Zahorian & Van Espen / BRATISLAVA (Slovakia)
17.12.2019 – 27.02.2020

In the Spring of this year I was invited by the curators of 8smicka Art Zone/ 8smicka Endowment Fund in Humpolec (Czech Republic) to contribute to the exhibition Molds, Hills and Highlands: The Loners of Vysočina, with the interesting assignment of preparing some sort of chapel for the Želiv Monstrance*, which was to be one of the exhibits. I found this so fascinating that I approached it in a manner for which my personal designation would be “interpretive installation of other artists’ artworks”. With an approach resembling that by which the Monstrance itself came into existence in the 1950s, for the exhibition I prepared a Chapel, which would be the simplest name for the situation that occurred. “With a similar approach”: what I mean is that in social and material deprivation you are forced to improvise and use for your purposes or needs “whatever is to hand”, so that the urgency of the real situation that has emerged is not defined by material possibilities but rather by the inner need to resist the influences of the surrounding environment.
For my solo exhibition in the ZAHORIAN & VAN ESPEN in Bratislava we have decided to continue working with this initiative of mine… the Chapel is still a work realised “in social and material deprivation” and from “whatever is to hand”, hence from the metal used in the mass production of processed food, in the later soc-realist style, by the communism of the 1970s and 80s. The physical presence of the Želiv Monstrance and the real daylight within the exhibition have been dematerialised to the form of a projection of photos of the Monstrance, taken by me in the Chapel installation at Humpolec. The result is a combination of the presence of the Chapel versus the digital image of the Monstrance, which is projected from a “rosette” into empty space without daylight. (4.12.2019, Jiří Příhoda, Austin, Texas)

* In 1950 the Premonstratensian Monastery in Želiv was raided by a commando of the communist State Security (StB), seized, plundered, and its monks interned. Eventually it was changed to an internment camp for priests and members of monastic orders. A harsh regime was established in the camp, which was run by a group of ten members of the StB and guarded by thirty five members of the SNB (National Security Corps). The internees were accommodated in the monastery with twenty or thirty persons to a room. There were constant searches of personal belongings, and the overseers made a point of seizing objects with a religious significance. All “infractions” by the clerics were assessed by the camp leadership and severely punished. The punishments included reduction of rations, limitation of sleep, and a spell in corrective detention. The internees were also required to work hard every day, without receiving any pay for their work. They were employed on a state farm, in forestry, on buildings, unloading wagons in Humpolec, and so on. Religious services were forbidden in the internment camp from the beginning; they were conducted in secret. Later the camp leadership allowed communal Masses to be held in the evenings after work, in the choir chapel. The interned monks managed, in the conditions of captivity, secretly to construct a monstrance ‒ a decorative box designed for display and worship of the Consecrated Host – for the Eucharist. The monstrance was apparently constructed in certain workshops where the internees were working, and cucumber tins (three to five litres) were used in its production. The glass used was probably from the bottom of a cooking vessel. The cap and the “lunula”, if in fact they formed parts of it, have not survived. The monstrance was used in religious worship in the above-mentioned choir chapel. Before the internment camp was closed down, one of the monks in Želiv secretly hid the monstrance behind a brick wall in the church grounds, so that it would not be desecrated and would be preserved as a memory of this dark time. The Želiv monstrance thus became a witness to cruelty and indomitable hope.

Miloš Doležal, cited from the exhibition catalogue Molds, Hills and Highlands: The Loners of Vysočina

Courtesy of the artist and Zahorian & Van Espen
Photocredit Marko Horban