A particularly “weird” exhibition is on show at the Z2o Sara Zanin Gallery until 23 June 2023. It is immersed in a positive, playful atmosphere, but contested issues we should question ourselves about are hiding in the background. The exhibition itself is slightly alienating, a little tribal, with sculptures made almost entirely of concrete, but on the whole it conveys an authentic environmentalism. This is treated in fairy-tale terms that are dramatised in each successive room, revealing an a-tragic drama, an original drama, one not requiring any cultural superstructure to be understood because it is essential, as are clouds, mountains and vegetation. The exhibition is entitled Harvest and Survive, a solo show by Anna Hulačová, curated by Denisa Václavová.
In the gallery’s three rooms, the two women from the Czech Republic weave a primeval, archetypal tale strongly rooted in the popular culture of their country, which is steeped in myths and legends, anthropomorphic creatures and vivid threads linking everyday life with nature and the stars. The imagery used by the artist, however, is also connected to the contemporary through the use of symbols and nuances. It is precisely these symbols (the concept of the ‘astronaut’) and these nuances (the use of concrete) that are transformed, in this rarefied exhibition, into the punctum, i.e. into that which involves us, which acts on us and our essence, thus transcending Czech culture to become a fascinating expedient of culture in the absolute.
Exploring the sculptures on display in detail, two works can be found in the first room: the first welcomes us – a cheerful moth with a whimsical, childlike face; the second is a sort of magic mirror consisting of eternal concrete, partly in the past and partly in the future. The representation in this latter work, rather like a bas-relief, is cryptic. There are numerous natural elements, but their representation emphasises something else, something more which is found in the reflection of the concrete, in the futuristic form of the artefact, in its handwriting.
The weirdness of the first room is then repeated in the second, but this time through the human figure or, to be more precise, through a more rounded human figure, somehow more docile, almost a cartoon in concrete. This figure, alone in the centre of the empty space of the white cube, is an astronaut who is holding some plants and, built into his suit, there are attractive, friendly metaphors related to the “sheaf of wheat” archetype. The astronaut is curious, he seems to be looking for water or perhaps pollen. The first room’s all-over grey is complemented by the pink and black of baroque glazed ceramic elements, which contrast with and add to the opacity of the basic concrete.
Finally, in the third room, we are immersed in a group of slightly alien, slightly minimalist, slightly cartoon-like small men. Although this is a group of sculptures, the spatial effect echoes that of the astronaut’s room, with its horror pleni. The sculptures, representing a kind of evolution and radical growth, now introduce the ceramic elements within their bodies, no longer in the spacesuit. Their faces are concave and have disturbingly lost their identity but have, nevertheless, been turned into joyful celebratory beings, creatures on the margins between Nature and Culture, bordering on mythology, showing the abyss of humanity and how it can be made to disappear at the same time: the natural carefree contact, which is completely osmotic, that man should have with himself and, in fact, with the natural elements of his existence.
As the critical text says: “Anna Hulačová’s faceless figures lose their place in the original world, and thus their identity. However, they seem determined to find new and different worlds to belong to. No wonder their appearance reminds us of medieval human beings, whose spiritual baggage of plants, mountains, forests and open skies was replaced by sacred buildings as starting points for understanding themselves in the middle of the universe. Landscape pushed to the margins of activity, no longer part of us – it has become an object of power.”
Each of us, as part of the social evolution of millennia of history, has somehow lost this place in the original world, and a necessary part of our identity as a result. Finding this identity, and consequently “seeking new different worlds to belong to”, means becoming creatures who sow seeds like those exhibited by Hulačová, perhaps achieved through psychophysical training. To conclude, this exhibition can be described as a breath of fresh air, a hand outstretched for help, the hypothesis of a better world, in the novelty of a past that becomes future. The joyful, playful elements clash with a gloomy yet hopeful human condition. Although this is glimpsed, it is not brought into focus by the exhibition, which remains fixated on light, hope and natural life that seems to belong to the past, but is actually timeless.
Anna Hulačová. Harvest and Survive, a cura di Denisa Václavová, Galleria Sara Zanin, Roma, 23.03 – 23.06.2023
images (cover 1) Anna Hulačová, «Harvest and Survive», installation view, ph. Sebastiano Luciano (2 -3) Anna Hulačová, «Harvest and Survive, Celebrant of the Harvest 4», 2023, concrete and glazed ceramic, ph. Sebastiano Luciano (4) Anna Hulačová, «Harvest and Survive, Agro-Kosmo», 2023, concrete and glazed ceramic, ph. Sebastiano Luciano