Digitized black-and-white 8mm film without sound
This informal grouping of visual artists, authors, theorists, and other figures on the independent scene is named after Prague’s “Crusaders’ Pub” (U Křižovníků), where its members began gathering in the mid-1960s. The group grew up around its self-proclaimed directors, sculptor Karel Nepraš and conceptual artist Jan Steklík (who also worked in drawing). Other members included theorists Ivan Jirous and Věra Jirousová; happening organizers, poets and writers Eugen Brikcius, Olaf Hanel, Petr Lampl and Andrej Stankovič; painters Rudolf Němec, Otakar Slavík and Zbyšek Sion; photographer Helena Wilsonová; and translator Paul Wilson. They all identified in opposition to official art, and their gatherings were both a source of inspiration for their art and a form of support under the era’s difficult political circumstances. During the period of “normalization” that was instituted after the invading Warsaw Pact armies had put an end to the Prague Spring, the Crusader School played an important role in organizing activities on the unofficial art scene. With their grotesque actions, the group undermined the earnestness of both mainstream and underground culture and created its own space for artistic freedom. By the mid-1970s, when the group’s activities reached their peak, the Crusaders had organized several legendary happenings, including Waking the Knights of Blaník (1974) and Vltava – Homage to B. Smetana (1974). Besides these collective actions, which they called “patriotic trips” and which involved the participation of the broader unofficial artistic community, the Crusader School also organized several smaller events, exhibitions and other activities, some of which Rudolf Němec (1936–2015) captured with his 8mm camera.
Playing with semantic changes was typical of the Crusader School, as was the unclear delineation of events that grew out of one person’s spontaneous idea and was then developed and variegated by the entire community. In their openness – in terms of both authorship and chronological delimitation – they are happenings in the purest sense of the word, although this term is rarely applied to the Crusaders’ activities.
If we ignore the footage of Vladimír Boudník in Jaromír Pergler’s 1956 film Action in the Streets of Prague, then the oldest known cinematic record of Czech performance art are Rudolf Němec’s films from the early 1970s.
This text has been taken from the booklet for the DVD Czech Performance Art: Film and Video, 1956–1989, published by the AVU Research Center in 2015 (editors: Pavlína Morganová, Terezie Nekvindová, and Sláva Sobotovičová).
The film, whose inclusion in the “Window to the Archive” section is the first time it is seen by the public, was found in 2015 in Rudolf Němec’s estate. Probably filmed in 1970, it shows one of the “patriotic trips” organized by members and friends of the Crusader School of Pure Humour Without Jokes – a St. Wenceslas pilgrimage from Prague to the town of Stará Boleslav. Even on this fragmentary record, we can see how natural performance was for the Crusaders and how playfully they worked with it: The film consists of miniature episodes that are a mix of childish humor, understated situations, and knowledgeable artistic gestures. The participants all pinned numbers onto their chests, but the “runners” never reached the finish line, for they concluded their trip in a pub in Brandýs nad Labem before reaching their goal. The film contains rare footage of Jiří Boreš, who worked in theater after emigrating, and also shows the poet and critic Vladimír Burda, performance artist Eugen Brikcius, and author/historian Josef Kroutvor. At the beginning of the film, Kroutvor demonstrates a gesture ascribed to the Greek philosopher Cratylus – skeptically wagging his finger, the only possible response to a world that is entirely an illusion.
We have dated the film’s origin to the year 1970: Rudolf Němec acquired a camera around the turn of the decade, and since Vladimír Burda died unexpectedly on 23 October 1970, the film must have been made before then. The same reel also contained a record of another event, Untitled (1) from 1971, which was first presented to the public on the DVD Czech Performance Art: Film and Video, 1956–1989, published by the AVU Research Center in 2015.
We here present a digitized version of the original material without further alterations.
Digitization of black-and-white 8mm film without sound: VVP AVU
We would like to thank Alena Taschnerová for providing Rudolf Němec’s film material to the VVP AVU video archive, and Mr. Eugen Brikcius and Helena Wilsonová for helping with the work’s identification.
In “Window to the VVP AVU Video Archive,” the AVU Research Center (VVP AVU) collaborates with Artyčok.tv to regularly release works from the VVP AVU video archives. The selection for Artyčok.tv focuses on older works (from the late 20th century), works that straddle the line between video art, film and documentation, and purely documentary material related to recent developments in Czech and Slovak visual art.