Tomáš Kajánek

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Migration and urban history are closely intertwined in Berlin. Tomáš Kajánek`s video project deals with the history of Bohemian religious refugees in Rixdorf since the 18th century, using historical film clips and other sources. Until the 20th century, Rixdorf enjoyed great popularity among Czech migrants. Based on source research in the archives of the museum in the Bohemian village, the video artist explores the historical reasons for migration, refugee experiences and their after-effects up to the present day.

Although massive gentrification processes are currently taking place in Neukölln and Rixdorf, descendants of Bohemian migrants still live here today. The urban space with two-story residential buildings, a smithy and a centrally located Lutheran village church as well as a cemetery is reminiscent of a Bohemian village. At the beginning of the 18th century, the pressure of re-catholicisation increased in the Bohemian provinces. Under Habsburg rule, Protestants were expelled from Eastern Bohemia from 1737 onwards.

For his project, Dedications, Kajánek uses recovered film footage showing everyday scenes from the 1930s to the 1960s in black and white, and places it in a different context with the help of a voiceover and the accompanying subtitles. He has assembled film clips obtained from private archives, which are not arranged chronologically, but which capture daily life in Rixdorf.

Instead, the focus is on motifs and the relationship between the recorded historical sources and the film images. In the first film scene, a woman looks out of the window of a badly damaged house. This suggests the relationship between destruction and flight, as well as the human need for a home. The shots showing people gardening and focusing on the blossoming of their own garden create a feeling of tranquillity. The detailed depiction of the preparation of a snack with sausage and cucumber as well as the pictures of happy gatherings with alcoholic drinks and cigars allude to that little special feeling of happiness in everyday life.  Part of the portrayed sense of home is also found in some shots showing people coexisting with animals. Cats, rabbits, chickens and chicks were all part of Rixdorf life; a little lamb is bottle-fed by a child. Children let maybugs crawl over their faces, sometimes frightened, sometimes curious and sometimes amused.  The shots of children´s toys also convey a sense of domesticity: a doll´s house and a toy train show a peaceful world in miniature. Some of the captured scenes depict children, parents, grandparents and a family member in Nazi uniform in a flowering front garden, or the images of houses destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.

The commentary consists of historical testimonies of migrants from the 18th century in the original Czech language. Only some basic source information is blended in, in the form of subtitles in German, English and Polish. In this way, the video work evokes the feeling of not grasping all the information, of only being able to make a general sense of it, and ultimately of not being able to understand everything despite the clear film images and the subtitles. This shared experience is linked to the reality of life for migrants who have to find their way in situations where they have no knowledge of the language. Nevertheless, the historical sources give us an idea of what it means to be on the run and have no place where one is wanted.

Before the religious refugees could settle down in Rixdorf with a long-term perspective, they were shunted from place to place between Saxony, Poland and Prussia and controlled and expelled time and again. In Görlitz, for example, they had to give information about their religion, their age and craft and explain how they wanted to earn their living. Even though the authorities offered overnight accommodation here and there, the experience of not being welcome dominates the reports. The video work contrasts the written testimonies of escape and expulsion with film images that show the home comforts of a peaceful everyday life. In this way, the inhumanity of having to flee and being expelled can be experienced very clearly and in a very human way.

Text: Dr. Silke Förschler

About Tomáš Kajánek

Tomáš Kajánek lives and works in Prague and studied at the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague as well as the Academy of Fine Arts. He is a visual artist who primarily employs the media of moving image and photography. He explores the tension between ethics and aesthetics while working with found footage from different archival sources (examining vast archives of internet discussions and user-generated content).

Tomáš Kajanek has presented his work at collective and solo exhibitions internationally, including the National Gallery, Prague, the Lofoten International Art Festival, and the Vienna Biennale.