VUT Fine Art at the Botanical Gardens: Quirky Masterpieces and Mystifying Abstract Art

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Recyklované figury by Eliška Jedličková. Credit: Cathy Khoury-Prinsloo.

There is currently an exciting, quirky, often amazing, and occasionally mystifying sculpture exhibition by VUT fine art students and staff at the Botanical Gardens at Kotlářská 2.

It’s an inspired choice of venue. Sculpture among the Flowers.

In this exhibition, nature encroaches on art, and art immerses itself in nature. So, in Andrea Krnáčová’s monumental fibreglass Spiaca (Sleeping) the sinuous reclining woman is perfectly positioned next to a curving peaceful pond, and the grass gradually grows taller around her outline, tickling her toes. Anatomicals and Botanicals.

Across the pond, on a small raised bank, TEA’s Dvojník (Double) has plant fronds starting to grow between the two halves of the plastic bust, connected by synthetic fibres. The title invites pondering. There are clearly two distinct halves to this work, but is there also the idea of a doppelgänger? And whose doppelgänger is this?

One of the most outstanding virtuoso masterpieces is Mário Nguyen’s Ťažko je lahko (Hard is Easy). Here two metal and rust weathered sculptures constructed from metal rods perfectly mimic drying and curling palm-like branches. They are placed seemingly randomly at a distance from one another, among other fallen organic leaves.

It is so cleverly positioned that at first the art is seen as part of the natural sand and woodland area. It’s only when you look closer that you realise that these are manufactured leaves. Some idiosyncratic elements include the humour of incorporating bolts to mimic little central fronds, and the play on words. Hard is Easy, Difficult is Easy, Working with hard metal is easy and fluid.

Another stunning work is Emma Štěpánová’s EXXON VALDEZ-OIL SPILL-PELECANUS CRISPUS. Here the impact is achieved by the shocking contrast between the natural, peaceful and formal aspect of the Japanese garden area, and the nightmare shape of the oil-polluted and dying giant bird on the banks of the pond.

At first sight the sculpture looks pre-historic and horrific. Then, when you realise that the transmogrification has been caused by humans, the fright factor turns into pity and sorrow.

The artist has cleverly used tar to mimic the oil pollution, and allows the chicken wire moulding to show through on the one wing, as though the bird has pecked itself – as birds do – to try and clean this area, but the result is a further injury.

Ideally, this annual exhibition needs to be seen over several years, to see the maturing motifs of the individual artists. For example, last year Štěpánová was inspired by another ecological disaster, the Salton Sea Fishes, which referred to an ecological disaster in California. That work comprised of a flimsy, almost transparent skeletal membrane. Here the work is solid, black, very 3-dimensional and anatomically complex.

Last year, artist Petr Mucha also submitted a work on the theme of totems. However that work – Monáda – was in solid metal, quite epic in its competition with the shape of some old trees. This year his Totěma (Totem) is in mixed media, where fabrics and synthetic materials are dominant. It is far more fragile looking, reminiscent of a boat sail or a furled tent, with ropes securing it in place. The exploration of twists in the vertical structures, though, is constant.

The fun award this year would have to go to Tomáš Medek for his multi-coloured and faceted plastic polymer Apple. It is surreally attached to one of the trees in the orchard section, just behind the lemon trees which have a healthy harvest of bright yellow fruit.

The prize-winner of the fantastical category would be Tomáš Zdvořáček, for his Sluchač (Listener). This is a 3-D printed sculpture of a walking ear. It is a masterly combination of a giant ear emerging from a torso with legs.

Crazily, the Listener has some character. The legs are busy running, and the ear is quite heavy on the slightly bent legs. This is an assiduous creature who takes his calling seriously! This focus seems emphasised by the little lines of dirt which the garden irrigation has made on his legs. No stopping to clean the legs.

According to his website, Zdvořáček was inspired by Hieronymus Bosch. This makes perfect sense. Interestingly this fantastical painter also inspired surrealist supremo Salvador Dali.

Zdvořáček provides this dystopian comment “After the second nuclear holocaust at the end of the twenty-third century, the country turned into a pretty uninhabitable place. Mutations have become a necessary condition for survival.

“Among the successful, newly developed species is the Ten-toed Listener, for which the reception of sound has become the only condition for survival … these small creatures can move nimbly through the landscape in search of food. Sharp metallic sounds are considered the most delicious, and the sound of an explosion is considered a real delicacy. However, its consumption is always associated with considerable risk.”

Another fantastical entry is Michal Gabriel’s Trojnožka (Tripod). This is a partly humanoid, insect-like, robotic, tool assemblage of a large-striding creature. It evokes the topical debate about AI and hybrid intellects.

Vendula Petrová’s Nevinnost (Innocence) is a small white 3D printed sculpture of a young woman in a modest pose, standing in a small pond, among equally petite aquatic plants. It has an olde-worlde demure charm about it.

Markéta Volková’s Iconic is almost life-size. This 3D sculpture depicts a bright pink-coloured nude gymnast. She is shown bending backwards, holding one foot with both hands, while the other leg is raised skywards. It is an exciting, dynamic composition, and the situating of it on a little hill allows the viewer to approach it and see it from different angles. There is a dance of positive and negative spaces around the form.

The muscle mastery of the gymnast is captured faithfully in this celebration of the female body. It focuses and heightens the viewer’s awareness of the body, and so passing pedestrians also become part of the piece. Extreme athletic poses contrast with ordinary motion.

Pavlína Temcsáková’s Paměti těla (Body Memory) is a compelling, puzzling Papier Mache work in three parts. The first part is at the entrance. It is a possibly anthropomorphic shape bound securely by thick rope tied in knots and attached to the spiral staircase. The amorphous, irregular shape of the bound object contrasts with the geometric structure and pattern of the metal staircase.

Paměti těla. Credit: Cathy Khoury-Prinsloo.

Temcsáková creates tension in the unknown identity of the bound object. Is it human, or inorganic? The title suggests something human, and it is unsettling.

The second part is placed right at the border of the opposite fence. It is a more truncated shape with lighter ties. The third part is positioned along a brick pathway between beds of herbs. This is an unbound, stretched out, recumbent shape. Is there something human about it? Or it is meant to just convey a sense of relaxation, a release from tension and pressure?

A small flaw on the bottom of the work also suggests something about the material chosen. Papier Mache is less resilient to the elements than plastic or metal-based works. It may be intentional, or it may be part of the outdoor exhibition learning experience.

This work, however, really highlights how the viewer’s vision changes when you situate an art exhibition outdoors. Framing the artwork takes on a whole new dimension. Suddenly every shape you see becomes a potential art object as you walk the length of the garden on a quest to find the artworks marked on the art map.

Even the lengths of garden hosepipes adopt a sculptural dimension, directing your eye towards the sculptures, interacting with them, and sometimes echoing something of the lines of the sculptures.

Eliška Jedličková’s Recyklované figury (Recycled Figures) is a skilful and humorous exploration of a seated human form in different materials – metal cans, plastic bottles, synthetic tape, and wood. They make a sweet and harmonious multi-material community positioned in a semi-circle, under some trees.

Seeing the figure made of wooden twigs and reeds leaning against a large tree trunk, makes you do a double-take. It’s as though the trees have morphed into a new genetic creation. Evolution fast-forwarded.

Seeing this relaxed community group, plus the kinetic water sprinkler in the background and the organic curves of the greenhouses, induces in the viewer a heightened synaesthesia of echoing shape. Every shape becomes sculptural.

Three far more abstract works are less easily accessible, and benefit where possible from the artist’s explanation. Especially when there is a specific cultural or traditional element.

Myší král (Mouse King) by Zuzana Šrubařová is a triptych of acrylic white square plaques with lots of mice-like shapes. Is it a reference to The Nutcracker story? Is there also a layering of meaning here, and the idea of a story within a story?

Jakub Matušek’s Sochy po dotyku (Sculpture by Touch) are variously coloured fibreglass lily pad-like shapes floating in a formal rectangular pond. While the title suggests one needs to actually touch the works to experience them fully, their position in the water makes this impossible.

Šárka Stejskalová’s Krajina ve městě (Landscape in the city) – is a series of six blue and green painted ceramic rectangular shapes positioned across a grove of trees. Sometimes they are placed horizontally, and sometimes vertically along the tree trunks. On some panels blue predominates, on others the green takes up more space. The series begins and ends on tree trunks with little bird or insect houses attached.

Stejskalová explains that “In my artistic practice, I have found inspiration in the tradition of hanging wishes on trees. This ancient belief in the divine power of trees to bring human desires closer to reality resonates deeply with me. I have created ceramic pictures that offer urban trees a new landscape, a visual representation of the wishes I have hung on them.

“Through these ceramic pictures, I hope to spark a sense of wonder and contemplation in viewers, encouraging them to reflect on their own connection to nature and the potential for transformation within our environments.”

The exhibition is in the Botanical Garden of Masaryk University’s Faculty of Science at Kotlářská 267/2. It is free of charge, and will continue until the end of September.

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