Czech Republic, Network 4 Debate

Don’t be too angry, this has happened before

An exhibition taking place in the gallery of the National Technical Library in Prague presents both contemporary and older artistic approaches towards fundamental social conflicts and events. It shows how easily global problems melt into one another – and how difficult a topic this is for curation.

The idea of planet Earth being angry with human beings is nothing more than an amusing fantasy. It does, however, allow the visitor of the exhibition Angry Planet to view humanity with the proper detachment from the human being, who is by nature selfish and lusts after senseless property. The human being only tolerates the sphere it inhabits because it provides the entertainment of a bizarre reality show full of war and pompous displays of power. The exhibition, curated by Milan Mikuláštík and Milan Kreuzziger, feels like it has been prepared by the personified Earth itself.

Comprehensive and complex

The escalation of global war and conflict is a topical matter that most Czech galleries are afraid to tackle. Czech artists, after all, are not exactly known for their snappy responses to current events. The Central European perspective from the comfort of one’s own home, together with the differing experience and incomprehensibility of the situation, usually leads artistic activism astray into a deep bog of naivety.

Artistic films with well-constructed punch-lines, compact script, and careful arrangement are finally securing their place in the sun.

Out of the thirteen artists present, the one who managed to deal with the requirements of such a comprehensive and complex message most effectively was Bjørn Melhus with his 2014 film Freedom and Independence. In general, artistic films with well-constructed punch-lines, good actors, compact script and careful arrangement keep appearing in galleries more and more often, finally securing their place in the sun – and Melhus used an acted character in order to declare confidently an idea that was handled a year ago in Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto. Using a mix of sentences cut from commercial films and devoid of any meaning in combination with the opinions of the philosopher Ayn Rand, Melhus articulated the socially insensitive dogmas of her philosophy of objectivism that still serves as a defence of liberal politics and limitless economic freedom in the USA.

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Karima Al-Mukhtar presented a memorable work of art dealing with the substantial as well as insignificant conflicts in familial relationships. The spicing up of relations and ties in a Czech family was provided by her Iraqi father – but vulgar communication concerns many families, after all one does not pick one’s relatives and most of the cruel, personal conflicts take place at home, behind closed doors.

Aged pieces

The peculiar visuals of some of the art works exhibited here tempt one to dismiss them as second-rate art. The Syrian war going on behind the windows of a luxury flat on the photomontages by Martha Rössler, the speaker stand for the eccentric rhetoric of Donald Trump by Juraj Dudáš, or the photos of playful scale models of people smugglers’ ships by Jan Kadlec feel like they reflect current events.

Pieces of activist art often age at a rate comparable to that of news releases.

Being out of date visually, however, hints at their real age – sixteen, ten and nine years respectively. While we can relate them to current events, these works originally responded to a completely different situation. Pieces of activist art often age at a rate comparable to that of news releases – but here they show the oft-overlooked fact that in the age of informational oversaturation it is all too easy to overlap the individual wars and immigration waves. The wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq were replaced – at least in the minds of millennials – by the Arab Spring, the Russian invasion of Crimea and the following war in the Donbass, the war against ISIS and the terrorist attacks in Europe. The wave of Albanians from Kosovo that once flooded the shores of Italy has been overshadowed by migration waves coming from Syria, Iraq and Northern Africa.

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The exhibition shows how strongly the current conflicts affect us – by consigning other memories into the past. And it is from the distant past the curators apparently pulled the ancient display cases with open manuscripts and detailed etchings of historical principles and methods of warfare. It was just a hint of potential follow-up work within a further-reaching context, possibly motivated by a desire for wider historical research, but this rather insufficiently executed concept would fit better in an institution with the access to financial resources and historical collections necessary to realize it fully.

All in all, the topics Angry Planet deals with could have had a more thorough execution – it is obvious that the constant and repeated conflicts around and between us deserve more.


This text originally appeared in A2 no. 12/2017. Translation by Michal Chmela.
Featured image: still from Bjørn Melhus’s film Freedom and Independence.

This article was created as part of the Network 4 Debate project, supported by the International Visegrad Fund.