Jiří Žák: DeepReal Havel
opening hours: 10. 12. – 23. 12. 2020, daily from 4pm to 8pm, exhibition is designed to be watched from the outside
curators: Markéta Jonášová, Anna Davidová
The exhibition project DeepReal Havel is based on Jiří Žák´s long-term interest in capturing local – implying mostly Czechoslovak or Czech – identity in relation to non-European countries and cultures. In academia, this relation is the subject of postcolonial studies, an academic discipline that is concerned with the critical analysis of colonialism and imperialism. Whereas abroad, postcolonial studies has notably influenced several fields, in the Czech environment a conviction pertains (except perhaps for a few isolated works in the academic and artistic sphere) that this kind of research is not relevant for the local context as Czechoslovakia has never had any colonial possessions. However, the subject of postcolonial studies is not only the historical forms, in which the African, Asian and Latin American territories were colonised. Their significance consists in the reflection and transformation of prevailing power relations between various states and political blocks that are projected into business transactions, cultural interpretations, and foreign policies. Even though Czechoslovakia never colonised any non-European country, it did export military equipment and was economically involved in these countries. The economic and cultural expansion of Czechoslovakia is also the subject of Jiří Žák’s film Mother City (Mateřské město, 2015), in which he mapped the spread of Tomáš Baťa’s business visions to Canada, India, Java and Brasil. That colonisation is not merely related to past regimes is reflected in the artist’s video installation It Was Probably Our Karel, She Said (Pravděpodobně to byl náš Karel, řekla, 2020), where the leading role is played by the Musela brothers, the post-revolution kings of the Czech arms industry.
The origin of the exhibition project DeepReal Havel also lies in Jiří Žák’s interest in theoretical research and postcolonial studies. In the introduction of the publication Outside the North and South. Understanding Global Inequalities and Diversity (Mimo Sever a Jih: Rozumět globálním nerovnostem a rozmanitosti), researchers Ondřej Horký-Hlucháň and Tomáš Profant refer to a speech of Václav Havel, in which the former Czech president marks decolonisation and the disintegration of the Soviet Union as the most significant events of the second half of the 20th century. This speech, delivered by Václav Havel on the occasion of receiving the Indira Gandhi Prize in 1994, became the subject of the collaboration between said researchers, etc. gallery and Jiří Žák. This collaboration consisted of a collaborative rewriting of Havel’s original speech based on the insights of postcolonial studies and the historical distance of the past quarter-century. The final text is not merely a transcription but is foremost a re-evaluation of the thought of a politician who has become an international symbol of the nonviolent defeat of totalitarian communist regimes and the following transition of these regimes to capitalist democracy. It is the critical reflection of the relation of postsocialist Eastern Europe and Western neoliberal capitalism, which according to Ondřej Horký-Hlucháň and Tomáš Profant constitutes the first step towards the decolonisation of Czech culture, politics, and its economy. This reflection will allow for the rooted feelings of superiority to be questioned, as well as expose negative consequences of the current political system, such as its ecological unsustainability or escalating social inequality.
As in previous films by Jiří Žák, we also witness in DeepReal Havel the lead character performing in the centre of the camera frame, mediating his or her message to the viewers. Unlike in his other works, the appearance of the main protagonist of DeepReal Havel changes – the orating face of Václav Havel is transformed into an image of a young actor and actress, while the speech flows continuously. To implement this transformation, the artist uses Deepfake technology – a contemporary viral virtual tool for an audiovisual substitution of portraits. Permeating appearances refer to the polemical nature of the re-evaluation of Havel’s thought, which is not simply revised but rather updated based on their prevailing validity and historical situatedness. This theoretically and visually updated reading of Václav Havel’s speech encourages viewers to take distance from the symbolic aura of his persona, and adopt a new perspective on the relation between post-Soviet Czech society, Western countries, and non-European others.
Jiří Žák (*1989) is an artist based in Prague. In his audiovisual works, he often combines documentary, staged, and performative strategies to explore topics related to contemporary visual culture, local history, and postcolonial world order. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (studio of Tomáš Vaněk), and completed scholarships at the University of the Arts and Design in Karlsruhe and at the AAAD in Prague. In 2015, he won the EXIT Award, two years later was chosen as a finalist of the competition Other Visions PAF and is nominated for the Jindřich Chalupecký Prize 2020.
ACTORS: SÁRA MÄRCOVÁ, DAN KRANICH
IT: KRYŠTOF PEŠEK, ONDŘEJ ROZTOČIL, TOMÁŠ KAJÁNEK
DESIGN: NELA KLÍMOVÁ
PARTNERS: BIOFILMS, ICONIC DESIGN
SPECIAL THANKS TO: TOMÁŠ KAJÁNEK, MICHAL JURZA, MAX MÁSLO, JAMES MANSFIELD, MICHAL BLECHA
THE PROJECT IS FINANCIALLY SUPPORTED BY GRANTS FROM THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC, PRAGUE CITY HALL & STATE CULTURAL FUND.