Modern Art Center Features No Flash! Exhibit By Young Czech Artists

Strangely, I was reminded of No Fun, an old song, once an anthem of the punks, those immoral troublemakers shaking the very foundations of society. And the memory had nothing to do with the young Czech artists’ display. Of course, the first analogy is literal, by assonance. And the parallels go deeper. The song’s leitmotif, lack of fun, pleasure, describes anger rather than despair. The anger that cannot be practically vented other than by composing songs but never by joy. A similar emotional subtext is in the exhibit’s title: No Flash as no fun.

Such a Weltanschauung, all things considered, currently unites a whole artistic generation in the Czech Republic, for the current exposition represents works submitted not by novices or second-rate executors, although its participants so far are not integrated into the premium academic pattern that with time absorbs even the most inveterate underground activists. Their view is free from many social or artistic myths, from even the pathos of the previous epoch. This sober outlook is of a special nature, at times anatomical. The immediately noticeable visual center of the exposition is an enlarged photo composition by Veronica Bromov л a from her Views cycle. The artist exposes her own body with the burning straightforwardness of an anatomical atlas. Her message is clear; we all want to peep under all clothes and covers, yet we stop at the surface of the skin. What will happen if we satisfy our urge in full? If we reveal all the secrets remaining? The result will be shock, a wish made into its exact opposite. In fact, the Czech non-laureates aim their angry stare precisely at desire and power, the most meaningful categories that are relevant regardless of the social order. Already between these two objects of irritated reflections — more than reflections actually, at times open flouting — one finds other values. For example, the prestige of the artistic world as a chosen community of sorts, something disputed by Franti я sek Matou я sek with his pictures showing Prague’s distinguished curators of art as textbook muggers; his friends, British painters, are sarcastically worked into the British national flag (as components or accessories, which is quite humiliating in itself). The Czech totalitarian novel is manifest in Jiri Surеuvka’s computerized silks sporting grotesque portraits of Hitler that are funny and horrifying at the same time, for we can find his hateful image in children. The PODE BAL Group in their hypertrophied video clip EUtopia are in a hurry to do away with the latter day Utopia, paradise on earth in the form of a United Europe. Flashing images of postindustrial prosperity look more like decomposing rotting hamburger than a commercial titled urging immediate entry into the EU. Peter Pastr я n л ak gives a middle finger to the elite cinema. His video, Twin Peaks on Construction Site After Noon, with the long-winded David Lynch’s theme music shows someone laboriously trying to plant an emaciated fir tree (remember the TV series? Destroying age-old pine forests is the key topic!).

Jiri David’s My Hostages photo series are the most impressive visual statement on power. Here the dangerous message is concealed behind a festive exterior. All the photos are kept in an exaggerated childishly beautiful style. They show children, teenagers, as attested to by bright almost carnival attire and colorful trinkets in every frame. Yet all the models are interconnected, each wearing a sack on his/her head, and the postures are not those expected in a child’s game. Everything is for real and very serious.

This outwardly inconspicuous controversy between a colorful carefree technique and rigid stage-setting makes the series look real in a terrifying way.

Obviously, the time of anger and despair is past for Czech actual art. Now the tune is called by the new and angry who fail to see much around them to make them happy, yet — and this is their greatest asset — they find it in themselves to respond to senseless realities with first-rate Western wrath.