Culture

Černý Causes Havoc by an Ironic Euro-Mosaic

Jan 21, 15:04 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.

Skoda Auto

Nov 24, 15:05 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

Nov 21, 15:02 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

Chinese painting exhibition

Nov 3, 15:45 Filed under culture

Exhibition called simply Chinese Painting can be seen until 28th of November in Prague Rudolfinum Gallery. The exhibition, curated by Czech curator Petr Nedoma and his collegue from Hongkong, Chang Tshong-zung, presents three Chinese painters of middle generation, who today are probably the most famous, recognized and important painters of this country. They are Zhang Xiaogang, Fang Lijun and Feng Mengbo. Old European painting techniques of oil or tempera on canvases are quite new in China, so it is interesting to see, how those authors deal with this medium.

Zhang Xiaogang (1956) is mostly occupied with a topic of contemporary Chinese family in his work. His anxious big canvases are done mostly in shades of gray, with a specific use of red color for particular important parts of the pictures.

Fang Lijun (1963) is one of the leading representatives of something, which is called “cynical realism”. His big canvases are full of vibrant colors.

The most interesting painter of the three is Feng Mengbo (1966) who makes his work not only on canvases but also makes computer-generated video sequences, and an example of this part of his work is also shown in the exhibition. But he is interesting mainly for his huge and monumental canvases, either with flying birds and insect depicted on them or the newest series of landscapes, in a way continuing in a long tradition of Chinese landscape painting.

Chinese painting is still not that well-known here in the Czech Republic, so it may be interesting to see at least its most famous representatives, although it might have been better and more educative if there would be presented more authors on the exhibition, not just those three. But if you are into Art, you should not miss this exhibition. It is interesting to see how Chinese painting varies from the European or Americans ones, on which we are used to here.

Rudolfinum Gallery is situated in representative 19th century Rudolfinum building, situated on Jana Palacha Square, but the entrance to the gallery is from Alsovo Nabrezi Street, number 12. Opening hours are from 10 am to 6 pm daily, except Mondays.

Traffic regulations

Sep 24, 14:45 Filed under culture

Czech politicians have been quite tense during the recent month. There were many reasons, one of them being traffic. The Green Party pushed for a restriction of truck traffic during the weekend and, more importantly, on Fridays. The result is that throughout the whole year, Friday 15- 18 hours local time, all trucks must get off the road. The transport companies are enraged. They say there is an estimate of thirty thousand trucks moving around the republic during Friday afternoon- and around a thousand parking slots. Where is the rest supposed to go?

It’s easy to say the Green chairman Martin Bursík simply had to score some points before the party convention, which took place a week ago. But the fact remains the trucks are a soaring problem in the CR. As a participant in one Net discussion sensibly remarked: OK, we don’t know what to do with the plastic bottles and wrappings, so let’s just keep throwing them all over the planet, right?

Right, we all know something has to be done. There are many villages and small towns in the CR that are desperate because of the amount of trucks that pass through them every day. The roads are often narrow, the towns were not built for such a use, obviously, so there are dwelling all along the roads, which were supposed to be peaceful. Now that these become small highways, the people around are forced to breathe toxic air, their houses are becoming less stable, there is relentless noise. And, of course, there many more accidents, collisions and casualties. There are small towns in the country that seem completely destroyed by this tidal wave.

The problem is, to great extent, a result of the conditions, under which we joined the EU. The system was not ready, we had no restrictions regarding the traffic when we joined and we didn’t even have the toll system ready, it took many more months for the government to prepare. In consequence, the transport companies stormed the Czech infrastructure and when the toll finally did come into place, it was too late.

The capital didn’t feel that much of a change. Prague has been having problems with traffic for many years, especially on the main roads, the highway that goes through the city. Some minor problems were solved by restrictions: the riverbank under Vysehrad used to be blocked because cars and trams were struggling to get through the narrow tunnel under the rock. On such a small scale it’s easy to deal with: traffic lights were set before the tunnel. But in case of small towns, the results are often opposite: they make the traffic even slower.

Not that Prague would be perfect in comparison: many (me included) are waiting for more car- free zones in the centre and some of the major roads are almost permanently overflowing with vehicles. But it’s nowhere near a collapse and the prospects can make us optimistic.

An alternate highway is to be built around Prague, the works are actually going on. Similarly, many other towns need these by- pass operations. But they’re expensive, they take time to be built, they don’t always solve the problem- and they are often halted by the property- owners, whose land would have to be used.

The current decision may be unrealistic, but it seems some restrictions are unavoidable. It’s the tactics that makes it unpleasant. Bursík was facing a rebel group within his party and he needed something “green” to be passed, him being accused of being too “blue” (ODS-friendly, rightist). Surely, it wasn’t the main point when the votes were cast, but it’s probably did contribute to the great success he had, wiping out his opposition from the tope levels of the party.

New building fot the Czech National Library – The Never Ending Story

Aug 13, 14:17 Filed under culture

The institution of the Czech National Library needs a new building. Now the library is placed in the old historical building of Klementinum, but this space is not suitable anymore. There is not enough room for all the books. To solve this problem, they held a competition, searching for the best design of the new library building, which should be placed in Letna area, in Prague 7. As the winner was announced an architect Jan Kaplicky with his Future Systems studio. Kaplicky, a Czech, who lives and works in London, won with his extravagant and for someones quite shocking project – a building of organic shape, in combination of green and purple colours, which became known as “Blob“. Some people really liked it, other ones did not, some ones liked the idea of the extravagant building but did not want it to be placed on such beautiful and important place in Letna, which may partly destroy a beautiful panorama of old Prague… so the never ending story about the National Library building started. If you are long in Prague, maybe you have already heard about it. There were also already published some notes on this topic here, on this website.

The problem with the library was not only the extravagant look of the building, but also some issues concerning the run of the exhibition. Was it fair? The union of the Czech architect said it was not. Yes, it may seem that they were just disappointed, because they did not win themselves, but if they were right. They said that the winning project of Jan Kaplicky did not follow all the conditions of the exhibition – the stock space is under the ground in his design, which according to original rules of the exhibition should not be. There were and still are other problems, but it would be boring just to repeat them all the time around, if you want to get to know more about it, you can read it in older article. Everybody got already quite annoyed, after many passionate discus ions and argues, by this library thing. But the problem is still unsolved.

Although, there are some fresh news now. The Czech anti-monopoly office asked European commission for their opinion about the competition. And the office said, that the competition was not o.k. So what is going to happen now? To National Library can be advised to cancel the competition. But if they will be advised this, they are not, according to words of its director Jezek, likely to it. So is the library thing going to end in the court? And who is going to pay all the money that were spent on the expensive exhibition and are still to be spent – all Czech people who pay taxes. The story about new building is already too long, complicated and people got too tired of it. And, if the not only extravagant, but also very expensive building should not be in Prague, other towns already showed interest to have it, not only Czech Brno, but also British Edinburgh, but the architect Jan Kaplicky does not want it to be anywhere else. How this story will end? And how more long will it take?

Bratislava

Aug 9, 12:58 Filed under culture

Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia. As you know, until 1993 there were no Czech or Slovak Republics, but one country – Czechoslovakia, with Prague being its capital and Bratislava the second biggest city. After the separation, it became the capital of new country. Maybe, you will have a chance to visit it. And it is definitelly worth of visit. Not as amazing as Prague, but more fancy then Brno for example. It is in distance of about 4 and half hours bus ride from Prague, so it is not a place for one day trip, but it is worth to visit it for a weekend for example.

Now Bratislava became a bit infamous for someones because of the stupid movie hostel, but the town is pretty nice. Don’t be afraid of visit, you will like it here. And what to see there?

There are some old monuments, so it is good to take a walk in old town, to see gothic Saint Martin’s church, Michael’s Gate, Main Square and just stroll a bit in beautiful streets. Maybe you can also hike a bit to see the castle. The old town is small compared to Prague, but there are other touristic attractions beside it. Bratislava has interesting modern architecture. Highlight is definitelly one of the bridges across Danube river, which is called UFO, because of characteristic form on one of its ends, which looks like a space ship. It is possible to take a lift into “space ship“, and enjoy the amazing veiw all over the city from it. There is also a restaurant located inside, it must be great to enjoying the view while eating, but the prices here are pretty high.

The best place where to eat in Bratislava is Slovak pub on Obchodna Street, popular among students as well as expatriats and tourists. It offers traditional Slovak foods as halusky with brynza cheese or potatoes with onion and cheese, or sweet dumplings, garlic soup in bread and many others, those I tried were very tasty. And they also have their own beer, called “Dobre pifko“, which is also pretty good one.

Another place I like in Bratislava is a chocolaterie on Michalska Street, where they offer many delicious hot chocolates. So many that it is really hard to choose one. And some of them are really attractive, either with fruits, liquors, rum or spices. Beside this, they also have desserts…

Bratislava is on Danube River, so onother option what to do is to take a boat trip. Either just for Bratislava sightseeing from the river or to old Devin Castle close to Bratislava or even to Hainburg, small Austrian town, well or even to Wienna, which is not far from Bratislava. Well, Austria’s capital… also a place wchich should be visited, from Bratislava easily accesible also by train and bus, but it is another story.

So if you want to get to know another city, why not to visit Bratislava and also get to know a little bit more about Czechoslovak history this way, but mostly enjoy the atmosphere which this lovely town has.

Current Tensions on Czech Political Scene

Aug 7, 14:58 Filed under culture

The Czech political scene has been quite dirty since the 1989 revolution. Not to an extent extraordinary in today’s Europe, but definitely dirtier than what Havel and his fellow political idealists (meant in the positive sense) had hoped for. And, for the past several years, it’s still less clear which party is in the lead and how long a government will last. The current one seems to be balancing on the edge of a cliff, the previous one was only an inch more stable.

The Czech electoral system does not have any means of adjusting the results. Which means that the two major parties, together with their smaller allies, can form a 100: 100 parliament. That is exactly what happened in 2006. Both the left wing and the right- wing parties found themselves unable to form a coalition. For some time it seemed there simply will be no government and we would have to wait for a new election. Which, of course, would be very awkward for all the parties involved: the citizens did their part and it’s actually politicians’ job to deal with the result, not to say “please, let’s try again.”

There is an end to the story. The right- wing coalition of Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and, interestingly the Green Party (a right- wing party in the CR) persuaded two Social Democrats to change sides. A solution, but not a very elegant one.

During the presidential vote there was another departure and last month, fourth Social Democrat MP left for the centre- right ground. One may speculate what their motivations are, but it really is not the point. The point is that in Czech electoral system we vote for parties and we expect their nominees to implement party policy, not the policy of a party that contradicts our vote.

But there’s little to be done about it, unless we are to accept a system that supports strict party discipline. In the otherwise liberal First Czechoslovakian Republic (1918- 38), for example, all MPs signed a resignation paper at the start of their term, and their party was free to use it any time he would upset it. That certainly is not an example to follow in 2008.

And what about the electoral system? Shouldn’t there be some fixed minimum majority, some points added to the winning party so that it could form a coalition, no matter how closely it won? Such a system works in Italy. But Italy changes its government nearly every year since the WWII, so it may not be terribly effective.

We could also introduce majority electoral system. That would result in a two- party system. the Civic Democrats and the Social Democrats, like the US Democrats and Republicans. Promblems? Yes, at least two. The Czech parties are far more centralized and rigid, less of open platforms, which the US parties more or less are. Secondly, it would be impossible for smaller parties to influence the political process. Simply, a country’s system has to be ready for such a change and I’m not sure the Czech one is.

The tensions are high. The Social Democrats are enraged. The government coalition seems to be winning, but they too have some major problems. They can’t change the fact that the whole government project is a mess: the three parties have actually little to share when it comes down to single questions.

The Christian Democrats are conservative, socially oriented, pro- Church and they have a leader, Jirí Cunek, with questionable views on ethnic minorities. The same man has been cleared of corruption charges under very strange circumstances, which happened to be condemned by a court several weeks ago. The Greens are pro- European, multicultural and, of course, eco- friendly. The Civic Democrats are not really put off by the EU or ecology. The three leaders don’t really like each other. And two of them have a couple of rebel MPs in their parties.

No wonder they keep arguing about nearly every major issue. So, seen in this light, there is no winner, the fight is a constant draw. Only the Communist Party has an ongoing holiday: without any danger of having a responsibility, without the ambition to win the next election (they know they can’t), they can oppose just about everything.

John Scofield on the Old Town Square

Jul 24, 15:29 Filed under culture

Thanks to a festival Rudy Linka organized in the main squares of several Czech cities, both residents and tourists were given a chance to see John Scofield at a rare free gig. Scofield is one of the few names of modern jazz known to the wider public. Playig with bassist Matt Penman and Bill Stewart on the drums, he made a powerful appearance on the Old Town Square.

John Scofield Linka, a Czech- American jazz guitarist, is himself quite renowned, has released nearly a dozen CDs and won recognition of the foreign audience. He has staged the Bohemia JazzFest series of concerts for the third time. The last year is thought to have been a success, with well- known performers and an estimate of 40, 000 people attending the various events.

Around 8, 15 pm Linka welcomed the star with a glass prize, given at the festival for the first time, and the festival’s sponsor, Pilsner Urquell supplied 10 000 dollars for the trio. I believe it surely worked as a substitute for an audition. Pavel Bem was among those who presented the prize to the guitarist, although his appearance did not seem to enchant the public.

Scofield, a former co- player of the modern jazz superstar Miles Davis, is a key protagonist of the fusion subgenre. Such a sentence would arouse disagreement about many, since he isn’t bound by a single style, not even such a broadly defined one. He was always close to jazz funk, but that didn’t prevent him from releasing a dance- influenced album and some more traditional, calm works. A regular collaborator of other major jazzmen, Scofield seems comfortable with the open, ever- changing yet recognizable style he established for himself.

The show was both powerful and modest. Three people on the stage, enjoying themselves while playing some jazzed- up versions of classic rock songs, couple of standards and several pieces from Scofiled himself. The solos were intriguing, the players having a balanced share of time to present themselves. Scofiled was, of course, particularly interesting, using various effects, at times switching to odd and painful guitar sounds, constantly on the edge between established styles. And there were moments, when it seemed like two guitarists playing at once, as he played the high and low strings almost simultaneously, but developing a slightly different melody on each. He would need a third hand to make his play any richer. Shifting moods, the performance would easily slide from slow melancholy to relaxed mid- speed ride to a jazz- rock Satisfaction re- boot.

It wouldn’t be just to omit a mention of his co- players, who proved to be masterful craftsmen, smoothly handling both the support and the difficult improvised solos.

There were three preceding appearances that day which I do not mention only because I didn’t attend them, though I believe they were worthwhile. The festival went on for three more days, consisting of many appearances of bands from all over the world. It spent another night at the Old Town Square, then moved to Domazlice , Plzen (Pilsen), Prahcatice or Ceske Budejovice. Another big name, Victor Wooten, appears on the second Prague night.

Akce Cihla – Brick Action

Jul 10, 08:42 Filed under culture

You may have noticed it when walking through the streets of Prague. It looks like a rather strange happening with a chimney-like structure in the middle of the street. This “chimney” is made of colorful bricks which are covered with names and pictures. What is this all about?

The Brick Action is a fund-raising project of a civic organization called Portus Praha, which is a non-profit charity organization. The aim of this organization is to help people with mental handicaps to live normal lives and integrate them into everyday life of the society. It strives for independence and self-reliance of mentally handicapped people and elimination of large care-taking institutions for the benefit of family-like centers.

If you buy this special brick, your money will support building of sheltered housing for mentally challenged people. Moreover, your money will also help to develop more sheltered workshops which provide work for people unable to work in standard working conditions.

This year, the Brick Action celebrates its 9th birthday already and will be held in 22 cities all around the Czech Republic. You can buy those good-will bricks in Prague till July 18th. And where exactly? At Andel (yellow line B), Namesti Republiky (yellow line B), I.P.Pavlova (red line C), Na Prikope (near Mustek, green line A), and other places in Prague, simply Old Town Square and at the bottom end of Wenceslas Square. You can’t miss it.

So please, if you want to help, buy a brick and do a good turn.

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