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“A No Act Non-Play Composed of Non-Scenes…”

INTERVIEW WITH DAVID ČERNÝ & LOUIS ARMAND

conducted by Ewelina Chiu at Meet Factory, on the occasion of the publication of the Czech translation of Armand’s Breakfast at Midnight (Snídaně o půlnoci – trans. David Vichnar. Prague: Argo, 2013). Pictured: “Barcode Baby” by David Černý, Prague.

 

Characters:

David Černý (artist)

Louis Armand (author)

Ewelina Chiu (interviewer)

 

(((((!(((((((!((((((((!((((((((!((((!= laughter

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            ———————————///////////—————-//////////////—–

                        ————————————////////////= train passing

 

Zzzzzzmmmmmmmmwooosh!

Tkk, tkkk, tkkkkrrr…

A train zips by with,

Wind and clatter of tracks.

Warm hues seep in, twilight lazily approaches.

Waiting at a picnic table outside Meet Factory:

An author, an interviewer, a photographer.

White wine, hipster bottle of Club Mate, beer.

Clad in namesake black, the artist approaches.

Salutations, introductions, and greetings exchanged.

A beer glass with an ear joins the drink party…

 

Non-scene I: We need a Russian.

ČERNÝ: No jo, Tom McCarthy, Ty jsi ho ještĕ pamatuješ s Prahy?

ARMAND: Do I remember him? Tom? Yeah. No, we met in Trieste…

ČERNÝ: Trieste?

ARMAND: Yeah, because he left before I got here, ’92, ’93… I guess, he came back a few times.

ČERNÝ: Yeah, yeah, I think, Četl jsem jeho poslední knižku, did you…?

CHIU: Read his last book?

ARMAND: Tom’s? I just read C…

ČERNÝ: No, yeah, C…

ARMAND: Did you see the Tintin book…?

ČERNÝ: I’ve read this one and… It was a long time ago… I forget. One of his first ones…

ARMAND: Men in Space?

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ČERNÝ: Jako… You remember John Allison? You never met John Allison?

ARMAND: Yeah, the journalist…

ČERNÝ: From Prognosis, and the Prague Post. So you do remember John Allison? So you know the story of John Allison? The American Advisor, he had a fantastic visit card… John Allison, the American Advisor of the Lord Mayor of Prague, Jaroslav Kořán and it was very funny because it was like the title was three lines!

CHIU: The entire card!

ARMAND: Someone was posting something about Matt Welch the other day…

ČERNÝ: Matt Welch was the photographer, he was working at Prognosis, Prague College, whatever, he left about ten years ago.

ARMAND: He went to Budapest and started a business magazine, then the other day he was on Fox News, a dedicated man of the people…

ČERNÝ: Uh-huh, I was in Budapest yesterday!

ARMAND: What were you doing?

ČERNÝ: Bullshit.

ARMAND: Bullshit?

CHIU: He flew there, he has his own little plane with a face and shark’s teeth…

ČERNÝ: Ne ne to nejsou shark’s teeth, to jsou smoker’s teeth…

CHIU: Oh I thought they looked quite nice and white…

ČERNÝ: Well, yes but still, smoker’s teeth…

(((((!(((((((!((((((((!((((((((!((((!

 

Non-scene II: Retracing Kafkaville

CHIU: So tell me what were your impressions of Breakfast at Midnight?

ČERNÝ: Hele! Ja jsem to řikal! You know Topol!?

ARMAND: Topol! Well yeah…

ČERNÝ: Anděl, well first thing that came up in my mind was Anděl, you know, kind of a love story of someone moving… So you read it? Translated by Alex Zucker. Another expat.

ARMAND: Actually the first time I met Alex Zucker was on Jilska.

ČERNÝ: Jilska Club?

ARMAND: Yeah.

ČERNÝ: That was a fucking bizarre place…

(((((!(((((((!((((((((!((((((((!((((!

I remember, well that was one of the places I spent a lot of time drinking with Magor and all those guys.

ARMAND: That’s where I first saw Magor too…

ČERNÝ: It had no name!

ARMAND: Jilská 22. Some people called it the Patriot Club, the Royalist Society was HQ’d there. Viktor Faktor…

ČERNÝ: The bookshop guy…

ARMAND: Bald, glasses. He was a member of Regula Pragensis. You know those guys? Brotherhood of the weird…

ČERNÝ: Yeah, I always just called it Jilská Club.

ARMAND: You had to press the button to get in. You had to know there was a button…

ČERNÝ: To know where to go… Jilská… ježiš marja… jo jo…

ARMAND: The first time I went there, there were these two old guys sitting at a table completely fucked up and they’re shouting at each other, and then they stand up and it really looks like there’s going to be a fight, and the waiter comes and sets down two beers and they look at the beer, look at each other, sit down and drink the beer, and it occurred to me, this is Prague, this is absolutely the difference between being anywhere else and being in Prague. What’s more important in life…?

ČERNÝ: Finishing the beer! The foam will fall…

(((((!(((((((!((((((((!((((((((!((((!

ČERNÝ: I was wondering how you know kind of the… Prague realities. You’ve been living in Moravia… or? Certain things in the book are so real that I realized you have to be using somebody’s thoughts if not your memories…

ARMAND: Well I never lived in Moravia, though I spent time in several places there. I think a lot of the stories were from elsewhere that I was able to transplant…

CHIU: Where did you take them from?

ARMAND: Oh from where I grew up.

CHIU: So you just transferred them…

ARMAND: Well yeah because we had many similar things, like the orchards, the plum trees, and the vineyards, so in a way it was very much like the sort of typical things you would think about in Moravia.

ČERNÝ: And who did you know in Holešovice?

ARMAND: Well I did live there.

ČERNÝ: You did? You seriously did live there?

ARMAND: Yeah, right around the corner from St Pauli’s…

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ČERNÝ: But I don’t know where St Pauli’s is? It must be by the theatre then? There’s the main road that runs from the station, the tram station, from Palmovka basically to Ďáblice.

ARMAND: It’s just about fifty meters from the bridge…

ČERNÝ: Which way?

ARMAND: Towards U Uranie, towards the docks.

ČERNÝ: Yeah I know! Okay! JO!

ARMAND: There’s a big herna across the street… Magic Planet, something planet…

ČERNÝ: So it’s on the main street?

ARMAND: No it’s here, I can never remember the name of these bloody streets (showing on the picnic table) if you go here…

ČERNÝ: Now there’s this fucking new pizzeria bullshit now, if you take a left from the bridge…

ARMAND: If you’re walking away from Palmovka you cross the bridge and it’s just to your right…

ČERNÝ: Okay, yes. If you go the first street right on the bank of the river or the next one?

ARMAND: The first one. It was always really small, you know like some neighborhood brothel and it just had a door with a strip of neon and I remember it was always all these oldies, then all of a sudden they started getting these British stag parties turning up in limousines… these drunk English guys

ČERNÝ: So it’s the first block…

ARMAND: First or second block, I mean it’s really close, it’s opposite where the docks are, and the gatehouse that’s become a big herna bar now… And then they’ve got the redevelopment with the condos going on…

ČERNÝ: Ooookay, so there’s where DOX is…

ARMAND: No not like DOX the gallery, like the docklands, with the boats, the ships…

ČERNÝ: Oh yeah, so the dockyard, okay… Well I know where that place is but I’ve never been in that bar… Well whatever, you know I’ve been in a bar once which is on the opposite side of the river, that’s by Palmovka… Once we ended up totally fucked-up and this friend of mine said I’m going to take you to this fantastic bar, so I said well okay… So we’re sitting in a cab, driving to Palmovka, then there was a sign with a red neon key, well where the fuck are we going, ring on the bell, well man where are we going this doesn’t make sense, just wait you’ll see, suddenly five minutes, three minutes, the door opens and there’s a 55 year old woman in a very small negligee, you know almost naked, maybe she was 65, well I was like fuck… And he said you’ll see, it’ll be fantastic… I was like oh okay… Just opposite Palmovka, big huge neon sign of the key sticking out, and well you wouldn’t really get that it was the symbol of the key…

ARMAND: Palmovka’s gotta be full of those places…

ČERNÝ: Well maybe not anymore, this one definitely disappeared, I haven’t seen the key… Or maybe they just don’t have the neon anymore but it’s still operating. It was a brothel on the third and fourth floor of course like a secret… And you know, he said it was the best shit. I remember I was just fucking drunk and I said sorry and just ran away, just okay that’s it, enjoy!

CHIU: So some new material for your next book…

ARMAND: Well, that’s what St Pauli’s would’ve been like, too…

ČERNÝ: And that was a regular bar with some stuff upstairs?

ARMAND: St Pauli’s, yeah it had the old birds downstairs, a window and they’d be sort of looking out morosely at the weather or whatever waiting for the next bum to stumble in…

 

Non-Scene III: Monuments and Mentions

ARMAND: There was a place I lived, in Žižkov, my first apartment owned by one of those guys who wore beaver-skin hats from the country, it was a really weird place, facing Hlavní Nádraží… right at the bottom of the train station, you went in the front door and it was like two apartments and there was a cupboard and if you opened the cupboard door & pushed the back panel of the cupboard it opened into a room and in this small room there was another cupboard and if you opened that door there was a ladder going up to a loft with a big bed and red light, there were all sorts of weird things and this guy who owned it with the hat he was completely crazy he’d come by with his kid at like 7 in the morning and this kid would come in through the secret door and climb the ladder and peer at whoever I was sleeping with and steal stuff. And the thing is, there was a postcard I found in that apartment, with the “Pink Tank” on it… And I wondered what this guy with a beaver-skin hat was doing with this postcard with the “Pink Tank”? How many people did it take to paint it?

ČERNÝ: 12, 14…

ARMAND: Filip Turek told me about it once. He was one of the people who helped out. How long did it take to paint? Was it quick?

ČERNÝ: 45 minutes… We were there about 6 a.m, no wait 5 a.m. After about 35 minutes the police appeared and I gave them the fake papers. I spent maybe ten minutes on the tank and then I was filming and taking pictures and then the police came and I gave them the papers and they looked at it and said well it looks real, but clean it up afterwards and I said of course we will, everything will be perfect, perfect!

(((((!(((((((!((((((((!((((((((!((((!

Right after that I said and NOW five minutes and we go, maybe we left right after they left, like this is it! Perfect, and zzzzzzzzzzt disappearing…and of course after a couple of minutes because they called to somewhere and one of our guys was hiding in a bush, three cars pulled up like WOOO WOOO WOOO…and no one was there.

Then the day after the Russian protest the Czech Army painted it green again and then the Parliament painted it pink again.

ARMAND: Where’d they put it afterwards?

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ČERNÝ: I actually I don’ t remember, but it was removed after like 2-3 weeks and it was exactly the time when the remains of the Russian army were moving out, so somehow it was very connected… and that was big fucking shit! After twenty years moving all of the Russian army away…

ARMAND: What about now, has there been any talk of putting a “Pink Tank” there as some kind of national monument?

ČERNÝ: Bullshit, bullshit, doesn’t make sense…

ARMAND: No sentimentality?

ČERNÝ: The thing is the Czech government, they don’t like me very much and they’re quite allergic to my name… The truth is it’s a vice versa relationship so…

ARMAND: I was wondering because there was some talk of putting the Marian column on Staromak….

ČERNÝ: Yeah someone called me and I said well fuckers, idiots, so let’s make the Stalin monument…

ARMAND: You had an exhibition under that.

ČERNÝ: But you weren’t there…?

ARMAND: No. Someone made a documentary. Keith Jones?

ČERNÝ: No, I don’t know him. I do remember an enormously crazy funny big guy, his name is, was, he died… Mmmmmmm

ARMAND: Oh Curtis…

ČERNÝ: Curtis Jones, enormous bizarre expat, he was under the Stalin monument and doing some performances… He was a figure!

ARMAND: He toured an erotic circus around Europe, he did lots of strange things, Curtis…

(((((!(((((((!((((((((!((((((((!((((!(((((!(((((((!((((((((!((((((((!((((!(((((((!((((!

ČERNÝ: He was really part of the scene under the Stalin monument party.

ARMAND: David did this piece at Futura.

CHIU: “Brownnosing…”

ČERNÝ: You know it?

ARMAND: Well David was there because it was the opening and you had to climb a ladder to look inside the arses of these two giant statues bending over, and inside on a screen was a video loop of Klaus and Knižák feeding each other slop, with “We Are the Champions” playing, and David was parked at the bottom of the ladder with a camera taking upskirts…

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ČERNÝ: That was the only thing we were having fun with! It was a very hot summer, one of the last hot summers, and we were seriously just standing and taking pictures and telling the girls to put their head in and WAIT! Dssshsshhsush, well that was fun, and something like ¼ of them were na ostro… (((((!(((((((!((((((((!((((((((!((((!

ARMAND: Mmm…

ČERNÝ: So that was cool!

Looks at his phone.

ČERNÝ: Ohhhhh AHHHHHH FUCK IT,

CHIU: problem?

ČERNÝ: Fuck fuck shit fuck, fuck fuck I have a problem, shit fuck, no it’s not today… Shit, oh no… No… I had a dinner with the French ambassador tonight…

(((((!(((((((!((((((((!((((((((!((((!…(((((!(((((((!((((((((!((((((((!((((!

…(((((!(((((((!((((((((!((((((((!((((!…(((((!(((((((!((((((((!((((((((!((((!

…(((((!(((((((!((((((((!((((((((!((((!…

ARMAND: You stood up the French ambassador?

ČERNÝ: No, it’s not here, it should be the eleventh…

CHIU: Tak utíkaš?

ČERNÝ: To jo, to je… trapný…

ARMAND: So give the French ambassador our regards…

David Černý is a Czech sculptor whose works can be seen in many locations in Prague. He gained notoriety in 1991 by painting a Soviet tank pink, to serve as a war memorial in central Prague. As the Monument to Soviet tank crews was still a national cultural monument at that time, his act of civil disobedience was considered “hooliganism” and he was briefly arrested. Another of Černý’s conspicuous contributions to Prague is “Tower Babies,” a series of cast figures of crawling infants attached to Žižkov Television Tower. In 2005, Černý created Shark, an effigy of Saddam Hussein in a tank of formaldehyde (a direct parody of a 1991 work by Damien Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living), which was presented at the Prague Biennale 2 that same year. His “Entropa,” created to mark the Czech presidency of the European Union Council during the first half of 2009, attracted controversy both for its stereotyped depictions of the various EU member states, and because it turned out to have been created by Černý and two friends rather than, as promised, being a collaboration between artists from each of the member states. He runs the Prague art and performance space Meet Factory.

Louis Armand is a writer and visual artist who has lived in Prague since 1994. He has worked as an editor and publisher, and as a subtitles technician at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival and is an editor of VLAK magazine. He is the author of six novels, including Breakfast at Midnight in 2012, “a perfect modern noir, presenting Kafka’s Prague as a bleak, monochrome singularity of darkness, despair and edgy, dry existentialist hardboil” (Richard Marshall, 3:AM) and Cairo (2014). Described as “Robert Pinget does Canetti (in drag in Yugoslavia),” Armand’s third novel Clair Obscur was published by Equus in 2011. His previous novel, Menudo (Antigen), was hailed as “unrelenting, a flying wedge, an encyclopaedia of the wasteland, an uzi assault pumping desolation lead… inspiring!” (Thor Garcia, author of The News Clown).

Ewelina Chiu is a Prague-based artist, curator and half of the band Bazel.

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About Equus Press

EQUUS was established in 2011 with the objective of publishing innovative & translocal writing.

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