Creating a ‘moveable’ masterpiece

The Prague Post

Community art project brings students together

“It is sort of an art bike path of friendship.”

That’s how Taťána Altová, an art education and French teacher at Děčín High School in north Bohemia, describes a recent community art project done by her students and kids from across the border in Pirna, Germany.

Based on optical art, the scene along the bike path is designed to “move” along with the biker, skater or walker — giving the impression that the picture is traveling along with you, Altová explains.

The piece was inspired by Swiss artist, painter and animator Menel Rachdi, whose experience with “asphalt cinema” dates back to 1988.

“I discovered the principal when I was painting my first asphalt movie at an open-air art exhibition at the Töss-Valley in Switzerland,” Rachdi says. “After painting the first movies alone, I started to do it as animation projects with students.”

The Děčín-Pirna project was about two years in the making. Rachdi, who acted as an adviser to the young artists, has friends at the Intercultural Center in Pirna. They’d been talking about doing such a project for a number of years.

“We wanted to do an asphalt cinema across the border,” he says, “as some kind of bridge between the two countries, painted by the younger generation.”

The planning process began in 2005, with the group trying to get the proper permissions and gather funding, partners and material. The flooding of the Elbe (Labe) River in 2006 delayed the project until this past March, when the creative preparation with the students actually began. Four schools participated: Dr. M. Tyrš Elementary School and Děčín High School in the Czech Republic, and two high schools in Germany, J.W. Goethe and Königstein. The painting itself was done over about two weeks in June.

Rachdi presented the concept to the students, who were then able to develop their own patterns. He has created a special “simulator” that allows the students to see how their patterns would “move” along the path. This allowed them to test their designs, see which ones worked best and have the whole project on paper, prior to the actual painting. But it was the fruits of their labor that really inspired them.

“Running and [riding] by bike on the first meters of their asphalt movie showed them the optical illusion really works,” Rachdi says. “For their further work, they developed a lot of energy.”

And that energy was fueled by the interest showed by passers-by on the path while the students were still working.

“Even when we were painting, we could hear some evaluations of Czech and German cyclists and roller skaters that it was an interesting idea,” Altová recalls. “They were interested in who came up with the idea, where the students were from and how long the paint would last.”

The path is in a beautiful wooded part of both countries, alongside the Elbe River. The natural surrounding helped inspire the design.

“The pattern evokes how the Elbe River flows and is meandering, which the bike path runs together with,” Altová says.

To see this movie, visitors have to put in a little more effort than is required at the local multiplex.

“Generally, anyone who uses the bike path and moves along the repeating patterns on skates or walking fast can come to believe the surface is moving, pulsing, too,” Altová says. “The curves and geometric shapes diverge and converge, and the faster the speed of the observer, the more impressive it is.”

“People will discover a very long painted strip of slowly transforming patterns,” Rachdi adds. “It’s a ‘move yourself’ movie.”

Many organizations were involved in seeing this project through. Money for materials, food, transport and infrastructure was supplied by the European Union. The Czech Republic and the Saxon region of Germany also donated funds. The cities of Děčín and Pirna helped with permissions and infrastructure, as did the two cities on either side of the border closest to the path, Dolní Žleb and Reinhardtsdorf-Schöna. An unveiling party was held at the end of June to celebrate the project’s completion. Participants laid a foundation stone of original Elbe sandstone as a symbol of friendship, and all the artists have their names listed as a permanent part of the project.

Altová is pleased with the experiences the project gave to the students.

“Each contact like this enables students to confront cultural attitudes and patterns of foreign countries,” she says. “They are able to influence others’ awareness of the Czech Republic, break stereotypes and understand the way people think and their cultural attitudes.”

The fact that it was art that brought the schools together is another important aspect.

“It shows that, in art, there is no need for complicated, grammatical structures to understand each other,” Altová says. “The communication between people who decide to create a joint work of art is indescribable. Our students were really excited about creating something interesting and beautiful for others.”