“Young Flesh (Mlady Maso)”: Czech Students Bare It All

Mlady Maso at the Golden Ring House in the Ungelt, Prague 3.7 – 22.9. 2002

Over the last decade Czech art institutions seem to have developed a pre-occupation with discovering emerging Czech artists’ work. In an attempt to both escape the past and catch up with the rest of the Western art world, curators desperately seek out the latest of what the very youngest generation has to offer.

This consistent curatorial tactic apparently tries to convey that these mobile phone wielding, new-world-order, frustrated youths are somehow miraculously untouched by the former political system, and are in fact representatives of what now is “real” Czech art. Immediately after the recent Biennale of Young Czech Art, comes a summer exhibition of student work appropriately titled Young Flesh. A selection of twenty-four soon to be artists from five different art schools around the Czech Republic authoritatively exhibited in one of the most respected institutions in Prague (The City Gallery) ostensibly encompasses the budding future of the local art scene.

The Golden Ring House (one of five of the City Gallery Prague spaces) is the ironic location for Young Flesh. This specific space has set new standards in the city by holding exhibitions by international artists such as Andres Serrano, and used to contain one of the best collections of Czech art of the Nineties. Therefore viewers have come to expect a certain standard of work exhibited here.

It is also located just off the Old Town Square, one of the most frequented tourist spots in the city. The idea then follows that this “fresh” new work from a group of students must be so innovative that it demands to be plucked out of the studios and placed into such an exhibition hall.

The accompanying banners and posters surrounding the entire area also imply it is something that cannot simply be passed by. This kind of opportunity for students is rare in the art world, supporting the hype to an even greater extent. Yet, as generally holds true with spectacle, the reality rarely lives up to the expectation.

Wandering along the Golden Ring House corridors begins to feel no different than wandering around any art school studios. With unnecessarily messy installation work, technical insufficiency, naive idealism, and gratuitous bloated egotism, viewers find themselves falling into disappointment.

As with most art school exhibitions, some work does find its way out of the confusion and uncertainty. New Media Artist (as she refers to herself) Petra Vargova’s video titled Dead or Alive 2, 2001, deals with ideas of identity, power, fantasy, and Feminism-a term that is just becoming fully understood in the Czech Republic.

Vargova montaged herself into one of the fighting characters one can choose to identify with in the Sony (PS2) video game. Vargova rejects the made-over, bug-eyed, mutant-Asian, scantily-clad, fantasy persona appeal, and can kick-ass just as well as the rest of them.

The six other works by women artists in the exhibition also touch upon some of the same ideas as in Vargova’s work. For example, Alena Kupcikova’s Chlupatice (or Hairy Thing) are a series of delicate erotic drawings made out of her friend’s, shaved-off, pubic hairs that are an eloquently aggressive, although innocent statement on female image representation and sexuality.

After only a decade of new technology and media flooding in from the West, it seems only evident that artists would find inspiration in it. Unfortunately most of them are more engrossed with the actual technical aspects, rather than on the wider individual and societal impact this tidal wave has.

Another theme pervading the majority of works in the exhibition is a questioning of violence and what it means to “have it all”. During the last 50 years, public violence was basically unheard of and unseen in former Czechoslovakia. In other words, it was purely a Western dilemma.

Quite possibly, economic injustice, corruption, xenophobia, and mass media have all led to the vehement images that reflect the current state; all of which also flows through the works of these young artists. Yet these concerns and frustrations are also apparent in other Czech artists’ works-artists who just no longer happen to be twenty-one.

Moreover, the naive and ill-performed majority of works presented in the exhibition further echo the problems and catastrophes of the local art situation as a whole. The title sadly becomes the most interesting notion from the exhibition. It not only relates to the current child pornography scandals all over Europe, but also to that movement to seek out the youngest and sexiest, the wildest and the latest. One particular movement that is dying to be flushed- not fleshed out.