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© Pavel Maria Smejkal

I envisage life on this planet as a tendency to develop more and more complicated forms of organisation of the matter. The form of the matter’s organisation is in a certain sense something as a thought, an idea. The human world is in this context likewise a space for the formation of ideas, while the basic tendency is an effort to ensure the rise of the highest possible number of the most diverse ideas. Our role is to give birth to any possible thought. Thus came that in man originate ideas defying the basic tendency in nature – to create the richest possible, most diverse structure of living forms.

Some people came up with the idea of a programmed extermination of certain groups based on racial, religious or other principles of selection. Man, a creation of natural evolution, turned against the basic law of nature. This topic cannot be uninteresting to me, as a human being. It is one of the basic questions surrounding the human existence: isn’t man really just a blunder, a defect in evolution? Suppose at least our reality doesn’t seem too far away for us let’s ask if we do or do not consider ourselves as an error of nature? And if not, why is it that we tend to view mankind as such?

I have been thinking over the relationship between dictature and the world of the free individual - which in our region was manifested most visibly during World War II - for quite a few years now. The situation during this worldwide conflict in a broader context wasn’t that unique – there were many attempts in history of annihilating some group of people, thus this cannot be viewed as some kind of an exceptional anomaly. On the contrary, it is a phenomenon that keeps reappearing and that is to be counted with in future. The events of World War II may quite well be the most extensive attempt to exterminate any human group, but I chose it, because it is the closest to me, it is most known and the hugest amount of documentary visual material had been preserved from it. And also because enough years passed since for the events to become “history” for most people, it is still vivid history. Even my life was strongly influenced by these events. I collect picture material and by watching and perceiving the old documents I try to understand what went on here, why did things happen the way they did. Just like in some of my older works I edit these historical documents, creating hypothetical situations which help me formulate questions and look for the answers to them.
And how come people from sixty years ago now seem somehow familiar to us?

Every man has a potential. Most of us have a tremendous potential. People on the original pictures had it, too. After some digital editing the looks on the photographs evoke faces of currently world-famous “stars”, mostly actors, singers and musicians, athletes, scientist of both sexes. They are considered today’s symbols of success, the symbol of making use of one’s potential (at least one of its layers). At the same time I am asking: could it be that under certain circumstances these people would get into the same situation? Could it be that I myself would get into it? What can I and what can we do, in order not to get into a situation like that? Is a higher living standard and education any guarantee? What could work as an assurance against the recurrence of these situations? Or are there no such assurances at hand? Is it possible, that these situations must repeat themselves? To what extent does our individual human identity separate us from the grandiose historical cases that seem to go on somewhere high above us, to what extent are we, contemporaries, part of events long turned history?
Was it really that long ago? Isn’t it really still part of our present time? When will history stop being part of the present day, is that ever going to happen? 

I know I changed historical documents, photographs, that we preserve because our common historical experience, our memory is strongly rooted within them. Wouldn’t it be better not to interfere with these old photographs, to keep them as some kind of canned memory without any editing for all times? Certainly yes and I am very happy, that there are many institutions devoted solely to this goal. On the other hand I am convinced that with my alterations I merely stressed this historical experience and brought it closer to contemporary people, for whom this old reality starts to turn into something too far away, too unreal.

Pavel Maria Smejkal, 2006