The work of Zdena Kolečková turns to an intimate form of experiencing the historical drama of Czechoslovak occupation by the Warsaw Pact armies in 1968. This unprecedented act of international and individual aggression was reflected by the vast majority of population back then as intense and painful. The feeling of humiliation and violation contrasting the previous short period of relative freedom connected to the renaissance in Prague Spring caused obvious reactions and public engagement. People defended against the invading forces represented mostly by the Soviet Union and its army. The society was suddenly filled with solidarity, subjective closeness, shared bravery and respect to morality. It would seem that such a strong and widely shared bond could not be broken, especially when it was confirmed by the highest sacrifices in defiance of the enemy.
Similarly to other Bohemian and Moravian cities and villages, the citizens of Ústí nad Labem also spontaneously, silently and yet convincingly stood up against the aggression, both as a group and individually. The occupation took the life of Petr Fridrich who tried to stop the invading units with his own body and died caught up by tank’s tracks. People of Ústí nad Labem also protested to support the politicians led by Alexandr Dubček and to oppose the oppressors represented by Leonid Brežněv. The names of these politicians can occasionally still be found on the walls of houses and factories, where they were written by street heroes of those ecstatic days of August 1968 with love or hate, only to be later conserved under new layers of plaster.
After a period of euphoria and shared feeling of resistance, a rude awakening was due in an infinite series of compromises, concessions, failures and betrayals. What was natural yesterday “had to” be denied all of a sudden. Former bravery suddenly felt stupid and stubborn in the context of a new situation. And yet there were people who did not back down on their requirements, did not yield and accepted their roles of social and professional outcasts. The request to take back what they said or did was commonly complemented with ridicule, threats, humiliation and exile from the society.
Zdena Kolečková in her artwork called Half a Century Ago drew her inspiration from the still barely visible writings of 1968 surfacing from the facades of a savings bank at Mírové náměstí (square) and one of the warehouses in Tovární street and also from the memories of her family members during normalisation. Oscillating linearity of her object brings back dramatic changes in our history and in the lives of its specific heroes. Good and evil, resistance and resignation join in the bends of the author’s work and form a suggestive memento of our ancestors’ bravery and failures. There are questions hiding in its hollows that point towards our current crossroads where our society and each of us appear facing the destruction of the values that were present also in the spontaneous uprising of Czechoslovak citizens against the occupation in August 1968.
Michal KolečekZdena Kolečková, Half a Century Ago, 2018, object, polycarbonate, digital print on foamboard, 210 x 600 cm, author’s archive