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Action or Retraction? Prague as an Im/material Archive, 1950–1980
What happens to the idea of the city being a visual and material archive if there is an attempt to ideologically erase memory and knowledge in the urban space? Can there be artistic counter-measures to these often totalitarian appropriations of the public realm and its complex history? Or to think of it the other way around: Is it possible to create a dissident “parallel polis”, with its own “an-archives” that can resist epistemic and political violence and might open up horizons of freedom? In focusing on the city of Prague in the period from 1950 to 1980 the paper will examine how in the ČSSR so-called non-conformist artists and philosophers problematized notions of the public or the political, subtly intervened in and transformed the monitored public space, and created their own underground archives. Last but not least, I shall discuss how all these active dissident practices fostered powerful counter-narratives that questioned and deconstructed the official propaganda discourse of the communist regime, and thus can represent important examples of critically reflecting on the possibilities and limits of artistic and political participation even today.