Hyper War art
We are not biometric data, ZTOHOVEN
Interview by Daphne Dragona.
1.Could you tell us who are the ZTOHOVEN and what do they aim for?
ZTOHOVEN is a platform, which brings together people, who don’t want to stay passive to problems of the social environment where they live. At the moment, there are 11 of us who are involved in our current project Občan K aka Ciziten K. (Občan K. sounds the same like občanka in Czech language, which means ID card). We don’t want to put answers on table, but prefer question marks. In a word, we don’t want to do art for art, or just think about problems with a glass of beer in hand. We want to live and investigate the problems through our projects. This is a sociological aspect of our practice– we provide our bodies and minds to researching a problem, which we find as crucial one.
2. Would you describe yourselves also as artists?
Our projects are local driven and problem driven. Our aim therefore is not to be just another body who does a kind of art. Each project starts with an important problem that we are facing. We don’t care if we are artists, criminals, guerilla or gorillas. The question is not who we are, but what our projects can tell to the people. In a word, for us it is important to ask how we can contribute to the world where we live in. We don’t need to be categorized. We don’t ask ourselves what we are and if we are asked probably each of us would give different conflicting answers.
3. As you said your your projects are “local- driven” and „problem driven“. All of them have taken place in your country. Would you say then that they address solely the inhabitants of the Czech Republic?
Our motivation to do projects is local driven as we can react only to the problems we go trough. Are other people faced with similar problems? Not only in Czech Republic, but all around the world? Maybe I try to answer by referring to some examples: The first project , back in 2003, we did was local and concerned the end of presidency of Vaclav Havel who was a symbol of apolitical politics. During the socialistic era he was dissident and after Velvet Revolution in 1989 he was elected as a president. There was a big shining heart installed on the roof of the Prague castle, a dominant monument of the city of Prague, in the end of his presidency. Believing that a question mark would be more appropriate as a symbol of the period , we covered half of the heart and one big shining question mark was appeared over the castle. People loved it and Havel even rescued us from Police. He said if there would be a open debate about public space in Prague, he would be happy. This was actually possible in the Vaclav Havel presidency era, but now we live in another world full of destructive neoliberal politics which dont like neither question marks nor hearts. For our second project in the same year, we overlapped almost all citylights placed in Prague subway. The point of Raped subconscious project was to show to the people the power of advertising in public space. Please note that there was no advertising during socialistic era. For our third project in 2007, we simulated an atomic blast in Czech TV, highlighting the problem of manipulation of reality in media, especially on TV. In our current project we are looking into the issue of Identity. It is up to a reader to ask her/him self if such problems like advertising, manipulation of reality and identity are invading his everyday life and privacy.
4. What do you think characterizes your country today and what are you fighting against with your interventions? Would you say that there is still a certain national and social identity being formed?
I cannot answer this question, because there would be as many answers as we are in number. But my opinion is that our country is still a very good and free place to live and we fight against various forms of power which try to disturb our feeling of freedom. I think not only Prague but also Czech country is good to visit when somebody wants to experience a spirit of lightness. We try to guard this quality as many other people and groups do all around the world on other interesting localities.
I would say that Identity is a crucial timely theme and a problematic concept at the same time. But I am sure, that in every era there are powerful subjects who try to influence the construing of identities. In our last project we tried to question how people want to let various invisible subjects participate at construing of their identity. That’s why citizen K. states: How frail and how easily abused is that which should serve us. We are not numbers, we are not biometric data, so let us not be mere pawns in the hands of the big players on the game board of these times. If we do not wish to fear our own face, we must save it!
5. What do you think is the role of the media today? You mentioned before a project of yours, „Media Reality“ where you faked a nuclrear explosion. Do traditional media like the TV still influence our thinking and perception? Have things changed in the era of the internet?
This is big question and I would like to be proved wrong when saying that everything that could be abused, will be abused at some point. There is a lot of intimate information which people share online, like in Facebook for example. Sometimes I don’t know if I should smile or cry when reading what people are able to write/share on the internet or on the TV. I don’t watch TV but I am sure that “moving pictures” are the core medium through which people have learnt to recognize and understand world. TV and internet are really interesting inventions, the problem is their content.
6. But what is the cost of turning against the media? For “Media Reality”, you were actually taken to court while interestingly enough, for the same project at the same time you were honored with an award from the National Gallery. Some people seem to have been disappointed by your accepting the award and the amount of money corresponding to it. Do you think that there was some contradiction in your actions at this particular time?
We tried to show the absurdity of society and its system. We accepted to be judged in the same way we would be honored. The money from the award covered the penalty from the court. Maybe those who think that there is contradiction assume that we are white and we want to be in opposition to somebody or something black. But this question is still open between us and that’s good, I guess. It is better than seeing only “good” and “bad” things. We try to study the world and find new ways to interpret it. But I understand those who criticized us for accepting the award. And this could be our response to them is: We are looking forward to hear about your project more than just hear how you would rather do it if and if and if..
7. Your latest project, Citizen K, tackles the issue of control and surveillance characterizing today’s society in the name of security. Merging two faces into one, playing with biometric data, and creating one fake ID card for two people at the same time, you clearly doubted the system and revealed its holes. How does Citizen K connect to the totalitarian systems of the past and the networked society of today?
We live in a country where history was rewritten by each new ruler: by Nazi during the WWII, by Socialism until 1989 and by neoliberalism until today for example. Most of the Czechs are careful when they feel signs of totalitarianism. But the problem is that new forms of power are very smart and people don’t understand that for instance shops of full commodities does not mean freedom. We just want people to realize that everything depend on us – not only regarding our world, but also the world of our kids. We should all be careful and responsible for our behaviour. This is not a kind of paranoia, but a proposal of resistance towards the apathy related to public questions which still may pander a totalitarian system for our society.
8. How difficult was it to perform Citizen K? Were you afraid of getting caught?
To be honest it is not so easy to be faced with charges of criminal persecution. Imagine getting a letter from criminal police that you are under investigation, or being picked up you from your bed in morning. It is not easy, but it is part of our project. Soon it will be visible who is smarter and who is one step ahead. The police can think that they pursued us, but who knows. Maybe we just play a game with them and they don’t know about it. Citizen K. is not finished yet!
9.You seem to imply sometimes that in your place there could be any citizen wanting to take action. Is this a tactic of inviting the public to become involved, engaged in the problems society faces today?
Of course, we would like to live in a world, where people are interested and involved in the public process. But sometimes I feel like the transition between socialism and capitalism has both sides – good and bad. We are here to kick the Czechs’ ass and say: hey its also up to you where our children will live! Citizen K. believes in a dialog between various opinions and he was born to motivate people to not be ashamed and to say their opinion out loud. It’s the same as in ZTOHOVEN, we are of different opinions and lifestyles, but we are able to meet and draw question marks over big issues of today. Question marks are namely better than exclamation marks and full points which usually indicate totality.