Artists collect impressions of scarred North Bohemia landscape

Photo: Frontiers of Solitude

Artists from the Czech Republic, Iceland and Norway have got together in the industrial landscape in North Bohemia for a project called Frontiers of Solitude, examining the transformations of landscape, the relationship of people and nature and the loss of historical continuity.

Photo: Frontiers of Solitude
The sound of black polluted water from a petrochemical plant flowing through an open channel near the town of Most, was recorded by one of the artists during a walk through the industrial landscape in North Bohemia.

Recording the sounds of the landscape, heavily affected by coal mining and other industries, was just one part of a twenty-day expedition called Into the Abyss of Lignite Clouds, taking place within the international project Frontiers of Solitude. I met with one of its initiators, artist and university teacher Miloš Vojtěchovský, and I first asked him how this idea emerged:

“It is always difficult to explain or describe the history of an idea. I think it is quite a long time ago to organise something that would confront our contemporary situation from different perspective and to expose something which is usually on the periphery of art, culture and media attention.

“About two years ago I was approached by the head of Atelier Nord from Oslo and he said we could apply for some funding from Norwegian Grants. I thought it was a good occasion to articulate our ideas. So we applied for the grant together with Atelier Nord and Skaftfell Art Centre in Iceland and got the money organize the event.

Can you summarize the main focus of the project?

“It is dealing with the larger processes that we are part of, like globalisation, urbanisation, diminishing biodiversity, with the economics of energy resources and with the future of our environments. So this is a very rough idea of what it should touch upon.”

Photo: Václav Cílek
How did you actually approach the idea?

“The project is to foster cooperation between Norwegian, Scandinavian and Icelandic art scene. We have specified three locations in Europe: north of Norway, on the border with Sweden and Russia, some parts of Iceland as well as the Most basin in north Bohemia, to reflect what is happening in the landscape.”

The choice of North Bohemia seems quite obvious to me, but what about Norway and Iceland?

“I must confess I never visited Norway or Iceland, but Iceland has actually always been a kind of laboratory reflecting the influence of human activities on the landscape. The Viking, who arrived there in 9th and 10th century, managed to destroy the very fragile ecological system within a very short time, by deforesting and intensive sheep grazing.

“Nowadays, they are witnessing a lot of problems concerning globalisation of energy resources. There are two cases which have been observed during the Icelandic project: the biggest water dam in Iceland and one of the biggest aluminium factories using the water from this dam.

“It seems ideal from a distance. Iceland is not dependent on coal or oil energy since they have a lot of find and thermal plants but they are affected by the post-industrial system as well. There is actually an increasing consciousness among the Icelandic population to protect their natural environment.”

As you said the project in the Czech Republic takes place around the town of Most in north Bohemia. Did you chose this particular location?

“We chose this location together with my colleague, sculptor and curator Dagmar Šubrtová. She was actually born in Duchcov, grew up in Kladno and she has been interested for many years in industrial landscape. So we designed the programme together.”

Photo: Julia Martin
What does the project involve in the Czech Republic?

“Let me first outline the system. There are three separate projects taking place: a ten-day exhibition already took place in Norway and Iceland and because the Czech Republic is cheaper, we prepared a twenty-day expedition on a relatively small area between the towns of Most, Osek, Duchcov, Teplice and Kadaň.

“We chose this area because 20 or 30 years ago, it was one of the most polluted localities in Europe. We wanted to show it to people from abroad and extract something from their experience and subsequently compare it with experiences from Iceland and Norway.”

So this project, called Into the Abyss of Lignite Clouds, is still going on right now?

“Yes, it will be concluded next Friday.”

And who took part in the project?

“There are seven artists and during those three weeks, they had a possibility to visit a number of locations which are not normally accessible, such as the open mine pit of Bílina and Tušimice, some power plants but also the landscape that has been subject to re-cultivation after the coal was dug out.

“But there are also lectures by local historians, ecologists, biologists, archaeologists, including geologist and environmental expert Václav Cílek, biologist Jiří Sádlo, and hydro-biologist Ivo Přikryl, who focuses on newly created lakes.”

One of the foreign participants was the British artist Peter Cusack so I guess you also focused on the sound quality of the landscape.

“It was a very condensed workshop for some 15 participants from different parts of the Czech Republic and Germany. And with Peter Cusack they were walking around the mines.

“Peter has been doing his own project called Sounds from Endangered Places, approaching them from the point of sonic journalism. He visited places such as Chernobyl, water dams in Turkey and his last area of interest is the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan, creating sonic reflection of the places.”

You mentioned all the experts from different fields. Was the project also open to the public?

Photo: Diana Winklerová
“Definitely. Some of the lectures or walks have been restricted to a certain number of people but many of the events were open to the public. We encountered many interesting people from Duchcov, Osek and Most and some of them would like to continue with the project in the future. That would of course be much more interesting, if the initiative came from the people who live there.

“On the other hand, people from far away often notice interesting things that we don’t see, because we live too near. So this, we hope, would be shown in a symposium, exhibition and a catalogue, which are prepared for the beginning of next year.”