Tiburón -Shark- Žralok

Tiburón -Shark- Žralok: Writing Cooking Traveling

Friday, July 23, 2010

Nothern Bohemia: Part Two


After searching Google using phrases like “coats shoes hanging from the ceiling” “mining town performance art czech republic” my efforts at finding exactly what it was Otto took us to in the Central Bohemian town of Kladno proved fruitless. I searched Kladno in the New York Times online which turned up stories from 1939 with headlines like “German policeman slain near Prague; Nazis punish area” and lots of news about the Kladno soccer team. I visited Kladno’s official website but they’re not exactly flouting the abandoned mining facility just outside town that gets taken over by experimental Eastern European performance artists once a year.

So for now I really only have a story and some cool pictures for you, which is really all I ever have for you.

We rolled into Kladno after visiting the bone chapel. (That post unfortunately will have to wait.) None of us had ever really seen a place like this. Back in the day before the Reds and the Nazis, Kladno was the main employer of the region, having both a coalmine and a steel factory in full production. Two World Wars, a Soviet occupation, and a transition into an independent republic later, people started getting laid off in droves. Which was fine, because those same people were moving to Prague and opening businesses in town, until slowly but surely the mine and the factory seized to work.

The day we visited was overcast adding to the atmosphere of gloomy industrial wasteland but the buildings themselves were strangely beautiful. The structures of black and grey metal above felt perfectly fossilized and around us they were framed by a tamed and manicured nature. It almost felt like workers would be coming back from lunch any second now. In typical Czech fashion, even this dreary landscape was dotted with out of place color, like a bright orange and yellow train that was awkwardly small for the burly mine workers I presume it once took around. Or my friend Nick for that matter.

After Otto let us wander around like children exploring a new playground, he called us inside the main warehouse.

We stepped into an art installation. Coats and shoes hung by chains from the ceiling as white light crept in from the high glass windows. The large space was divided into two halves, one of which had a giant print out of a balding man with a moustache laminated to the floor. We later learned it was a picture of Josip Broz Tito, the last dictator of Yugoslavia.

We moved on to the next room. So much of the decoration had to do with squares and symmetry and pushing the relics of the past to an extreme where they lost their sense of reality and became a reflection of themselves. In a way by modernizing the space, the artist had managed to emphasize its own condition as a ghost, a memory, a link to a recent past that was also completely alien.

Then we found a naked female torso inside a locker with the picture of a froglike man’s face attached to it. The tone was set for what would follow.

After taking some dramatically lit pictures of the walls and each other, we made our way back into the warehouse with the hanging coats and the picture of Tito. A large crowd of people now filled the space and we sat on a long narrow bench and watched.

A man wearing a beret and a white artist smock was testing acrylics on the floor, while on the other half of the room a man with a beard spread a sheet next to Tito and placed a stool over it. The “performance” may have started but nothing was really happening so we walked around and chatted with Otto. He told us about a previous performance in this space where a Serbian artist took a giant flag of the European Union, cut out each of the stars with a razor blade then slit his wrists, pouring his blood over the flag as a protest of Serbia’s exclusion from the EU. Cool?

Finally the man with the artist frock stood up and started walking around the room. He would stop in front of certain people and scrutinize their faces. He picked a couple, then made his way to where we sat. He singled out Sofía, the other Puerto Rican in my class in Prague, who looked at him almost flirtatiously, coaxing him to pick her. Eventually he took her hand and pulled her into the center of his half of the room along with the couple. He arranged them into a circle facing each other then had each of them spread their legs. He placed a small canvas a few inches below each of their crotches then went over to one of the pulleys on the wall and lowered a large cloth tent over them. Their legs were the only part of them still visible. The artist slid under the canvas tent and got to work painting between his subjects’ legs.

And that was it for a while on that end of the warehouse.

We made our way to the other side where the bearded man now sat on a chair, a white cloth tied around his neck. A woman with an electric razor started shaving him. As his beard came off and only a moustache remained he began to imitate the head tilt and angle of Tito’s portrait. The similarity between the two was uncanny.

Once the beard, cloth, and stool had been removed, the Tito look-alike went over to one of the pulleys and brought down a leather jumpsuit with ice skates attached at the legs.

He also lowered some chains over the portrait of Tito. Taking off his shirt and pants, he put on the leather jumpsuit and precariously got to his feet. Pigeon-toed, he waddled over to the chains, grabbed on and started swinging over the portrait of Tito, slashing it with the ice skates, the sound of sharp metal against concrete a repetitive dry hiss, the crowd hushed observing him. He stopped and was handed a large bottle of water. He took a big gulp and spit it all over the picture in a loud spurt. He did this several times then just started pouring the water on the ground with something like rage. Again he grabbed the chains, swung around slipping and sliding over the face of the Yugoslav dictator, shredding his face—that looked like his own face—with the ice skates. When he was sufficiently rid of his anger, he stopped and everyone applauded.

This wasn’t weird at all.

The crowd ambled over back to where we’d left our human canvases and after a little while the artist finished. He slid out from under the canvas tent and took off his beret, uncovering long, curly hair. He then took off his smock and his pants under which he was wearing nothing.

Otto whispered to us that he was actually a very well-known French exhibitionist. We all nodded in an oh-of-course sort of way. The naked Frenchman then pulled the canvas tent up and his three subjects sighed in relief.

He shook hands with each of them and they couldn’t hold back their surprise to find the man who had been laboring between their legs for the past 40 minutes was completely naked. He removed the canvases carefully and set them up for display in the other room. The resulting paintings were portraits of their genitals.

The buzz of conversation started again and people began wandering back out to the lobby. Otto was sufficiently blasé about the whole performance piece and looked very much in his element amidst the artsy European crowd. We all felt slightly confused, a little ripped off, and that this was possibly one of the cooler things we’d seen. It summed up what we already suspected about Europe, its obsessed with two things: the past and sex. Otto would later confirm this at his own exhibition in Prague on late 19th century and early 20th century Czech erotic art. But again, that post will have to wait.

Related Posts:

Northern Bohemia: Part One- Mosquito Mountain

No comments:

Post a Comment