Underground rail systems reflect differences between Prague and New York, says artist

12-12-2005

Every first Thursday of the month the Czech Center in New York hosts an informal party called DOH-BREE DEHN, a phonetic transcription of the Czech for 'hello'. This month New York artist, Eleanor Dubinsky, presented a video installation taking public transport as its inspiration. The images were projected on multiple screens of subway trains from New York City and Prague and accompanied by Ms. Dubinsky's live performance, using dance, cello and voice. The piece is entitled 'Transit', and she was first inspired to create the work while she was living in Prague, thanks to the School for International Training. Eleanor Dubinsky tells Radio Prague how the creation of 'Transit' began.

"This piece really started as a sound piece because of different announcements. I was really struck by how in New York, the announcements weren't automated. They were the individual drivers making announcements and they would make those announcements with accents from Indian, to Jamaican, to Irish and to Russian, everything. And they would make those announcements in English and they were messy and you couldn't understand what they were saying.

"In Prague, the announcements were automated. There was a man's voice;there was a woman's voice and always in Czech. So for me those announcements, and the way that the people spoke and what they said seemed to embody social and historical differences between the two places. New York is this sort of multi-cultural, dirty, kind of gritty, exciting place where you can't really understand everything, but in the subway you experience over and over again the melting pot through the voices of those drivers from all over the world. And in Prague I really felt the history of it being a mostly Czech country which had various movements of nationalism.

"I sort of had these fantasies though I'm not really sure if any of this is true. It was really important that they had a Czech voice after the revolution, not a Russian voice, but a Czech voice, not English. At the same time I remember somebody telling me what the subway was like before the revolution in the way that the doors closed so fast and so hard and the escalators went so.

"I would also say in terms of body language, I remember seeing a lot more old people using public transportation there than I see here. For people who have a hard time walking, the subway is built to be more accessible to them in Prague. So, the way older men and older women hold themselves whereas New York is sort of a young pushy place, in Prague, although it is young and sometimes pushy, has a legacy of older people who have been there for generations. It's just not in them to push. They didn't grow up in the culture of push, push, push. Yeah, there is sort of a sense of serenity that I don't feel here.

"Well I've already started to capture footage from other countries than the Czech Republic and the United States and then other cities than Prague and New York: Buenos Aires, Havana in Cuba. I'm becoming more and more interested in how people move from place to place and how that daily experience can be very different and yet very similar. I would love to go to Tokyo and I would love to go to Moscow. People tell me over and over again, 'You have to see the Moscow subway system, you have to see it.' So, the list is growing."

12-12-2005