Jan Mlčoch

A decisive factor for Jan Mlčoch’s performance art was his meeting with Karel Miler and Petr Štembera, which provided him the impulse to make the move from recording dreams and events in his journal to creating and recording them with a short text and photography.  As with other members of Prague’s body-art circle, performance was also important for him for reasons other than artistic ones. In the difficult social situation following the occupation in 1968 when “socialism with a human face” was replaced by “normalization”, a second, harsher phase of the totalitarian regime, performance was one of the possibilities of free personal expression, a way of balancing a fragile relationship to the world. Perhaps Mlčoch was able to do this best in his performance Zavěšení - Velký spánek (Suspension - Great Sleep) (1974) when he had himself suspended by his arms and legs with his eyes and ears covered in a large attic space. His body entered into a “weightless” state that enabled him for a few minutes to experience a pure existence free of everyday burdens.

Each “piece”, which the performances were often called in the Czech context during that period, has four parts: the idea, visualisation, realisation and documentation. It is the visualisation that holds the most important role in Jan Mlčoch’s work; his actions are often enigmatic situations that we’d expect more in dreams than in everyday reality. It’s no accident that Czech philosopher Petr Rezek came up with the idea, in connection with the previously mentioned performance, to interpret performance as a dream. In doing so, he touched on a number of essential aspects of performance art, since performance, despite the fact that it shifts real life elsewhere, is like a dream in that it’s anchored in reality.

During the 1970s, Mlčoch carried out over twenty performances in which he made use of various expressive possibilities and methods. In addition to purely body art performance, he also undertook a number of performances that dealt with social issues, the contrast of the personal and social, of the internal and external. He was the only Czech body artist to openly touch on political themes. Bianco and Noc (Night), performances from 1977, are examples of this. Most of Mlčoch’s performances were, however, more of a personal nature. Some were carried out in solitude; others were witnessed by a small audience that consisted of either Mlčoch's close friends or viewers who regularly attended private performance evenings organized at various places. From today’s perspective Mlčoch’s most interesting performances were undertaken in public spaces.  For instance, in the 1975 performance Vzpomínky na p. (Remembering P.) he sold for an hour at the city marketplace personal items that reminded him of friends, or his 1980 performance Noclehárna (Hostel) at the De Appel Gallery in Amsterdam that essentially anticipated contemporary participative art. This was Mlčoch’s very last performance. Like Petr Štembera and Karel Miler, Mlčoch decided to stop his performance works in the late 1970s.



1953, Praha / CZ, at that time ČSSR


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