THIS is the beginning . . . Because somewhere between not knowing . . . and knowing . . . there lies imagination . . . THIS, THAT and THE OTHER . . . Book 1 . . . OUT NOW . . . THIS is the beginning . . . Because somewhere between not knowing . . . and knowing . . . there lies imagination . . . THIS, THAT and THE OTHER . . . Book 1 . . . CLICK HERE . . .

CURRENT : RED SPARROW WRITERS : storytelling, workshops, book signings : RSPB Conwy : booking now for 29 October 2019
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FUTURE : Folklore & Fairy Tales of North Wales : Mixed Exhibition at Oriel Ty Meirion Gallery, Dyffryn Ardudwy : 22 October 2019 - 5 January 2020
THIS (Kindle Editions parts 3 & 4 of THIS, THAT & the OTHER Book 1) : Publication Dates TBA

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

A Wednesday in Prague...

Itinterary: Old Jewish Cemetary, Rudolfinum, St Agnes Convent, House of the Stone Bell
'Good Morning, Mr Plasty!'
In the museum of the Old Jewish Cemetery, there is the Pinkas Synagogue where the pure white walls have been covered, floor to ceiling with lovingly hand-rendered text in black and red. Listed here are the 80,000 names of Jews from the Bohemian and Moravian regions (in and around Prague) who were murdered in the Nazi death camps and so denied any marked grave. Upstairs, there is a small gallery with an exhibition that I pray will be permanent. On display are drawings by some of those interred in the Terezin murder camp before final deportation to Auschwitz. Alongside each drawing are three dates: date of birth, date of arrival in the camp, date of death. Any parent will be deeply touched when looking at obviously naive, children’s drawings that show carts piled with corpses, long buildings with tall chimneys… or a picture with a title that translates as, ‘Mummy in the showers’…and then you do the maths and work out that many of these are by eight-to-twelve-year-olds, who were dead within the space of two years after being imprisoned. The drawing styles are chillingly similar to what our own children may produce, but the subject matter is very different. Engaging with the work and artifacts in these vitrines can move any right-minded human to tears, parent or not. Not a pleasurable experience, but a deeply profound one - and the children's art here is, by far, the most important treasure you will find in Prague... or anywhere else. 
Composition and its opposite...
The Old Jewish Cemetery is a moving experience of a different kind. The higgledy-piggledy ancient headstones just exude history and reflect the importance of the Jewish community in the history of Prague. Their surfaces are cracked and pitted and some are now blank, the names and dates weathered away by the centuries. I recall Maximilian Schell walking amongst these stones in the opening of the 1991 Czech film, Labyrinth, in which he plays a film director trying to piece together a biopic of Franz Kafka’s time in Prague, whilst charting his own personal responses to the Jewish experience and heritage. The Old Jewish Cemetery is unique, being so ancient in origin and surviving the Third Reich, which levelled all other similar sites.

On this crisp autumn morning, I seek out the big grave marker of the famous Rabbi Loew ben Bezalel - a very respected and learned man who was thought to be so holy that he could mimic the godly act of breathing life into clay, thereby creating the Golem. In the legend of the Golem, Rabbi Loew fashioned a life-size clay man and animated it through high magick. The Golem, given the name of Joseph, lived with the rabbi’s family and defended the Jewish quarter against any attack. The golem was inhumanly strong, completely faithful, followed orders without question, never tired at a task, could not be killed and had no fear in battle. In one version of the legend, Joseph was secretly laid to rest in the attic of a synagogue, wrapped in holy prayer shawls… and eventually forgotten about after the rabbi's death in 1609. According to this story, he lies there still, concealed by spells and magical seals waiting… waiting for a rabbi of similar ability to Loew to reanimate him, should the Jewish quarter need such protection again… This legend was the inspiration for 'The Golem' (1915 & 20), a very influential early gothick 'horror' film. It was thought to be lost, the last known full print destroyed by fire... but, all too briefly, a 'restored' print of the 1920 'extended' version has been seen on YouTube, swiftly withdrawn due to copyright infringement... well, whomsoever had their rights thus infringed, please, release the material as it is of both historic importance and artistic merit.
Film still from The Golem - if it still exists, release it!
Continuing the Nazi-Death theme, the Rudolfinum had the Chapman Bros Show, where Regenerate Art laughed at the Degenerate Gestapo. Life-size mannequins of flayed gay black Nazis point and laugh at plywood dinosaurs while taxidermed crows decorate them with droppings... There was an informative video interview with the artists that shed some light on their methodology and ideology - some of the sense spoken was perfect, some less so, but I came away respecting them more as critics and art commentators, and less as artists. They appear to embrace the image of 'cultural charlatans' and use it as an all-encompassing excuse for any art that may fall short of the mark. To youngsters who have not yet sought out the original 'degenerate' and truly challenging art of the early C20th, this may appear fresh and original. I enjoy the punk humour, and when aligned with Pop Art, their perversion of cultural icons and stereotypes makes a little more sense - but is it supposed to? The Chapman hearts are in the right place and who knows, perhaps it was not meant for me - after all if I 'liked' it, was I missing the point? It was heartening to see the work of contemporary British artists in this prestigious venue that celebrates controversy. Jake and Dinos Chapman: The Blind Leading the Blind runs until 5 January 2014.

After enjoying a good coffee in the Rudolfinum’s very elegant Art Deco café, we enjoy the fresh air of a riverside walk to our next venue…
St Agnus Convent - icons, alpha to omega
In complete contrast (on so many levels), the St Agnes Convent is an oasis of calm, with icons effectively displayed under low light. I gravitated to the ones that clearly showed the ravages of age, the 'incorruptible' now oxidised, or worm-eaten, displayed next to a few choice golden artifacts as pristine as they ever were. Then again, the more I consider it, the more similarities I find between these old icons and the Chapman's modern ones... I half expect to see 'Mother Mary' holding a 'Trade-Mark Big Burger' instead...

The House of the Stone Bell is right on the Old Town Square, and is another example where the gallery building has the potential to outshine the work housed under its original Renaissance ceilings. Works by Stanislav Podhrázský were on show in a series of rooms set around a grand atrium courtyard, through which drifted the sounds of quality opera from the concert hall below. Podhrázský is an odd one - part of the post-war Czech surrealist movement - and I never quite made up my mind whilst in the exhibition. There were a few lovely life drawings, but there were many more appallingly ‘bad’ ones… so that implies that they were ‘bad’ on purpose (and well before the Chapman Bros). I found myself hugely impressed and seduced by sections of a few canvasses – beautiful water birds amongst illustrative riverbank foliage, sensitively rendered with delicate, controlled brushwork… yet sharing the same canvas was some depressingly ‘dodgy’ figure work in a more clumsy ‘outsider art’ style. His obsession with young breasts was clearly demonstrated here, though when compared to Klimt’s similar obsession with feminine curves, this looked more than a little ‘unhealthy’. The work was varied / inconsistent, but as I have said before, even ‘bad’ Czech art is interesting and this exhibition was no exception. Dodgy, perhaps, but not dull (…and I did warm to the green watch-pig). Stanislav Podhrázský: Restless Beauty is on show here until 23 February 2014.

Next: A Thursday in Prague

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