11th November - 31st January 2005
'Czech It Out'
Jewellery and Sculpture from
The Czech Republic

Crafts, March/April 2005 review of Czech It Out

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Over four years in the making, this was a carefully selected survey of current work by 13 makers from the Czech Republic. Kath Libbert's predilection for Czech jewellery arose from an interest in tracing her mother's lineage within that country, and her network of friendships and expert contacts has grown gradually through visits to the republic. If we don't know very much about these artists, we shouldn't put it down to our own insularity, she says, for there are hardly any contemporary jewellery galleries in the Czech Republic, and little financial support for contemporary makers.
Blanka Sperkova (whose surname appropriately refers to jewellery in Czech) was probably the most prominent of the names here, and her predilection for grotesquely surreal black humour accorded with our preconceived notions of a typically Czech sensibility. It came as no surprise to find that Sperkova is also an illustrator and animator. With her fingers she 'knits' with thin metal wire:employing the traditional techniques of Slovak tinkers. Her digital choreography brings forth light but robust wire forms (often achieving a sculptural scale), which metamorphose to incorporate puppet-like human forms, weird beasts, hidden devils, hearts, breasts and sexual organs.
But the path of Czech art and design through the previous century has been characterised equally by a parallel strain of formal Apollonian abstraction. This persisting tendency was represented here by the youngest maker, Katerina Jancarova, whose delicate plastic 'volumes' perch on the shoulder or chest. Jaroslav Prasil's flaxen wrist bands and other fabric body ornaments were just as formal, but not overtly attention seeking. Prasil grows and spins his own flax, and his personal ethos is implicit in the deceptive simplicity of what he makes.
The work of the 13 artists in the exhibition was as varied as that of designer-makers from any modern Western economy. And yet it was surely not wishful thinking to detect here a number of undercurrents particular to the part of Middle Europe from which these objects derive. The feeling of proceeding against all odds is probably familiar in one way or another to all of these artists, and it was one that was reflected in the imaginative ways in which - as Kath Libbert put it these artists are able to 'create a lot from very little'.
Quotidian found materials wittily de-stabilised the stereotype of the preciousness of jewellery. In his attractive brooches, Petr Vogl uses rounded bars of commercial coloured soap as seating for tiny heart-shaped Bohemian garnets. Some of Jolana Novakova's silver brooches were the cast shapes of ordinary edible biscuits. Ludmila Sikolova makes her brooches from sliced-up credit cards - inspired by a visit to the USA without one - in a fashion reminiscent of the methodically displaced photocollages of Jiri Kolar.
Several of these Czech jewellers re-cycled humble beef-bones and horns - domestic detritus otherwise without value. Kamila Housova combined bone with silver to create pinned brooches, which look almost timeless. Jana Strilkova's bone and silver ornaments likewise echoed Oceanic or Central Asian museum pieces, were it not for the small photographic transparencies that some of them incorporated. Lucie Krejcova's intimate, elegant brooches juxtapose bone with things like tiny sprigs of green plastic foliage. She feels that she is struggling to rediscover this ancient, even prehistoric ornamental material in modern terms, belying its 'absolute depreciation as meat and bone meal'.
Another propensity underlying many of the pieces was the creation of playful private worlds within which to remove oneself from the privations of daily life. Marketa Sumanova, for example, hopes that her flowery neckpieces will convey the wearer to 'a little bit of a dream world - something very delicate and unreal - in contrast with everyday life, which is so real and materialistic.' We expect opportunities to acquaint ourselves, synoptically, with contemporary jewellery from other countries to come from the subsidised sector - public galleries and museums. But like the eyeopening exhibition of contemporary Catalan jewellery presented by Kath Libbert in 2002, her private gallery once again provided both an invaluable opportunity (only made commercially feasible by the Czech Republic's entry into the EU) to see new work from another European country, and an irresistible acquisition opportunity.

Kath Libbert Jewellery Gallery, Salts Mill, Saltaire, Bradford BD18 3LA. Tel/Fax 01274 599790. For directions see About Us
Open Monday - Friday 10am - 5.30pm. Weekends 10am - 6pm. Email:info@kathlibbertjewellery.co.uk