An Uncertain Season: Finding Stability by Looking Inward Tereza Butková

The events of the last year, and the associated change in the pace of life, have made a large part of society look at things from a distance, in a new light. The curators of the GHMP have therefore decided to look into the gallery’s collections of contemporary Czech sculpture and rediscover works in which the themes of uncertainty or anxiety take on new meanings. The resulting selection shows how differently feelings of instability or threat can take on different forms and how – as the following artists’ statements illustrate – they can even be enriching.

Stanislav Kolíbal, Shaky Position, 1968, metal, 119×115×10 cm
Stanislav Kolíbal, Shaky Position, 1968, metal, 119×115×10 cm
Karel Malich, Flowing Energy in Audible Space, 1984, pastel on paper, 100.2×73.5 cm
Karel Malich, Flowing Energy in Audible Space, 1984, pastel on paper, 100.2×73.5 cm
Karel Nepraš, The Ambush of a Rabbit Hutch, 1968–70, combined technique, 180×248×70 cm
Karel Nepraš, The Ambush of a Rabbit Hutch, 1968–70, combined technique, 180×248×70 cm
Matěj Smetana, Instructions 4: Sunset, 2009, video, length 7: 30 min
Matěj Smetana, Instructions 4: Sunset, 2009, video, length 7: 30 min
Karel Malich, At the Table, 1985, pastel on paper, 100.3×73.5 cm
Karel Malich, At the Table, 1985, pastel on paper, 100.3×73.5 cm

Tereza Butková is a journalist. She has contributed to the cultural and critical supplement Salon of the Právo daily since 2018. She is one of the creators of the Vysílač podcast thatis part of the Žižkov Night festival in Prague. She also works for the server of the Czech public-service radio,

Although life is gradually getting back to normal as summer approaches, plans for the future remain unclear, especially for culture. An Uncertain Season is thus not only a reflection of feelings shared across society, but also an illustration of the state of the Czech art scene. In a time that does not provide a solid base for the creation of new work, the way to find certainty seems to be to reflect on what has been done so far. Fortunately, gallery collections provide such inspiration. The exhibition at the Troja Château offers works by Karel Malich, Stanislav Kolíbal and Hana Wichterlová, and does not overlook artists of the younger generation, such as Matěj Smetana or Pavla Sceranková. The interpretation of the theme is as diverse as the representation of Czech artists is wide – while for some, a robust industrial building may simultaneously symbolise both threat and stability, others seek peace and grounding in natural phenomena and laws. Four of the artists talk in more detail about what the works on display mean to them and, ultimately, what role uncertainty plays in their work: Jitka Svobodová, Jaroslav Róna, Pavla Sceranková and Petr Lysáček.

The Elusiveness of Phenomena
Jitka Svobodová

Natural phenomena fascinate me. Fire is stunning, but artistically very complicated. I couldn’t find a form for it in drawing; it always remained conventional. An object made of wire, on the other hand, gave me an amazing opportunity: you walk around it and the broken wires draw, mutually interconnect, and give the fire its own dynamics. But I’m not looking for any symbol in it. I’m working with tangible matter and trying to bring it to a different level than the real, to the edge of visual and rethought abstraction. At the moment, I’m working with pastels and I’m totally immersed in the shades of colour. Wire, on the other hand, is a drawing. You can look for a shape and dynamics with it; it won’t allow you anything else. These techniques are absolutely different, but working with one of them gives me a break from the other one. What captivates me about natural phenomena is their ephemerality, their elusiveness. I used to be very fond of smoke. I devoted myself to it for a long time, but I didn’t really get anywhere with drawing it. If I were to make smoke or sunlight even more abstract, they would be unrecognisable. I’m constantly focused on a phenomenon being a phenomenon, but in a new light.
I feel challenged to depict basic natural elements such as fire and water. Even though I know it’s very difficult. But each thing opens up a bit of the future, of course. There’s a lesson in it, an experience. You don’t have to consciously apply it, and yet the work slowly goes somewhere. When I started studying restoration, I didn’t have time for anything else and thought I was done with making art. But everything came back. In the evenings, I had the desire to create, and started with small records of everyday things. This is how, eventually, my drawings came about. They emerged automatically. An artist needs to have an energy inside that forces them to work. But they should also be insecure. Making art means change; you can’t just produce art mechanically. But a certain uncertainty makes you think about things all the time.

Deterrent Fortification
Jaroslav Róna

The Church is a sculpture that looks somewhat absurd, like a fantasy building, but its shape is based on history. Many monasteries and churches functioned simultaneously as fortresses or fortified residences, protecting the inhabitants and monks against invaders, especially in the period after the fall of the Roman Empire. The combination of spiritual ministry and military deterrence appeals to me. There is a water tank on the roof and the perimeter of the church is flanked by narrow horizontal embrasures. The basic shape of the building I completed is based on a found object that came to me in a complicated way and originally served as an element in the production of light aircraft.
Cities, especially their industrial districts, have always been a source of danger and a target for enemy attacks. I grew up relatively close to the end of the World War II, and later, during the Cold War, I strongly felt the threat of bombs and missiles. Perhaps that’s why I use fortresses, bomb depots, missiles and
the like as subjects for my sculptures. My artistic intuition led me to return to these war motifs. I also visit fortresses and fortress towns frequently when travelling – for example Masada and Akkon in Israel, Valletta in Malta, Rhodes in Greece and Syracuse in Sicily.
On the one hand, artistic work is a way of personal realisation that brings joy, on the other, it represents a response to the everchanging reality in which the artist lives. The impulse to create art can thus be both the joy of life and a sense of threat and instability. But uncertainty can never be contained. Of course, I do not live paralysed by fear of World War III, but I do not underestimate the current threats, for example, from Russia. I see a symbol of stability in a militarily strong grouping of democratic states that can deter potential aggressors. However, I think that the period in which I spent most of my life was
much more uncertain than the present time.

Jitka Svobodová, Fire II, 1989

Colliding without Touching
Pavla Sceranková

Up! originated as a reflection on my experience of the final round of the Jindřich Chalupecký Award. The competition can be seen as an opportunity to climb up. But in itself, it doesn’t take you anywhere, it just lets you carry on. When I completed Up!, I was relieved. I think that’s how we need to relate to a competition – not as something that changes our lives, but as a journey that affects us.
I use the body as a source of energy in my work. I want things to be in motion, to be alive. The thing – work of art takes place in the video space. Sometimes, I’m the source of energy because it can’t be done in any other way. Other times, it’s the viewer, a person passing by. Their touch brings the thing to life. The person and the thing encounter each other. And art is always built on encounters – you either encounter the work or it passes you by. It’s a normal process. In my dissertation, I explored the ways in which images are constructed in our minds, and my aim was to refute again the entrenched understanding of visual perception as a photographic snapshot.
In my thesis, I tried to study and experience step by step the processes in our head, to become aware of the spatio-temporal reality of perception. And finally, to clarify for myself the role of a sculpture as a spatio-temporal event.
In my opinion, physics and the universe, which I often work with, are not at all as exact as we imagine. On the contrary, they have a magic that we encounter in everyday life. For example, the number of neural connections is comparable only to numbers in the universe, such as the number of stars in our galaxy. Gradually, I realised that the words that describe cosmic phenomena perfectly describe our earthly situations. When two galaxies collide, no physical bodies ever meet, only the constellation changes. And, for example, a family Sunday lunch is also a no-touch collision. Once I materialise the immense, disconcerting things in this way and place them in front of me, they cease to paralyse me. All of my works are actually the result of a personal dramatic event, the energy of which I reflect in my artistic work, and by doing so, I gain distance and some control.

Pavle Sceranková, UP! #, 2007

Letting the Thoughts Flow
Petr Lysáček

A Crossroads captures a certain moment of uncertainty, of having to make a decision. A pragmatic person will think that the situation of the diverging rails cannot be resolved, while the person sitting in the seat has no problem with it. But it’s not just artists who are able to step outside the rails, the ability to maintain this type of thinking is common to us all. It’s not a difficult thing to do. One can practice it in any area – in art, mathematics, research, and even just in normal walking around town. It is a world that is emotionally fulfilling, that is not afraid to realise itself and that feels completely normal. Mostly, though, it’s about a certain attitude of openness and creativity. As most people mature, this relaxed, inventive thinking fades away and is replaced by a practical, life-oriented mindset. Letting your thoughts flow freely is a wonderful feeling. It maintains personal freedom and gives one the strength not to succumb to the normative dictates of the outside world. External purposefulness is overwhelming. That is why I often put mystification into my works, which throws people off the track of the established model. Even A Crossroads has a certain imaginative part to it. Irony and absurdity are important, their radicality is purifying.
When we have to enter an uncertain situation, it is always intimidating. We anticipate risks without trying things out, and so we back off. But uncertainty provides an opportunity to define the unknown. Working with uncertainty is very satisfying; filling the void is actually a great freedom. No one tells me what anything should look like; I even have the opportunity to define it. That’s absolutely great! Art is an exciting process, I enjoy never knowing what will come out of it. Because the thrill of creation fades with certainty. I put the unknown in front of me, surround myself with it, and walk around before I set it in motion to achieve a solution. And that’s that. The uncertain season really lasts for the whole of life.