Untitled (1975–2064), 2008, short story, a A2-format poster with perforation that fold into A5 format, published by
Gallery U Bílého jednorožce, Klatovy, 2008, photo: author's archive
woke up about an hour ago. He is still in bed and little by little, it dawns on
him that that instant will probably be the most important one in his life. A
few moments ago, a thought flashed across his mind. At first he was hardly able
to get a handle on it, but in the minutes that followed, it grew more and more
intense until it became quite obsessive. He tried tackling it with logic and
then casting it away with purely irrational speculations, but it resisted each
effort and became increasingly entrenched instead. He realised that he would
have to make it a reality.
that morning, he decided to buy a house big enough to allow him to spend the
rest of his life covering its walls with drawings.
should fill in some important details about our man: he is an artist who has
devoted himself to performance and drawing ever since he completed his studies
at a Czech art school. With time he was able to combine the two media and at
his last exhibition he presented a series of large monochrome drawings with a
covering of cross-hatching so dense that the individual lines were
the outset, he focused on two things: securing the financial means to allow him
to spend the rest of his life working on a three-dimensional monochrome and
undergoing all the medical and scientific tests he could with the aim of
determining the length of his life; based on the result, he would calculate the
total area of all the walls of the house he would buy. He could not countenance
either leaving his work undone or finishing his drawing much earlier than
the early nineteen nineties, our man's family acquired three houses looking
onto a small, nineteenth-century Prague square as part of the restitution
process in which the government returned properties nationalised in the late
forties and early fifties back into
private hands. At first, his parents took charge of them. When they died, his
sister, fifteen years his senior, took over their maintenance. The man never
got into the habit of helping to look after the houses. On the contrary, he
would not allow himself to become dependent on them economically. For that
reason, when both his parents died, he started working for a foreign
advertising agency. But now, having experienced that decisive moment, he threw
all his resolutions regarding financial independence to the winds. He went to
see his sister and the family solicitor and offered to sell his share of the
properties to his sister and her family. It was far from easy. He knew they
would reproach him for his filial impiety. Nonetheless, he had made up his mind
and refused to back down. His sister was forced to sell all the flats in the
entire half of one of the houses, something she had never wanted to do.
gained his financial independence, he put a portion of the money in the bank
and invested the rest in state bonds and the stock market. He put his money to
work so it would provide him with a regular income.
he had to find out when he would die.
was not easy. First he turned to specialised medical centres, but there he
encountered nothing but incomprehension. The doctors had no patience for what
they considered a frivolous endeavour and objected that they did not have the
oracular abilities needed to determine exactly when he would die. But he was no
fool; he knew very well that there were unpredictable dangers – such as
viruses, bacteria and accidents – lurking behind every corner. Having had no
success with the doctors, he decided to turn to research centres devoted to
investigating the genetic code. He hoped he would be able to determine the
length of his life based on his genetic code. After several months of
searching, he contacted a private research institute in California. Following
another few months in which he gave explanations and discussed terms, he was
given permission to visit the institute. First, they took a blood sample to
determine his gene code; then, with the aid of a large battery of tests, he was
confronted with his everyday habits. A week later, he returned to Prague to
await the results.
is a quarter to four in the afternoon on the twenty-fifth of October of the
year two thousand and seven. He is sitting down, reading a letter—the results
from the institute. He is surprised: about fifty-three years of life await him
still, give or take five months. Now he is thirty five years old. He makes a
quick calculation: that means sometime between March and December of two
thousand sixty-three. He is overwhelmed. He can feel how his brain and then, little
by little, his entire body are overcome with panic. He has already experienced
the emotion attendant upon the strong realisation that he would die many times.
The first time was when he was eight and the last was when his parents died.
Now it is even stronger. He does not know what to do.
thought things through for two years and prepared everything he could. With the
help of yearly trial runs, he calculated how many square metres of wall area he
would be able to cover with drawings in a year. The result was eight point four
square metres. For his calculation, he took into account the rest the muscles
in his right arm would require every day and the eventual slowing down of his
labours with age. He also divided up the day painstakingly into several segments:
nine hours of sleep, five hours of work, two hours of office work and the rest
for miscellaneous activities. By miscellaneous activities, he meant visiting
friends, spending time at the library, going to the cinema – in short, the
social life he did not want to give up. He also made up his mind definitively
regarding the instrument he would work with: a ball-point pen. He liked its
peculiar ultramarine ink, even though he was aware that it was just about the
least fitting instrument for drawing on plaster, as the ink would very quickly
become clouded with the plaster. So, he had the walls of his future flat
covered with a special coating that would serve most fittingly as a foundation
on which to draw with a ball-point pen.
point four square metres times fifty three years meant a flat with four hundred
forty-five point two metres of wall area. Then he calculated the size of the
flat once more. He realised he would need time for renovation and a year seemed
like it would be an optimal period, so he used fifty-two instead of fifty-three
in his equation. The result: four hundred thirty-six point eight square metres.
Finding a space corresponding to such exact measurements was a truly difficult
task. For each month he searched, he had to recalculate the dimensions of the
flat. It took him two years to find it. It was a functionalist house from the
thirties with a terrace. The surface area of all its walls added up to four
hundred twenty-two metres. He reconstructed it completely, making sure as best
he could that nothing would get in the way of his drawing. Everything was
placed at least seventy centimetres from the walls. The reconstruction took him
a little bit over a year.
whole process had taken five and a half years.
eight thirty in the morning on the seventeenth of April, two thousand thirteen.
The man, lying on some scaffolding, starts to draw. Yesterday afternoon, he set
up the scaffolding about a metre from the living room ceiling using two steel
poles placed horizontally, spanning two walls. He has chosen this type of
hanging system so nothing will get in the way of his moving freely around the
flat. He has marked out the first sixteen-by-sixteen-centimetre square on the
ceiling and, with slow gestures, beings creating a lattice of parallel lines a
forty-five degree angle, then doing the same along the perpendicular diagonal.
Next he draws a series of vertical lines and then another of horizontal lines.
He repeats the whole process until each individual line merges into a single solid
blue square. It all takes five hours, including programmed breaks. He feels a
bit worn out. That is precisely why he has decided to cover each ceiling
surface with his drawings first. He could not imagine doing so when he on his last legs.
every day, he gradually covered the ceilings of all the bedrooms in the flat
with his drawings; then he moved on to work on the kitchen, the bathroom, the
pantry, the toilet and finally the entry hall. He spent almost twelve years in
the process. After that, he went on to draw on the walls in the entry hall.
Everything proceeded according to his plan. He never omitted one single day.
man's name is Karel Brož.
was born in Prague in nineteen seventy-five.
communism he lived with his parents and sister in a small rented flat from the
1940s. When the political and economic system changed, he enrolled at a graphic
design and advertising college, where he began acquainting himself with visual
art. He took a liking to certain Czech artists of the sixties like Jan Mlčoch,
Petr Štembera, Adriena Šimotová and Jiří Valoch. He sensed something in their
work he had never felt before or would ever feel afterwards: a radical gesture
– rare in the Czech context – based on the fact that most of those artists had
been active during the communist normalisation of the seventies. Of the
following generation, it was Václav Stratil and his large-format, full-scale
drawings on parquet that captured his attention. It was from him that he
gleaned his working method. Several years later, thanks to international
magazines and catalogues, he familiarised himself with the art of the sixties
and seventies abroad – mostly from the United States. He was absolutely
fascinated by it. At the time, he was studying at the Brno Academy of Arts. The
Academy would organise regular trips abroad to institutions in Germany, France
and Italy and thus got the chance to see Documenta 10, the Venice Biennale and
other major modern art exhibitions. He became depressed. The last drop was an exhibition
he saw in Berlin titled Sensation. He started pulling back from the colossus of
Western art, which he was not quite able to figure out. He stopped delving into
contemporary art and turned to science fiction instead. He re-read the books of
his childhood – even those he had wanted to read but had never had the
opportunity to. He read more and more authors. Over the course of a couple of
years, he got fairly well-acquainted with science fiction. In the end he was
most fond of the classic authors who defined the genre, like Stanislaw Lem,
Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. At that time, he graduated and started
working as a graphic designer at an advertising agency. He worked his way up to
the position of art director. He started putting on exhibitions as well. He had
several solo exhibitions and was selected for inclusion in a few collective
exhibitions of Czech art abroad.
ninth of December, two thousand eight. The man is lying on an institutional
bed; he has been hospitalised with a serious case of pneumonia. Several weeks
ago, in November, he got soaked on the way home from the cinema. After that his
condition deteriorated until he was constantly gasping for breath. He has been
in hospital two weeks and he is getting better. They will be letting him go
home next week already. Although his body is getting better, his thoughts are
becoming rather confused. That is precisely what he had been hoping to avoid by
working without surcease on his drawings. He begins thinking about the decision
he made twenty years ago; many people appreciate his work. Curators from Czech
institutions bring foreign visitors to his flat – he never turns them away. He
knows full well the interest concealed behind their visits; they need to show
foreigners someone who has been working on one thing systematically and is
uninterested in commercial success within the system. That always comes in
handy on their programmatic tours of Prague's ateliers. But the people he
really cares about are young people, and they scorn him. He knows this all too
well thanks to his young mistresses. From time to time they tell him bluntly
about some new rebuke with which the young artists sneer at the decision he
made long ago. As if he were a symbol of a period which had accepted, without resistance,
a different type of conformism than that which was condemned to disappear long
before nineteen eighty-nine. He sometimes wonders how he might reasonably
justify his decision to them. Maybe the problem lies not in the decision, but
in the way he has decided to present it.
his return from hospital, he had to force himself to work for a few days.
Gradually he settled back into the routine involved in his oeuvre, which had
been interrupted for a few weeks. For the first time in twenty years after
having made his resolution, he felt the definitive quality of the change. He
was afraid to change anything. He was scared of losing face before other
artists. And above all, he did not want to give the young artists the pleasure.
That especially was the concrete fear that goaded him on.
is six o'clock in the evening of the second of September, two thousand
forty-two. He is sixty-eight. He examines an ultramarine square and then looks
over the entire room, which he started covering with his drawings earlier this
year. He has almost twenty-two years and one hundred eighty-two square metres
day he is constantly hounded by the memory of an essay he read thirty years
ago. He vaguely remembers parts of it and tries to piece them together like a
mosaic into the original text. Try as he might, he can only reconstruct the
main idea: he is sure it involved the author's subjective description of how
physical space in the European novel ended up losing its sense of secrecy in
response to five centuries of scientific cartography and the concomitant
bureaucratisation of the Earth – that is all; he cannot remember anything else.
He also tries to remember the name of the author; perhaps it was Kundera, he is
not quite sure. He says to himself: in science fiction that 'lost' physical
space is being rediscovered – in much-neglected outer space. The universe as a
place for life. After all, had not the astronomers themselves publicly declared
the hope that they might one day discover extraterrestrial civilisations? Maybe
by filling his flat with his delicate meshwork drawings every day he is erasing
everything that might connect him to the definitive character of his space here
on Earth and replacing it with the infinity of unexplored outer space.
realises that he has probed, polished and simplified what was originally surely
a very sophisticated thought to the point where it has re-entered his thoughts
as a possible key to his entire life. He decides that he will not work the next
day and look for the book with that essay in his rather neglected library
spends not a day, but an entire week looking for it.
first, he browses through all the books in the library, one by one, some
several times. Then he tries to remember the person who might have lent it to
him and finally decides to visit several Prague libraries – all in vain.
Brož died on the seventh of May of two thousand sixty-four. One year after
finishing his drawings and five months after the date the researchers had