Czech sculptor unveils edgy tribute to the London Olympics
What do you get when you take an iconic London vehicle, an inspired if somewhat controversial Czech sculptor and a large dose of engineering? The answer, it would appear, is a double-decker bus doing push-ups.
Prague artist David Černý has created the jaw-dropping structure to celebrate the 2012 Olympic Games, which open in the UK capital July 27.
If the Czech Republic wanted to make a bold statement at these games, they may have succeeded before the Olympic flame has even been lit.
As the main group of Czech athletes left for the United Kingdom July 24, all eyes were on the unveiling of Černý’s latest masterpiece outside the Czech Olympic House in Islington, north London.
The bus has been fitted with an electric engine and hydraulic system to help it move up and down on two giant robotic red arms.
Groaning sound effects add a further human touch to the 6-ton machine, which the 44-year-old sculptor says is inspired by his interest in physical condition.
“I quite like the idea of a push-up,” Černý told The Prague Post. “It isn’t just a sporting activity used for exercising. It can also be used for punishment in the army or in prisons.”
“I like the ambivalence of that and the contradiction of sporting activities. It’s a complex beast.”
Černý bought the 1957 Routemaster bus in the Netherlands with the help of Agrofert owner Andrej Babiš. He then spent six months transforming the vehicle into what he calls the “London Booster.”
It will remain outside the Olympic House for the three-week duration of the games. Ladislav Pflimpfl, director of the Czech Cultural Centre in London, says passers-by are stopping to take photos of the piece.
“It’s really eye-catching, so I hope it will raise awareness of Czech art and Czech artists,” he said. “Given David’s reputation, I was very curious to see what he came up with. But he’s delivered something extraordinary; it looks stunning.”
Černý’s previous works have courted controversy, enraging politicians and mocking other artists. In 2009, he unveiled his map-like art object Entropa to mark the start of the Czech Republic’s European Union presidency.
The object, which was displayed at the EU’s headquarters in Brussels, portrayed European countries in satirical stereotypes.
Germany was a Swastika-like network of motorways, France was covered by an “On Strike” banner, and the United Kingdom was missing from the piece altogether. Bulgaria – shown as a collection of squat toilets – even summoned the Czech ambassador to explain the depiction.
To make matters worse, it later emerged that Černý had worked alone on the project when it was supposed to have been a collaboration between artists from the 27 EU member states.
In 2005, the sculptor poked fun at rival British artist Damien Hirst with his work Shark, a statue of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein floating in formaldehyde. Hirst had previously embalmed a tiger shark for his 1991 piece The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.
Černý also enraged London police in the early 1990s when he put up posters at an art fair calling on people to take part in a “Day of Killing” for population control.
In this context, an exercising bus is far less offensive. Indeed, as Černý pointed out, “I haven’t been arrested yet.”
The powers that be need not have worried, then, and the sculptor says he is counting on at least one high-profile fan.
“President Klaus is really looking forward to seeing it,” Černý joked. “He loves it. I heard rumors he wants it installed in front of Prague Castle after the games have finished.”