Artists behind prank “nuclear blast” acquitted of wrongdoing

On Tuesday, seven Czech artists who hacked into a Czech TV broadcast as an artistic prank last year were acquitted of criminal wrongdoing. In June 2007 members of the group known as Ztohoven tampered with Czech TV equipment in a piece aimed at showing the impact of the media. Members hacked into a live feed on Czech TV’s weather programme Panorama and in a flash superimposed a doctored image of a mushroom cloud rising on the horizon.

Many viewers were somewhat jolted by the unexpected image and the stunt by Ztohoven provoked legal action by Czech TV. The broadcaster filed criminal charges against members for spreading false and alarmist information. But many in the artistic community, including the head of the National Gallery Milan Knížák, commended Ztohoven for the piece and last December the group was awarded the National Gallery’s NG 333 prize for young artists. The head of the National Gallery Milan Knížák:

The members of Ztohoven group, photo: CTK
“For me Ztohoven are a good group because they don’t hesitate to go directly into the social space, into the social environment, and they don’t hesitate to take risks. So I am very happy they appeared on the Czech scene which is otherwise overly mild. I see this group as a one which is really able to strongly enter the arts scene. As far as I know they didn’t want to scare people but simply to show that the media creates artificial societies, artificial environments and artificial worlds. I think this was very important to show that the media has very little to do with our reality. ”

David Brudňák, photo: CTK
Had members of the group been found guilty in Tuesday’s decision, members could have faced up to three years in prison; but that’s not how Judge Stanislava Suchánková saw the situation, ruling in the end they had not committed a crime. National Gallery director Milan Knížák makes clear in this case the decision was appropriate:

“In my view it was a good gesture which told us that the social space is much more important space than the inside of galleries and museums.”

In the end, Tuesday’s verdict was more or less expected by most, including David Brudňák, the only member of Ztohoven to speak to reporters; any kind of prison term would have almost certainly seemed unduly harsh. But that might not be the end of it: the prosecution, which had reportedly been seeking 200 hours of community work for each Ztohoven member, may still decide to appeal.