“Passagenwerk” is a minimalistic site-specific installation created for the particular space of the Vzájemnost gallery. The gallery is located in the passageway running through a building constructed in the 1920’s according to the architectonic design by a renowned Czech architect, prof. Antonín Engel. The building is a part of Engel’s monumental urbanistic treatment of Dejvice and Bubeneč, with the central space of Vítězné náměstí (square). This project had turned out to be a mere torso while the planned shape of the square remains unfinished, nonetheless the concept for Dejvice has become the largest urbanistic work of modern Prague. The fragmentariness of Vítězné náměstí is to a certain degree a symptomatic and symbolic result of the failure of grand-scale utopian plans of modernism – the plans for the perfect, rationally directed and functional world which had fallen apart in the rationally designed gas chambers of Auschwitz during the Second World War.

The title of the installation – “Passagenwerk” – refers to another monumental torso of European modernism – the eponymous unfinished text by the German Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin, an associate of the influential neo-marxist Frankfurt school, whose „critical theory“ is one of the 20th century’ most significant contributions to the analysis of society. Benjamin had worked on the Passagenwerk from 1927 until his untimely death in 1940. The book he had planned was meant to deal with the urban life of Paris, for which, during the nineteenth century, the typical features were precisely those passageways, covered streets cluttered with shop fronts, spaces on the edge of the exterior and the interior, allowing the so-called flaneurs (individualistically inclined, socially well-positioned, and culturally attuned vagrants) to wander aimlessly for hours on end and soak up the atmosphere of the modern city.

The above mentioned facts can be perceived as the intellectual background for the “Passagenwerk“ installation. Twenty four metal hooks placed at regular intervals on the opposite walls of the passageway can refer to the modern society of mass production, to the rationalized manufacture, rationalized education, rationalized health system, as well as the rationalized killing (it could represent a cloakroom used for the removal of clothes of the workers, the school children, the patients of the health institution that resides on the floors above the passageway, or it could be a reminder of the room in which the victims of Shoah left their belongings before entering the gas chamber). All the aforementioned interpretations are left open to the visitor. What is certain is that the presence of a public cloakroom in a through passageway, in a place not tended by anyone, contains in itself a great deal of the absurd. The “Passagenwerk” installation can be, last but not least, a simple appeal to the flaneurs of today passing by to hang the excessive items of their attire on the empty hooks and in this way donate them (especially in this wintry time of the year) to the needy.

Milan Mikuláštík

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