Arts Frantisek Skala - a "midwife" of contemporary art

29-10-2004 | Martin Mikule

The Rudolfinum Gallery, one of the major Prague art halls, has prepared a remarkable exhibition of modern Czech art featuring the work of one of the country's most original visual artists: Frantisek Skala. His small, discarded objects discovered in garbage dumps and transformed into new artefacts create an interesting contradiction to the monumental space of the historic building itself.

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Frantisek SkalaFrantisek Skala The exhibition showcases Skala's work from the past two years, but it would be wrong to call it "retrospective", as you will discover some pieces that the artist conceived of two decades ago along with works never before exhibited.

Skala describes his own work as an attempt to make "visible the invisible" or to "grasp the ungraspable". Using these abstract terms, he apologizes for his inability to describe the fascinating world that surrounds us.

"I'm constantly fascinated by the complexity and sophistication of the world's creations. I don't focus on any single theme which I would continually repeat. I prefer to react to the reality in which we're living. I'm trying to celebrate creativity itself. Therefore, the exhibition includes a colorful mosaic of different activities that sometimes more, sometimes less, looks like art. I myself am most satisfied if it doesn't even look like a work of art. Often, it's nature that I exhibit. Sometimes it is hard to find any work in a piece, but it might well be there is lots of it."

The exhibition of Frantisek Skala in Rudolfinum, photo: Martin PolakThe exhibition of Frantisek Skala in Rudolfinum, photo: Martin Polak Frantisek Skala works with all sorts of media including photography. What is astonishing is the wide range of material he uses. In much of his work you can find humor. But as Skala says he tries to be very careful with it, since he doesn't want his work to be perceived as fun or entertainment.

Some of the exhibition is related to Frantisek Skala's other artistic endeavors, such as theater acting and music, and the over-the-top plastic foam suit in which he performs.

The guitars, 1987-2004, photo: Martin PolakThe guitars, 1987-2004, photo: Martin Polak Skala's varied artistic pursuits inspired the Rudolfinum to organize some additional events, says gallery press officer Zuzana Fortova.

"Every exhibition here is supported by accompanying events. Regarding Frantisek Skala, it came automatically as he is not only artist but also an excellent musician, a man who tends to a sort of stage performance."

Not all the accompanying events relate to Skala's work. There is also a multimedia performance by the Swiss artist Roman Bauxbaum: Surgery performed on a live artist as a shadow theatre.

The exhibition of Frantisek Skala in Rudolfinum, photo: Martin PolakThe exhibition of Frantisek Skala in Rudolfinum, photo: Martin Polak Zuzana Fortova believes that even though at first glance the "surgery" has nothing to do with the current exhibition, by its ironic and unique approach to art it is actually close to Frantisek Skala's take on the arts.

"The artist claims that should we perceive art consistently, the most beautiful pieces arise by gradual detraction from something. The ultimate manifestation of a work of art is the human body. And to make beauty perfect means to detract something. So let's be surprised!"

The reactions of visitors seem to be very positive. Most say they are fascinated by Skala's creativity and leave the exhibition in a better mood.

The dry director's skull, photo: Martin PolakThe dry director's skull, photo: Martin Polak Woman: "I really liked it. First of all there are great differences. There are both huge and very very small objects."

Was there any particular piece that you found most interesting?

Woman: "There were two. One of them were those heads probably made from sea grass. And the huge object - the wheels of pop music."

Man: "I enjoyed it, it was quite nice. Very interesting was the big sculpture just in the end of the exhibition - that big wooden sculpture."

Woman: "I am deeply impressed. It was very unusual. I think that the author has to be endowed with a very rich invention because of the material he used....Very interesting, I can't say I've seen anything like that before."

'Saigoners', photo: Martin Polak'Saigoners', photo: Martin Polak Was there any particular piece that captivated you the most?

Woman: "The cars. I admire him - where he found all these pieces of bicycle saddles and all these things. And the heads. I can say I've found a few people I know there."

Very popular among the visitors is a hall with so called 'Saigoners': miniature car models made mostly of wood and iron. These pieces were not originally even designed as an art, but rather as toys for children. Skala made them with friends visiting him in his country cottage.

Headlandseeheads, photo: Martin PolakHeadlandseeheads, photo: Martin Polak Another very interesting part of the exhibit showcases human heads made of sea weed.

"They are a product of my fellowship in the Headlands Center for the Arts in San Francisco. I produced there heads from sea weed. It is something between occultism or a mystical experience and plastic surgery. This is one of the few methods when a plastic arises not by a substance forming or material recovering but a forming from inside. This way the head gains its features and comes to life. Later it undergoes a process of drying, so it changes and deforms again. This way it resembles the drying of mummies or Indian heads."

The result is astonishing. Even though Skala uses still the same material, each head is different — not only in features and color but in character, personality even.

Univers-Earth, photo: Martin PolakUnivers-Earth, photo: Martin Polak Skala thinks of himself as a sort of "midwife" who is rather helping these creatures to be born than producing them. In this regard, he says he likes the art of aborigines, which seemingly lacks any calculation.

"Who proceeds by the conceptual way that he first makes up a thought and then only mechanically realizes it, is deprived of the most beautiful thought in art — the process of creation. It is a great adventure when one is in every second forced to make a decision from thousand and million of possibilities."

Considering this idea, it would be foolish to try to describe Skala's exhibition in a few words. Each visitor perceives it differently anyway. The objects on exhibit in the monumental space of the Rudolfinum Gallery are just waiting to let everybody be captivated and surprised by their own emotions.

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