In an act that has angered many, Czech artist Roman Tyc has been jailed for refusing to pay fines in relation to his controversial public art work Semaphores. In 2007, Tyc used stencils to replace the green and red signals on 50 streetlights at major intersections in several cities with sardonic images, such as a man urinating, a figure hanging from a rope, a crucifixion victim, and even a man defecating. Tyc was charged with vandalism and was recently ordered to pay 80,000 korunas in damages ($4,260 USD) and 60,000 korunas in fines ($3,200 USD). Tyc agreed to pay the damages but was jailed for his refusal to pay the fines.

Tyc’s actions and the subsequent response of the Czech judiciary sparked heated debate. Some consider Tyc’s work mere seditious destruction of public property. Indeed, Tyc has described his work–and even his imprisonment–as revealing the state as “a dumb, repressive machine.” Tyc also belongs to Ztohoven, a subversive artist collective that seeks to short-circuit official communication networks in order to dismantle their power. The most infamous example of their work was when they hacked into the Czech public television station CT2 and broadcasted fabricated images of nuclear explosions.
Others herald Tyc’s work as courageously fostering important public discussion. Indeed outraged fans and supporters have picked up where Tyc left off; people in many Czech cities have been placing black stickers over traffic lights in homage to the artist’s work. Additionally, more than 6,000 supporters have signed a petition demanding his pardon and release. In another show of support for Tyc, supporters have also brought cakes they had baked to Prague’s Pankrak prison when he was taken there in late February.
Many also feel that the government’s actions here are hypocritical. As local businessman, Petr Vidensky, explained “it’s really disturbing that the Czech president decides to pardon real criminals and that an artist has to spend time in prison.”

Watch a video of Roman Tyc installing “Semaphores”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dr9ji_k1AH4