Here’s just a limited selection of some of the many bizarre though quite fascinating statues that I came across on my trip to Prague in the Czech Republic a while back.
I don’t know whether the surreal nature of Prague’s public art is due to the influence of Czech surrealists such as Jan Svankmajer, or Franz Kafka. Or, perhaps it’s the result of the destruction wrought upon Czech art and architecture by the second world war that required such artistic reinvention. Maybe the Czechs choose not to celebrate historical figures through public effigies because of their country’s troubled period of communist rule that may have left them weary of hero worship after suffering the destructive state sponsored propaganda of fallen idols such as Stalin for so many years. Perhaps it’s simply the prevalence of mind altering drugs on the streets of Bohemia since the decrimalisation of drugs for personal use that has unleashed such a creative approach to enriching public spaces with artistic ingenuity.
Whatever the reason may be for Prague’s bevy of idiosyncratic street sculptures, I for one am all for it. Through a haze of cannabis smoke I trawled throughout the city of Prague constantly surprised and enthralled by the many surreal incursions into my day that these works of art provided me with.
Upon my return to Ireland, whilst trudging through the streets of Dublin I couldn’t help but feel short changed by the lack of invention of our own Irish artisits in their creation of public pieces of art. There are only so many grey statues of long dead war mongerers, or bronze casts of expatriate Irish writers that can be stomached before you start to question what the Irish are lacking in so sorely when it comes enriching public spaces.
I remember once reading the Czech writer Milan Kundera describing his Czech countrymen as “heretics” as a result of their lack of enthusiasm for religous or political doctrines and the simple pleasure that they take in living life to its fullest. As I stood in O’Connell Street in Dublin after my trip to Prague, I looked towards the GPO, the scene of Ireland’s greatest act of rebellion in 1916 which eventually led to our country’s independence. However, my view across the road to this historic building was partially obscured by the great phallic monstrosity that is the Millenium Spire quietly spunking its celtic tiger euro millions into the air. And I thought to myself, that perhaps there’s something that us conformist Irish could do with learning from these Czech herectics.
Here’s a little selection of shots that I’ve gathered over the years on my travels throughout Europe. I enjoy shooting statues like they were live people and framing them accordingly, because it seems to breathe life into these static objects.
I think photography is often the most satisfying way of looking at statues, because photos reduce everybody to static statues frozen at the point that the camera’s shutter was released. And as a result of the stasis enshrined in the photographic process, pictures of these lifeless sculptures can sometimes appear just as alive any person photographed.
Let me know if you can recognise any of these, as I can hardly remember where I took them myself!
Here’s a shot of one of the wonderful Dali sculptures that I came across in Barcelona, and that seem to be dotted throughout Spain at large. I’m often struck when travelling by how incomparably more interesting European public art is compared to the predictable statues of politicians and exiled writers that we Irish seem to enjoy erecting so very much.
And since I’m thinking about Dali today, I thought that I’d share one of my favourite photos ever. This is Dali’s “atomicus”. This amazing shot apparently took 28 attempts to get right, and as a result probably isn’t also going to be a cat lover’s favourite photograph. However, one can’t help but admire the bravado of Dali and the ingenuity of the photographer Philippe Halsman in nailing such a busy shot with so many elements to get just right.
The real magic of this shot for me is that it is a record of a specific moment in time back in 1948, in which 3 cats and a bucket of water were flying through the air, whilst Salvador Dali was jumping and his assistant held up a chair at the edge of the frame. This photo therefore has value as a document of a moment in time. This makes it an indexical photo that refers to a specific historical event. In modern times it’s hard to imagine anybody taking the time to create and execute such a shot instead of just designing it on a computer screen through Photoshop.
Photoshop creates iconic images that can represent a cat flying through the air, but because these images are created on a computer screen and are only a representation of an image that occurred in an artist’s mind rather than a record of an actual event in time, these are not photographs, but pieces of digital art.
So please do enjoy one of the greatest photographs ever created and ask yourself if such a photo was created in post production on an image processing programme could it ever possibly have the same impact?