The Happy Family and The Merry Family (Tomáš Knoflíček)

While most visitors of Ostrava Museum have gotten used to the grating placed in the arcade, taking it for granted without really contemplating its purpose, the wall, which had sprung up overnight there as part of the project by Petr Dub, is likely to get their attention – not only because it is new and fresh, but also because it seeks their attention in a much more uncompromising fashion. Not only does it, by its size and location, directly limit the operation of the institution and makes more difficult entry into the building, but it also has effect on its surroundings by ostentatively taking the appearance of a wall dragged up into the city centre from some periphery, or a housing estate sludge. Or at least that is what experience should dictate to the passer-by, since, being at Ostrava’s central square, with a gaping mouth of the dreary parking lot as if from the furthest backwaters of the town placed right in its corner, it is only logical to expect that this wall is simply one more success in the gradual process of peripherization, yet another occupied territory in its trench warfare against the Ostrava city centre.

The barrier erected by Petr Dub in the middle of the arcade offers more than this semantic syuzhet. Especially the frontal view from the square, from which the wall appears to be completely impervious and the museum to be open, also leads to reflections on the contemporary role of cultural institutions, such as museums or galleries. What role do they play in the society, how do they communicate with the public, and to what degree is their intercourse with the public the contents of their activities. Building a wall, dividing both the physical and the mental space between the inside and the outside, the museum and the ordinary world, in this case refers to the effort to define the transition between attention and the ignorance of the viewer and the obligations of the operators of cultural institutions. Namely the problem does not lay merely in the fact that the majority of the population is subconsciously afraid of visiting those institutions, but also in the fact that their ideas of unassailable (cultural) fortress are profusely fed by the institutions themselves by their lack of communication skills, arrogance, rigidity of ideas, or anachronistic conception of presentation of their collections. The mutual detachment is thus comfortable for both parties and the obstacle in turn becomes a protective element, which is sarcastically reflected in the title of the exhibition “The Merry and the Happy”, referring to the state of mind of the people dwelling on either side of the wall.

But the play of meanings is not yet exhausted. If we only broaden the context, we can relate the wall to the current geopolitical situation regarding movement of groups migrating over the lands of Europe, and to attempts of controlling this process. The wall now becomes a symbol of a society which, under a supposed threat, gives up its rights and freedoms and voluntarily allows itself to be bound by the toils of repressions of the current power apparatus. After all, the Czech nation has more than forty years of experience of living “behind the wall”.