The Exhibition and the Wrap Up of Footprints

2 April 1999, Brno, Oldriska’s house

We had our last official meeting about the project tonight. Jindra was there, as usual, to ensure that I understood the finer points of the conversation. My ability to speak and understand Czech had improved greatly over the time spent there, however, I wanted to have her as a safety net especially in a room full of women chattering excitedly all at once. Food, food, food–the binder of women’s meetings was there in abundance. Oli had prepared tiny sandwiches of garlicky cheese and ham and olives. There were plates of bean and paprika salad, slices of ham and roasted pork all served with the hearty bread and pickles that are always found on a a Czech kitchen table.

Oli buzzed around us, so happy to be serving food to people she cared about. Red wine, mineral water, coffee, tea and she still would not sit down. Finally, after she produced potato chips, peanuts and grapes, Oli joined us. The expression on her aging face was beatific as she observed how much we had eaten of her feast.

Our purpose was to discuss our reactions to the completed project and the exhibition which was currently showing at the former Cistercian Cloister here in Brno. Coincidental with our show was the sculpture symposium. Four young and talented artists from Brno and Austria were working en plein aire in the space adjoining the outdoor portion of our installation. Their task was to complete large stone carvings over a three week period.

We began by talking about how our work seemed to have a subtle on influence of these artists. I had been away from Brno touring with guests from the U.S., and was unaware of their progress. I listened eagerly as Dana reported that everyone appeared to respond to the installation surrounding them. How could they not? Artists are always sensitive to their surroundings. Jiri was creating a “Boat of Love;” Daniel had entitled his piece “Hope;” and Elizabeth had used spiral imagery in her composition. The only artist whose work seemed unaffected was Hartwig. In fact, he had “run away” from the symposium claiming he had unfinished work in Salzburg. After a one week absence, he was working feverishly to complete his large sandstone pieces. We couldn’t help but speculate about his inability to stay in that space.

Dana and Ema then laughingly told us how difficult it had been to reclaim the Embryo and Gates from the site. The epka had grown taller than the sculptures and was very dense. They described how they wandered in a maze of plants, not knowing exactly where to find their work. Finally, Ales, Dana’s son had to climb a tree to direct them to the Embryo. Finding the Gates was even more difficult because they had become tangled in the plants. However, everything was recovered for installation at the Cloister.

Ema was disappointed that the willow Gates had never sprouted, because that would have created a living spiral. I couldn’t help but think that the land was not eager to give in to our intrusion–that on some level, our work needed to continue to be a part of that landscape, swallowed up by it; and that we had indeed created a living spiral very different from the one we at first envisioned.

Returning to the meaning of the Gates, Ema thought of them as the entrance to the spiral, the place where the spirits of the souls past could enter. Dana added her interpretation that those Gates could also be a birth canal that led us to new experiences. I added that they could also be read as hands in prayer: two woven segments joined at the top.

Oli excitedly told us how she had loved visiting the site because of its powerful inspiration. She recounted how the land had dictated to her a statement of great simplicity and that simple work is the most powerful art. These women had bee trained in traditional classical methods. Dana and Oli had years of experience restoring Baroque sculpture and were skeptical of the “new” conceptual art that had invaded most art academies. Oli’s acknowledgement of the value of simplicity, then, was very important. During Oli’s narrative, she got so excited telling about the energy of the place that she turned to me and asked, “Have you been there?” Everyone, of course, fell apart laughing, including Oli. She reiterated the revelation about simplicity and spoke for everyone recapping that the land had told us all what to do; that there was a transformational energy there that we all experienced. A surprise were the lovely drawings that Oli made for the Cloister exhibition. Inspired by Vlasta’s poetry, she made a series of pen and ink drawings just for herself. Then, she realized that they needed to be part of the exhibition because they were a visualization of our interior understanding of the site.

The elements of the original looked, of course, very different in the Cloister courtyard than they had in the field. In fact, it was a completely different installation. Vlasta, liked the continuity of the place. She had made a video filming the Gates, sweeping across the spiral to the Embryo and then moving the camera’s eye up the wall to the oinion dome of the central church. Somehow, she saw a link between our earth inspired work and the holiness of the monks who had lived and prayed in that space. Dana, too, felt the presence of the monks, adding that their years of prayers continued to vibrate in the space adding another dimension to our work.

Each artist shared her personal response to our collaboration. Vlasta shared that she had been quite concerned about her imminent retirement from her employment as a medical illustrator at the veterinary college. This project gave her the opportunity to look death squarely in the face by making the fields of burial. Our positive response to the poetry and drawings came as a surprise to her and all combined, the year had helped her realize that a new path lay open–a path of creativity with which she had only toyed. So now, she was happy to be retiring so she could continue exploring this work. Vlasta was further delighted to make art that should be walked upon. It made her feel free to use simple, loose drawing methods for the long paper runner that defined the center of the interior space of the exhibition.

Dana realized in the course of this project that she wanted for many years to use the image of an embryo in her work. Now she had had the opportunity to make such a sculpture and has created several more models in her studio. With a twinkle, she remarked that someday, we will see a field completely filled with embryos! Another great fulfillment for her was the group of artists and that this experience drew us together in an intimate way. For several years, she had dreamed of creating a close knit group of women artists. She had to admit that she was a little sad this it my my project, not one of her own design that had made that dream happen. She hastily added that nevertheless, she was thrilled about our time together and hoped we could continue with other projects in the future.

As for me. . .how I overflowed with gratitude to these women who had opened their homes, their hearts, and their artistic excellence in service to my vision.

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