24 Hours in Prague Archives – Telekom Electronic Beats

24 hours in Prague – Part seven

Mark Ther is an artist and Chalupecký Prize winner. He is one of seven voices in our series of monologues on the city of Prague. This is the concluding installment, you can read the complete series here

 

Although I was born in Prague, my family’s from Broumov—pronounced “Braunau” in German—which is located in the Sudetenland. Ever since I was a small kid, I have always gone there to visit, but I never had a clue about what had actually happened there during the Second World War. My great-great aunt Berta would always claim, “I am a German,” but I could never understand how she could be German if she was from Czechoslovakia. She would always write postcards in German, as she couldn’t write in Czech. Even though I’ve spent so much time there, my interest in the lost histories and the extinct dialect of this no-longer-existent culture of the Sudetenland has only developed quite recently. The culture of this region, which had been developing alongside ours for 700 years, is now gone entirely. I also address this lost world of the Sudetenland in my work, but, instead of focusing on the painful history of the expulsions, I prefer to explore aspects of the culture that had flourished there before the war.

I am the only Praguer in my family, the rest of whom live in Germany. I think it’s still sort of a childhood trauma for me that my family didn’t stay in Germany in 1985 when we had the rare chance to visit… although I can’t exactly explain why. It’s questionable whether it would have been better there for me anyway. In any event, my home is here, in Prague. Of course, I would rather be in Berlin, just like every other artist, but now the German capital seems saturated with artists and their products. I also think it might even be good to live somewhere that isn’t exactly cool—somewhere that’s a bit off. But this doesn’t change the fact that I have always hated Prague as a city, as well as how it’s structured and how people here go about their lives. Perhaps it was a better place in the past when it had a bustling café culture and a more overtly romantic atmosphere, something that I’ve only seen in photographs. More people recognize my name after I won the Chalupecký Prize last year, which is a Czech art award given to young artists by an international jury. But to be honest, things otherwise haven’t changed that much for me. The day before yesterday I was at a bar, and my friend introduced me to someone who then said: “Yeah, I know the name.” The guy, a FAMU [Film and TV Academy of Performing Arts in Prague] student, started to comment on my work, but I just didn’t know how to respond other than saying “Uh, ok.” It’s nice, though; I didn’t actually expect to get the award. There were other people nominated whose work is probably “cooler” than mine. I think it was also the first time in history that this particular prize was awarded to a video-artist. Of course, that’s something I can be proud of. ~

This text first appeared in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 31 (Fall 2012).

 

Photo: Luci Lux

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24 hours in Prague – Part six

Meet Vít Masare, urban activist and extremely nice guy, Auto*Mat. For this feature he is one of seven voices in our series of monologues on the city of Prague. Read more here.

Auto*Mat was founded in 2003 in response to the city government’s growing support of individual car traffic in Prague. As one of the team leaders, I’m responsible for external communication, lobbying, foreign relations, and, last but not least, the Critical Mass rides. Over the past ten years, the city’s efforts regarding transport have been focused on building the largest urban highway tunnel in Europe… right through the neighborhood of Blanka in the center of Prague. Construction of the massive, over-priced 6.4-kilometer behemoth has elicited allegations of corruption and completely stalled the urban development in the city for the past seven years. Indeed, it’s a twist of irony that in Czech, the word “to tunnel” means “to corrupt”. But perhaps even more ironic is that highway construction and car traffic will be the city’s main investments over the next few decades, despite the fact that we have one of the most developed public transportation systems in the world. The government’s focus on historical traffic patterns from Western European capitals is anachronistic—especially considering that most of these cities have begun to focus on the damage of car traffic, not its advantages.

Artists are at the core of Auto*Mat, with the initiative founded by filmmaker Martin Marecek in 2003. The whole idea sprang out of a documentary about public space and transport issues in the city. But of course Marecek wasn’t interested in merely documenting what was going on: he also wanted to change things. Auto*Mat the film was shot between 2003 and 2009, with artists, musicians, graffiti writers, painters and actors performing and creating in public spaces in order to call attention to the destructiveness of Prague’s transport policy. Aside from having won the Czech Documentary of the Decade Award, the film and our organization have effected real change over the past two years, with public opinion having risen from the bottom rung of political representation and a handful of new civic associations and initiatives sprouting up in its wake. As a result, we think the future in Prague is looking brighter.

This text first appeared in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 31 (Fall 2012).

Photo: Luci Lux

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24 hours in Prague – Part five

Jakub Hosek is an artist, promoter and owner of the AMDISCS label. He is part of the A.M.180 collective, and runs the festival Creepy Teepee. For this feature he is one of seven voices in our series of monologues on the city of Prague. Read more here.

 

5:50 pm: Jakub Hošek

It all started here at Utopia in Belehradská 45. When we were still teenagers and just starting to get involved in the activities which now define our lives, we shared this space with friends that we met at the Ladronka squat in Prague… although, in those days, I had to climb in through the window. While the squatting-scene eventually brought Utopia into the orbit of the greater anarchist movement as an information cell, it also laid the foundation for many of our future projects.

Soon after we started our gallery, we set up a show in this space with Nina Nastasia from Touch and Go Records, which was the very first concert that we organized independently. Because we felt at the time that there was very little happening in the city that was of interest to us, we decided in 2003 to set up the A.M.180 Collective as a means of strengthening alternative culture in Prague. Since all of us are connected to the art scene—two of us being painters—and we all share a love for music, our initial idea was to bring art into contact with people who are into music, and vice versa. Even though it’s still unclear whether this idea has fully materialized in a larger sense, the inter-connection between different kinds of art is definitely the main theme of our festival, Creepy Teepee. And while there seems to be more and more people experimenting with new artistic material in Prague nowadays, the audience for this kind of creative material strangely does not appear to be growing. We are still only talking about a few dozen people on the scene here. When we started all this around 2000, there was great hunger for alternative culture. We used to invite people to our gigs by passing out burnt CDs. Now we are situated somewhere at the intersection of various scenes. With both music and art, we are generally very open, and are into everything from punk and hardcore to electronic music; from video art to painting. Most of these subcultures tend to be pretty insular, so, in contrast, we try to emphasize transgression and boundary-crossing where the different genres intersect or maybe even dissolve… which is sometimes a pretty thankless position to have. Most people want to belong somewhere, but that’s not what we offer. These days people are always talking about hipsters, but they often mistake hipsters for trendsetters. Hipsters have a herd mentality, and are driven by a desire to profit. We are driven by the discovery of something unique for us and other like-minded people, something difficult to name that makes a scene interesting and worthwhile.

This attitude toward culture is different abroad, especially in places where art has a revered position in society. In Prague, however, people have the feeling that they need to show off when they go to concerts, which makes engaging in cultural activity here seem more superficial. For example, when a fifty year-old comes to the MeetFactory, people will laugh at him, even though he probably came for the same reasons they did.

In addition to the gallery space, the festival, and the concerts, we also run a label called AMDISCS. While the label is definitely a useful channel for forging contacts with international artists, we also founded it in order to release and promote more Czech acts. At first, our goal with the festivals was to help bring Czech artists into contact with foreign music, but we later realized that most of them weren’t that interested. However, some of the people who attended our gigs were inspired to start making their own music, which led to the release of several Czech projects like dné or Table, along with the local project Climatizado, our first release. It was a bit off-putting, though, that so many of the artists were so reluctant to pay attention to the international context when promoting their work—such as blog-culture, for example. I’m not saying that we won’t release a Czech act in future, but right now, we are more interested in stuff that can make it on an international scale.

We care about our small, practically non-existent scene here, and we are fond of Prague, the city we were born in and remain connected to. Everything we do—be it our own art, concerts, exhibitions or the label—is taken with equal seriousness. The interconnectedness of these projects is of the utmost importance; one can’t function without the other. And we personally wouldn’t be able to function without this in our lives as well.

This text first appeared in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 31 (Fall 2012)

 

Photo: Luci Lux

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24 hours in Prague – Part four

The Rafani collective is a group of artists founded in Prague in 2000 as an “open collective structure for artistic action within the society”. For this feature they are one of seven voices in our series of monologues on the city of Prague. Read more here.

 

3:34 pm: The indomitable Rafani Artist collective

Rafani is a five-piece art collective from Prague, who, when holding monologues and giving interviews, always refers to itself in the third person. They wear uniforms when on duty and can easily be identified as members of Rafani by the blank, white button on their black shirts. Rafani is heavily influenced by the Situationist International movement of the sixties, originally founded by Guy Debord in 1957. In an unofficial action, some members of the Rafani collective used the Prague National Gallery as a public toilet to comment on the degree of corruption within the official Czech art scene.

As an artist in Prague you can be engaged, passionate and even clever. But unlike in Germany or the UK, you’ll never get a chance to participate or benefit from the institutional system. In response to this unfortunate reality, Rafani shot and edited the film 31 koncu/31 zacátku [31 Endings/31 Beginnings] in 2011, featuring interviews with 31 subjects—many from various fields of culture, including the visual arts, literature and music. Some of them live and work in the city center, but the vast majority of them live on the fringes. This statement alone is worth a film’s length: nobody lives in the city center. Everybody lives in the outskirts. Replace Prague with any city that is in a state of social flux, and the film can be seen as a comment on an international state of affairs.

Nevertheless, 31 Endings/31 Beginnings is a conceptual piece of video art, not a documentary. Rafani cut up all the answers from the subjects interviewed and reassembled them as a narrative bricolage. The mosaic of answers that were left in the film constitutes a rhizomatic map of any city center and its multitude of satellites—the periphery. Rafani perceives the city center as a core whose borders delineate the mainstream. The core is a representation of normalcy and normality. Periphery is more of a mental than a geographical definition. There are lots of peripheries, but only one center.
The members of Rafani are not children of the revolution. They all originate from families that were not in opposition to the Communist system—normal families. To investigate this particular aspect of normality to a greater extent, Rafani became members of the official Czech Communist Party for exactly one year. As with all other actions, Rafani’s Communist experience was an abstract way to challenge the members with new artistic problems. But none of Rafani’s actions are considered ironic. Check out the actions of the Situationist International movement and you can sense the seriousness of it all.

This text first appeared in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 31 (Fall 2012)

 

Photo: Luci Lux

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24 hours in Prague – Part three

Lucia Udvardyova is the blogger behind Easterndaze, a blog celebrating new music from Eastern Europe. She is also an Electronic Beats correspondent and writes the monthly column Eastern Haze. For this feature she is one of seven voices in our series of monologues on the city of Prague. Read more here.

 

2:12 pm: Lucia Udvardyova

I moved to Prague in September 2001 on a stiflingly hot day in the middle of an Indian summer, armed with a suitcase and a reckless carte blanche attitude. The room I had planned on renting fell through after my would-be landlady greeted me a tad too suspiciously, and I ended up couchsurfing with people I barely knew for a couple of months. I remember seeing the hyperreal images of 9/11 on a small TV set in Háje, a concrete block estate on the outskirts of the city encircled by typical communist housing desolation. Previously, I had been living in London and honestly, I never planned to live in the Czech capital. But after returning from the UK, I just couldn’t imagine staying in Slovakia, my “motherland”, anymore. A friend of mine was moving to Prague to do a short-lived course in chemistry and I, pretty desperate at the time, tagged along. The early years were like a catharsis, spent doing odd jobs which included selling chewing gum to tourists at the Old Town Square, working early mornings at a supermarket, and interning at a newspaper called The Prague Pill while studying semiotics at university.

Unlike Slovakia’s capital Bratislava with its former subterranean atomic bunker U.Club, Prague was never a techno city, even though I would go to techno parties back then. Most of the techno events in Prague took place at clubs like Roxy or Paradogs—the latter situated on one of the floors of the five-story Karlovy Lázne “superclub” near Charles Bridge, which these days is more of a tourist trap. Still, on any given Saturday you’d have the likes of Regis doing live electronics. Then there were the events connected to the buoyant Czech free party scene and its various soundsystems, such as Cirkus Alien. Their annual gathering was the CzechTek, which famously ended in a brutal altercation between the riot police and the festivalgoers in summer 2005. In 2006 the city’s electronic scene was kickstarted by the fledgling Sperm Festival, a music and new media event that championed cross-genre lineups, from dubstep—when it was still good—to post-IDM and other forms of electronics.

In recent years, the cross-pollination of the art and music scenes has flourished in the city, largely thanks to the three art academies: the prestigious film school FAMU, the Prague Academy of Fine Arts, and the UMPRUM Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design—all of which have seen the arrival of a new generation that is as much into art as music. In my opinion, an important catalyst has also been the fiercely independent art and music collective A.M.180, spearheaded by Štepán Bolf and the siblings Jakub and Anežka Hošek, formerly known under their DJ moniker Indie Twins. These are underground music evangelists very much in touch with the latest goings-on in other more thriving world metropolises. A.M.180 has nurtured a small but avid audience of music afficionados at cosy venues like 007 Strahov, situated in the block of a large dormitory on top of the Petrín Hill, or in Final—a stone’s throw from the main station. Their activities culminate every year in the Creepy Teepee festival held in the historical town Kutná Hora.

Of course, Prague also has a whole crop of new bloggers, fashionistas and Vice Magazine types eager to show off the latest garb and celebrate the middle of the road underground. MeetFactory, a spacious warehouse situated in an industrial part of the Smíchov district, has become the place to see and be seen, especially under the more recent musical direction of Michal Brenner. Its autumn calendar is already brimming with names like Dan Deacon, Beach House or Holy Other. Off spaces have mushroomed in the last couple of years, especially in Žižkov, a former working class district with the city’s highest concentration of bars per square meter. This is a pretty good bet when you are looking for good food and gigs. The now legendary drinking den Blind Eye, popular with expats, has closed, but Bukowski’s remains, as does the creative hub City Surfer—a gallery space that also hosts parties. Letná, a leafy district across the city center, is popular with boho parents and artists. Local creative types hang out until the wee hours at the Bio Oko, an art house cinema. Within a stone’s throw from Oko is the recently opened Nová Syntéza café and venue that aims to attract the young generation. Down the street is the towering Bubenská 1—a white functionalist office block with spaces rented out to artists and Umelec magazine publisher Divus, who also runs the Prager Kabarett gallery near there. Aside from exhibitions there are also gigs—I’ve seen William Bennett’s Cut Hands project there, for example. If you end up in Letná, go to Berlínskej Model, a tiny, but happening art space.

Žižkov and Letná are where most of my friends live. Unlike me, that is. I live in Palmovka, an old Jewish ghetto and industrial zone that’s fallen pray to urban development and drug dealers. I am into psychogeography, so walking is my favorite thing to do in Prague. I enjoy immersing myself in the atmosphere of a specific environment, observing the people and everyday life particular to certain urban geographical areas. Prague is a strange place indeed. The art and music scenes are pretty small and insular and are rife with a persistent periphery syndrome. This is also coupled with the burden of history and an omnipresent disappointment with post-communist development. Of course, Czechs in general tend to see things a bit bleaker than they are so this should be taken with a grain of salt. That said, people here seem to lack the hunger, drive and general cutthroat mentality of larger cities, which can also work to the city’s advantage. Here it’s easy to forget yourself in a time warp where history erases the present and the future remains uncertain. The friend with whom I arrived in Prague left long ago. I’m still here, but more often than not, I tend to flee the city’s sedative grasp only to return a few weeks later wondering what is it that keeps bringing me back.

This text first appeared in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 31 (Fall 2012)

Photo: Luci Lux

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