Art: David Černý - Sculpted Rebellion

Interview with Czech artist David Cerny

Born on December 15, 1967 in Prague, David Černý studied at the Arts and Design School during the latter half of the 80’s. He surprised his teachers with his unconventional approach and rebellious attitude. At times he has dabbled with the conceptual, but above all he is an artiste provocateur. For many years, the wild child of Czech art was known as much for his raucous behavior at parties and receptions as for his work. He’s also a notorious womanizer.

This view of his personality is rather one-sided, though. He is at the same time extremely conscientious about his work and prepares, presents and realizes his projects meticulously. He is also highly ambitious, and occasionally unpunctual. He arrived to the interview late, fresh from some sort of conference at the German embassy on the future of Czech and German co-operation on cultural issues.

DC: The Germans have become aware of the fact that if you invest in culture, there’s an economic benefit. They’ve realized that if you pay to teach a girl to play the piano, in the end she’ll make more money. This is what they base their cultural policies on. The problem is that the fucking Czech politicians require that people be as stupid as possible, because otherwise they wouldn’t be capable of electing such complete shitheads to parliament. The politicians are aware of the fact that they themselves are total wankers and that’s why they support TV Nova, because it makes people into demented morons. But they don’t realize that people will end up being so stupid that they won’t be able to produce anything decent even manually.

Pill: How do you think Prague should go about it then?

DC:: Well, first off, it’s probably not possible with Igor Němec there, the guy now responsible for culture in the City of Prague. When I asked him whether he thinks that he’s competent to be in that position, he answered that it’s an unfair question. Another thing is the way the budgets are designed and split. That’s totally fucked up. Sure, buildings are falling down and they need repair. It’s necessary to conserve, but it’s screwed if that’s all you do. Czech film, for example, has no money from the State. German filmmakers get 80 million DM a year. Right now the Czech Republic, in terms of culture funding, is on the level of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Pill: On your web site you have a section devoted to last year’s unrealized projects, for example the highly provocative National Theatre sculpture. What happened there?

DC: Initially, the director of the National Theatre said, great, let’s do it. I got a private sponsor who had one condition: he didn’t want to be mentioned. That’s a great sponsor. He wasn’t afraid, he just didn’t want to be directly associated with it. Then there were cultural committees, some of the people I knew, they supported the project, but in the end something happened and when I turned up for the key meeting, the director got physical, put his arms up and pushed me out. So I thought, what’s happening? Anyway, the project was ditched. What this place needs is something like the Kunsthalle, an independent institution paid for by the City. The environment in Prague is not supportive.

Pill: Is it stimulating?

DC: Depends on who you are, because I’m motivated by being pissed off and the neuroses that I suffer from are good for what I do, it works for me. But it’s highly individual. I don’t have children, if I try to imagine what it would be like to have two kids, to feed them, then of course I’d be working in an ad agency by now. At the moment I’ve no money in the bank, but I can get by.

Pill: What do you actually call yourself with respect to your line of work?

DC: I’m a sculptor, always have been. But at times I’m a moderator, an occasional film actor.

Pill: Let’s get back to the piece that was eventually rejected by the National Theatre. Entitled The Nation Unto Itself Forever, it consists of a naked 10 meter high golden statue of a Titan with a huge erection, sitting on the ledge of the National Theatre. Steam was supposed to spew out of the penis at particular time intervals. Is it important to you that it actually gets made, becomes a product you can touch, rather than just being in virtual space?

DC: It’s supposed to be a slap in the face of the nation. If you exhibit it on the Internet, it won’t interest anyone. It’s good to give out slaps in this sense. Purely aesthetic things don’t really get my rocks off. Pill: Just to take things in a different direction, I saw a project you designed for the World Trade Center in 1996 that was never produced for “technical reasons.” It involved the creation of “the dominant letter pi by placing the aircraft carrier Intrepid on top of the roofs of both the towers of the WTC.” There are also photographs of your babies with the twins in the background. You lived in NYC for a year, how did what happened to those buildings effect you?

DC: It really did me in. For a week I watched the news nonstop. I found those two building really sympathetic, I lived next to them for a year. I love NYC. The first time I was there the place made me want to puke for the first four days and then - I don’t know what did it, it was like a little miracle - it changed. I think people can be divided between those that love the place and stay and those that hate it. There’s little in between. It’s that strong. I really do love it. It’s like if somebody threw a bomb on St. Vitus Cathedral.

Pill: Yeah, full of people. What do you think of the design that’s been chosen?
DC: I’d construct one large building and four little ones next to it like this (he gestures with his hand, giving the finger), approximately, because for me it was a symbol of NYC and not expansive capitalism. The fact that German architects won the design is a good sign. I said immediately that the only chance is to build something on the same spot, only bigger.
Pill: Like a great “fuck off” to terrorism?

DC: Yeah, that kind of violence just cannot be allowed.

Pill: What about the consequences, the behavior of George W. Bush, Gulf War II etc.
DC: I don’t think you need to explain to most Americans that Bush is an asshole. I said straight off that I understand the attitude of certain European politicians. To implant democracy, these people don’t know how to handle it. Just look at us, democracy was more or less implanted and we don’t know how to work with it properly. We’re not grown up enough. We don’t have political control mechanisms. American democracy, no matter how fucked up, has feedback controls. We have the Antimonopoly Authority, wow! I don’t think the American president has unlimited global power. America is not a monarchy and I think there are ways to prevent that.

Pill: Did you participate in the YES for Europe campaign?

DC: Yeah, sure. I did a TV spot without any hesitations. Anything that can be done that will weaken the domestic political power is good. You didn’t see it? Pill: No, I didn’t catch that one.

DC: Nor did I. I don’t have a TV, that’s the only medium I cannot have, at all.

Pill: Even though for a year you were involved in making a TV program about art called Artóza?

DC: That’s the only reason I could do it. In fact, over the past ten years I’ve spent twenty times more time being on TV than watching it. I just hate TV. I hate having the box at home, I physically detest the object itself, it buzzes, it fucks me off, it irritates me, it’s a domestic enemy. The kind of aggression that exudes from it, if you watch TV Nova, it makes me want to kick the shit out of the box.

Pill: And if you got an offer from TV Nova to have your own program?

DC: Look, they tried to do an interview with me and we drove away. If they call me, I put the phone down.

Pill: Do you have any sources of inspiration?

DC: Yeah, I do. Screwing.

Pill: Do you have any favorite sculptors?

DC: Sculptresses. I shagged two. We were in the loft of St. Vitus Cathedral all night, naked, the three of us. That was a RIDE.

Pill: Did you also like their work?

DC:: You were asking about inspiration.

Pill: You recently published a book called The Fucking Years. Is this a sign that you’re beginning to evaluate and look back over your life?

DC:: No. You know what usual catalogues are like. Again, it was like a spit in the face. I was pissed off with pompous titles. The fact that I fucked through all those years is something that I can put my weight behind. Me and my girlfriend were doing the sums recently, and we came up with a total sum of about thirty liters, three bucket loads!

Pill: Of a particular fluid.

DC: Yeah, a certain secretion. That’s a lot. I’ve been doing it for thirty years. And it makes you think, how many more buckets? Of course, there’ll be less, undoubtedly. On the other hand I don’t have respect for the things that have fallen off me, my work I mean.

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