Saturday, November 5, 2011

Charter 77

Charter 77 
17 - 20 November 2011

Whitstable Library, 31-33 Oxford Street, Whitstable, CT5 1DB. Tel: 08458 247200


Uddin & Elsey present a new video work created with the residents of Whitstable and the support of Whitstable Library to coincide with the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution 17 November 1989.

The month of November is a recognised time of year when memorial days take place, to remember events which have shaped European twentieth century history, such as the Fall of the Berlin Wall on the 9th, Armistice Day on the 11th and the Velvet Revolution on the 17th. Over the last 12 months, Uddin & Elsey have traveled to five of the European towns twinned with Whitstable. In August 2011 the artists visited Ricany in the Czech Republic which is one of the towns twinned with Whitstable. The town is located 20km east of Prague and was under Communist rule until 1989.

In response to their visit, Uddin & Elsey were inspired by Charter 77 - a written document created in response to the communist regime in 1977 and which was leaked out of the country in the decade leading up to the Velvet Revolution. The authors of the document were banned from publishing under the communist government and for this reason, the local library was chosen as a site to engage with the question of censorship and freedom of information through the public presentation of Charter 77. 

Displayed alongside the video are a selection of books for the public to read and engage with during the event. The artists have collaborated with Kent Libraries to select books relating to Charter 77 in order to bring the spirit of resistance from the Czech people to the town of Whitstable. Local residents of Whitstable were invited to participate in the reading of Charter 77 and each section was recorded and edited to create a collaborative video work. Participants included a vicar, a musician, a painter, a teacher, a bookseller, a former mayor, an author and a journalist. 

In the summer of 2011 Uddin & Elsey transformed the Whitstable Museum Education Space into an artist-run, pop-up language cafe. They presented the project Cafe Esperanto - Bureau de Change Sociale and filled the Museum windows with images of Thomas G Masaryk. TGM was the first president of the former Czechoslovakia and his face popped up all over Prague in both, shop and cafe windows as an act of resistance in 1968 during the Prague Spring and against the invasion of Soviet tanks. Cafe Esperanto - Bureau de Change Sociale was inspired by the quote 'To learn another language is to live another life' - TGM. On the day of the event, a local resident recognised the face of TGM in the windows and told us that his mother had taken him to see the President laid-in-state at the Prague Castle in 1938. 

Charter 77  - In 1977, a written declaration was created by Czech dissidents, a group of people who were forbidden to publish. Under this regime, Charter 77 was signed by many authors, artists and actors asserting a collaborative stand against the oppressive regime. The general public was afraid to openly support the dissidents for fear of dismissal from work or school. The charter members inspired and influenced the actions which led to the Velvet Revolution in 1989. The Charter’s aim was to defend human rights, freedom of thought and of expression. These events resulted in the election of Vaclav Havel, a playwright, following peaceful student demonstrations in Prague.