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'There Was a Choir, There' by Radek Brousil at Glassyard gallery, Budapest

“I dont know if anything at all will be alright.” 

Main hero of Radek Brousil’s film in a half-dead fish costume wanders through a city and a country in a mental dialog speaking to a female hyperobject about the end, shame, guilt and possibility to do something. Skateboarding, smoking cigarettes and questions about “feeling the butterflies” together with long, distancing shots and captivating music as if would refer to melancholic romance of independent 90s cult movies. The authenticity of intimate experience is however constantly alienated by the overal theatricality of costumes and props, overplay, cut-ins and mainly ever present shadows of real catastrophe. Intentionally unresolved ambivalence of intimate and real-life drama can be hence read as resolutive appeal. Textile objects and staged film photographs further problematise the malleability of seemingly contradictory linking of activism and escapism. Critical reading of Czech culture and history mingles with personal sentiment for the landscapes of our childhood.

The exhibition There Was a Choir There is therefore a mutual bound of personal and general, in Brousil’s previous work evolved ecological topics and personal predispositions and memories. The bonding agents in this assemblage are often intentionally contradictory emotions.

The motif of half-dead fish, represented by the main male hero, to a certain extent the alter-ego, refers literally to the trace amounts of drugs splashed to the rivers from our canalisation. The costume also resembles the animated character, crying or heavily breathing plastic bottle in 3D rendered video or ceramics in Brousil’s previous works (such as “Too Proud to Hope, Too Weak to Climb”, 2018), poetically referring to the meaninglessness and catastrophic consequences of the bottled water economy. The entire film dialogues are as a collage put together from 90s indie-emo bands lyrics. As part of Brousil’s memories and personal identity those bands t-shirts Brousil already used to create a giant water drop in “Too Proud to Hope, Too Weak to Climb” in 2018 or embracing torsos in “Standing, Holding a Waterlily,” 2019 as much as the music background in many of his videos. Love, self-harm, suicide, pain and anxiety are in the script dialogues ambivalently thematised between individual story and common fate of the planet. In the only song of the film, Brousil himself sings “I’ll try, I’ll try, I’ll try” and underlines the tension between authentic feeling of the impossibility of authentic position, the anxiety and powerlessness.

Main characters make-up is an allusion to the clown-like make-up of Jiří Voskovec and Jan Werich, the 1920s and 30s creators of Prague’s avantgard Liberated Theatre, but also their own inspiration of that time Asian exoticism. The tension between a concrete utopia and fairy tale present in the “poetism” approach of Liberated Theatre, the tension between local context and global phenomena is further associated by the film’s locations. Whether it be the functionalist Church of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church in Farská street in Prague 7th district with its renowned stained glass cupola or The Devil’s Heads a pair of 9 metre high rock sculptures near Kokořín made by the sculptor Václav Levý between 1841-1846, that are direct reference to Czech Romanticism, but also folklore and the fairy-tales tradition the film intentionally enters. Also the 1990s movies romantic skateboarding melancholy is at the same time an authentic return to Brousil’s childhood as a stigma of childhood in Prague’s suburbs prefabricated panel housing estates.
As much as in Brousil’s previous work omnipresent ambivalence stands behind the film series of serious statements and decisions. It was shot as a zero waste film. Costumes are upcycled from fabrics leftovers by the designer Mia Jadrná. Brousil himself works with textiles and sewing in the long term already. He used Czech made fabrics with specific patterns intended for African market for example in “Hey Sorrow, Where Are You?”, 2018. He uses textiles generally as foto print material and sewing as a relation to his own positions to photography and his position as a male photographer. The pillow-like objects in the gallery are consequently shifting the subject matter of hard architectural elements, often stucco relief of faces - mascarons, to another level of intimity and emotions, softness and hugging. His past and present as an artistic but also commercial photographer is also reflected in the series of staged film photographs hanging on the wall in custom frames.

There Was a Choir, There is therefore a certain alter-ego, image of a mind but also the effort to capture the general and individual, generational and social feeling of authentic alienation.

— Michal Novotný

24.11.20 — 26.2.21

Glassyard Gallery

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