Entropa

entropa

Entropa‘ is a 2009 sculpture by Czech artist David Černý. The project was commissioned by the Czech Republic to mark the occasion of its presidency of the Council of the European Union, and was originally designed as a collaboration for 27 artists and artist groups from all member countries of the European Union.

However, as a hoax, Černý and three of his assistants created a satirical and controversial piece that depicted pointed stereotypes of the EU member nations. Fake artist profiles were also created by Černý and his accomplices, complete with invented descriptions of their supposed contributions. The sculpture was originally on display in the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels.

Since 2010, the sculpture has been on exhibit at the Techmania Science Center in Plzeň. The Council of the European Union adheres to a rotational presidency system, whereby the governments of member countries exchange leadership every six months. It is customary for the presiding country to place an exhibit in the Justus Lipsius building, with past works avoiding controversy. For example, France, which had held the presidency before the Czech Republic, simply erected a large balloon in the French national colors in honor of the tradition.

‘Entropa’ is an ironic jab at the issue of European integration and the stereotypes associated with each country within the European Union. It is subtitled ‘Stereotypes are barriers to be demolished,’ along with the Czech European Union Presidency’s motto of ‘Europe without barriers.’ According to David Černý, the sculpture’s primary artist, ‘Entropa’ ‘lampoons the socially activist art that balances on the verge between would-be controversial attacks on national character and undisturbing decoration of an official space.’ In an interview with ‘The Times Online,’ Černý stated that the sculpture was influenced by the Monty Python brand of humor. At the launch ceremony, he added Sacha Baron Cohen and Les Guignols de l’info’s portrayal of Nicolas Sarkozy as other influences.

The work is made of glass-reinforced plastic and the joints of steel. It covers approximately 256 square meters (2,760 sq ft), measuring 16.4 meters (54 ft) high and 16.5 meters (54 ft) wide). Three-quarters of the weight comes from the frame, making up a combined total of 8 tons. It resembles the parts of a model kit, containing pieces in the shapes of the 27 member states of the EU. Each piece has a distinctive theme that portrays stereotypes about the country, some of which are portrayed in a particularly provocative manner. Austria, a known opponent of atomic energy, is depicted as a green field dominated by nuclear power plant cooling towers with vapor coming out of them at intervals. Belgium is presented as a box of half-eaten Praline chocolates. Bulgaria is depicted by a series of connected ‘Turkish’ squat toilets with neon lights connecting and illuminating them. This piece of the sculpture was later hidden with fabric. Cyprus is cut in half.

The Czech Republics own piece is an LED display, which flashes controversial quotations by Czech President Václav Klaus. Denmark is depicted as being built out of Lego bricks, and some claim to see in the depiction a face reminiscent of the cartoon controversy, though the resemblance has been denied by Černý. Estonia is presented with power tools resembling a hammer and sickle, citing the country’s consideration of a ban on Communist symbols. Finland is depicted as a wooden floor including a male with a rifle lying down, imagining an elephant, a hippo and a crocodile. France is draped in a ‘GRÈVE!’ (‘STRIKE!’) banner. Germany is a series of interlocking autobahns with cars moving about on them, described as ‘somewhat resembling a swastika.’ Some Czech military historians also suggest that the autobahns resemble the number ’18,’ which some Neo-nazi groups use as code for A.H., the initials of Adolf Hitler.

Greece is depicted as a forest that has been entirely burned, possibly representing the 2007 Greek forest fires or the 2008 civil unrest in Greece. Hungary features an ‘Atomium’ consisting of watermelons and Hungarian sausages, based on a floor of peppers. Ireland is depicted as a brown bog with bagpipes protruding from Northern Ireland. The bagpipes also play music in five-minute intervals. Italy is depicted as a football pitch with several players who appear to be masturbating, possibly indicating what some see as the country’s ‘fetish for football.’ Latvia is shown as covered with mountains, in contrast to its actual flat landscape. Lithuania includes a series of dressed Manneken Pis-style figures urinating, with the streams of urine being illuminated by yellow glass fibers.

Luxembourg is displayed as a gold nugget with a ‘For Sale’ sign. Malta is depicted as a tiny island with a prehistoric dwarf elephant, as well as a magnifying glass in front of the elephant. The Netherlands is depicted as having disappeared under the sea with only several minarets still visible. Poland has a piece with priests erecting the rainbow flag of the Gay rights movement on a field of potatoes in the style of the famous photograph ‘Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima.’ Portugal is shown as a wooden cutting board with three pieces of meat in the shape of its former colonies of Brazil, Angola, and Mozambique. Romania is a Dracula-style theme park, which is set up to blink and emit ghostly sounds at intervals. Slovakia is depicted as a Hungarian sausage (or a human body wrapped in Hungarian tricolor).

Slovenia is shown as a rock engraved with the words ‘First Tourists Came Here, 1213.’ Spain is covered entirely in concrete, with a concrete mixer situated in the north-east. Sweden, unlike the other pieces in the sculpture, does not have an outline, but is instead represented as a large Ikea-style self-assembly furniture box containing Gripen fighter planes (as supplied to the Czech Air Force). The United Kingdom, known for its Euroscepticism and relative isolation from Europe, is ‘included’ as a missing piece (an empty space) at the top-left of the sculpture.

Entropa has inspired debate in Europe since the day of its first unveiling. Various commentators have noted that this is probably the first such exhibition in the history of art displays on behalf of the rotary Presidency of the EU Council that has been controversial in nature, contrasted by the fact that such pieces usually go by unnoticed. The work drew what has been described by one reporter as ‘a never-before-seen crowd.’ It has been praised by some viewers for being ‘hilarious’ and for inspiring discussion about art, but has angered and offended others.

Jan Vytopil, the man in charge of cultural events during the Czech EU Presidency, has defended the exhibit, arguing that the presence of a ‘squat toilet Bulgaria’ in the presence of the other patently absurd depictions made it clear that the piece seeks to demolish stereotypes rather than cause controversy. Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra also frequently stressed that the government committee which authorized the piece wanted to avoid censorship: ‘What we approved was a blank map; we decided not to censor anything. When we saw the finished work, we thought it might be too much. That remains to be seen. At any rate, it is an expression of freedom, we decided not to censor it.’

Given the controversial nature of the portrayals of other countries, Czech diplomats expected protests from all countries involved. However, some never materialized. In fact, the public in Poland appeared to be largely in favor of Poland’s portrayal, with 64% considering it ‘spot on’ and only 13% thinking it ‘an insult to Polish people,’ according to an online poll by news portal TVN24.

The authors defended their choice to use false names in creating the sculpture by stating the deception was part of the art: Grotesque exaggeration and mystification is a hallmark of Czech culture, and creating false identities is one of the strategies of contemporary art. Co-creator Krištof Kintera also commented that the sculpture revealed a divide between Western and Eastern Europe: ‘We didn’t want to defame anyone; advanced European democracies are used to many things, but the East still strives to promote itself in a positive light, so it’s not as well attuned to this.’ However, after the true authorship of the sculpture came to light, Alexandr Vondra stated its continued display was under review because Černý had violated the government’s specifications of the project, which, in line with Černý’s original description,called for an international collaboration of artists.

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