Entropa (Hitting Too Close To Home)

As you probably know by now, the Czech presidency of the EU is blushing and fuming with anger ever since it transpired that artistic instalation Entropa was not a collaborative effort by 27 artistist from 27 member states and that it does not exactly extol the virtues of being one big happy European family.

Slovenia, the birthplace of tourism

In fact, the entire instalation was made by David Černý and two associates and rather than singing the song of European happiness, it cinycally takes it apart, selects and exaggerates a particular – mostly well chosen – national stereotype. On top of that, all the sculptures are put in a plastic frame often found in scale kit models, suggesting that Europe is a product rather than an idea. And to top it all there’s the name: Entropa, combination of Europe and entropy.

It could be brushed off as yet another prank by the enfant terrible of the Czech art world. But apparently it hit too close to home for some people. The following is taken from the relevant Wikipedia entry:

* Austria, a known opponent of atomic energy, is a green field dominted by nuclear power plant cooling towers
* Belgium is presented as a half-full box of half-eaten Praline chocolates
* Bulgaria is depicted by a series of connected “Turkish” squat toilets
* Cyprus is jigsawed (cut) in half
* The Czech Republic’s own piece is an LED display, which will flash controversial quotations by Czech President Václav Klaus after the sculpture’s activation
* Denmark is a face depicted in Lego bricks, reminiscent of the cartoon controversy
* Estonia is presented with a hammer and sickle-styled power tools, the country has considered a ban on Communist symbols
* Finland is depicted as a wooden floor and an [apparently drunk] male with a rifle, imagining various animals
* France is draped in a “GR?VE!” (“STRIKE!”) banner
* Germany is a series of interlocking autobahns, described as “somewhat resembling a swastika”, though that is not universally accepted. Upon activation, the cars are supposed to start moving.
* Greece is depicted as a forest that is entirely burned
* Hungary features an Atomium made of its common agricultural products melons and Hungarian sausages, based on a floor of peppers
* Ireland is depicted as a brown bog with bagpipes protruding from Northern Ireland; upon activation, the bagpipes are expected to play music every five minutes
* Italy is depicted as a football pitch with the players holding balls in the “strategic position”
* Latvia is shown as covered with mountains, in contrast to its actual flat landscape
* Lithuanian soldiers are depicted urinating on Russia
* Luxembourg is displayed as a gold nugget with “For Sale” tag
* Malta is a tiny island with its prehistoric dwarf elephant as its only decoration
* The Netherlands has disappeared under the sea with only a several minarets still visible; upon activation, this piece is supposed to emit the singing of muezzins
* Poland has a piece with priests erecting the rainbow flag of the Gay rights movement, in the style of the U.S. soldiers raising the Stars and Stripes at Iwo Jima.
* Portugal is shown as a wooden cutting board with three pieces of meat in the shape of its former colonies of Brazil, Angola, and Mozambique
* Romania is a Dracula-style theme park
* Slovakia is depicted as a Hungarian sausage (or a human body tighten by Hungarian tricolour)
* Slovenia is shown as a rock engraved with the words first tourists came here 1213
* Spain is covered entirely in concrete, with a concrete mixer situated near the Basque country
* Sweden does not have an outline, but is represented as large Ikea-style self-assembly furniture, containing Gripen fighter planes
* The United Kingdom, known for its Euroscepticism and relative isolation from the Continent, is “included” as missing piece (an empty space) at the top-left of the work

Personally, I think this is a lovely provocation, not unlike what Slovenian designers did with The Youth Relay twenty years ago. It says more about the object of the mockery (in this case member states) as it does of the object of the art. In case of Slovenia it takes apart this country’s totally unfounded conviction that it is the centre of the world and that all great things somehow started here. Even tourism, for crying out loud! So in the instalation the rock that is Slovenia states that “the first tourists came here in 1213”. Gotta love it! (Full text of descriptions can be found here)

But in this particular case the fool in the room turned out to be the Czech presidency which (not unlike Slovenian presidency a year ago) was trying to come across as more European than Europe itself. Thus, the point of Entropa has been proven by the very people who aimed to discredit it. The fact that Černý made up 26 other artists, their biographies and even accompanying texts, only further shows that the European idea is artificial at least in part. That in itself if not necesarily bad as it does help to be reminded of that every once in a while. Just so we don’t get carried away.

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.

26 thoughts on “Entropa (Hitting Too Close To Home)”

  1. Well remember I come from a country probably rather pleased NOT to have been included. Rather that than a series of toilets.

  2. Mr. P, would you care to elaborate on your thought that “The fact that Černý made up 26 other artists, their biographies and even accompanying texts, only further shows that the European idea is artificial at least in part”?

    I don’t get it. How does one show/prove the other?

  3. Even though I knew you are prone to some typos I still wanted to check what Ekipedia is 😆 😳 Which proves neatly I have genes of the first tourists in me, doesn’t it.

  4. @Adriaan: Actually I was actually reffering to CZ foreign minister 🙂

    @dr.fil: The idea was to have 27 artists create a piece of art which would supposedly extol the idea of being European. And as long as the fiction of 27 different artists was presereved, so was the idea that the artwork depicts the idea of being European (albeit in a provocative way).

    Now that the magic is gone and the truth is revealed, suddenly there is nothing European in the piece anymore. At least in the eyes of those who commissioned the work. Hence, this particular idea does not (yet) exist unto its own, but needs to be supported by material evidence (for the lack of a better word)

  5. Being serious for a moment, the artwork would naturally have carried more weight if it really had been “made” by 27 different artists.

    That said, what will be more interesting is the various responses to it from the various depicted countries. Obviously Bulgarians have every right to feel insulted by the toilet depiction, but would the “average” Dutch man or woman feel a twinge of recognition concerning the Muslim depiction for Holland? Or would the “average” Lithuanian smile at the idea of pissing on Russia?

  6. the artwork would naturally have carried more weight if it really had been “made” by 27 different artists.

    Would it? Or would it sink into the oblivion of EU political corectness?

    I was innoculated against art when I was a kid, so I may be dead wrong here, but European art seems a contradiction in terms to me. Smells dangerously similar to “regime art”

    Obviously every country has the right to be insulted, but wouldn’t that just prove the artist’s point? I mean, isn’t it true that Bulgaria is Europe’s toilet at the moment?

  7. I was innoculated against art

    Care to explain this? It’s not so much the concrete people/influences that interest me, but you made me curious about your attitude toward art?

  8. Oh, and: it seems out of proportions to hit a troubled country like Bulgaria with the worst stereotype and deepen its misery.

    I know we are all Europeans and should all be able to take things in their stride, but we all know some nations are more “European” than others. i.e. there is no valid rule expecting every nation to uniquely shrug their shoulders when hit with bad depictions, especially we should not expect that from currently still un-smug nations.

  9. @alcessa: Oh, I like art. However, there is precious little it does to me. Especially “beautiful arts”, painting, sculpting and the likes. I’m seriously lacking in this departement. Or maybe I’m just too cynical to appreciate it. Dunno.

    Point about your second comment, though. But on the other hand, isn’t that just what art (good art, anyway) is about? Pushing the limits while making a point?

  10. @Mr. P: I guess I was trying to infer that a collective approach by artists from all over Europe would have had more impact than just one artist since it would suggest some sort of consensus.

    Now it can easily be dismissed by those it was trying to satirise as just one man’s opinion (and the Eurosceptic Czechs take a hit in to the bargain).

    Personally, overall (with the occasional misgiving i.e. Bulgaria) I like the work. I just wish people could have more of a sense of humour about it.

  11. Pengovsky: THX. Quite possibly cynicism is a good basis to like art 🙂 but probably not all cynics feel the need to let art into their lives because other things simply work better for them. And I mean art, not decoration 🙂

    As to Bulgaria: yeah, in the strict sense of it all, they should laugh about it. But stereotypes and art are not just about the pure effect and other artistic elements. You know, if they affect people in a strong way, ethics or psychology and stuff start to play an important role. All I am saying is, yes, there will be time when Bulgarians will laugh about themselves, but first they have to become themselves, like themselves and be able to afford the luxury of simply laughing about themselves. Poor nations with high crime rates tend not to and why should they. You do need some certain smugness to be able to laugh about yourself and you need to have the source of it. (I think most ex-Jugoslavs are quite able of self-irony and the rest, but in certain ways had it so much better we can afford it).

  12. Brilliant! The Bulgarian piece could have been so much better though…that’s the one I think is weakest and least pointed. It would have been so much better to do something like put the missing UK piece there (to mock the bizarre recent craze of Brits buying up the Bulgarian countryside and seashore). Or something to address the astonishingly rampant corruption and blackmarketeering in a EU state (granted, it’s not the only one to have those features, but the flagrancy of it is unlike any other nation I have visited in Europe, including Kosovo and Albania).

  13. I like Cerny’s art. I do prefer his trabant sculptures. I think this whole thing is a bit overblown. After all it is only art.

  14. What about this sense of humour: the Czech Ambassador to Sofia has received a squat toilet as a gift from a Bulgarian NGO. In reaction, the Ambassador asked whether he should throw Cerny’s art in it. Brilliant!

  15. I live in Malta……………and I think the way he interpreted our island is correct………..

    And to top it off I think that if the installation was the usual stereotypic art, then nobody would be talking about it!! In this case being so controversial it hit everybody under the belt…..and it became famous…………still I do not agree with the artist’s scam regarding the invention of all the other artists……..this was wrong…..

    David M – Malta

  16. David, thanks for the input. I agree that faking exsitence of other artists can be problematic. Personally I would go along with it if it served the purpose of the instalation, but nothing more.

    If I understand correctly, the author agreed to give back the money he received for the other 26 artists.

  17. I found the Slovenia one confusing, something about masterbation? and the ‘first tourists in 1213’ thing?

    I was disappointed with Slovenia’s because it didnt make any sense.

    I was expecting for something like ‘Ausria Jr.’ or something with Lippizaner horses….

  18. Hi!!! I want to ask that do anybody know why David Černý need to use Ikea-style self-assembly furniture, containing Gripen fighter planes to represent Sweden?? Is it something from the history??

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