Saturday, July 21, 2007

Conceptual Protest Art

When Soviet-bloc tanks rolled into Prague to repress the emerging Czechoslovakian democracy (in 1968), they were unable to find the city center because partisans had taken the street signs and switched them all around. Milan Kundera tells this story in his novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

This sign-switching was a quintessentially poetic act—a heroic, improvisational playfulness with the truth in a moment of dire seriousness. The event even has the interpretive openness of a good poem, because it can be read in different ways. You could say that the partisans destabilized language to reflect the perversion of justice. Or perhaps they meant, metaphysically, "If you don't know where Prague is, no sign will tell you." Or perhaps they were saying, "The center will continue to be moved until your relation with the truth is correct." But what a story it is: As they were being invaded, knowing it would not save them, they made a delicious joke. It reminds us of the bravery and tragedy of the comedian—often a small man sticking a pin into a fat man's behind, just before being sat upon.

--Tony Hoagland--

No comments: