One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
UHD video, 9:55, 2019
Sound design: Ian Mikyska, 3D design: Jakub Krejčí
“One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” is a thought experiment on the dilemmas one is constantly exposed to. How can one correctly in a political sense? How does one avoid betraying one’s ideals on various levels and in various contexts? How can one avoid betraying oneself? Through Angela Davis, her tour through the socialist countries, and Jiří Pelikán and his open letter calling for the support of political prisoners in Czechoslovakia, this video – named after a quote by Lenin – delves into our collective memory. This is represented by our 3D model of an IKEA store. As a flawless sales model, but also as a metaphor for the process of forgetting, it shows us that the dilemmas are the same and keep repeating. Only the environment changes over time, continually creating new types of traps that are all too easy to fall into.
Just for the record, to make things clear: this voice is our collective voice, it is us who is speaking.
We are looking for Angela Davis in Czechoslovakia in 1972. It’s an easy task – as a well-known activist, she was an important visitor. We want to ask her something, but we can’t remember what it is. We vaguely remember it had to do with her unjust incarceration and also with the unjust incarceration of other communists. But we cannot remember what it is we want to ask her.
But we remember when we use ancient remembering techniques and look into our collective memory. Quintilian’s system of remembering, or Augustine’s, fit our temperament. The idea of memory as a building divided by rooms and walls is ideal. That’s where we’ll look for Angela. It’s hard to look around in a memory that looks like ancient palaces – we feel much closer to a building we know; one in which we can feel good.
IKEA stores are organised like the folds of cerebral grey matter. A labyrinth of corridors and dream-like interiors. There is no escape here, we can only walk in one direction, directly to the point. IKEA is tested by its billions of customers, it always works, it rarely fails.
We always take something home with us. Our desires are always fulfilled here; we feel happy here. Marketing experts and product urbanists did a good job. The only danger to the success of our mission is what’s known as the Gruen effect: the customer forgets what he came in for and impulsively buys something else. On the other hand, we know from space syntax analyses that in IKEA, we can’t miss or overlook anything – except the shortcuts, that is.
Our passage through IKEA is not going according to plan yet, the cheap 3D programme we use to create collective unconsciousness has so far allowed us to construct something like a Palaeolithic cave, very vaguely reminiscent of an IKEA store.
Like shamans once descended into the viscera of the cavities of the world, we too search answers to the contradictions of life. True, we can’t even remember what it is we want to ask. But that happens too.
A film from ‘49, Silent Barricade. Actors Šmeral and Marvan. They demonstrate their joint struggle against fascism. What does it mean to temporarily forget our disagreements?
And what’s this? What does it tell us? It reminds us of the image showing the interaction between two universes in which Albert Einstein places his hands into a circular opening in front of him and his arms disappear inside it, he looks armless.
Next to it is another image depicting a similar circle. This time, it has arms jutting out. Einstein is nowhere to be seen.
We don’t see Einstein, but Angela Davis. Is this what we’re looking for? Two different universes?
“If we insert our arms into the window from opposing sides, it seems as though they have disappeared. We have a body, but no arms. In the other universe, arms appear on both sides of the window, without a body.”
If we review the laws of thermodynamics, do we get any closer?
1. We cannot receive something for nothing, we cannot win. The price is always high.
2. We cannot return to the same state as before.
3. We cannot stop the game. Whatever we do, we cannot get out.
That didn’t help much.
Comrade Davis, why will you not support the Czechoslovak prisoners? I did not think that people should leave socialist countries to return to the capitalist system. This was a retrograde step, and even if such people said they were communists, they were still acting in opposition to the “socialist system,” objectively speaking. People in Eastern Europe got into difficulties and ended up in jail only if they were undermining the government.
Someone at the press conference is asking: Comrade Davis, could you teach Marxism-Leninism and existentialism in our country? And if not, why?
Comrade Pelikán, you wrote an open letter to Angela Davis, what do you demand therein?
That is precisely why you, Angela, and the millions of people who supported you and believe in a more just socialist society with more freedom, can no longer keep silent about the human rights violations in the countries that call themselves “socialist” and who in their behaviour discredit socialism more than any reactionary propaganda.
That is why I suggest to you and to those who supported you sincerely, not just for easy demagogic propaganda:
Demand the release of all political prisoners in the world.
Protest against the violation of human rights.
Demand the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam and of Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia.
There is no life without the sun, everyone needs it. We don’t want Angela in prison. Long live Angela Davis!
Every access to the law has its own gate guarded by a doorman. Some die in front of the gate, like Jiří Pelikán. We don’t know how many gates he passed through. Angela Davis, for instance, has gone through seventeen gates and will soon pass through another. We don’t know how many she’ll pass through and whether she’ll pass through the last. Nobody knows how many gates there are on the way to the law.
We now know what we wanted to ask Angela Davis. The contradictions only multiply. Even so, we’ll ask. The answer won’t be simple.
Photos from the exhibition “Icons and Mythologies: the Desire of Changes”, GAMU, Prague
Photographed by Dita Lamačová