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All the Birds of North America September 13th, 2018

Jiří Kovanda was born in 1953 in Prague, where he still lives and works. Kovanda is one of the most respected Czech artists in recent times. Creating actions and installations in Prague’s public spaces, Kovanda was one of the few Czech action artists to work outdoors in the urban environment following the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops. Most of the country’s progressive artists had gone underground, to the privacy of ateliers and small groups of friends, or created art in rural settings, out of the sight of the watchful eyes of state security, their agents,and informants. Against a backdrop of political repression, Kovanda demonstrated his resistance through simple actions that he recorded on camera. In the streets of a city under constant surveillance, he enacted barely perceptible yet disruptive gestures that were illegal under Soviet rule. In Kontakt (Contact), he casually walked around Prague and gently touched passersby, an action that encouraged critical reflection about conformity and the malleability of the relationship between the individual and the ideological forces that shape public space. Through his ephemeral works, Kovanda discovered in his own way the power of the powerless, a concept analyzed by Vaclav Havel in his 1978 essay with an identical title. In the late 1980s, he moved his focus to research on painting and spatial installation, but later returned to his performative practice in early 2000.