Here be Dogs: Documenting the Visual Culture of the Czech Indie Scene

Nanoru, Michal

In May 2011 I went to an opening party at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York City, where Hollywood stars and celebrities, including Mickey Rourke, Quincy Jones, and Naomi Campbell mingled near a mish-mash of Eastern European -related artworks, including Robert Crumb's comic book rendition of Kafka's Metamorphosis, Vladimir Tatlin's statue "Monument to the Third International;' and an exhibition called Revolutionary Film Posters, a trove of Russian constructivist imagery from between the wars. I It was a bizarre sight for me, a person who grew up in 1980s Czechoslovalda, a satellite nation in the Soviet Bloc. In the 1980s, Czechoslovak cultural policy, theoretically and declaratively (if not always in practice) respected the norms of socialist realism, and it was in the name of the very ideals promoted by these posters that Western popular culture (and Kafka, for that matter) were banned as "bourgeois" and "decadent" imperialist propaganda. Here in the spectacle of a Chelsea gallery, the stars of Hollywood - the most visible exponent of American capitalism-celebrated the repurposing of political propaganda into aesthetic objects, as if theatrically reasserting capitalism's victory over the ideologies of the Soviet Bloc. As a cornerstone I am going to use Zde jsou psi/Here Be Dogs, a Czech/ English book about visual culture of Czech independent music scenes that I edited in 2010. (Fellow Czech journalist Martina Overstreet served as a producer for the book). The book features thirty-two musical projects now active in the Czech Republic, each introduced by a) a studio portrait of its personnel by the photographer Adam Holy, b) a representative set of the project's visual communications-costumes, album covers, booklets, flyers, posters, documentary and promotional photographs, video projections used during performances, merchandise, banner ads, computer wallpapers, buddy icons, etc., and c) a short text written by a third party author familiar with the Czech music scene. The image of the visually compelling part of the indie scene is complemented by Dusan Tomanek's documentary photographs, which were taken of Czech audiences in the past four years at festivals, clubs, and various other venues. My experiences as pop music critic, editor of two independent arts and culture publications, and advocate for popular music studies within Czech media studies at Prague's Charles University informed my enthusiasm for the topic and allowed me to foresee the obstacles in the production and reception of this project in the Czech cultural space. There were several. The book packed more than forty names in its colophon, with some ninety members of bands (plus their designers and photographers), and sold out its initial run of a thousand copies. As such it became a useful indicator of positions on the role of the image in the indie music sphere.I began research for the book in 2009 by examining more than 300 contemporary Czech acts that had at least some web presence, and my colleagues Martina Overstreet and Marie Hladikova also conducted a similar scope of research. Most bands I researched got by with the default page settings on MySpace, or a profile on its Czech counterpart, The thirty-two projects included in the book represent only a minority of bands, with our primary criteria being that those selected showed interesting approaches to their visual presentation or at least showed interest in visual presentation. They were singled out as exemplary and the introductory text of the book served as defense of such interests.


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Columbia University
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April 9, 2014