Ein lebendiger Gartenzwerg in Bad Ems: HD video 5min. 33 sec. / 2010 / Actor: Josef Zeman / Voice-over: Tammo Sachs

Bad Ems is a small town in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. It is the county seat of the Rhein-Lahn rural district and is well-known as a bathing resort on the river Lahn.

In october 2010 the artists Ondrej Brody and Kristofer Paetau – winner of the ‘Kunstpreis Balmoral’ art award – realized a public artwork in Bad Ems with the thematic stipulated by the Art Award: Provokation aus der Provinz (Provocation from the province). Their award winning project is called: Ein lebendiger Gartenzwerg in Bad Ems.

A man of short stature, dressed up as a garden gnome, will accompany the two artists in the public space and in the gardens of inhabitants of Bad Ems. The little man – Josef Zeman from Czech Republic – works as an actor and model in Prague where the artists contracted him from a casting studio for film and television.

According to Wikipedia: today there are estimated to be about 25 million garden gnomes in Germany. A recent problem was the production of cheap garden gnomes by plagiarism, which came less from the Asian region rather than from Eastern Europe. Accordingly, the “Live Garden Gnome in Bad Ems” also comes from Eastern Europe since it was cheaper than a German one.

Garden gnomes are often regarded with an ironic and critical undertone, as a sign of bad taste and a good example of kitsch. But what could be the motivation of the artists Brody & Paetau to do a work with a live Gartenzwerg in Bad Ems? They say that they are interested in a different kind of public art and to get in direct contact with the population by working with an actor as a ‘living sculpture’. Nowdays anything can be art it seems, but the times when a sculpture was still carved out of stone fill our hearts with nostalgia…

Many works of art in public spaces meet with opposition. The ‘public’ in the public space is usually not prepared for contemporary art, or perhaps not interested in dealing with art at all. Of course children are an easy target because they are curious and have no preconceived ideas about art. But should we tolerate that these so-called artists are abusing a handicapped person and making fun out of him, putting him in the role of a Gartenzwerg!?


35 Responses to “ Ein lebendiger Gartenzwerg (2010) ”

  1. Poor little man!

  2. There is a problem when artists use other people to make their work, especially when they abuse children, handicapped people etc.

  3. This is not the first film or art work using dwarfs as actors: if moviemakers can do it then why not artists? I think the work is funny and hitting the german “Kleinbürger” right on the nose :-)

  4. super!

  5. Hi, I really liked this work! There are so may layers in it. Reminds me of earlier works from my favourite artist Marie Louise Ekman ( SWEDEN) , who included LP or persons of short stature in many of her films, often playing the main character, as for example the head of the family in Stilleben (1985) or the headmaster in the TV production The Artschool . She got a lot of critique for this also, one music video especially was even removed from broadcasting because of this.
    But why? The actors she worked with were just that- actors, grown up people who could decide for themselves if they wanted to participate or not. See her films if you get a chance :) Best, Madeleine

  6. It seems to me an exageration of political correctedness to criticize this work for having a “person of small stature” as an actor.
    To this be an abuse, he had to be exploited for his labour, in a position that he couldn’t refuse the work, etc. If he’s being fairly paid for the job, its just a job. Isn’t it more humiliating to dress up as mickey mouse? or as ronald macdonald? whats the point? he’s short so he can’t work in the public space?
    It just exposes the underlying prejudice, and that’s good.

  7. trapný

  8. finally a mature artwork from b&p! congratulations

  9. With regard to the earlier comment; “There is a problem when artists use other people to make their work, especially when they abuse children, handicapped people etc… ” Are you suggesting little people are handicapped? Why?

  10. Art has no measures. Ubi maior minor cessat.

  11. How about if I give you two “artists” and the gnome $20 each and send you off to the nearest bar? You can get drunk and I won’t have to be bothered by this sort of crap coming into my email inbox.

  12. I don’t think that this a provocation from the province(s); it is reactionary in so far as it is a provocation of the provinces as viewed from… the artworld? only if the artworld is made complicit with an elitist non-provincial, therefore central point of … of civilization? I think the irony falls flat. Maybe if the actor was the artist and the artists dressed as gnomes and visited the city? the centre of civic life.

    I believe this work to be another opportunity missed. As witnessed by the criticism thus far as to whether this ‘provocation’ raises the ‘problem’ of whether we – whoever we are, in the provinces of political correctness – ought to ‘tolerate’ a Czech dwarf paid to dress up as a German gnome… When it’s put like that it’s obvious: to raise this as a problem is exactly what ‘dresses up’ the work by Ondrej Brody and Kristofer Paetau. The art-kitsch boundary is an over-worked one. The danger is hardly a real one that the artwork in tarrying with the negative should find itself becoming kitsch. The issue here unexplored – i.e. not submitted to critique – is one of distance: art to kitsch; province to city.

    Does the work provide new meanings? Is the making fun fun?

    Employ me and I will show you how it should be done.


  13. This is a performance art, which is raised up from anti-art movement, an avant-garde spirit! It’s about a ‘performa’ of an idea which talks about the daily life, minds, feeling, human interest, social life, culture, civilization and human being. Don’t read a book from the cover. Every meaning is beyond the text. The ‘pure’ art is immaterial, not on the thing we could see, but the message. That’s the ‘real’ aesthetic. Deeper meaning and wise message inside that we couldn’t see.

  14. Nice work!

  15. Mythological humor when spirits in nature – HD

  16. …Voler Apparire a “Tutti i Costi” innovatore dell’Arte è prendersi gioco di se stesso e dell’Osservatore che, ignaro e stupito di ciò che vede, resta disorientato e si Smarrisce come: NEL CAMMIN DI LUNGA VITA….. (DANTE ALIGHIERI) il Sommo dei Sommi….
    Cordiali saluti.
    Presidente/Fondatore del Movimento Internazionale dei “Cento e più Artisti Uniti per il Mondo”

  17. It’s a critic to perfect body man. Is a good “pop-art” work.
    By Antonio Tateo, italian artist (see: “Nascor:fra natura e arte”, Lidia Carrieri Gallery.)

  18. … a politically correct and boring artwork, are you getting tired, guys? 😉

    greetings from rena!!!

  19. Non mi piace per nulla.

  20. Funny and joyfull. but I don’t believe whatever you call art is art. It would be too simple ! Ask yourselvelf if your work is perceived as art by observing people.

    Grazia Martorano – Gallerist in Turin

  21. Concordo con il Presidente/Fondatore del Movimento Internazionale dei “Cento e più Artisti Uniti per il Mondo”
    …Voler Apparire a “Tutti i Costi” innovatore dell’Arte è prendersi gioco di se stesso e dell’Osservatore che, ignaro e stupito di ciò che vede, resta disorientato e si Smarrisce come: NEL CAMMIN DI LUNGA VITA….. (DANTE ALIGHIERI) il Sommo dei Sommi….

    ma aggiungo che lo gnomo è simpatico ed il messaggio che volevate trasmettere è arrivato a tutti!. Complimenti
    Cordiali saluti.
    Gloria De Marco

  22. Bad Ems has its very own living garden gnome. Maybe the city should consider hiring him permanently or offer him an extended contract. Keep in mind that real gnomes do exist. We don’t see them because they are secretive and keep to themselves. They are much smaller.

    Pierre Gauvin, Montréal.

  23. \However is a fresh work that deals with the concept of ‘not taking things too much seriously’. Talking about the title, what I’ve noticed about the Province and its provocation, is the low- quality of he video. That is funny! The voice seems to be like an old documentary about villages and also the true/fake television report is so funny, with those children speaking like adults…

    I see that in many of the critic comments previously posted people speaking about what art can be, values, intelligence…this is a totally deliberately stupid work…it’s free to be stupid in its subtle way, not having to deal with the stupidity of Hollywood

    Lorenzo Mazza

  24. beautiful light. as a nurse student i wonder if dwarves can be considered as having a handicap. i ‘d rather think they’re not.

  25. To hire an actor to act as a living artwork is a nice alternative to public sculptures, mural paintings etc. Good job!

  26. kunstpreis are a problem indeed

  27. Sympathetic nad humorous!

  28. In bad taste— and they (?) characterize the regular garden gnomes as being in “bad taste and an example of kitsch”!!!

  29. Fuck, and Hell Yeah!

    Douglas Gimberg

  30. omg great stuff!

  31. these are fantastic art works
    smart witty shocking – it works
    we all fed up with “talking about” with
    being around having theory lactures bla bla
    i feel deep in my body what ever you mean
    i touched the pains with your art
    good for you – i guess that this is the
    REAL MEANING of art nwadays
    thanx for sharing your process

  32. Other than being a little silly, this art work and performance are flat. Once you get the punchline, that’s it. Not the stuff of good, let alone great, art.

  33. the scene in the film of the gnome naked at toilt seemed a bit off – alienating. Otherwise I could see the clip being used for language students learning German (sans voiceover in English) I think a few photos of gnome in various locales would have sufficed…

  34. Wishing to call this art is in vain…it’s snot[sic]

  35. Here in Iceland all kind of fairies are actual but not visible for every one. As a small child I had my own “best friend” who was a fairy. Your idea is funny and beautiful but not professional enough. Often to long shots and dark shades in the pictures.