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4 August 2009

Bohdan Holomicek – Vaclav Havel, Complicit destinies

From adolescence through to his retirement from his job as an electrician, Bohdan Holomicek has documented his own life, along with an entire segment of Czech Republic history. Part of his work—about his friend and neighbour Vaclav Havel— inevitably became a unique document. Their close friendship began in 1972. Despite their different destinies, the photographer/electrician and the playwright/politician share the same mutual respect, freedom of thought, emancipation from established rules, urge to break through barriers and spirit of fraternity. From the early morning portrait of Havel in a bathrobe to another taken in the President’s office, the relationship has never changed, because there are no grounds for conflict between them.

The exhibition, which includes a selection of 70 prints and three screenings, mainly covers Holomicek’s life at Hradecek between 1975 and 1989. In the 1960s the Havels moved to this mountainous region near the Polish border, in a house opposite Andrej Krob’s. This soon became one of the centres of dissidence. On his first visit to Hradecek, Bohdan established a simple, direct and informal photographic relationship with the Havel couple. He took portraits of Olga Havel, who played a vital part during these long, difficult years, as well as of Krob, whom Havel had met during his military service. Together they founded ‘Divadlo na tahu’, a theatre whose members were dissidents who met from time to time in Krob’s barn, and did their best to have Havel’s plays performed. There were also group portraits taken in the living room with the Havels’ closest friends. A surprising, even paradoxical feature of these photographs is the relaxed character of the behaviour and clothing styles. This display of opposition to the regime in a manner more reminiscent of American campuses than of the ‘socialist ideal’ required a lot of courage.

Then came the 1989 Velvet Revolution and Havel’s election as President. Bohdan Holomicek made no attempt to take advantage of their friendship. Instead he stuck to his offbeat, friendly vision, always keeping in mind that his freedom was worth more than the honours his dissident past could have brought him. A projection shows two major events in the history of dissidence as recorded by Holomicek: The Big Wheel, a play by Vaclav Havel directed by Andrej Krob, performed only once, and an illegal concert by the Plastic People of the Universe in October 1977 in the Hradecek barn. The third screening provides some background to Czech society at the time through Holomicek’s friends, family, work-mates and people from the Trutnov region.

Exhibition organised and produced by GwinZegal, Center for the Visual Art, in Plouha (Brittany).

Exhibition venue: Atelier de Maintenance, Parc des Ateliers, Rencontres d’Arles 2009.