REGIONAL PERSPECTIVES

WHOSE HISTORY…

Obviously any approach to the region without historical perspective is incomplete. But as a German based team without expertise as historians and no familial and personal connections we do not feel sufficiently entitled to comment on the history of the area. We feel the deal is that German/Austrian/Bavarian history in the area is now OVER for good. This is Czechia now, certainly not Sudetenland and but somehow sadly also not Böhmen anymore, whose borderlands were once a place of trade, transition, multiple and intermediate identities. Local history is now owned by the Czech locals and it is rightly theirs to pick up and reinterpret. Are the borderlands now a sea of green that protects an island heartland or should they recover as areas that mediate and connect? We strongly feel our contribution in particular should not go to this abstract political level, but of course the question lingers on below the surface.

TRACES OF THE LOST CULTURAL LANDSCAPE

Abandonment is apparent in the regional landscape of the Cesky and Slavkovsky Les, especially in higher elevations, in areas closest to the border and in the hamlets and villages too small to support most modern infrastructure. Abandoned places are a constant reminder that the land was once different from the way it is now.

In Germany around 1900 one farmer was able to produce food for 4 people, in 1950 it was 10, now it is well more than 100. Assuming that the situation in Czechia does not differ substantially, the situation of Vyskovice has an almost mathematical stringency to it – once there were 35 inhabited houses, now there is one. The mechanisms and necessities that once shaped the cultural landscape are no longer in place. Repeated dislocation of the local population has caused the disruption of local traditions that might have remained a factor in preserving a cultural landscape despite economical and political change.

One of the most obvious differences of the cultural landscapes on either side of the Czech-Bavarian border is the scale of agricultural plots, fairly fine grained on the Bavarian side and about 10-20 times the size in Czechia. Pasturelands in the realm of the former iron curtain are often larger still. While Czechia has seen a return of small scale entities in other sectors of the economy, nothing like it is apparent in agriculture. Large scale enterprises have replaced large scale collective farms. Small scale elements like orchards, tree lined roads, ponds and pathways are no longer required or utilized by the current proprietors and gradually degrade and disappear from the landscape.

History will not wind back. A reinterpretation if not reinvention of the regional landscape is required.

FINDING POTENTIALS FOR A NEW CULTURAL LANDSCAPE

On the other hand, the larger villages and country towns show no signs of abandonment. Some of them like Plana are clearly thriving. Marianske Lazne, even though it might not be for everyone, is a major sight on the international tourist trail, and nearby Tepla with its monastery has clear potential to become a place of interest. All kinds of towns, villages and landscapes with quite different characteristics and histories can be find in very short distances of each other, especially if compared to most of the rest of the world. So by any standard, small scale and variety are still characteristic for the area.

The agricultural lands themselves show no signs of abandonment either. The large scale of agricultural operations is also not exclusively negative for the landscape. Streamsides and wetlands have been spared from replotting and appear to be much more natural and richer in wildlife than their Bavarian counterparts. This could also be said for the forests and pastures of the region.

We have found particular beauty in the wide pasturelands of the high plains and hilltops of the region, with their large, mixed herds of cattle that seem to roam almost freely in the wild. Unlike in most comparable low mountain areas, it is the hilltops that are free of forest, while the stream valleys and hillsides are tree-covered. This allows for wide, generous views across the land with a montane feel. The cattle also shape the landscape in interesting ways. Extensive pasture leads to flowering meadows potentially rich in species and birdlife. Where woods and trees are part of the pasture, a romantic scenery develops strongly reminiscent of old landscape paintings and archaic parklands.

Nothing like it can be found across the border except in National Parks and the high Alps. For the innocent beholder, even the bulldozed remainders of the villages can be perceived as an equivalent to the rubble stone field walls you see in areas like Ireland, the mediterranean or the Rhön in Germany.

IMPULSES

If society or parts of it wish to recover or reinvent the landscape at a regional scale, there will have to be public incentives and legal support. Either require discussion on a much wider level. What is it that should be done? What values will be created by change? Abandoned and near abandoned villages like Vyskovice are a prominent feature of the regional landscape. What could their role be in the future? Our project will be to ask this question to a general public and to find an artistic expression that sheds light on the issues as a part of Plzen 2015. Our land art intervention should also be an invitation to visit and explore the place and the landscape around it.

Possible impulses and interventions at a regional level might be:

Identity: Giving the region a name and a boundary: Kaiserwald, Slavkovsky Les, Cesky Les/Oberpfälzer Wald, Böhmisches Bäderdreieck, Tepler Hochland/Tepelska Vrchovina, Plzeňský kraj are all in use for the region/parts of the region, none of them are widely used or seem to capture it particularly well. There needs to be a spatial definition of the area impulses should apply to as well.

Agriculture: Support ecological agriculture for landscape improvement: Incentives could be given for ecological pasture management and forestry as well as the protection of wetlands, as these appear to be the most defining and economically viable land uses. There could be public support for marketing products from these sources to help strengthen regional identity. A thriving agriculture might be more motivated to also invest into the recovery of orchards and tree lines in the landscape.

Tourism: Tourism can probably only be a secondary factor in regional development. The landscape seen by itself is quite attractive, but it is quiet and unassuming, not top notch. So are the villages and towns.

The one place that attracts people from all over the world is Marianske Lazne. There is potential in connecting it more strongly with the wider landscape. ML could become a place less isolated in its splendor . The surrounding landscape and towns could benefit from the infrastructure and economical power of the spa resort. ML is probably also the best place to launch a wider market for local produce.

Cultural Events: Cultural Events can help to form and enhance regional identity. An event like Plzen 2015 brings the region into the focus of an international audience.

LANDSCAPE BANNERS – PRIVATE OPINION MADE PUBLIC

PRIVATE OPINION AS PUBLIC APPEARANCE

Vyskovice will be represented as part of Plzen 2015 Cultural-Capital of Europe. The issue of abandoned villages is put to the center of attention.

The core intention of our contribution is to make private opinion visible as an art-piece in the public domain. The difficulty is, that in an abandoned village usually there is no one around to express or witness an opinion. In order to create a public realm for expression, as STEP ONE we will therefore start to collect and display opinion in the towns and cities that play a role as centres for Vyskovice. Step one should take place a couple of weeks before the event on site.

The question will be: »What would you do with an abandoned village like Vyskovice?«

People will get to choose between a set of predefined answers printed on differently coloured banners. They will also be given the opportunity to comment in written detail on the backside of the banners. The banners become part of an on the spot display. In STEP TWO the results will be displayed on site in Vyskovice, supported by events that will bring people to the location. The installation will in this way continue to grow for the duration of Plzen 2015 until fall 2015.

STEP ONE – LOCATIONS FOR COLLECTION OF OPINION

Each place will be visited twice within a short period to capture a varietey of people and situations and also to allow compensation for bad weather.

Plana – Town Square
Plana is the local centre for the near range of Vyskovice. The newly renovated town-square is well visited by the locals for shopping and get-togethers and seems like an ideal place to collect opinions on the issue.

Tachov – Market Square
Tachov is an administrative and economical centre for the region. Because of its proximity to the border, the surrounding Cesky Les was particularly affected by abandonment, so we expect people to be interested in the issues raised.

Marianske Lazne – Hlavni Trida Boulevard opposite entry to the spa gardens
Marianske Lazne is just outside the Pilsen Region, but only a few kilometres away from Vyskovice. It is a lively scenic spa city visited mainly by tourists from all over the world, who may not be particularly aware of the issues. Still, in addition many local people work here or visit for sunday walks or going out. The location chosen is just outside the touristical center of town near a bus terminal, so we expect a good mix of people.

Plzen – City gate Bedricna Smetany
As the main regional capital and hub of European Cultural Capital 2015, Plzen should also be part of the step one enquiry. This is also an opportunity publicize the art-installation and the event in Vyskovice to Visitors of Plzen 2015 Cultural Capital of Europe. We chose a location just outside the old town centre proper, which we expect to be occupied by other events and displays at the time.

Other places investigated
Chodova Plana as the municipal township of Vyskovice would seem a desirable choice. Unfortunately there is hardly any street life, so it appears unlikely we would be able to collect a sufficient range of opinion here. Support from the municipality for the project is nevertheless desirable and needs to be discussed further.

Lack of street life also applies to Tepla Town, Konstantinovny Lazne or nearby villages like Michalovy Hory or Lestkov. Collection would only be possible in connection with staged events like village festivals, which from our experience are not the right frame for this type of work. We would also want to avoid placement immediate to specifically coined events or tourist attractions such as Tepla Monastery.

CHOICES

The predefined answers to the question »What would you do with an abandoned village like Vyskovice?« should sound ambiguous and at the same time inoffensive. People should not betaken to extreme positions but instead be encouraged to illustrate and explicate their choice in writing on the back of the banner. A debate should always be possible. We need to listen even when we do not agree.

let go – nechat být
We want this option to sound as neutral as possible. It should not appear as objectionable/disrespectful by definition, even though many people will find it just that.

This answer gives a forum for:

  • those who do not want to be bothered by a troubled past.
  • those who believe the disappearance of the villages is the correct consequence of what happened in the past.
  • but also for those that think resources should be directed to villages that are still alive rather than to places that are already lost anyway.

In a very different sense »Let go« could also be understood as an invitation to let go painful memories, allegations and resentment.

retain – zachovat
This option implies things are largely good as they are. It could mean we should keep the traces of the villages legible as part of the landscape pattern or as a reminder to history. It could mean saving the places for later, even though no immediate purpose is apparent. »Retain« can alternatively mean:

  • protecting the place from being razed for agriculture or other completely different uses
  • retain as a place of reference and memory on maps, in signeage or as part of treks and trails, even though there is no physical reconstruction
  • preserving the ruins from further decay
  • reconstruction of single elements like chapels, orchards or tree lines
  • signeage and memorials.

recover – obnovit
Recovery can mean quite different things like:

  • repair
  • bringing back what seemed lost
  • saving something from damage
  • putting back to use
  • giving things and places a new meaning
  • developing something new

This option allocates a higher degree of importance and meaning of abandoned places for the overall landscape fabric – today and future – than mere retainment. It is suggesting it is worthwhile to put the places back into use in some way or another or even contemplate reconstruction or resettlement. What this might mean in practice, but also in regards to underlying motives, will vary widely.

VISUAL EXPRESSION – STEP ONE:

The three options are represented by banners of different colour printed with the predefined answers in Czech and English as well as an pictographic icon. There will be some basic information on the issue of abandoned villages and Vyskovice itself, but it should remain as neutral as possible and stay in the background.

People can choose a banner and are also encouraged to express a more detailed opinion in writing on the backside of the banner. Every participant will also receive a flyer invitation to the events in Vyskovice. The banner is then attached at eye level to a line that runs through the town square/alongside the boulevard depending on the location. Collection and display will take place on two subsequent days at each location. The banners will remain on display for the duration of the enquiry before they are then collected for the event on site.

STAGE 2 PUBLIC APPEARANCE IN VYSKOVICE

The banners from the 4 towns and cities will be displayed as a temporary art installation on site in Vyskovice from May 18 until October 2015. The display will be highlighted as part of the opening in May 2015 and on-site concerts and events in July. Additional events on the site should be identified.

The instalment should encourage people to explore the village, the landscape and form their own opinion. Its position in the landscape is therefore of great importance. We suggest that people should be directed to Vyskovice via the old Tepla-Plana Road from where the position of the village in the surrounding cultural landscape is much more legible than coming through the forest. Visitors will approach Vyskovice via the avenue from Tepla Road. They will first encounter the only intact farmyard with its gardens and the pond before being confronted with ruins and abandonment. Passing the village, Goethestein and the chapel, a path will head towards the hillside where glimpses of the instalment of the banners can be caught. The line of banners leads up the hillside to the wide open meadow with its beautiful views across the hills. On ascending people will read the different opinions and work on their own.

Somewhere next to the banner line, but out of view from the village, there should be information on the existing activities of various civil initiatives in regards to the abandoned villages and also on Vyskovice itself. The visitors have the opportunity to add additional banners to the instalment, perhaps even to change their minds after now having seen the site. Throughout the season it will continue to grow and wind across the hillside towards the horizon. In this area there could also be shelters and meeting places with seating and perhaps some catering on the days there are events.

Our contribution does not contain elements of a permanent nature. For the purpose of our installation we would prefer the village to largely stay as it is now. Clearance may be required to ensure visitor access and safety, but symptoms of abandonment like collapsing orchards or heracleum infestation should remain for everyone to see. Signage should be kept to a minimum. Information should concentrate in the shelters.

The project is not a ballot on what should happen in Vyskovice after the event or a sound opinion poll. It wants to reveal existing opinions and sentiments and turn them into a tangible piece of art. The results will nevertheless be documented and made available. What happens afterward will be influenced by public discussion, but in the end it will be individuals who leave or take decisions/actions, perhaps supported by the public or a group of stakeholders.

Our wish is to invite and involve people, especially those who live in the area and who are the long term custodians of the landscape. We want to create a visible sign that connects to the landscape and creates a space for public debate.

PRACTICAL ISSUES

SPECIFICATION – ARTWORK »LANDSCAPE BANNERS«

Step one:
Banners made from Tyvek, one sided print, waterproof felt pens, strong wire, galvanized steel posts 2m fastenings, tent pavillon 2x 2m, table, chairs, partitions for information display, images and prints, invitation handouts, Volunteers/paid helpers, expense allowances

Step two:
Banners made from Tyvek, one sided print, waterproof felt pens, strong wire, galvanized steel posts 2m fastenings, tent pavillons, table, chairs, beer benches, partitions for information display, images and prints, Volunteers/paid helpers, expense allowances

SPECIFICATION – NOT PART OF THE ARTWORK BUDGET

Accompanying infrastructure and measures:
temporary parking lots: barrier tape and signage, temporary toilets, basic signage, garbage bins, basic repairworks to roads and pathways, Clearance of perilous trees and Heracleum next to pathways, Safeguards to perilous spots – all of these nedde consideration

Follow-up:
Documentation of stages and events (brochure/website/exhibit)

Land ownership:
Our installation is partially situated on both state and private pasture land. Realignment to match land boundaries is not impossible but would reduce the desired visual impact and the intended connection with views and the land. As the installation is only temporary, we would hope access to the required plots can be negotiated with the private owners.

Permissions, Patronage, translations:
Permissions may be required for step one collection in the respective townships. All actions in the public realm should take place exclusively under the patronage and the labels of Plzen 2015 and the authors. Main language will be Czech, so on-site support from volunteers/paid helpers fluent in Czech is essential. Written documentation and information on site in Vyskovice should be provided in Czech and English.

Press work, marketing and funding:
As this work greatly depends on the contributions from the public, press work/website is crucial to involve as many people as possible. We believe the project is basically feasible for the funds currently available. Nevertheless we are happy to discuss and assist in finding options for sponsorship and additional funding.

Plán 1 (pdf) | Plán 2 (pdf), Plán 3 (pdf) | Dokumentace (pdf)

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