Jiří Kovanda

* 1953  

  • “When I trained as a bricklayer, I did not want to work in the construction industry, because I saw it as something impossible. So I went to work on the construction of the Prague underground, this was roughly in 1971. And since the underground construction was a closely observed and supported thing, the workers had various benefits. One of these was that when you signed the two-year contract, you had to spend just five months in the military. It was called the alternative military service and that was what I did. I thus avoided the service without any effort and served just five months in 1975.”

  • “Only people invited in person could come… and all the invitations were naturally extended only in person. It was just a few people, colleagues, friends, fifteen or twenty. Petr Štembera was the night guard at UMPRUM in the mid 1970s. We used to meet by the back gate of the museum. A metal gate just by the Old Jewish Cemetery. We used to meet there at nine or ten. Petr Štembera came to the gate, opened it and let us in the cellar by the back door. The corridor was dark, the lights were out and we went into the cellar. And there were performances in this cellar.”

  • “There was the so-called Dům barikádníků in Strašnice (and it still exists). Usually, it held some brass concerts and similar stuff, which is the case today still. But in the late 1960s, it held some big beat gigs. Some were in the evening, some in the afternoon, from four. It was a real gig, no dance events. As it was close to our school, our fellow students went in large numbers. I went by an accident, I used to play football, drew animals and wanted to be a biologist. And they suddenly asked me to go along. It was Olympic in their best years, in 1967, I was overwhelmed. I immediately went looking for their recordings, I stopped playing football, suddenly. I already wanted to have longer hair then. This was, I think, the key moment, the Olympic gig.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, 20.10.2016

    (audio)
    duration: 01:38:39
  • 2

    Praha, 26.01.2017

    (audio)
    duration: 42:44
  • 3

    Praha, 12.03.2018

    (audio)
    duration: 47:57
    media recorded in project The Stories of Our Neigbours
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

Photo of a performance could be mailed to the West without problems

photo: archiv pamětníka

Jiří Kovanda was born on May 1, 1953, in Prague-Vinohrady and spent his childhood and youth in Strašnice, where he attended Julius Fučík’s primary school. He was not accepted to the grammar school due to poor results at the entrance exams, so his father entered him as a construction apprentice in Prague-Malešice. His apprenticeship was completed by the  maturita exam, after which, from 1977, he worked as a surveyor in the construction of the Prague underground. Then he was employed in the depository of the National Gallery. Since the late 1970s he focused on performances. He stood in the opposite direction on the moving stairs and looked into someone else’s face, or he stood with his arms spread in the Wenceslas Square. Kovanda’s activity was documented by a photographer, since his goal was to disseminate the performances – the photographs were exhibitied in the West as well. He and other Czech performers (Karel Miller, Jan Mlčoch and Petr Štembera) put an end to their performances at the turn of the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1980s he focused on painting and from the late 1980s, shortly, to graphic design – he worked, among others, with Uno dancing troupe and designed the LP cover accompanying the Czech film Bony a klid. He appreciated the political change in 1989 as it provided him with an opportunity to present his art in public. He remained in the National Gallery until 1995 and since then he has worked as an assistant in Vladimír Skrepl’s studio at AMU (Art Academy) in Prague.