“When people make fun of something, they are making themselves free of it.” says Jiri Rak, a specialist in Czech smallness and culture, quoted by Michael Kimmelman in the New York Times last Thursday “That's the condition of the small nation. It's a defense for everyone today in the globalized world.” The quote attempts to explain the sensibility behind the actions of the Czech collective Ztohoven, who had hacked into Czech Television's weather station CT2, to broadcast what appeared to be a nuclear explosion overhead the Krkonose Mountains. Now facing possible jail time for their actions, the story has become big news in Europe, such that even the Times has caught wind of it.
While the groups actions were shown elsewhere in the article to be more complex than the mere catharsis expressed by Rak, Kimmelman’s interest in the generally tepid Czech response is apt, particularly in light of Ztohoven’s distaste for comparable American art cited by Kimmelman including fake bombs in the New York Subway. In this way Kimmelman suggests some distinction between these actions and that of placing a fake explosion on a rarely watched TV station, a much stronger argument for the mild response of the nation, than the inherent character of small nations suggested by Rak later on. After all, Canada, a small nation known for its self effacing comedy and more liberal leanings, managed to produce Michael Waterman, an artist who 20 years ago, decided to bath his body in pig’s blood and fake his own death on a street corner in Calgary. He was arrested, and the public quite rightly, had little use for the piece.
Waterman now in his forties spends a lot less time making activist art (if you can call it that), which brings to mind the second quote worthy segment of the piece.
Turns out, Ztohoven includes no women. “That's the problem of radicalism,” sighed the threesome's 33-year-old elder statesman, who called himself Roman Tyc. (The pun works in English.) “To get together for pranks is also more difficult now that we're getting into our 30s.”
Sadly, radicalism does tends to exclude women and people over the age of 35, a rather painful fact since it has also proven a highly effective means to incite change. Also somewhat ironic is the fact that by the time you get to your thirties, were it not for work family and other societal pressures you’ve often reached a level of maturity that would allow you to be far more effective than those in their 20’s. Not that any of this is made overly clear by the piece. Far more interesting than the basic ideas of media manipulation and public gullibility brought to light in the piece, is the story of art itself; how and why it gets made, and its reception once brought into the world.