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A Burst Dam

When there is too much of one thing and too little of another, we try to fix it, to fine-tune it, to balance it. When there are too many stones, when there are too many weeds, when there is too much dryness or too much water. It’s strange, but in trying to control everything for the sake of our own safety and perhaps some kind of balance or justice, we are persistent equalizers. For the exhibition at Berlinskej Model, I was inspired by the story of the flowers that grew out of the front gardens of demolished houses at the bottom of the Souš Reservoir in the Jizera Mountains when it was drained in 1972 after having been full for fifty years.* Botanists were shocked that plant seeds and roots had managed to hibernate for decades, under water, without light, with minimal oxygen, in relative cold and then, when given a little warmth and air for a moment, sprung back to life. It was a situation that had never been seen before. We know of desert plants that can survive for several years without water, and then as soon as water comes, they begin new growth cycles. But no one expected plants could hibernate under the opposite conditions, especially simple, ornamental flowers.

What we’ve never seen, we don’t expect. It is not included in the repository of human experience. We don’t have theories to explain it because we construct theories based on observed experiences or inferred probabilities. Dry land is an environment in opposition to a large amount of water. Neither dry land nor a large amount of water is an anomaly—nothing that would raise eyebrows. Evolutionary biology operates with mathematical equations, and when there is too much or too little of something somewhere, scientists are uneasy. And then something happens that no one expects.

Twenty-one is the sum of the values on a die, which is a symbol of chance. You can never roll a zero, and a die under the table is a sign of disqualification, rejection. We’ve got almost everything figured out, yet something completely different can still happen. When there is too much of one thing and too little of another…


*In 1916, ten months after its completion, the gravity dam of a reservoir on the Bílá Desná River burst. The valley was destroyed, and 62 people lost their lives. The dam was never rebuilt. The Souš Reservoir is its twin, built a few kilometers away at the same time and using the same technology. At the turn of the 1960s and 1970s, the reservoir was drained in order to inspect the condition of the dam.