For the exhibition Anima Materia (The Soul of the Substance), meaning the soul of matter, a small group of artists was selected from the diverse, exceptionally talented group comprising the contemporary Czech sculpture scene. Since the intention was not to be constrained by theme, the unifying element was the primary focus of the artists on figurative sculpture and the breadth and variety of the materials they work with. It is material that determines the character of each artist’s work. Whether the sculptor places a greater emphasis on craftsmanship or prefers a freer, experimental approach, whether they rework traditional techniques or deploy modern technology, they always breathe new life into the material. The sculptors in this exhibition work with metal, ceramic, wax, glass, marble, porcelain, plaster and concrete. Nevertheless, in the spirit of the adage “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”, most of the artists make reference to the deeper meaning of the primary matter that forms the basis of everything. And so through their work we keep returning to the mythical figure of the Golem, made of clay, who can only be brought to life in one way, namely, by introducing a soul into matter.
The artists on display seek new forms of human being close to themselves. They oscillate between the physical and the spiritual, with some striving to break free of the physical form and others letting matter triumph over spirit. The goal, however, is balance. Each work naturally contains a part of the artist themselves, their current mood, state of mind, which at any given moment is in harmony with its surroundings or, on the contrary, is fighting with their physical side, which is no less important for sculpture qua art. The material itself has enormous potential to contribute to the overall psychological impact of the work. It reflects the artist’s thoughts: it is their journal. Fragility, firmness, flexibility, naturalness or artificiality, all the properties of the material, but to a large extent also the way it is handled – all of this is essential for an understanding of the work.
But what should be at the heart of every artist’s work is a fascination with the chosen material and a love of their craft. Only when an artist understands sufficiently the material they are working with can they express themselves fully. Within the context of (not only) contemporary sculpture, I feel it incumbent upon me to remind today’s hectic times, which often judge works of art in terms of quantity at the expense of the quality of their execution, of the crucial importance of the original craft. One only has to look back to the classical modern period, when only after mastering their craft could artists begin to destroy it, negate it, break away from classical approaches, create expressively, abstractly, whatever. They had a choice. If the artist is not skilled at their craft, they have no choice, since they have nothing to break free from. They are faced with only one path, which offers them no creative freedom.