Petr Štembera

* 1945  

  • “Meanwhile, one of the people who did similar things and whom I respected the most was here. His name was Chris Burden and he was from USA, from LA. In 1976 he stayed a couple days at my place. He was then awarded a year-long curatorship of a private institution which was called the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art. He probably liked my works. He went to Austria where he hired another guy and to Paris where he got Gina Pane. And he invited us all to participate. It wasn’t even clear whether it made sense for me to ask for permission to go there. I took the letter and went to the US embassy. The guy there told me: ‘Please, don’t show this to anybody, they would definitely not let you go. Your only chance is to request a tourist visa.’ So I did. And things had happened. I needed some sort of assurance. By chance, a classmate of my wife worked in a bank providing those assurances. She was working as a clerk and was in charge of issuing foreign exchange assurances. She gave me some US dollars and I went to the police to ask for permission to go. In the meantime somebody advised me to go on Saturday. They even worked Saturdays, it was great. One would go to Bartolomějská street but not into the prison building. So I brought it all there. And in two weeks they gave me the permission. I was perplexed. Then I realized that they had a record on me and perhaps thought that if they gave me the documents I would stay abroad. I have no idea why they gave me that permission. Anyway, I was able to spend a month in the US.”

  • “We made transcripts of Charter 77 and brought it with us to various places. I remember thinking that this was the most I would get involved in. And then I remember this great event in 1978. In Náplavní street, at this guy’s place, what’s his name? He was part of the underground, Ivan Bierhanzl. In his attic there was an exhibition of crazy drawings by Eugen Brikcius when he was a child. Everyone in Prague knew that. And whoever went there was aware of the risk. Because wherever one would go, everyone would say: ‘Evžen will be there, that will be good.’ But we also knew that they would come and do a bust. And so they did. A bunch of people attended. And a number of cops arrived. As they knocked on the door, everyone began to pull the Charter transcripts from their pockets hesitating where to hide them. People shoved it behind a stove, behind paintings; meanwhile it was falling from behind those paintings. It was amazing. They let us go one by one. I remember that Petr Rezek was also there. And they went like: ‘Aha, Mr. Rezek.’ But they let him go, in fact, they arrested practically nobody.”

  • “Once I was in a museum in the Hungarian town of Pécs. This was one of the best things. Unfortunately, I got terribly drunk doing that so I don’t know what was going on. I have fragments of memories and people also told me stuff. It was part of the self-liquidation project. I was preparing some dough which was then supposed to bubble up and put out the candles. I was drinking some really hard liquor while doing that – vodka. I am not used to that. Stage lights were shining on me. And as I am such an educated man I brought in a book by Heidegger written in Czech and German. Getting more and more drunk I was reading them out loud some of Heidegger’s sentences which I didn’t even understand in Czech. But I was thinking that it was all also about communication. Reading Heidegger in German to the Hungarians – that must have been a great idea! Meanwhile, I succumbed to the alcohol so I don’t know what was happening to me. I woke up the next day in some apartment. They loaded me in a car and dropped me at the train station in Budapest to catch the train to Prague. So I did. Later they told me that it was quite a mess because a part of the museum almost burned down. They probably exaggerated. Well, something went on fire in there.”

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    Praha, 05.07.2015

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I am happy to say that I was a gardener, not an artist

Petr Štembera - portrait
Petr Štembera - portrait
photo: sbírka PB

Petr Štembera was born in 1945 in Pilsen. He is one of the important figures of Czech action and conceptual art. He began with abstract paintings but soon shifted his focus to interventions in the natural environment. Later he became known as a body artist, performing extreme, psychically and mentally demanding interventions into his own body. He performed both in the Czech Republic and abroad. In 1977 his and Jan Mlčoch’s works were awarded the main prize at Youth Biennale in Paris. The next year, Christ Burden invited him to spend a month in the US. Because of his work he was interrogated several times by the secret police in the prison in Prague’s Bartolomějská street. Since late 1970s he was gradually giving up on his own production. At present he works as a curator of a collection of posters and paintings in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague.