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Stereotyping our way to a better EU
January 14, 2009 4:05 AM   Subscribe

SatiricalCzechArtFilter: A massive art installation at the European Council building in Brussels has raised hackles. Bulgaria, in particular, is not pleased at being represented as a "Turkish Toilet."

Comissioned by the incoming Czech presidency of the EU, this has caused something of a PR scramble for them; in the case of Bulgaria, the Czech ambassador has been called to Sofia, Bulgaria to explain (see first link). The piece looks like a giant set of snap-out plastic pieces, like one would find in a model set (e.g., a model airplane). Each country is represented with the shape of its territories, modified to reflect and lampoon some stereotype of the country. France, for example, is covered by a sheet declaring "On strike!" in French. The Netherlands are shown flooded with water, with a series of minarets showing above the water line (interpreted in most news accounts as a reference to religious/racial tensions in NL).

As the official press release on the EU2009.cz website declares, the artwork was commissioned to take contributions from 27 artists from all the member states of the EU. However, the original artist, David Černý (personal website), admitted to a Telegraph reporter that he faked the names and did it all himself (with 2 accomplices). There is now some debate about what to do with the embarassing art installation before it's official opening on January 15, but already the reporter that broke the "There were no 27 artists" story is arguing that the piece should remain.

"Official" brochure for Entropa (PDF, 5mb), complete with concept drawings, explanatory commentary and CV's of the faked artists from each country.

Images:
BBC.co.uk: 'In pictures: Entropa installation' (only a few of the countries are included)
Aktualne.centrum.cz: Concept drawings of most of the countries (in Czech, but you can figure out which image represents which country; "předchozí" means "previous" and "další" means "next")
posted by LMGM (37 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previous mention of David Černý on the blue.
posted by LMGM at 4:06 AM on January 14, 2009


I was just watching coverage of this on German TV. I see how most of the representations of countries could be seen as somewhat clever, though I think some of the attempts at wry humor are shallow and asinine. But at least most of them are grounded in a reference to something tangible (ha ha, Germany has lots of freeways and used to be run by the Nazis!). Aside from the fact that Bulgaria was a part of the former Ottoman Empire, which was based in the country we now know as Turkey, is rendering it as a "Turkish Toilet" a reference to something specific, or is it just stupid and racist? This is sincere- I'd really like to know what I'm missing.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 4:20 AM on January 14, 2009


Hmm. I like the overall visual concept and I like the hoax, and generally approve of hoaxing the EU bureaucracy, but when he was looking for accomplices he should have held out for a funny satirist. I'm not one, and even I was able to come up with funnier and more biting national foibles to satirize than his tired choices after a couple minutes of thinking. The Italians are crazy about soccer? The French go on strike? Easy there fella.

If your stated purpose is to see if people can laugh at themselves, it's only fair to tell a great joke about them.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 4:26 AM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


France as a country on strike
And that's a bad thing? Haway the battling workers of the cradle of revolutions.
posted by Abiezer at 4:38 AM on January 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


hey foxy (ha), here's what Bruno Waterfield, the Telegraph reporter from Brussels had to say on the 'turkish toilet' dig against Bulgaria:
The "Turkish" question is still a live one in Bulgaria, which freed itself from Turk Ottoman rule in 1878, with Russian help after five centuries.

A large minority of Turks live in Bulgaria where some face discrimination, higher unemployment and organised prejudice from nationalists, such as the neo-fascist Ataka party.
As I read it, depicting Bulgaria as a "turkish toilet" refers both to a Bulgarian sense of grievance against its former rulers ("We were used like a...") and post-Ottoman tensions about how ethnic Turks fit into Bulgaria ("This place is nothing but a..."; "The Turkish minority makes this a..."). So it's more about racism than racist itself, methinks. Since the claim in this work is parody/satire, I'm guessing that Czerny wasn't so much supporting anti-Turkish sentiment in Bulgaria as pointing to it as a sore point in its domestic politics.
posted by LMGM at 4:39 AM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Neat concept, but the final product looks less than inspiring. I really like the idea of "snap-out" parts from a model kit being used as the framework, but in the photographs it just looks... clumsy and awkward. Like those large-sized Lego blocks meant for toddlers. No finesse. I imagine that a better aspect ratio for the pipes and whatnot would somewhat improve the sight.

Nevertheless, neat concept.
posted by Phire at 4:50 AM on January 14, 2009


The representation of Spain is actually spot-on. A country made of concrete, after spending the last few years feeding a housing and construction bubble, building more houses that people might possibly inhabit.
posted by jgbustos at 4:53 AM on January 14, 2009


Just fantastic. Well done. This will have the whole of Brussels laughing. I'm expecting some photos from a mate who works there, will see what gossip I can find off him too.
posted by quarsan at 4:57 AM on January 14, 2009


What did they except? Czechs are nutty. Their government is founded on Lou Reed lyrics, you can't expect them not to mess with you every chance they get unless you are a female impersonator, who they worship as gods.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:10 AM on January 14, 2009


Depiction of Britain is particularly well conceived!
posted by woodblock100 at 5:24 AM on January 14, 2009


Thanks, LMGM!

10 on concept; 6 on execution.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 6:09 AM on January 14, 2009


is rendering it as a "Turkish Toilet" a reference to something specific

A Turkish toilet is another name for a squat toilet, where the toilet is placed lower to the ground than the standard American/European toilet, so that you are closer to approximating a squatting position when you sit down. I actually find them superior to the standard American/European toilet, because there is less strain on the bowels that way. The height of the American/European toilet has no real functional purpose. It's basically a vestigial Victorianism that allows to pretend our toilets are really just porcelain chairs in disguise, but does nothing to promote comfort or health.
posted by jonp72 at 6:48 AM on January 14, 2009


So it's more about racism than racist itself, methinks

Uh, no. It's just another name for that particular type of toilet. Which, by the way, are found all over Europe, in particular in the east. Somehow, depicting an entire nation as one big toilet doesn't strike me as particularly clever, thoughtful or entertaining.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:00 AM on January 14, 2009


Um, yeah, I got the reference to the type of toilet (adventures in the Istanbul bus station). I just didn't get the link to Bulgaria. And hadn't thought of strain on the bowels.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 7:01 AM on January 14, 2009


I'm trying to imagine something like this happening in the states, with an artist proposing an installation with different artist from all fifty states or all of the nations of North and Central America or what have you, and all of the artists parodying their nations or states, and let's say that Alabama get's treated with a watermelon-eating Sambo, and Arkansas with inbreeding-jokes, etc. This is supposed to be installed in the National Galleries for a certain amount of time.

Ten it turns out that it was just some white kid from Williamsburg pulling a fast one, but hoping that America "could laugh at itself."

That's what this is like to me. Strangely, I'd give the execution quite high marks, however.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:12 AM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I somehow suspected it was David Černý. I love him, he ended up being a pretty big part of my undergrad thesis, actually. Most of his work revolves around gently (or not so gently) poking fun at the nationalist mythos. Interesting to see he's moving beyond his own country.

The thing is, I think the Czechs have developed a national identity that relies heavily on satire, pointing out the absurd in daily life and is very self deprecating (watch early Miloš Forman films as another example). I can see Černý's work as not translating well once it moves past an audience like that which would be friendlier to his kind of work (and trust me, his stuff has pissed off Czechs in the past as well).
posted by piratebowling at 7:22 AM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


The height of the American/European toilet has no real functional purpose. It's basically a vestigial Victorianism that allows to pretend our toilets are really just porcelain chairs in disguise, but does nothing to promote comfort or health.

Sitting seems pretty comfortable to me, how the hell do squatters balance, shit and read the Guardian comfortably? Surely they need to hold their shirts up, have a hand to steady themselves, how to turn the pages? Plus, it means gassy assploders end up in the bowl and not on the floor.
posted by biffa at 7:24 AM on January 14, 2009


The Italian one would be funnier if it depicted all of the football players laying on the ground feigning injury.
posted by chillmost at 7:29 AM on January 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


I find it extremely lame, myself. And this even if this works on several levels:

Level 1 (as advertised): Work of several European artists denouncing stereotypes.

Level 2 (once the hoax is revealed): Ironic statement by rebellious Czech artist on collaborative European projects (never mind that this was commissioned by the Czech government, not the EU).

Level 3 (once you notice the "Czech entry" and the fact that all other entries closely follow the stereotypes held by Czech conservatives currently in government, that is, dismissive of Eastern Europe, scornful of the Latins, afraid of "Eurabia", hostile to Germany, ignorant about smaller countries, and quietly admirative of Britain and the Scandinavians): A doubly ironic statement on the close-mindedness of some Czech politicians and their voters - all the while pocketing their money.

It is in any case too clever by half, astoundingly self-serving, overrated and about everything I hate about modern concept art.

And, please, "Brussels insiders" are far too jaded to be much impressed by this kind of stunt. Far more outrageous things happen here each month...
posted by Skeptic at 7:34 AM on January 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


Is this something you have to be European to understand?
posted by desjardins at 8:00 AM on January 14, 2009


Are bagpipes really the most stereotypical thing he could think about for Ireland?
posted by minifigs at 8:05 AM on January 14, 2009


The thing is, I think the Czechs have developed a national identity that relies heavily on satire, pointing out the absurd in daily life and is very self deprecating (watch early Miloš Forman films as another example). I can see Černý's work as not translating well once it moves past an audience like that which would be friendlier to his kind of work (and trust me, his stuff has pissed off Czechs in the past as well).

Satire: Yes. More please yes please.

Shallow satire trading on shopworn sterotypes: Lame.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 8:15 AM on January 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


MarisaSTPT: what foxy_hedgehog said. I understood her question to be "what is a turkish toilet doing representing Bulgaria?" rather than "what is a turkish toilet?". So I wasn't saying that a turkish toilet is about racism ("poop is racist!"), but rather that using a turkish toilet to reference the Turkish historical influence and current demographics in Bulgaria is about racism (or maybe about ethnic sectarianism) in Bulgarian politics.
posted by LMGM at 8:17 AM on January 14, 2009


Oops, should've used preview. what foxy_hedgehog said up here, right after MarisaSTPT's comment.
posted by LMGM at 8:18 AM on January 14, 2009


So I wasn't saying that a turkish toilet is about racism ("poop is racist!"), but rather that using a turkish toilet to reference the Turkish historical influence and current demographics in Bulgaria is about racism (or maybe about ethnic sectarianism) in Bulgarian politics.

I think you, or maybe Bruno Waterfield, might be reading a lot more into this than there is to it. The Bulgarians aren't expressing offense to this because they're being associated with Turks, but because the country is depicted as a toilet. As one of the poorest countries in eastern Europe, Bulgaria has been called "the toilet of Europe", and this artist used one of the more prominent types of toilets you'll find in eastern Europe. But looking at the way the other countries are depicted, that this is the best this artist could come up with in the field of satire doesn't surprise me.

It never ceases to amaze me when assholes do something crass, unimaginative and tasteless, and then tell everyone else that they "need to learn to laugh at themselves".
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:31 AM on January 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


MSTPT, we're in disagreement about whether the "turkish" part of the label is meaningful here—and that's fine—but your paraphrase of my argument isn't quite what I said. It's not that Bulgarians are "expressing offense to this because they're being associated with Turks," but that it's striking a nerve by referencing Bulgaria's domestic tensions around its Turkish minority population. Considering that the Netherlands' "model" is one of minarets over a flooded NL, it seems like "you have a problem integrating your minorities" could be an interpretation in either case.
posted by LMGM at 8:47 AM on January 14, 2009


Bulgaria has been called "the toilet of Europe", and this artist used one of the more prominent types of toilets you'll find in eastern Europe.

I'd never heard Bulgaria referred to in this way before, which explains my confusion.

I think the meaning also hinges upon whether "Turkish Toilet" is a generic reference for an in-ground toilet, or whether it's a specific reference to Bulgaria's ethnic tensions. But that's a little more attention and introspection than this artist deserves.

And yes, the failure to laugh at someone's "tasteless and unimaginative" joke of an artwork does not indicate a lack of a sense of humor.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 8:52 AM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


In some ways I think it's hilarious that he chose to leave Britain off altogether. I mean, the UK has hardly been a team player when it comes to the EU, but part of me wants to see how he would depict it.
posted by ob at 8:57 AM on January 14, 2009


t's striking a nerve by referencing Bulgaria's domestic tensions around its Turkish minority population. Considering that the Netherlands' "model" is one of minarets over a flooded NL, it seems like "you have a problem integrating your minorities" could be an interpretation in either case.

By using a squat toilet? Not a hookah, or a turban, or an oil lamp or whatever - a toilet? Really? That's a reference to Turko-Bulgarian historical ethnic tensions? Alright ...
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:10 AM on January 14, 2009


In the same way as work-a-day individuals, so also will elitist academic artists show signs of narcissism and ill humor after decades of handouts from faceless bureaucracies. It's the enchantment, folks. The disturbing dream just goes on and on, waiting for the world-soul to awake.
posted by yazi at 9:26 AM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


ob I guess that, from the point of view of at least a few Bulgarians, it would have been even more hilarious to depict the UK as to its actual stereotypes, i.e. a posh guy wearing just tights, suspenders and a bra while a dominatrix spanks him, and a fat lager lout in a Union Jack speedo vomiting in the beach.
Of course, in that case, the same British tabloids that are now exalting Cerny (blissfully unaware that he's actually mocking their thinking, not that of the "Brussels bureaucrats") would be bellowing for his head instead.
posted by Skeptic at 9:33 AM on January 14, 2009


Meh, somebody has done a postcard with the proper (not the czech in-joke) stereotypes before, it only needs an enlargement update. And the postcard size is more adequate to the importance of the issue.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 10:03 AM on January 14, 2009


Very well put, Skeptic (level 3), but perhaps "the stereotypes held by Czech conservatives" are Černý's own and he ended up revealing his own prejudices.
posted by Termite at 11:11 AM on January 14, 2009


The brochure is brilliant. The text about the Czech entry, which is the only one presented as actually being by David Černý:
Let the head of state have his say! A constant stream of brilliant Václav Klaus quotes. Words of wisdom that deserve to be etched in stone. The President’s sublime, pertinent comments about the whole world, and especially the EU, whizzing across a three-line alphanumeric LED display. He is OUR president, we elected him, so let’s show him off to the world with joy in our hearts. He’s not just a skier, he’s a great guy!
By the by, here's what Elena Jelebova, the fake Bulgarian artist persona made up by Černý, has to say about her piece:
For me, our project is an opportunity to cope with false patriotism and find relief from the destitution of Bulgarian material and spiritual life. Not least, it is sure to upset a lot of people, and that is also what I am aiming for – to cause a scandal, especially at home. It’s a punk gesture, intentionally primitive and vulgar, faecally pubertal.
I think my favorites may be the description of the UK project by not-real-person Khalid Asadi:
If art and associated attitudes are not to become pleasing-appearance ready-made goods, but a living, albeit perhaps fleeting, organism, art should be able to improve exactness of its message in the time allotted to it and thus, paradoxically, define itself in history. This improvement of exactness means that its individual, selectivesieve can cover the so-called objective sieve. Where their nodes do not coincide, 'free space' opens. Energy of the free space is proportional to the power of sharing, or, more precisely, it is the sum of the freely pulsating words which, in this context and in each specific time, is able to define (tangle up) different meanings naturally through spontaneous intuition. These screen points are spatial holograms of historical memory, experience, and therefore each such new overlap becomes another non-linear tangle to the naked eye.
And the one for Malta by not-real-person Alexander Caruana:
Malta is a small, perhaps negligible, lump of rock. For some people, its size may be a cause of mirth. What, then, would they make of our most famous animal, which nobody has actually ever seen: the dwarf elephant, a creature almost too small to miss. Twenty thousand years ago, Malta was home to an elephant no taller than 90 centimetres. Imagine an elephant so small you can’t see it with your own eyes and release it on the island. Seek to fi nd the essence of nature essence as well as your own essence in it.
And the one for Cyprus by not-real-person Panayiotis Papastamouli:
Friends of Cyprus from across the world! I was born in Palechori, a town on the shores of the Mediterranean. Both my father and grandfather were blacksmiths. I followed in their footsteps. But I no longer shoe horses or repair damaged carriages. Instead, I use iron to create sculptures into which I strive to infuse the spirit and history of our island. Consequently, I enthusiastically accepted the offer to work with a kindred spirit from the north, the artist blacksmith Nikos Alptekis. Although we have never met, I am confident that we will succeed – at least symbolically – in uniting the divided Cyprus.
Not all are brilliant, but I have a better appreciation of the project now. I'll admit that I like Černý so much that I'll pretty much always give him the benefit of the doubt. It's also telling, I think, that apparently there is a tradition of putting up big art pieces by European artists when their countries assume the EU Presidency and yet this is the first time I've ever heard of one of these.
posted by Kattullus at 12:55 PM on January 14, 2009


Czech Art Shocks Brussels
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:04 PM on January 14, 2009


I mean, the UK has hardly been a team player when it comes to the EU, but part of me wants to see how he would depict it.

It would have to somehow incorporate Marmite.
posted by chillmost at 2:25 PM on January 14, 2009


The artist said on the radio that as a kid one of the only places outside the country they were allowed to go was Bulgaria, and that it was just like home except the toilets were different.
posted by rikschell at 5:43 PM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


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