes, which are there plenty, you should like some of the works exhibited here. But you also visit it if you are interested in Art history and want to discover some of its less known chapters.

Entrance fee to the gallery is 120 Czk or 60 Czk reduced price for students, children and retirees. Opening hours are from 10 am to 6 pm every day except Mondays. And the exhibition is to be opened until 1st of February 2009.

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