Some acknowledge it, some play with it and others deny it completely. Identity in contemporary fine art generates many questions: Is a piece of art inseparably connected to a specific face, or can it exist on its own? And does an artist have a right to our respect for his or her wish to work anonymously, even though we know who he or she is? There are several events that suggest the importance of these thoughts and that are currently affecting the local fine art scene.
She calls herself Toy_Box and she annoyed the Government Office. She even had to present the police with her ID card with her true name. Toy_Box is a cartoonist who is famous, among other things, for her stories about a depressed sugar cube discussing its existential problems with a cup of tea. When Toy_Box saw a giant sugar cube, the symbol of the Czech EU presidency, in front of the Government Office, she could not help herself. She took a marker and drew frowning eyes and lips, the visual attributes of Toy_Box’s cartoon character, on the sculpture. The Office fined her CZK 1,000 and removed the sugar cube for cleaning, so it probably will not be back before the end of our presidency.
At the same time, David Černý announced he would prematurely remove his Entropa from the Brussels seat of the EU Council because he disagreed with the way the government of Mirek Topolánek was brought down. However, unlike Toy_Box’s action, Černý’s gesture (which he himself described as a “political statement”) immediately provoked mistrustful reactions saying that the artist only saw a chance to make himself visible and to capitalize on the political fiasco. This is the main advantage of authors working anonymously: Using false identity gives them a certain alibi that putting narcissistic emphasis on their own person is not their main objective.
To a great extent this is also true of the project by the Polish artist who calls himself Peter Fuss. For his exhibition Achtung!, which was to be on display at Prague’s gallery NoD these days, there is no comparison in the Czech Republic in terms of controversy. He presented large-scale photographs showing Nazi executioners murdering Jews, but placed Stars of David on the sleeves of Wehrmacht and SS units members. According to his statement, Fuss wanted to react to the current conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza strip, in which the descendants of David’s tribe use as condemnable methods as Germans did during the Second World War.
Peter Fuss chose bad timing and a bad place to present his provocative opinion. The exhibition opening ceremony took place on the day that holocaust victims are traditionally commemorated and in a gallery situated in a building owned by the Prague Jewish community. And it was the community members who tore the photographs from walls during the opening, basically putting an end to the exhibition before it ever started. The author’s anonymity and the fact that he is not known in the Czech environment caused that discussions now being held in connection with the Achtung! exhibition concern mainly limits to freedom of artistic expression, regardless of how stupid such expression is, and not Peter Fuss’s ambition to be in the spotlight.
A collective head
Another author who is currently being discussed, Epos, has decorated several idle bigboards along Prague arterial roads using a paintball gun. He did not put his signature on any of his peculiar paintings and for those who don’t know his project from YouTube or from a few articles, for instance, his works will remain a project by an anonymous author. Which is exactly what he wants: that people perceive what he does and not who is behind the action.
Several artists presenting themselves in Karlin Studios have chosen a different way. In an exposition entitled Hlava (Head), eleven authors jointly reveal facts from their personal lives. However, it’s not clear which of the artifacts displayed belongs to Meduna, Othová, Pětiletá, Salák and for instance Sterec. Also Hlava is therefore trying to demonstrate that identity in contemporary art is a very relative term. But that authors at the same time will not try to avoid it whatever names they use. Whether it’s the police who impose it on artists, or it’s snobs who only go to an exhibition because of the name printed on the invitation.