Magic carpets - Articles

10 Questions for the Czech artist Alena Matejkova
Questioned by Prof. PhDr Sylva Petrova - director of the University of Sunderland's Institute for International Research in Glass.

You studied at the prestigious Academy in Prague at the Glass Department under famous Professor Vladimir Kopecky. Can you tell me something about your choice of studies and your life "before" the Academy? What is so specific about Kopecky's educational methods?

I studied under Professor Vladimir Kopecky, and it was the best I could wish for. He gives his students such freedom that for some of them it is difficult to bear it. It suited me perfectly. And his methods of teaching? Everyone who knows him will laugh at that. His educational methods can hardly be defined; he teaches by who he is and what he does. His soul of a poet requires originality from everybody. He expects independent thinking and accepts idiosyncrasy of all kinds, For his students he is a great authority without trying to attain it. His indomitable personality, the fact that he grants creative freedom, and his openness to everything new seem to be the reasons why so many young people wish to study at his department. In the Czech Republic studies at colleges and universities are subject to selective process, and only few are chosen. However, Professor Kopecky did not choose me and I did not choose him. I enrolled at Academy of Art, Architecture and Design in Prague after the fifth attempt, since during socialism it was really difficult without having friends. I was from a small town and my parents were ordinary people, they were not Communist Party members. I could not imagine to do anything else but art. I took exams to the Academy of Art, Architecture and Design in Prague every year; every year I prepared for them and every year I was rejected. I worked at odd jobs in a factory, ironing laundry, cleaning at the National Gallery. I was not accepted until my fifth attempt in 1989. In October the school started, and in November the Velvet Revolution broke out. The old structures were falling apart, many professors were asked to leave their positions. Older students in the Glass Department, where I studied for my first year, proposed as the new professor Vladimir Kopecky, who accepted this offer. So Kopecky was given to me by fate, for which I am grateful.

How do you make a living after graduation?

I have never accepted the compromise to make a living by something else than what I enjoy doing. Maybe it sounds conceited, somebody may think that he or she cannot afford such a luxury, but I have a feeling that it is a question of decision. If I have an idea and start to realize it, the energy for its realization will come and things will began to happen by themselves. I make sculptures from glass and stone. I also like design and cutting from ice blocks at the "North Pole". I think I can say that I am happy, because from an optimistic point of view my life is one big holiday, during which I entertain myself by work.

Do you feel any difference between an "artist" and a "glass artist"? What is your artistic credo?

I have never liked distinguishing between glass artists and the others. If a sculpture has a content, at least for a while, it may be from any material. Such as fog, if you please.

How did you get to the University of Sunderland?

I received a leaflet attached to the journal studio glass, sent to me by Zafar Iqbal from London. He is my messenger of good tidings. The other day he met me in the lobby of Academy of Art, Architecture and Design in Prague and gave me an application to the competition "Jung Glass" in Ebeltoft, Denmark. I won. This time he was behind my sojourn in Sunderland. But it was preceded by a tender. I submitted my project, photographic documentation, and in the last round there was an interview in Prague at the British Council, where I was asked many questions by Ann Jones from the Visiting Arts in London and Kevin Petrie from the University of Sunderland. Subsequently, they both helped me a lot during my stay in Sunderland. Ann Jones invited me to London, where she organized for me meetings with people from the world of art, museum curators, gallery owners and artists. Ann personally was a great support for me and a kindred spirit in all matters concerning the organization of my project.

Was it your first experience with the British art education?

Many years ago, I studied for three months in Britain at the Glasgow School of Art, where I acquainted myself with ceramics, but above all I fell in love with the "lochs and brochs" of northern seas, grassy hills and abandoned abbeys.

Can you tell me something about your project?

My project has been dormant in my head for a long time. Having travelled through the fairytale landscapes of Great Britain, as if from the time immemorial sunk in the mist of the magical fog, I saw hundreds of menhirs and stones with carved ornaments. The ancient landscape and the raw gloominess of the gravestones excited me, and therefore I wanted to convey at least a part of that into my world. Into the world that contemporary man would understand. This idea has not faded away over the years, and so I drafted the project that was selected. I created Magic Carpets, which as the means of transportation from fairytales float in the skies and connect the distant Middle Ages with modern technologies of the British present. The technical equipment available both at the University of Sunderland and National Glass Centre is fascinating indeed.

When I came to Sunderland, I looked for ornaments in the neighbourhood. Steve Cowie from the National Glass Centre took me to St. Peter's Church, the historically oldest place in Sunderland, but the ornaments in the church did not suit my purpose. Later the student of the University of Sunderland, Goshka Bialek, who also studied at the University of Durham which is for ages situated at Durham Castle, showed me the Norman Chapel and the Norman Gallery in the castle, where the ornament on one of my Magic Carpets comes from. For other ornaments I went to my old places to the south of Scotland, but I have discovered even more beautiful and derelict little cemeteries and chapels in the southwest. This is where the ornament on my second Magic Carpet comes from.

The excellent equipment and friendly atmosphere as well as the help of teachers, technical staff and students during my work made my stay very pleasant. I greatly appreciated in particular the professional support of Sylva Petrova and her expert knowledge, which she shared with me. Sylva Petrova is a wonderful woman.

What did you learn from the project?

The high level of technical equipment of the University of Sunderland University and National Glass Centre inspired me to produce sculptures on a larger scale which I cannot make in the small kiln in my studio. The giant university kiln, in which no one has ever made such a large sculpture, that was a professional challenge for me. I am excited by overcoming limits. I have never made such a huge thing before, and although I have a lot of experience and professional technological training, I consulted the whole technological process with Zdenek Lhotsky, who in my opinion is the greatest expert for large-scale melted sculptures. Never before did I make such large moulds, and so everything was new for me and full of expectation. For my sculptures I used the glass manufactured in the Czech Republic in the workshop of Rudolf Banas. Thus I introduced his glass to university students, who tried it with excellent results. I cannot say that I have learned to melt large sculptures, but I am pleased that the melting was successful and that I have made the biggest sculptures ever melted in Britain, initiating the biggest kiln of the British monarchy. At the same time I have met many wonderful people and discovered new places and things, which is refreshing.

Did you finish everything?

I began a large project, and although I worked with a great effort, I was not able to finish my work. It was caused by the fact that the kiln was out of order for some time. What remains to be done are to slump Magic Carpets in the kiln in such a way that they would "fly". I tried this technological process on smaller Carpets, which I presented at the exhibition "Czechmania" at the National Glass Centre before my departure. I have the mould for slumping ready, it just waits for an opportunity. If the University of Sunderland makes it possible for me to complete the whole project, I will be very pleased.

Where and when are you going to present the result of your project?

If I am able to finalize my project, I would like to present my sculptures in Sunderland, in the town where they came into being, in the country which inspired their creation. Thus I could demonstrate the possibilities provided by the university kiln, the biggest in Britain. Next year I would show them at an exhibition in Sweden together with the series of Magic Carpets cut in stone, which I am working on at the moment. Then, of course, I would like to exhibit all of them in Prague.

Author: PhDr. Prof. Sylva Petrova  

Institute for International Research in Glass

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