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Finding Freedom in Prague

Finding Freedom in Prague
By France Griggs Sloat

Timothy Riordan traveled to a foreign country in search of the familiar. Stripped of his comfortable things—language, friends, home, technology—the associate professor of education journeyed to Prague last summer to find connections in a place where he was a stranger. What he found was freedom.

“My poetry was written to reflect on Prague and the challenge of dealing with the language, the environs, the cultural differences and the adjustments to the culture, and to come to terms with everyday life and its differences,” says Riordan. “The value of the experience was the freedom of living in a different culture without phones, TV or cars. It was a real freedom to see a different world.”

Diana Duncan Holmes, Riordan’s wife and longtime arts companion, was with him in Prague. Awarded an artist-in-residence scholarship by the Ohio Arts Council and the Prague Center for Contemporary Arts, the pair was flown to and from the Czech Republic and given an apartment and a work studio in the castle section of the ancient city. For two months, they lived rent-free in an apartment with a second-floor terrace where they took their meals within view of a park, a castle and a garden where apricots, pears, apples and plum trees grew amidst lavender and other flowering plants. They spent half of each day working in the studio and the other half cruising through Prague on trams, the metro or by subway.

The art they produced together and displayed in the Jeleni Gallery there reflected their daily encounters. Holmes created a newspaper collage every day using the front page of the local newspaper and adding words, pictures and portraits that reflected her and Riordan’s outlook—60 pages for 60 days.

She also took photos of people they met, enlarged them and worked mixed media onto and around the images. In one, a woman looks like she’s wearing a bonnet, but up close, it’s pieces of a city map surrounding her head. In another, a portrait of a man is pasted with Czech stamps, even in his eyes. Other works include a window from a church built in the 1400s that’s filled with the bones of people killed by the plague. There are images of beetles carved over a doorway, dried fish hung on the walls of a monastery, and a wooden door in a wall of the Waldenstein Garden thick with stone carvings.

“Prague is a place of the mind, so we tried to capture our experiences through images and words,” says Riordan, who recited several of his poems in a radio broadcast on the anniversary of the Russian invasion of 1968. Back home, he completed the third part of his poetry chapbook, A Prague Trilogy. Revealing the sadness he felt leaving his newly adopted city, he titled the last section, “Prague Blues: A Postscript.”

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