A Colony of Freedom – Possibilities of the New National Style (Monika Čejková)

The “A Colony of Freedom” project is related to the urbanistic development of the Vinohrady neighborhood of Prague, especially around the area of the buildings of that name that were constructed in the National Style of the first half of the 1920s in Na Šafránce Street near where Dub himself now lives. It is also related to the nearby Vlasta housing estate in the neighborhood of Vršovice, which was created during the 1970s especially for the inhabitants of the village of Milovice. Those people were moved out of their homes in order for the Soviet Army to be accommodated in that village. Dub naturally perceives the gradual transformation of these places over time and the later, very often insensitive interventions into the original constructions – for example, what is at first glance an apparently new concept of a façade, or the unobtrustive deformation of a Rondo-Cubist element. “Both sites are just a couple of hundred meters away from each other, but they represent two diametrically different architectonic periods and to walk from Korunní Street towards Moskevská Street is like traveling through time. As one orbits, meter by meter, down the hill, what changes, in a fascinating way, is not just the architectonic tone of the city, but primarily the social segment of its inhabitants. Up on the hill the buildings are predominantly beige-colored, sandy brown or dark red. Kazažšská, Tádžická, Magnitorská Streets and their environs correspond to an apricotstrawberry mood that is attempting to ‘originally’ distinguish itself from the surrounding buildings. The beginning of an ideological battle over living space is notionally staked out by Gočár’s Church of St. Wenceslas, dressed in white. It is as if faith in a simple, white ideal connects both irreconcilable camps,” Dub describes his impressions.

Dub previously investigated the devaluation of historical buildings in his above-mentioned project for the Nika Gallery. For that project, what served as a prototype was a Functionalist building on Kotlářská Street in the center of Brno, devalued by the insulation of its façade. His exhibition “In-sue-lie” at Galerie 207 responded to the neglected state of the local gallery walls and to housing for the lower class; in addition to videos, he presented the Czech flag in the colors of pink, pistachio, and a creamy yellow, i.e., the shades that also show up in the “A Colony of Freedom” installation.

Dub is researching both of these different architectonic phenomena as psychosocial phenomena reflecting certain needs of a given historical period. His installation for Kvalitář comes out of his observations and reflections on the insensitive use of color in architecture. Dub works with the samples of a particular paint company and intuitively applies the chosen shades to the surface of the actual architectural volume and spatial configuration of the gallery halls. «The intention of the installation reflects the dialogue between architectonic surfaces in these dominant color tones, whether connected with a specific architectonic style, form, or various historical eras of architecture. The gallery is therefore painted in a combination of façade colors and signs demonstrating the transition among various ways of handling color in architecture. Where, basically, does individual freedom end and collective responsibility for the public space begin? What will be the color of the Czech future?” Dub exaggeratedly asks when describing the project overall. The coats of paint follow locally specific elements, including the alcoves and the vaulted roof. Empty parts of the walls become equal elements of the resulting “painting”. The emphasis is on integrality even as the interior becomes a painted composition.

In the first room, Dub is responding to National Style – to the single-family homes and semi-detached houses of Na Šafránce Street, which were created according to the designs of the then-beginning architect František Albert Libra. The preserved territorial plan for the buildings is allegedly drawn in penand- ink and does not include any information about the planned use of color on the façades. The current owners or tenants, therefore, adapt the fronts of the buildings and sometimes even the interiors of the buildings to their own imaginations with respect to what they might have looked like, or base their choices on personal taste. In this street, with its small-town atmosphere (when this neighborhood was created it actually was the city outskirts) we can see many bizarre creations today – buildings divided in half in terms of the color of the façade, or fascinating choices of shades of color that arrived during the 1990s. An interesting moment is the Rondo-Cubist element mentioned above, and we know an example of this from the decoration of the façade of the street-facing wall of Prague’s Legiobanka from the same period (1921- 1923). Na Šafránce Street turns up in numerous forms, deformed in various ways and used in different places. We can find it in a fence or on a façade or a concrete column. Dub, in his own loose interpretation, continues this in the first room of the gallery; the symbol of this here is included in paintings that are almost decorative, in a blue-and-red combination like a variation on the conception of color during the National Style period. Here the sign becomes a kind of reminiscence of their original (of course not precisely known) form and significance.

The right wall of the room is dedicated to the slogan of Gemeinwillen, a concept translated by architecture theorist Professor Jindřich Vybíral as the “common will” of a nation. Dub here is referencing National Style as a problematic phenomenon, not just in relation to the quality of architecture, but also to ideology and the reason that something is created in the first place. National Style is a consequence of the atmosphere that once predominated in Czechoslovak society, which was rapidly seeking a way to express its affiliation with a certain ethnic group after 1918. A crucial role in the process of this self-awareness was played precisely by art and culture, to a marked degree as a consequence of a rational construct. The artist did not speak for himself, but programmatically created common values that very often approximated the taste of the broader public. Despite this, it was apparent that in that newly-created state, several ethnic groups were mixing together. We can see some sort of unjustified need for separate self-definition today as well, when nationalistic sentiment is growing in society and when we are doing our best to defend our Christian values against an invasion by foreign cultures. At the same time, we do not know what our own values exactly mean, or whether they contain something deeper at all.

In the central room we find an adapted projection of the iconic film “Playtime” by the French director Jacques Tati from 1967. This is a kind of hyphen between eras, a satire on the form and function of modern architecture, and the last room fully exploits the potential of the contemporary color samples that have been mentioned. Here, when choosing shades, the artist was inspired by their bizarre names, which cannot be ignored, and the reason for their use is something we can reflect on for a long time. What turns up here, for example, is “Spicy Gazpacho”, “Tibetan Robe”, “Sand Mandala”, “Sunny Sari”, “Wisdom of the Endless Ocean”, etc. These colors, used abundantly in outdoor façades, are placed in the role of new national colors telling us something about the character of contemporary Czech society.