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Ondřej Brody is NormalUmělec 2011/1
Tomáš Pospiszyl | profile | en cs de
Wherever you are you are with brody&paetau
A collaborative team of artists who, indiscriminately and bordering on the intolerable, caricature global arrogance and regional slime. They are especially known for their degrading actions aimed at the functioning of contemporary culture. Art critic Adam Budak: “This conceptual neo-dadaistic artistic duo is on the lookout for the worst aspects of institutionalized art and the very phenomena of art production itself. Their strategy is obvious and almost embarrassing in its literal and straightforward approach – although this may be its strongest quality. Their themes and targets are elemental as well: everyday ethics and moral codes form the source of their subject-matter-like vocabulary. Above all, their investigation focuses on the psychology of behavior as influenced or provoked by the external aspects of life and politics. Oscillating between use and abuse, advanced manipulation and the cold unassailable representation of the absurdity of reality, their work is truly critical and sincere in its desire to uncover the pathologies and hidden normalcy of interpersonal relations. Their actions are always well structured, with a nearly perfect, precise and calculated dramaturgy, cold and emotionally disturbing, bold and vicious, and thoroughly penetrating. If anything, their work could use some more careful balancing; the desired scandalous result could more properly be used as a tool for emphasizing the decline of certain values and their sudden corruption.”
Ondřej Brody in his artworks has tried various things. He wetted himself, set himself on fire and recorded in detail his friends’ farting. With others he defecated in the exposition of the National Gallery in Prague. In his other videos, made solo or in collaboration with other artists, we may witness involuntary ass-licking, vomiting in public, sex between seniors, paid humiliation, or even coitus between a man and a woman in a high stage of pregnancy whose embryo is at the same time sonographically checked by a gynaecologist. Ondřej Brody seems to systematically force himself into the position of indisputable enfant terrible of the Czech and international art scene; or he is pathologically burdened and perhaps should seek the help of experts. Even Michal Pěchouček, Brody’s occasional collaborator, has characterized his videos as unbearable in the Fotograf magazine.
However, I think it cannot be that hot: if we overcome the list of his extremities, Brody appeals to me for his ability and need to cooperate with others. Apparently he is neither asocial nor pathological, as the first paragraph might imply, but operates ingeniously as a creative spiritus agens. He has collaborated with the aforementioned Michal Pěchouček, with numerous professional porn actors and actresses, with Marek Ther, children, bodybuilders, Marek Meduna, a curvy transsexual, Rafani, a professional human monster, Evžen Šimera, an amateur music band and who knows with whom else. Supposedly, the longest collaboration Brody has had is with the artist Kristofer Pateau.
Works arousing revulsion form just one aspect of Brody’s work. I suppose that the image of a cynical libertine eating shit for breakfast, satiating his lust in the anus of a disabled baboon and wearing shoe insoles made of child skin with hairs inside is merely a carefully constructed fiction. His breaching of various taboos, although revolting for spectators, is one of his creative strategies. It serves him as a catalyst which, after the shock from what we see subsides, leads the spectator further into the areas which they had feared to imagine before. His ideas have traumatized his spectators and collaborators yet, at the same time, shifting them to new modes of perception of artistic works.
I personally favour his old video The Winner Takes It All from 2003. Here we can see Helena Vondráčková in the early ‘80s TV show for youth, emotionally singing her hit A ty se ptáš co já (And you ask what about me). It was a cover version of ABBA, which was then one of the ways to hear mutations of world pop music in the media. At the same time, for normalization stars this was the way to make money on someone else’s products while looking like men of the world. Brody substituted the Czech soundtrack of the broadcast with the original song. Helena opens her mouth, but we can hear ABBA. Did the audience imagine the same? I think it is one of the most successful comments on normalization culture with at the least Central European significance. For some reason the work disappeared even from the Czech art scene, which is where it is primarily aimed at. I am convinced that the video could have played a similarly significant role as the film Intervista by the Albanian Anri Sala, which became an icon of works exploring totalitarian history of Eastern Europe.
Brody’s contribution to the still pervasively fragile genre of institutional critique is also significant. In 2005 Brody participated in the transfer of Jiří David’s studio from VŠUP (Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague) to AVU (Academy of Fine Arts in Prague), from where he had been previously bickered out. In the same year, while he was still an AVU student, Brody sent his teachers normalization diplomas appraising their work. In Take it Personally, a collective project with Brody’s participation, four artists publically announced whom of their colleagues they disliked. The project achieved great recognition in the Czech artistic milieu.
However, Brody does not refrain from political art of a global character. The project Painting China Now from 2007 reveals political repression in China as well as the unscrupulousness of communistic-capitalist China, where the customer is always right. Finally, it criticizes the very artistic system, which not only supports, but even demands such drastic, humiliating, but in their essence, cynical projects like this one. This is another typical effect of Brody’s work: he often does something which is unusual, but on the other hand also expected from artists, albeit in a more moderate character. In 2009 Ondřej Brody and Marek Meduna urinated on the grave of the art critic Jindřich Chalupecký; the act was recorded on video and exhibited in Historical Work, a group show in the Špálova galerie, Prague. As a member of the Jindřich Chalupecký Society, I have been asked what I thought of this action. If I said Brody and Meduna are pigs, I would be considered prudish. Honestly, I did not even think of that. My first reaction was shock followed by my own sense of shame: until then I had not known where the critic’s grave was.
Michal Pěchouček, whom Brody’s gestures have managed to confuse several times, then went to clean the grave. He takes care of it to this day.
I did not do anything; I was only trying in vain to protect Chalupecký’s honour and the artistic freedom of Brody and Meduna. Jiří Ševčík, also present, claimed in defence of the artists that their act was a pure “image of urination,” a symbolic metaphor.
On video, however, it looked quite real. And Meduna perhaps blushed a bit. I confess that I find the idea of warm urine on cold marble actually kind of exciting, yet I would not stand anyone urinating on the grave of my relatives or other people. Chalupecký perceived Duchamp’s pissoir as a work of transcendental power, which through banality and deliberate martyrdom of its creator sought the way to the spirituality of modernity. Brody and Meduna turned similar, and honestly said, quite wrong meditations back to the utmost primitive materialism. I believe that even a similar gesture has its own value.