Welcome to Hard Times opens at DOX

A politically oriented gym room lets you punch Trump and Putin in the face

Most times in a museum or gallery, people are supposed to look but not touch. The new exhibition Welcome to Hard Times invites people to participate. The exhibition runs at the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art until Feb. 4, 2019.

Erik Kessels, who had the idea for the show, said that people are more interested in going to the gym than becoming involved in what is going on in the world around them. So he and other artists created a functioning gym with political overtones, hoping to attract people to current events that way.

Kessels said new fitness concepts are launched almost every day, so his concept is really no different. “At the Hard Times gym, visitors have will have the opportunity to sweat out their obliviousness and train their conscience. After the workout they will feel invigorated, informed and perhaps even a little more aware of what is going on in the world,” he said.

The highlight of the show is a series of long red punching bags with stenciled faces of dictators, populists and authoritarian leaders. People can recognize Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Alexander Lukashenko, Fidel Castro, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Augusto Pinochet and many others. This part of the installation is by Cuban-American artist Antuan Rodriguez.

The artist said that punching the bags was good for mental health, as you could work out some of your anxieties over what is happening. He also stressed that he does not want his artwork to be looked at from a distance but used.

But visitors at the press preview and opening seemed a bit reluctant to give the bags a good shot, though.

Some treadmills are placed by a wall showing a looped video about the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon in 2013, while others have screens showing edited news clips to adress the idea of media manipulation.

A climbing wall on a giant map shows the locations of border walls across the world.

Another large piece is a boxing ring that instead of logos of sponsors has flags, symbols of ideologies and logos of companies accused of controversial practices. Boxing gloves labeled “Us” and “Them” in English and Czech can be borrowed so different ideologies can battle it out in the ring instead of in the real world.

Water bottles in a large tower carry the names of water-borne diseases that still ravage the planet, though many could easily be reduced if there was the political willpower to provide clean water.

The exhibition covers two floors in DOX. A non-interactive display of large-headed white statues is on the second level by Slovak artist Viktor Frešo. His army of “Niemand” figures, arrogant and self-impressed people, seems a bit out of place with the gym concept, though. They perhaps are meant to show the masses of people ignoring politics.

Modern art has a tendency to go over lay people’s heads. The Welcome to Hard Times installation is one of the more accessible large exhibits at DOX recently. The pieces actually are thought provoking, and do serve to at least physically get people involved in what is going on in the world.

The title Welcome to Hard Times is a reflection on the title of DOX’s first exhibit, Welcome to Capitalism, which occurred 10 years ago.

For more information, visit www.dox.cz/en.

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