Since its establishment in 2000, the Rafani group has been programmatically and consistently appearing as a collective, even though the names of its individual members are not entirely unknown (Marek Meduna and Luděk Rathouský, who were among the founding members, are still in the group and other, contemporary members include Jiří Franta, David Kořínek and Zuzana Blochová). At the time of the group’s foundation, its emphasis on collective identity, expressed outwardly by means of uniform clothing, strict organization, public announcements and manifestos accompanying individual projects, was something new in Czech art. Rafani’s models included, among others, the groups affiliated with in the organization Neue Slowenische Kunst (in particular the groups IRWIN and Laibach).
During its first period (2000–2002) Rafan is ought out distinctly antagonistic themes, the most distinctive of which was apparently that of nationalism. During their performance at the banned exhibition Czech Forest (2001), which was intended to commemorate the socially taboo theme of the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia, the group’s members shaved their heads and then burnt their hair along with two oak branches. Here we can seek the origins of their consistent adoption of the artistic strategy of ‘role-playing’ or ‘super-identification’, as the curator and critic Jiří Ševčík termed it in relation to Slavoj Žižek. The Rafani members, outwardly giving the impression of advocates of the extreme Right, the matized specific phenomena of Czech post-communist nationalism (e.g. hostility towards the Roma minority, xenophobia etc.).
These consistently applied tactics result in a loss of detachment from the chosen theme. Yet the blurring of the boundaries between art and life is not motivated here by a continuation of one of the Utopias of Modernism, but is rather a method of exposing the essentially political nature of art. In the spring of 2002, the Rafani members joined the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia. The almost one-year long action titled simply We had an unanticipated side-effect to the forthright criticism of the ‘posthumous progeny of communism’: it presaged a growing interest in the left-wing thinking that the vast majority of Czech society had rejected in the first post-communist decade.
The end of the We project marked Rafani’s abandonment of ‘big stories’ (the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans, coming to terms with the heritage of communism etc.) and their substitution with clearly localized issues. One of these consists of the functioning of the artistic community itself in a country where the art market is undeveloped and institutional support of (contemporary) art is limited. At the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003, Rafani operated the gallery CO14, which was one of the first significant impulses in the establishment of a community layer of art infrastructure. Rafani dedicated a series of projects to the problematic status of minorities in Czech society (the majority of these projects remained at the level of concepts), which at first sight appear to fallinto the ‘socio-chic’ line of the aesthetics of relations. In contrast to the consensual building of micro-Utopias in the manner of Rirkrit Tiravanija and other representatives of relational aesthetics, however, Rafani never abandons the territory of ambiguity and incendiary antagonism.
In 2006, Rafani programmatically abandoned the use of text. The group blacked out all textual information on its website and dropped the text commentaries that up to then had constituted an integral component of Rafani’s public image. It now began even more intensively focusing on the theme of collectivity itself, among other things in a series of task-based performances (jointly spending 24 hours without interruption in Tesco, standing watch daily in front of a selected tower block etc.) and musical noise performances. From 2008, Rafani began balancing this ‘non-communication’ with large-scale exhibition projects. The leitmotif of exhibitions in Prague’s Václav Špála Gallery (2008) and Gallery U Bílého jednorožce in Klatovy (2009) was the Rafani group itself (in the form of ongoing retrospectives, in which a sort of mythology of Rafani was developed). It is only in the most recent period that Rafani has begun returning to more explicitly articulated political themes, such as in the exhibition Breath (2012) in the Brno House of Arts, where a number of references to sport (and the ideological weight of its visual representation) are merged with the Foucaultian themes of biopolitics and surveillance.
Garden Installation, The Brno House of Arts, 2011, installation view, photo: Martin Polák.