All Over The Place: Art in the Ironworks
Issue 4: Dolní Vítkovice
I currently work in Silesia, a historical region of Europe that is somewhat similar to the Upper Midwest. Both regions saw early industrial development in the 19th century, which continued to grow until a decline in the late 20th century. My hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin was home to a sprawling 107 acre Chrysler plant until it closed in 2010. It was large, but it’s dwarfed by the colossal 370 acre industrial complex of Dolní Vítkovice, located in Ostrava in the Czech Republic.
Dolní Vítkovice is what gave the city of Ostrava the nickname of the "Iron Heart of Czechoslovakia.” Industrial activity began in 1835 when the area was under Hapsburg rule, and it would continue to produce about 100 million tons of iron over the next sixteen decades until it closed in 1998.
Rather than down the colossal ironworks, the exteriors have been left to rust. Interpretive signs in Czech, Polish and English tell the history of the site and what the enormous buildings were formerly used for.
The interiors have been repurposed into a variety of cultural spaces, including a gallery featuring both unexciting modernist art (look, it’s a square) and dizzying pieces of art, some of which were kinetic. Looking at them gave me a mild headache, but it was well worth it.
Because Poland and the Czech Republic are both members of the Schengen Area, there’s no border checkpoint when traveling between the nations. Looking out the window of the train, I knew I was between the last station in Poland and the first station in the Czech Republic, but I didn’t know for sure that I had entered another country until I saw road signs in Czech.
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