Sunday, May 29, 2016

Throwing Plastic Balls into the Bořín Pond

I have written here before about the connection between land art and The Velvet Underground: Walter de Maria, best known for his Lightning Field, was briefly in an early version of the group.  However there is also a connection between land art and The Plastic People of the Universe, the Prague band who modelled themselves on the Velvets and subsequently went down in history for their role in inspiring Charter 77 and thus, indirectly, the Velvet Revolution.  In 1969, members of the newly formed group took part in an action by Zorka Ságlová, Throwing Plastic Balls into the Bořín Pond in Průhonice.   Ivan Jirous, the art critic who managed the Plastics (a similar role to Andy Warhol in relation to The Velvet Underground) wrote that Ságlová had, with this work, 'joined the growing tendency in contemporary fine art when the artists leave their studios in order to dig ditches in the Nevada Desert, to create configurations of grass turfs, to draw half mile long parallel lines on the desert plateau, ragged with heat' (Nadezda Blazickova-Horova ed., Landscape in Czech Art).  Ságlová had already been involved in the music scene, making costumes for The Primitive Group, another VU-influenced psychedelic rock band (we really need Julian Cope to write Czechrocksampler as their Wikipedia entry is just 'a stub').  Members of The Primitive Group were also on hand that day to throw some balls into Bořín Pond.

Zorka Ságlová made three more works that can be aligned with land art, bringing hay inside a gallery, lighting nineteen bonfires on a snowy plain and laying napkins at a site associated with the Hussite wars.  She was by no means the only Czechoslovakian land artist active in the early seventies.  In April 1974 Jan Mlčoch climbed the Kotel Mountain in 'foul weather' and took some photographs, in an action reminiscent of Hamish Fulton.  In contrast to Mlčoch's brief engagement with landcape, Miloš Šejn has built up an impressively diverse body of work since the late sixties addressing the interface between nature and the body through performance, installation and photography.  And finally there was Petr Štembera, whose early work like Line in the Snow and Painting the Stones (both 1971) treated the environment as a kind of canvass.  In Large Pool (1970) he had gone to an island of the Vltava and shaped two sides of a rain puddle into the sides of a triangle, only to see his intervention washed away by the rain.  As the Kontact site explains, 'later pieces dealt with the relationship between the human body and a natural entity, such as Grafting (1975) when Štembera grafted a bush sprig into his arm in a way common in arboriculture, or in Sleeping in a tree (1975) when, after three sleepless nights, he spent the fourth night in a tree.'

Miloš Šejn, Zelený muž (Green Man), 2003
Photograph: Sejn

1 comment:

Plinius said...

I mentioned Walter De Maria at the beginning of this and now (two days later) I read Adrian Searle's critical review of a posthumous exhibition in London. According to Searle, the artist statements on show 'read like the kind of stuff people write when they’re stoned, which De Maria quite possibly was in the early 1960s, when he spent much of his time composing and drumming and flirting with avant-garde music.'