Reports

Anthropological excursion into the trackers´clubroom

„Sunny September days belong among the most beautiful ones of the year. In forests, grooves and on hillsides colours start appearing in places where they have not been before. Deep yellow, orange, vermilion and carmine red, rich shades of brown. The woods are full of mushrooms and their scent. Nightingales, tree pipits, warblers, wagtails, butcherbirds, flycatchers, wood warblers and whinchats are getting ready to migrate. Fine gossamer is floating in the silver air heading for mysterious foggy distant lands, autumn is coming.”
The quotation from the diary of Tomek Valtýn, the main character of Foglar´s book called “Chronicle of the lost trail” intuitively describes the atmosphere of the work of the four young men presented by the curator Aleš Zapletal. When entering the exhibition “Clubroom – Trackers of Autumn” we accept a lyrical invitation into a unique world full of crude chromatics and almost physical excitement. At the same time we find ambivalent symbolic layers in the displayed works, melancholy tones, ironic discipline of the body, in fact everything that should not be lacking in a ritual clubroom of postmodern animists.
The work of these four specific art-tramps evolved uninfluenced by contemporary art trends and connotations with the Art Brut phenomenon might lie too ready to hand. For this reason I feel the need to set the work of the Trackers in the context of social-antropological theory and a broader cultural-paradigmatic framework. In this sense I may state that we are dealing with several inspiration levels.
First of all I want to mention tramping – which is considered today a unique Czechoslovak subculture that originated at the beginning of the 20th century and stemed from the work of Ernest Thompson Seton and Robert Baden-Powel, the founding fathers of the Scouts movement or more precisely Woodcraft. The books by the intellectual gold-digger Jack London had undoubtedly a great impact as well as the books by the expert on American trivia Karl May or the gender-unbalanced Czech writer Jaroslav Foglar.
The sociologist Vojtěch Urbánek describes tramping as „a form of get-togetherness which has a significant impact on the forming of one´s identity and the way one perceives the surrounding environment. It may become a means of realizing the multiplicity of a personality and may enrich the structure of the surrounding world. In tramping we can find one of the socializing factors which is strongly reflected in the character of all those who participate.“
The multiplicity of a personality is clearly illustrated by the work of the peculiar group of artists who by calling themselves Trackers of Autumn avow their hunting alter ego, materialized through specific „clubroom activity“ and original art. From the viewpoint of interpretation I can find clear clues in the form of formal references to scout guide-books or in the conception of the exhibition room which becomes a clubroom full of tramping fetishes which are rendered in suprising and original ways. The question is whether this was the aim of the artists or of the curator Aleš Zapletal.
Artifacts of the Trackers´clubroom are clear allusions to a number of typical scout or tramp and bushranger activities, including the form of winning the so-called „beaver points“ (in fact the model RPG game system applied to private life, each level-up is symbolized by „hunting a beaver“ (winning a beaver point) i.e. acquiring knowledge or skills, such as learning knotting or wildlife tracking. Such activity shows clear features of Gennep´s rites of passage ceremonies: a nature lover through the rites of his community continually rises to a higher level of his existence, from the level of the so-called „greenhorn“ to the level of an experienced and skilled hunter.

In this sense I can see a clear parallel between the characters of Foglar´s „Chronicle of the lost trail“ and the authors of the exhibited artifacts. The story of the book unfolds from an initiatory experience – a view of muscular legs of a mysterious boy in shorts who keeps escaping. When the main characters find the boy´s diary, they get to know him and finally, under his lead set out into a world of adventure.
The fleeing boy as a symbol of initiatory secret has been replaced by the Trackers of Autumn by the opposite object of desire – a woman. This is a logical result after overcoming the period of adolescence and turning one´s attention to other things than distinguishing the silhouettes of birds. It is not by coincidence that palaeolithic drawings of female genitals in caves belong to primeval artistic expressions defining modern man. While the skin trophies of beavers on the walls of the art „clubroom“ are in fact an approval to this omnipresent human atavism. Since the beginning of the modern period in European culture a woman was set in a symbolic relationship with wild nature resisting laws of civilization. Female nature was seen as a metaphor for primordial mythical chaos also in connection with witch hunting or in pre-Freud psychology.
The Trackers of Autumn instinctively felt the psychological kinship of a woman and nature and they managed to connect in a Jung-manner the archetype of a woman with the conception of hunting a rare animal. In hunting cultures romance was metaphorically seen as a distressful journey of a hunter after his prey. According to animistic interpretation the exhausted animal finally stopped and rewarded the devout hunter with its own life. This moment was metaphorically seen in sexual connotations as a kind of hunt initiation.
Art-tramps have elevated the classical hunt for Foglar´s „beaver points“ to an aesthetic-ritual activity, a sexual mysterium. They managed to avoid the dangers of a primitive macho approach. Thanks to this the complex atmosphere of the „clubroom“ predicates about a specific primordial fetishism and a certain ritual obsession, which is simultaneously frosty and cheery. As Chalupecký wrote in one of his essays, an artist and a shaman are similar in their aims to move forward, to change their perception and get under the surface of things. In this sense the Trackers have left their tramp badges and knapsacks in the realm of childhood, replacing them by an artistic approach to nature and adventure. They find nature as the supreme reality in the depth of artistic experience and in the female womb.
The four original artists under the guidance of the curator Aleš Zapletal hold up a mirror to the established art concepts and with spontaneous passion cross the borders of many fields. They uncover a completely new view of reality and that is why I shall conclude this text by a quotation of the founding father of the scouts´movement, Sir Robert Baden-Powell: „Scouting pulled away from reality is complete nonsense.“

Miroslav Maixner

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