The Prague art Gallery Rudolfinum is celebrating its 100th exhibition with a number of spectacular side-events; none more so than the burial of a Soviet-made MiG-21 fighter plane.
The premises of the research centre ELI Beamlines in Dolní Břežany near Prague were buzzing with activity on Sunday as workmen unloaded a dismantled MiG 21 fighter plane from several trucks and put it together again in preparation for its burial deep underground. As bulldozers brought up earth to make a hole big enough to swallow the plane, dozens of onlookers watched with a mixture of curiosity and disbelief.
The idea of taking a plane from the skies and burying it undergrownd is that of British contemporary artist Roger Hiorns, whose media is sculpture and installation, using a wide variety of materials, including metals, wood and plastics. In this case he needed a Soviet made Mig 21 fighter jet for an art concept that many people fail to understand. Rudolfinum Gallery curator David Korecký told Czech Radio that acquiring a plane for the purpose had been no easy task.
“I was tasked with such a thing for the first time ever and you would not believe how many dealers and military buffs there are who believe it is sacrilege to bury a fighter plane. It was very difficult to find people with enthusiasm for the idea.”
In addition to finding a plane and getting all the necessary rubber stamps for the art project it meant getting the plane decontaminated and conserved to avoid any pollution, and finally arranging workmen to assist in its burial which was estimated to last for three days. The choice of a Soviet-made Mig 21 was made to symbolize the end of an era, a symbolic act of saying good-bye to an era of development represented by the MiG planes. David Korecký says he sometimes had trouble explaining the meaning behind the artistic concept.
“The idea behind this work is that it is a sculpture but it also involves some choreography. We all know what a plane is and what a funeral entails. But the artist turns things upside down to make us think about them, think about the meaning of our actions; machines are confronted with the man’s last rites.”
Hiorns has long contemplated the idea of putting planes which belong up in the air, underground. He buried his first plane in a field outside Birmingham last year and he dreams of an entire fleet of grounded planes, buried across the world.
The second plane on the road to this dream was produced in 1971 and decommissioned in 1996. The MiG-21s have been used by the air forces of over 50 countries and some of them are still in use. Over 10,000 MiG-21s have been manufactured over the years, which has made it the most widely and longest-produced supersonic aircraft - a legend among fighter aircraft of the Eastern bloc in the years of the Cold War.