Iron Smirk: Action Art 1976-81 
featuring Lumír Hladík
On view March 15 − April 1, 2018
Curated by Veronika Ivanova and Matthew Kyba

Still from "The Never Boulder" 
Action 
Hill Klepec near Úvaly, Czech Republic (1978) 

12.11.1978 My first day of the event. I walked towards the hill (the boulder was invisible) and I stopped about 1km in front of it and returned home. 

22.11.1978 My second day. I walked towards the boulder and I stopped about 0.5km in front of it and returned home (the boulder was still hidden by trees). 

25.11.1978 Day three. The huge and familiar boulder is finally in front of me. I am raising my hand towards the surface, closer and closer. There are 2mm left. This is the limit. My trembling hand may destroy the event. Those 2mm between the boulder and myself are final, I won’t ever come back. Ever.

Still from "Boundary; a Question Without Answers"
Action 
Úvaly, near Prague, Czech Republic (1977)

Still from "I Reduced the Diameter of Earth"
Action
 Field near Český Brod, Czech Republic (1977)

Still from "The Mirrored Sea"
Action
Warnemünde, East Germany (1980)

When the act of unsanctioned creativity is categorized as treason against the state, every movement, every moment, every instance of art becomes a dangerous form of rebellion. Within the overbearing communist Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic since 1993) during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, artist Lumír Hladík was an integral catalyst for “action art,” a term used to denote public and private performance artwork. These happenings range from the critical to the absurd, but all represented a type of artistic freedom that was suppressed under the Communist dictatorship at that time. Hladík's early action art includes shades of earth art, art concerned with failure, existential issues, and institutional critique. Without any need to criticize any governing body or political regime directly, Hladík sought to challenge authority through general gestures of intervention. Hladík’s practice has consisted of making conscious the element of time (mortality) through deliberately philosophically posed questions that have no answer. In "I Reduced the Diameter of the Earth," (1977) Hladík dug a small hole into the ground, thus technically making our planet’s diameter slightly smaller. Although this gesture is comically ineffective (in regards to the intended result) the work concerns much larger themes of human impact, self-aggrandizement practiced by governing institutions, and even the overall futility of humanity’s praised progress. In 1980, Hladík, after a two-year period of not seeing the sea, decided to (not see it again). “The sea always was, for us Czechoslovakian citizens, a special place. In a geographical sense; the country is landlocked, and... in a political sense; the sea becamea symbol of freedom.” Blindfolded and led to the water’s edge by a friend, he looked at a mirror that faced the sea for an hour, and then left. Does he view the sea, if just in a mirror’s image? As a Czech citizen in the midst of an oppressive regime, Hladík dissented while submitting; going towards the precipice of freedom (or the mirage) while not accessing it. Himself and other like-minded artists such as Jiří Kovanda made artwork that was almost imperceptible; pieces that existed underneath the surface that were conceptual in nature and barely visible in form. The action / interventions were personal asseverations, testimony and manifestos, their own bodies acting as Martin Luther’s Six Errors nailed to Church doors. The effectiveness of their ability to change dominant thinking lies in their ability to remain unseen from the watchful Big-Brother eyes. So, although Hladík’s practice may seem slight, his interventions acted as substantial philosophical questions that investigated what freethinking and free art can be.

MATTHEW KYBA

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