14 January 2009


The po-faced, self-important, space-wasters in Brussels are in a colossal huff. To mark the start of the Czech Presidency of the EU a giant sculpture commissioned by the Czech government from artist David Cerny was installed at the European Council building.

The piece, titled Entropa, was ostensibly the work of 27 different up and coming artists - one from each EU member. In fact, the entire piece was produced by Cerny and two associates.

As well as the sculpture Cerny also produced a brochure containing information on the 'artists' involved with their comments on their contributions.

The Euro nabobs, however, don't like being made to look foolish. Nor do they take well to humour, irony, satire or, indeed, any form of criticism. So the campaign against the sculpture has already begun.

Elements of the installation are certainly provocative - Bulgaria portrayed as a Turkish toilet, France as a nation on strike, Holland a flooded landscape with only minarets visible above the water - but, having wearily wandered through museums of modern art across Europe bored out of my mind by the visionless, self-satisfied tat that passes for contemporary art churned out by celebrity artists, Cerny's piece is outstanding.

And what of Germany? The 'artist' Helmut Bauer has created a grey landscape covered with autobahns and produced an explanatory text (pp 20-21 of the brochure):
The mobile relief is a moving metaphor for Germany as the country of the automotive industry and motorways. The sagging of transmissions is necessarily cyclical. It reveals the banality of similar visions yet it draws attention to the absurdity of European transport policy, which shies away from seeking effective alternatives to petrol-driven engines and ever expanding motorways.
'John O'Connell' has turned Ireland into a set of woolly bagpipes (pp 26-27):
In today’s unifying Europe, there is something like a need for inner ethnic exoticism and the marketing of a distant, idealized Ireland. The stereotypes associated with the Irish and Ireland are used as one of the decorations of the entertainment industry.
'Khalid Asadi' has left a blank space for the United Kingdom (pp 54-55):
If art and associated attitudes are not to become pleasing-appearance ready-made goods, but a living, albeit perhaps fleeting, organism, art should be able to improve exactness of its message in the time allotted to it and thus, paradoxically, define itself in history. This improvement of exactness means that its individual, selective sieve can cover the so-called objective sieve. Where their nodes do not coincide, ‘free space‘ opens. Energy of the free space is proportional to the power of sharing, or, more precisely, it is the sum of the freely pulsating words which, in this context and in each specific time, is able to define (tangle up) different meanings naturally through spontaneous intuition. These screen points are spatial holograms of historical memory, experience, and therefore each such new overlap becomes another non-linear tangle to the naked eye.
My favourite is Cerny's acknowledged contribution for the Czech Republic (pp 10-11):
Let the head of state have his say! A constant stream of brilliant Václav Klaus quotes. Words of wisdom that deserve to be etched in stone. The President’s sublime, pertinent comments about the whole world, and especially the EU, whizzing across a three-line alphanumeric LED display. He is OUR president, we elected him, so let’s show him off to the world with joy in our hearts. He’s not just a skier, he’s a great guy!
Cerny himself has released a statement discussing the work. This is part of his explanation:
The original intention was indeed to ask 27 European artists for participation. But it became apparent that this plan cannot be realised, due to time, production, and financial constraints. The team therefore, without the knowledge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, decided to create fictitious artists who would represent various European national and artistic stereotypes. We apologise to Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra, Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and their departments that we did not inform them of the true state of affairs and thus misguided them. We did not want them to bear the responsibility for this kind of politically incorrect satire. We knew the truth would come out. But before that we wanted to find out if Europe is able to laugh at itself.
Europe can, perhaps, laugh at itself. The bigger question is, can the European Union laugh at itself? Cerny continues:
Grotesque hyperbole and mystification belongs among the trademarks of Czech culture and creating false identities is one of the strategies of contemporary art. The images of individual parts of Entropa use artistic techniques often characterised by provocation. The piece thus also lampoons the socially activist art that balances on the verge between would-be controversial attacks on national character and undisturbing decoration of an official space. We believe that the environment of Brussels is capable of ironic self-reflection, we believe in the sense of humour of European nations and their representatives.
Ironic self reflection? In Brussels? Wishful thinking Mr Cerny - and you know it.

This story will run for a few more days yet. The official unveiling is scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday 15th, and the Czech Deputy Prime Minister - the man who commissioned the piece - is promising another statement.

You can follow the story with Mark Mardell at the BBC and Bruno Waterfield at the Daily Telegraph. And I do highly recommend looking at the brochure - before it disappears.