Student Voices

Travel Report: Barbara Adler, Fine Arts, Czech Republic

February 16, 2015

Thanks to the Graduate International Travel Award, I was able to conduct fieldwork in the Czech Republic in June and July of 2014. This fieldwork focused on Czech tramping and Czechwoodcraft culture as examples of ‘parallel hybridity’, defined in my research as instances where hybrid cultural forms intersect with environmental practices that challenge myths of ‘pure’ or ‘authentic’ nature.

Over the last century, thousands of Czechs experienced nature through acts of creative cultural appropriation. Czech tramping and woodcraft are part of a historic counter-­‐culture movement that imported and translated a romantic dream of the Wild West to outdoor recreation in the Bohemian countryside. You can still see totem poles and 'pioneer' log cabins along the rivers and in the forests; some Czechs still sing songs about cowboys and hobos; there are still tramp sheriffs, Czech Pony Express riders and woodcrafters with the skill and materials needed to build an ‘authentic’ Czech-­‐Plains tipi. Although it has received little attention outside the Czech Republic, Czech woodcraft and tramping’s significant role in Czech environmentalism suggests the possibility of tracing a broader connection between environmentalist thinking and social and cultural practices which intentionally engage hybridity.

My fieldwork in the Czech Republic comprised four major activities: auto-­‐ethnographic fieldwork at historical ‘tramp sites’ in rural Czechia; visits to cultural events featuring Czech-­‐ Western hybrid musical performances; meetings with contemporary practitioners of tramp and woodcraft culture; collaboration with Czech artists. My work was organized around research visits to three major geographical areas that are significant to Czech tramping and woodcraft culture: Sázava River/Gold River, Svátojanské proudy and Mariánské Lazně. I was also able to view archival materials at museum exhibits and see private collections of woodcrafter materials. During my fieldwork, I followed Diana Taylor’s work on performance, embodiment and the creation of cultural memories by performing historical woodcraft and tramping activities including costumed hiking, ‘vandrs’ and singing. In performing these activities, I was able to make contact with filmmaker\musician Jan Foukal, a Czech artist-­‐researcher currently creating work based on Czech tramping culture. This meeting initiated a valuable collaborative relationship, which I will continue to develop in the research and creation process toward my graduating project. In short, the Graduate International Travel Award was an irreplaceable opportunity to collect research materials, gain firsthand insights and meet international collaborators for my Graduate research. I am genuinely grateful to my department, my supervisor Dr. Christopher Pavsek, and the awards committee for giving me this tremendous experience.

My work was documented through photographs, audio recordings and journals, some of which can be viewed at: http://www.tenthousandwolves.com/#/klassika/

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