CHATAŘSTVÍ / SUMMERHOUSES
VERONIKA ZAPLETALOVÁ

The "Summerhouses" photographic series is a reflection exploring distinct constructions which are an expression of a specific Czech phenomenon related to human happiness and relationship to land. Photography is the language that I speak. As regards this book, I have decided to complement it with texts written by theoreticians specializing in fields related to "holiday home making", as well as include my own texts. The intention is not to provide a comprehensive survey, but to probe the topic by means of photography and, concurrently, literature.

In the long run, I have been observing the countryside affected and transformed by man, the "wild" countryside as well as the "civilized", and how man handles it, how amateur architecture comes into existence within it, architecture without architects, and all of these both in details and urban patterns. With increasing persistence, I have been attracted by the specificity of something that is very natural for us here in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, something which does not exist anywhere else in the world in this scope, with such an intense, creative peculiarity of its do-it-yourself character, being so popular among the general public, i.e. holiday home making.

You would search through a dictionary in vain for the exact equivalent of the Czech word "chatařství" (translated here as "holiday home making") since in English speaking countries there is nothing similar to what we call a "chata" in Czech. We may use terms such as "summerhouse", "weekend house", "challet" or "countryside cottage", but none of those give an accurate picture of what the word "chata" means.

The "chata" (cottage) is usually a simple, small construction in the countryside or outside a city, that was built by its owners themselves, often using recycled or various bargain, or commonly available materials. After World War II and especially after 1968, cottages were places people escaped to, places where their creators' otherwise harnessed creativity could erupt limitlessly. This is the reason why these small constructions proudly claim to be characterized by the saying "my house - my castle".

With particular regard to foreigners, it is necessary to mention and distinguish another, yet less proliferated type of weekend home, i.e. the country house transformed into a holiday home. As opposed to cottages, they are often up to several hundred year old buildings that were originally constructed as country farmsteads designed to be permanently occupied. Their original owners no longer live in them for various reasons. The houses were later adapted for recreational purposes. Historically, making holiday homes of country farmsteads is a more recent development than making holiday homes at cottages. It came into practice as late as after World War II.
 

Contrary to country houses, cottages were designed and constructed with the direct intention of being used for free time activities, to ensure self-fulfillment, and especially their owners', (who were simultaneously their constructors) happiness. The tension between the self-confidence of a castle and their miniature form, that I don't sense in cases of purpose-built garden sheds, and the nearly unrestrained creativity of their constructors, in both a negative and positive sense, are the main topic of this project.

Since my childhood, I have taken walks around the Czech countryside, fascinated by the unbelievable number of cottages, their distinctive or, conversely, plain character, their locations, mutual relations, materials, shapes, colours, overall character and originality, radiating a portrayal of their owners and the time period into their surroundings.

During my journeys abroad, I started to realize that cottages are not to be found anywhere else in the world in this scope, and that foreigners often did not know what holiday home making or the "tramping" that was related to the holiday home making phenomenon at the beginning, meant. It was impossible to overlook the fact that cottages had been perceived as commonplace in our country, and also the contradiction between the general contempt for these constructions and the happiness of cottage owners, creating on their own land.

The reason why I decided to photograph cottages was my mistaken worry that holiday homes would start disappearing after 1990 due to the boom of the sterile constructions of the so-called "entrepreneurial baroque" which were originally produced in series and imported from Austria and Germany.

It seemed to me that the Czechs, who had been separated from the countryside by forty years of collectivization and the impossibility of owning and handling land, would first need to reestablish their relationship to it. To do this, it is necessary to take into consideration the current situation, to have a look around. Therefore, I chose to replace the sculpturing of details by sculpturing realized through the lens, capturing sculptures that had already been standing there, i.e. the cottages, in my photographs.

I am neither a sociologist, a theoretician of art, an ethnographer, nor an architect; I am an amalgam of a sculptor, painter, and photographer. I am interested in the landscape, its architecture, and their coexistence with man; the Czech landscape, the Central European landscape, the landscape that has been dug into, moulded, settled for years; the landscape that reflects culture, economy, policy.

For a long time, I didn't have any idea how to handle the project. I did not want to intervene into the constructions in an active way as I consider their expression to bear meaning in their own authenticity. Finally, I opted for pure, unmodified colour photography, the cine-film format, taking a large number of them. The final series contains 500 pictures selected from among several thousands of photographs taken, of which 475 are presented.

The project started systematically in 2001, when I received the first donation: Tourist maps of the Czech Republic, scaled 1:50,000, from the Czech Tourists Club. I spent a long weekend over nearly one hundred maps, reading the onomatopoeic names of villages and hills, marking every word "chata" with an orange dot. I then had several hundred orange dots, each of which represented a hutment. After one day of labouring in the open air, I was able to work on three marks at most. The dots, i.e. the hutments, on the maps were spread out along rivers and water reservoirs, dams and ponds, around larger cities and in the centre of the country, further away from the borders.

Between 2001 and 2004, I made efforts to map cottages in the Czech Republic. In my work, I focused mainly on the surroundings of Hradec Králové, influenced by the modern Czech First Republic architecture, and the south-west environs of Prague, with an apparent influence of the First Republic tramping movement, followed by post-war socialist housing developments. I leave their evaluation up to the spectator.

From 2002 was this project exhibited not only in Czech Republic, but throughout the world at almost twenty different exhibitions..

The photography project stops to exist without publishing, that is why the book Summerhouses was published in 2007. Contrary to the installation of the photography project, the book is divided into thematic chapters.

In 2009 I decided to make a visually conceived documentary film about this small great architecture and its man.

 

Translation: Jolana Novotná, Jennifer Helia DeFelice, Táňa Marková