Ztohoven is an award-winning Czech guerrilla artist collective known for its artistically motivated pranks. The group consists of a core of around 20 regularly active artists, rising to around 100 when additional participants are called upon for a particular task.
Ztohoven aims for a limited number of high quality works, as opposed to concentrating on a high volume of minor works. Thus, the group tends to disappear from public notice for long periods only to resurface, sometimes years later. The group aims to use familiar tools and methods to challenge public perceptions of society.
Members of the group are anonymous, and use pseudonyms when appearing or commenting in public. Many of the names used by the group's members are puns, some of which (e.g. Roman Tyc, Dan Gerous or Ana Ward) are chosen to work in English as well as Czech.
Among the most active members are:
- Roman Týc
- Zdeněk Dostál
- Aleš Kodim
- Míra Svoboda
- Eman Cipace
- Otto Horší
- Dan Gerous
- Tomáš Jasný (alias Philip Dvorský)
- Tomáš Mrnc
- Petr Žílka
- Anna Bolická
The Ztohoven name is itself a Czech-language pun, and can be read either as Z toho ven ("The way out"), or Sto Hoven ("The hundred shits"). The group translates the name into English as "Out of shit".
The question mark above the Prague Castle
First event of Ztohoven at all was when they covered the left half of a 20 meter tall pink neon heart by Czech artist Jiří David and installed on Václav Havel's demand on the rooftop of the Prague Castle, the seat of the President. Under the heart Ztohoven installed a red light with a diameter of one meter. From distance, a big question mark was seen instead of a heart.
The heart was a part of a famous sign of Václav Havel, who was ending his presidency at that time. The Czech nation was absorbed by a large doubt: Who will be the next and who could replace Havel?
In 2003, Ztohoven replaced all 750 posters in of the backlighted advertisement display cases ("Citylights") in Prague's subway system by white posters with a big black question mark and a web address of their web site. This overnight action hit all the people on their way to the work during the morning. Ztohoven's web page showed nothing but a few words that at 2pm there will be more information displayed. At 2pm the webpage turned into an invitation to an opening of an instant exhibition in the vestibul of the Dejvická subway station, where each of Ztohoven members, plus invited artists, turned existing citylights into original art pieces using all the advantages of this media – backlight, electricity, sound and space. Everything was cleaned up by subway workers during next 24 hours, but in the mean time, hundreds of people came to see and witness this event which has no precedent in Czech art history. In connection to the choice of typically advertising media and because of parody of promoting themselves in order to promote the principles of art, the group named this act „Subconscious raped“ (Znásilněný Podvědomí). It was their first action that led to prosecution of a group.
The Media Reality
Atomic explosion - mushroom cloud in a public TV broadcast In June 2007, Ztohoven climbed up one of the transmitters of Czech Public Television, hacking one of the cameras used for automatic live forecast broadcast from Krkonoše mountains. On June 17, 2007 - in the live morning TV show called "Panorama" – a fictive atomic explosion with its typical mushroom cloud spread over Krkonose mountains surprising tons of televiewers. This led to the January 2008 announcement that six Ztohoven members would be prosecuted for scaremongering and spreading false information; they faced prison sentences of up to three years. On March 25, 2008, a Czech judge dismissed the scaremongering charges against the artists, citing public amusement rather than public unrest, but the prosecutor said the state would consider an appeal.
This name of this 4th Ztohoven event is also a pun. In Czech language "Občan K." means "Citizen K." while the word "Občanka" is the colloquial expression for "Občanský průkaz“ - the Czech national identity card.
With the same haircut, twelve members of Ztohoven took photo portraits. Using morphing software they merged two faces into one in which it would be possible to recognize the significant facial features of both. They applied for new IDs, but each of them used the name of his colleague. Through twelve months they lived under that fictitious identity, participated in elections, traveled abroad, applied for and received a gun license, or even married. After this period, on an exposition launched 18 June 2010 they revealed their secret identities including documentation of entire process. Their IDs were confiscated and Roman Týc was arrested.
Non multi sed multa
In July 2011 Ztohoven added one cross to the remaining 27 crosses lying on Staroměstské náměstí (Old Town Square in Prague) in order to express a tribute to unjustly neglected Martin Fruwein from Podolí - one of the 28 Czech Lords claimed responsible and executed for the revolt for Czech ideals - who has apparently committed a suicide in time, so on the day of execution June 21, 1621 only his dead body was decapitated. According to Mrs Maria Klodinska, a historian of Academy of Sciences of Czech Republic, placing the 28th cross is historically justified, because those 27 Czech Lords were in fact 28. The 28th cross remained laying unnoticed for three days.
The Moral Reform
Moral reform of political scene, initiated by Czech controversial art group Ztohoven, caused confusion at the 40th meeting of the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic Parliament from its very beginning. In a sophisticated way Ztohoven managed to send 585 SMS messages directly to cell phones of deputies, government members, selected members of the President of Czech Republic office including the president himself and selected journalists. Ztohoven found a way of sending the messages on behalf of deputies themselves (spoofing) which caused surprise and confusion. This caused the message to appear on the cellphone display under the name of the sender. During the first minutes people were watching a live broadcast from Congress on Czech TV - targeted deputies staring at their mobiles, twisting heads, searching for the authors of messages in order to confirm the sender. In the end, selected journalists were targeted asked to reserve their time for a government declaration of The Moral Reform. This time, Ztohoven delayed their signing up. The magazine Týden was the first who informed that it may be the Ztohoven who are behind this at June 6 in the morning. Later that day, on their webpage Ztohoven confirmed their authorship and posted The Manifest of The Moral Reform as well as an interactive web application of The Moral Reform on Ztohoven.com where everyone can go through from who, to who and what was the messages including the content of all of the 585 sent messages. The text messages called for a moral reform in Czech politics across political parties, forget personal differences and work towards better future.
In November, 2012, the group published cell phone numbers of Czech deputies and President as a part of the exhibition Morální reforma (The Moral Reform) in the modern art center DOX, Prague - Holešovice.
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- Skupina Ztohoven vyděsila v ČT atomovým výbuchem. - iDNES.cz
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- Hacker Artists Cleared in Czech TV Stunt - New York Times - March 27, 2008
- A Czech War of the Worlds: Mushroom Butt Pranksters to Stand Trial - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News
- "Ztohoven zveřejnili mobily poslanců i prezidenta, objevily se na internetu". Mladá fronta DNES (in Czech). iDNES. 21 November 2012. Retrieved 22 November 2012.
- (French) French-speaking report about Ztohoven (starts at 19'), channel Arte, show "Tracks" (among others reports) — Also available in German.