David Vávra: I don't know the borders
Written by: Monika Mudranincová & Klára Smolová
Photo by: Vladimír Weiss
Although the public knows him as
an actor and founder of Sklep theater, he is an architect by profession.
Here he speaks out on that and other cultural topics.
You say you're an architect first and that your acting and other
activities are secondary. However, the public doesn't know you as
an architect. Why is that?
This demonstrates how the times are out of joint. Architecture once
used to be the queen of the arts, reigning at the top of the pyramid,
and today it comes after music videos and other aspects of pop culture.
Architecture is one of the main forces that shape the environment,
something you can't avoid. You have to pass buildings, while you
can shut out, close off, not buy or not visit other manifestations
of art. This is one of the reasons the series (ed: documentary
series "Šumná města" about 20th century architecture in
Czech towns) is made as entertainment, aimed at people who have
no expertise. And that's why most people know me as a clown rather
than as an architect [laughs].
So what have you actually built?
We (with co-workers) have a few buildings in Prague and its environs,
family houses and apartment buildings. We also do reconstructions.
We worked on Dobeška (ed: cultural center in Prague 4), I
worked with František Skála on the café in Akropolis, for which
we received an award, the interior of the year, I think. Now we're
working, among other things, on the reconstruction of Švandovo Theater.
And for about ten years we cooperate with a day-care center for
handicapped in Horní Bezděkov.
Lately there is a lot said about you regarding the documentary
series Šumná města. As a moderator of the show you behave a bit
unusualy; you criticize practically nothing, but rather speak ironically...
[Interrupts] ... Wait, wait. I make my living by architecture.
Because I design buildings, I know how terribly difficult and unrewarding
construction can be. There are many obstacles, and during the socialist
realism era in particular it wasn't easy to put up buildings with
such low quality materials and forgotten craftsmanship. So we try
to be more indulgent, even though sometimes we have to state our
opinions bluntly - but it's subjective, and it can offend people.
I'm sorry in retrospect that I criticized some people; so I apologize
to all my colleagues whom I've maligned.
What is your opinion of controversial buildings and reconstructions,
such as the Fred and Ginger building, Expo 58 and its subsequent
use, Sovovy mlýny and its glass cube?
The first thing people think of when you ask them about modern architecture
is the Fred and Ginger building. It's good it was built, as it's
a sort of milestone. However, everyone prefers a different harmony,
so everyone can have different feelings about it. For example, I
don't think exactly that way, but I highly respect the building,
although it does break certain rules that shouldn't be broken, such
as the line of the street. It could set a dangerous precedent. As
far as the glass cube on Sovovy mlýny is concerned, I'm sometimes
a very strict preservationist, on the other hand I'd like to have
the freedom for completely unlimited, creative thinking. I'd like
to have the freedom to at least consider demolishing St. Vitus Cathedral
and replacing it with truly modern architecture using glass and
aluminum. So I'm partially a fundamentalist preservationist, but
on the other hand I'm an anarchistic creator.
As an architect you have to deal with business, just like everyone
who has to pay invoices and taxes. What bothers you most about the
business environment in the Czech Republic?
Nothing really bothers me, because you can't really expect anything
in ten years. After forty years of thwarted nature, everything is
just getting put right. Many things that could be different; taxes
could be lower, but all in all, it's OK. I'm quite satisfied, and
I'm grateful for it.
You say you're a gregarious sort, that you have to belong to
something. Director Ondřej Trojan said that you're "a unifier,
a positive person who brings people together by being friends with
them". What does friendship mean for you today, when the trend
is towards individualism?
I can't answer this for your magazine, as I'd damage everything.
When you say something, you take the bloom off it by bring specific.
It isn't good to describe feelings, because it sounds corny. However,
because I've always been a part of a community that has given me
strength and energy under communism and capitalism alike, I'm glad
to be have had this identity for thirty years.
Is friendship the reason the Sklep ensemble has already been
performing for thirty years?
It's because we don't perform too often, so that it serves as relaxation
for the people and they look forward to it. But as long as our "therapy"
sessions are of interest to people, everything's okay. I've said
on occasion that that's how we develop: from the cellar to the center,
and back home. We're now a hundred meters from the cellar (ed: where
the theater was founded. Sklep = cellar), so it would be very simple
to go back and reduce the number in our audience from 200 to 20.
But in your conception of theater the audience serves a bit
That's also a way to put it. Really, often the audience served as
scenery for our party. The system works like that: there is a Christmas
Party, individuals or groups prepare a surprise or a performance,
then we make some cuts and play it all year. But because we are
becoming part of a season ticket in regions it's as if we are denying
our main idea. We are becoming a part of "Cycle D - Contemporary
Theatre: Cimrman, Zábradlí, Sklep.". Buy a season ticket for
CZK 330. However, sometimes we don't even know what each of us will
write two weeks before the show.
From what you have said it seems that you are very patriotic.
Yet you adopted two black children, which is a bit unusual in this
country. What is your opinion of nationalism and globalization?
How do you, as a man who has a feeling for roots, see these two
Do you think we've confused the children a bit? I think everyone
should know their origins. But it doesn't matter what color one's
face is - what matters is a connection with a culture. He should
also respect other cultures, taking both the positive and negative
heritage from them. The art of living in one city with various ethnic
groups was once common here and created Prague's beauty. That's
missing now, but something new is taking its place - Vietnamese
and Russians live here now, instead of Germans and Jews. So it's
good to start with where I belong and to be open to the rest of
the world. But one should show his own culture to the world, not
a globalized culture. I don't like walking through the streets and
through the department stores and not knowing which continent I'm
on. The materials and aesthetics are so universal that I actually
can't recognize where I am.
life in numbers
||born March 9, in Prague
Milan Šteindler, founded a cult theater Sklep in his grandmother's
||earned a half-year scholarship
at an architectural school in France
from AVU (Academy of Fine Arts) department of architecture
||appeared in Tomáš Vorel's
film Pražská pětka, and in a film by Věra Chytilová titled
Kopytem sem, kopytem tam
"Interior of the year" by Design Center for
his interior of restaurant in palace Akropolis
|| in April Architekt
magazine recognized his co-writing and moderating Šumná
města, the TV series about architecture in CR
Let's return to culture. The program "Česká soda",
in which you took part, is no longer aired on Czech Television,
but it looks like it has inspired many other programs, such as "Tele
tele" on Nova. What do you think of the quality of humor and
entertainment in our media?
I think that politicians are doing so well that it's hard to top
them. They've exhausted all the topics. "Tele tele" is
another matter. I have to admit that I agree with the way you described
it, but I recently watched two episodes and was rather surprised
at how funny they were. I appreciate their putting it on every week,
which is murderous. On the other hand, because it's commercial television,
which has its limits due to its socio-political classification,
the show also has limits. There are probably issues they can't raise,
so it is somewhat lacking in freedom. You can sense this.
It seems that there has been no true political satire here of
late. Do you think the humor is becoming a bit depressed? As if
the shows and performers from the era of "normalization"
are making a comeback?
Yes, it seems so to me, but it doesn't upset me. It's the people's
will. Besides, there is an alternative minority culture, but it
is more powerful and will have a greater influence on society than
things that vanish as soon as they're aired. It doesn't bother me
at all. And culture, what is that? I don't know the borders of art
and culture. Culture is also the way people behave to each other,
which is also often plebian.
Talking of plebian behavior, what do you as an artist say about
the behavior of Milan Knížák, director of the National Gallery,
one of the highest ranked cultural posts, who speaks very disrespectfully
about his colleagues?
I will probably disappoint you. I have a weakness for Knížák and
I highly regard his strong personality. Of course I understand all
of the reproaches against him, but I like him - although of course
within the institution it [his behavior] brings some inconveniencies.
A man in his position should probably be more liberal. But I respect
his great personality and energy.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Call heaven - they'll tell you. Or call hell. I don't make decisions
like that. We're a part of the colossus of a never-ending world,
and this power determines our being.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Now I'm a father.
How would you like people to remember you?
However they remember me is fine. It's up to them. I hope that they'll
see my heritage as positive rather then negative. That's my only