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Unrelated Images from the History of a Juridical Person
written for Jindřich Chalupecký Society, 2020

History has seen various types of societies, corporations and juridical persons emerge, transform and cease to exist over the course of time. They are representatives and performers of social compositions and living complex systems. They include states, joint-stock companies and even marriage. Their characteristics include self-organization, or the ability to act independently within a larger system. At the same time, they are determined by invisible forces which impact them and through which larger wholes are manifested. The histories of such entities show the hidden intentions, tendencies and long-term collective shifts which cannot be discerned from an immediate proximity but can be seen from a temporal and territorial distance. These entities include Jindřich Chalupecký Society registered association, an actor in the field of art which has co-defined its image and co-determined the discursive frameworks in the Czech post-revolutionary society over the past thirty years. The complex history of such an organization certainly deserves thorough research, well-referenced quotations and interpretation in the political and social context. This essay, however, will have to do with a few images and associations. Hopefully these will be relevant for further reflection.

Big Fish Eat Little Fish
Besides parading five electric cars produced by European, mostly German manufacturers, the Brussels airport also massively promotes Flemish museums by displaying giant reproductions of Bruegel’s paintings, drawings and graphic prints. Animated by video mapping, parts of them come alive and move childishly, perhaps to liven up the boredom and timelessness of an international airport. The reproductions are still pretty visible though; even without glasses, giant as they are. One of them is called “Big Fish Eat Little Fish.” The old Latin proverb is depicted with such straightforward imagination that it must be clear to anyone who sees it. A fantastic fish, washed ashore, holds smaller fish in its entrails, with even smaller fish showing in their mouths. A father and a son are sitting in a boat in front of the scene. The father points at the scene, making a comment which is engraved below the Latin inscription on the graphic print in Flemish: “Look, son, I have long known that the big fish eat the small.” The son, gesturing towards the fisherman sitting in front of him, clearly shows that he has understood his father’s political lesson about the established order where the powerful prey on the powerless and can see this principle around him. The scene is rather absurd, and so is the very principle of exploitation, if interpreted as the nature behind the world’s order. The graphic print itself shows well how such rules are applied in human action. The period publisher had the name of artist Hieronymus Bosch, who had been dead for 30 years, engraved in the lower left corner of the print. This was perhaps due to the fact that Pieter Bruegel, the author of the engraved drawing, was a much smaller fish to generate profit than the more famous and recognized artist of the previous generation. Yes, the principle of using one’s superiority, whether real or symbolical, manifests itself in the world in very subtle ways and sometimes can be hardly discerned.
Since its foundation in 1990, Jindřich Chalupecký Award has represented a certain type of a generator of affiliation to the western world, specifically the American one, and of the symbolical power of the civil society which was to be confirmed by free competition. In the new conditions of market economy, faith in the full realization of individualism and the creation of such an award was a logical step. The Award was founded by dramatist turned President Václav Havel and acclaimed visual artists Theodor Pištěk and Jiří Kolář at the Lány Chateau, the summer residence of Czechoslovak presidents. It was to support young artists who had created exceptional artworks telling of the artist’s talent, innovativeness and contribution to Czech visual culture. This also reflects a certain political framework and new contexts. A certain ressentiment can be seen in the specific nationalism and a sense of Czech exclusivity – although the award was initiated by a Czechoslovak president, it was not open to Slovak citizens. Although the foundation charter envisioned the award ceremony to be held at the Prague Castle, the seat of Czechoslovak presidents, it only mentioned a contribution to Czech culture. The parallel foundation of the Young Visual Artists Awards, an international program of the Foundation for a Civil Society (a New York-based non-profit organization establishing contact with the United States via diplomatic and cultural exchanges), also fits the overall framework. The Foundation’s program associates eleven national awards in the countries of Central and Southeast Europe. The winners of the individual national competitions can meet at a residency in the United States and symbolically confirm their affiliation to the sociocultural sphere now represented by Donald Trump. Let each nation show its qualities and send its best culture representatives to the very center of the great empire to learn about greatness. Already in its foundation charter, Jindřich Chalupecký Society reflects the social contract between executive power and the society’s wish to submit to the cultural circle where it wants to belong. Nevertheless, the sovereignty which was so invisibly and subtly performed by the United States at the end of history is gone now in the early 2020s.

The Invisible Hand
The voucher privatization, which can be retrospectively perceived as a teacher of new conditions in the early 1990s, navigated the citizens through the chaotic waters of financial capitalism and investments. This, however, was at the cost of various losses. The newly founded funds lured small voucher book owners to multiply their investment. A photo made by photographer Jaroslav Hejzlar for the Czech News Agency in 1993 is reminiscent of the image of the big fish eating the small. It depicts a long winding line of potential shareholders heading to the open door of a large administrative building to entrust their voucher books to the Harvard Investment Fund. Founded by internationally prosecuted scam artist Viktor Kožený, the fund became notorious as the greatest predator of the time of early capitalism. The photograph associates the above-mentioned allegory, with the citizens patiently waiting in line to be swallowed by a predatory financial fish. One more image comes to mind, as their bodies coincidentally form a big question mark. This automatically associates the work by Slovak artist Július Koller: Universal Futurological Question Mark (U.F.O.). It is a well-known photo of children sitting on a meadow in the form of a big question mark, staring at the anticipated viewer together with the artist.


In Hejzlar’s photo, on the other hand, children from Koller’s 1978 photo seem to have grown up over the past 15 years and decided to perform a big human question mark one more time. This time, however, they do not ask but rather answer. Future is no longer a universal, perhaps ontological question but a pragmatic answer. The line, formed by individuals with the vision of individual enrichment, is an image of seeking security. The living question mark, along with the questions, is absorbed by the door until the last voucher book owner disappears. The lesson is that life can be seen as a game. In this game, one can get a better position through the competition principle, and maybe even win. The whole of financial capitalism is presented as a game with flexible rules which can be bent by stronger players. Competition became a universal principle with no place for concepts like solidarity and justice. These are not a prerequisite of success.
The competition principle has also determined the activities of Jindřich Chalupecký Award from the very beginning. The naturality with which this was generally accepted proves that competitiveness was a concept people could easily identify with at the time. One can sense that this was a significant part of an unwritten social contract closed in the early age of late capitalism in opposition to the previous contract. For thirty years, the Award has generated symbolical capital for visual artists, set trends and at times reflected important social questions. Artists can apply for the competition or be nominated by experts. The award holder is then selected by a small jury of experts. The genealogy of alternating experts is based on consensual self-affirmation and passing the baton. Expertise is linked with respected theoretical practice or with background in one of the Czech or western institutions and their cultural circles. Thus, the construction of the legitimacy of the award holder is an expression of a social consensus that the competition and its expert evaluation best represents the qualities of artistic practice.
While the superiority of the west is crumbling, so are some concepts on which it was based; without losing their power elsewhere though. Since the Great Recession of 2008, the social consensus has been disrupted globally, though to varying degrees, and it is clear that the ideas which kept it going and the belief in their rightness are crumbling as well. The invisible hand of the market, the faith in fair competition and the beneficial effect of competition on the common good do not have as many advocates as before. In the field of culture, this shows in the increasing rejection to play this game both by artists and organizers. They are seeking new frameworks of the social contract and new forms of collective consciousness to adequately represent the desires and actions of the near future and to be able to ask relevant questions.

Wiki and Marketing Mix
The last images to associate the history of a juridical person are rather immaterial constructions, management systems and functional apparatuses than classic visual compositions. Thus we have to envision them.
Wikipedia is one of them. This online encyclopedia is a symbol of instantly available knowledge as well as an essential mnemonic tool of today. It replaced the previous exclusive types of stored information by interlinking individual entries by hypertext, while its instant online accessibility made it the most visited information website. While traditional encyclopedias are edited by experts, Wikipedia’s entries are written by users. This democratization principle is a remnant of the ethos of sharing and openness in computer culture from the early decades of the Internet. It is a type of a hyperobject whose invisible force shapes and represents other actors and inspires by its egalitarian approach.


Another image to be associated here is the image of an apparatus with the umbrella title of marketing. This tool, designed for management control and efficiency of the distribution of commodities heading towards the consumers for the purpose of profit, is sometimes mistakenly seen as a tool of greater democratization and equality for end consumers. However, it mainly aims to generate profit at the expense of those who pay or those who are labelled as users or clients and who can generate value in other ways. It is probably due to this confusion that marketing has a strong influence on other segments of society besides the market ones. It simplifies the relations between individual actors, reducing them to the process of satisfying consumer needs. Social media are among such actors and marketing activities manifest themselves throughout their structure. Not only proprietary digital platforms but even individual users use marketing strategies to gain even a hint of symbolical and other capital. Today, many cultural activities cannot do without marketing or some segments of its mix, such as satisfying consumer needs, determining the product value (not necessarily a financial one) or merely a promotional chain or public relations. Both of these images are essentially schematic and borderline. They could be complemented with more images, perhaps even more suitable ones. They rely on the development of a new type of consumption and participation in it. A user is a new type of citizen, reprogrammed as to our involvement in shared matters and collective consciousness.
Current social interactions may seem to take the form of a relationship network rather than a hierarchic power pyramid. Authority is no longer born merely through the actions and gestures of power representation and symbolical capital is redistributed through different channels. Yet the superordinate hierarchic systems retain their integrity and are in no way disturbed by the decentralized structures based on social interactions. This brings us back to Jindřich Chalupecký Award. The distrust of experts and otherwise privileged people is reflected in the perception of the value ensuing from their evaluation. Artists are willing to give it up and substitute it by another type of prestige which is not based on comparison and competition. The influence of social media, the disruption of traditional symbolic hierarchies and questioning the position of centers and their peripheries actively challenge the organizers to seek new types of representation of artistic practice. There is a set of new invisible actors forming collective consciousness. Doubts of the sustainability of the current growth and images of climate crisis have attacked our imagination with unusual force, challenging all aspects of our activities and actions and calling for their revision. While the original founders succumbed to the period ethos, the current organizers and artists are facing a new one. Just like back then, today, too, they are convinced that this is the best way to act. The tension between marketing pressures and versions of egalitarianism based on consumerism and collectivism gives birth to a new type of representation. Unless everything is scorched by the end of the age of the Capitalocene, Jindřich Chalupecký Society will continue to create a respectable image of the social system.