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Last Updated: Monday, 1 May 2006, 15:17 GMT 16:17 UK
Czechs rediscover village charms
By Diana Kosslerova
BBC Monitoring

The photographs capture scenes from the small village of Ponetovice

EU enlargement may have brought eyecatching changes to much of eastern Europe, but a Czech artist has set out to show that ordinary village life is just as meaningful.

Not long before the EU took in 10 new members in May 2004 Katerina Seda launched a project highlighting life in a Czech village, inspired by a phrase often used in her homeland: "There's nothing there".

Ms Seda's work has been on display at Modern Art Oxford, as part of a series called "Arrivals>New Art from the EU".

"While people in Czech villages feel that everything important goes on in towns, people in Czech towns feel that everything that matters is taking place beyond our borders," Ms Seda told the BBC.

"But now that they are able to travel abroad and see other ways of life for themselves, they can see what a big mistake it is to think that there's nothing happening in the Czech Republic."

Game plan

The Arrivals series, staged in recent years in Oxford and Margate, introduces young artists from the new EU member states to a British audience.

The Czech Republic is the latest country to be represented, after Poland, Slovenia, Lithuania and Latvia.

Ms Seda - a graduate of Prague's Academy of Fine Arts and winner of the Chalupecky Award for young Czech artists - created her work in the small Czech village of Ponetovice.

The 300-odd residents of Ponetovice were typical of Czech villagers: convinced that nothing of significance ever happened there.

Ms Seda worked hard to persuade the villagers that their everyday activities would acquire a heightened significance if carried out as part of a "social game" - if they were performed en masse and synchronised.

Synchronised shopping

She suggested they devote one Saturday to their normal weekend pursuits - but this time with a difference.

My project aimed to show that people can amuse themselves simply by doing things together
Katerina Seda

So one Saturday morning, when the Ponetovice mayor broadcast a message calling on residents to go shopping, the entire village responded.

"Seeing people suddenly emerging from all directions with their shopping bags felt like a real victory," Ms Seda said.

The people of Ponetovice synchronised all their activities for the rest of the day, according to a strict timetable posted on the village noticeboard.

They simultaneously opened their windows, went out for a drink together and switched off all the lights in the village promptly at 10 o'clock in the evening.

Mass entertainment

Ms Seda explained that "There's nothing there" is deeply rooted in the Czech experience. She told the BBC that after the overthrow of the Communist regime in 1989, many people found it difficult to adjust to their new-found freedom.

"All of a sudden there was no need to fight the common enemy, no pressure to attend long meetings - I suddenly felt that people almost stopped meeting each other, as there were no reasons to do so."

But she is convinced that her project also has a universal relevance.

"In any small village anywhere, people sometimes feel that nothing's happening there, that everything goes on in big cities and that they are being deprived ... My project aimed to show that even without any form of entertainment, people can amuse themselves simply by doing things together."

Pictures reproduced with permission of Katerina Seda and Modern Art Oxford.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

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