The boundaries between the famously dull Justus Lipsius building (hosting the Council of Ministers) and a contemporary art museum have become blurred today. The Atrium is hosting a huge installation commissioned by the Czech Council Presidency. Unlike the more traditional pieces of art normally exhibited in the context of EU Council Presidencies, this time the Czechs decided to put forward a bold conceptual installation, with a meaning that goes deeper than the eye can see.
“Entropa”, as the project is called, is a joint creation by 27 artists, one from each Member State, each of them depicting their country by means of commonly used stereotypes. The Czech artist David Černý, who conceptualised the project, managed in this way to extract the stereotypes from their natural context (the us/others dychotomy), “internalise” them through the visions of the local artists and put them together only to symbolise the impossible match. A messed-up map of Europe, where the rigurously drawn geographical borders become unbridgeable gaps, and where mental barriers are created through stereotypes. The installation might seem utterly non-esthetical and unfitted; but, baring in mind its purpose as a warning, isn’t it just the way it should look?
The concept behind the installation is summarised by Milena Vicenová, the Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the European Union:
The freedom of art as an extension of the freedom of speech is the core value of democracy. There are many barriers to integration and cooperation in Europe. Stereotypes are such barriers. When we point out the stereotypes we begin demolishing them. Making fun of prejudice destroys it most efficiently.
The stereotype installation shows in a very figurative manner German highways, France strikes, Italian football, as well as Dracula in Romania and IKEA in Sweden. A more political approach, mirroring the debates on Europe, was taken in the case of UK and Czech Republic. The UK is missing from the installation; its physical absence symbolises the negative attitude the British are seen as having towards the EU. Another stereotype. And what better prejudice can represent the Czech Republic in a European context than President Klaus and his controversial ideas? Diversity issues and tolerance are also touched upon in the cases of The Netherlands and Poland. A presentation of the project and each of its 27 components can be found here.
Critics complain about the dimensions of the installation and the noise it makes (and it only starts “living” on 15 January!). Even though one might argue if its place is in the Council building or rather in a museum, the idea behind the installation and especially its non-abstract nature are an appropriate starting point for European debates on barrier and borders constructed through national(ist) perceptions. In order to reach out beyond the Council bureaucrats and stir a real European debate, the installation (which only weighs 8 tones) should tour the marketplaces of (medium-sized) towns across the EU.
An exclusive photo of the installation:
and the “French – German axis”:
Update 13.1.2009: Now it is getting interesting: Conceptual art at its best. As a Czech Newspaper revealed today David Cerny fooled the art and the political world. There are no 27 artists, all CVs are invented by the artist himself and it was only him that created the installation. Basically the debate around the project is also part of the installation. Art and discourse are one.
Now, of course this has political implications: Did the Czech EU Presidency know about this? Apparently Cerny signed a contract to work with 27 artist on the piece…did he breach the contract or was the Czech Government aware of it? (Hat-tip: Coulisses de Bruxelles) According to Reuters the artist said he had deceived the government: “We knew the truth would come out. But before that we wanted to find out if Europe is able to laugh at itself,” Cerny said. Interesting detail of the story is also that apparently no tax money was used for the art project and all costs were covered by the artist himself! And I agree with Bruno Waterfield (who also has more details!) that this story ain’t over yet.
Update 16.1.2009: Mission accomplished as controversy continued: Bulgaria demanded to remove the Bulgarian piece of the installation, the Czech presidency apologized (good speech here). Don’t understand why Czerny also thinks he has to apologize… And the installation started its own “life”, so watch the video: