Foreign visitors arriving at Prague’s Václav Havel International Airport may be surprised to see an outsize Buddha statue on the premises. The sculpture is part of a summer festival of public art called Sculpture Line which runs from early June till late September. The collection of 22 sculptures by Czech and foreign artists, dotted around the city at well-known and less frequented locations, has been attracting a lot of attention. I asked Filip Tomášek from the Smart Point advertising and communication agency which organized the event, to tell me more about the project.
“Well, as a communicating agency, apart from our commercial clients we have been dealing with art projects as well and we were talking about the idea of bringing sculptures to the streets of Prague, something that has been happening in capitals of the world and even in the Czech Republic, on a smaller scale, for instance in the town of České Budějovice. So we were talking about doing something similar in Prague and Sculpture Line is the outcome.”
How many sculptures are there around Prague and how did you pick the artists?
“At the beginning we thought this would be something like a warm-up year so we were thinking about a few sculptures only, but in the end, as the word spread and as we were developing the project, there were more and more artists interested and more works of art that could be placed around the city so in the end in total it is 22 sculptures at 15 different locations both in the city-centre and less-frequented areas on the outskirts of Prague.”
So you have both Czech and foreign artists?
“Well, this year it is mostly Czech artists but we do have some foreign artists as well, for instance there is Eva Roucka who is Czech, but has lived in France since 1979 – so there is an international flavour to her work, and also, one of our most significant works is by Sukhi Barber, a British sculptor who currently lives in Germany. She created a sculpture especially for our festival, it was finished just days before it was transported to Prague and it is a three-metre tall sculpture of a bronze Buddha.”
Which is at Prague’s international airport….
“Yes, from the very outset we thought about starting our Sculpture Line at Václav Havel International Airport, though it proved more complicated than it looked at the beginning. But, yes Sukhi Barber’s sculpture Emanation is placed between the terminals 1 and 2 at the airport, so from there you can go into town and explore the other 21 statues.”
And what about the materials used? Was there a theme or were the artists given a free reign in what they would contribute?
“There was no real assignment or any strict rules, the artists were free to work with whatever material suits them best. We have works of art from bronze, metal, some worked with wood, we have concrete art objects, sculptures from high-fired clay or even laminate which was good because we wanted to place one of the sculptures in the Vltava River, so laminate was good for that. There is a great variety of materials – as many sculptures, as many materials, really.”
So the artists could really contribute whatever they wanted?
“Yes, our only concern was that we wanted to choose a good location, a proper location for each sculpture. We felt it was really important to place the sculpture in a setting that would be suitable for it. So we were in communication with architects, Prague City Hall and even the authors themselves sometimes had an idea where to place the given sculpture.”
“It is one big statue of a sitting Buddha, but when you come closer you will see that it is made of hundreds and hundreds of little Buddhas”
Can you describe some of the sculptures?
“Well, we’ve already mentioned Emanation, the big bronze Buddha sitting at the airport, it’s a majestic and magical thing and I really recommend seeing it for yourself. It is one big statue of a sitting Buddha but when you come closer you will see that it is made of hundreds and hundreds of little Buddhas which create this big sitting figure, so it is really magical in itself. Then we have a shark fin in the small pond in the Futurama Park in the Prague district of Karlin. It is lit up, so especially at night it creates a mysterious impression. People are already playing with the idea and they like to create stories about the shark and what is happening underneath the water…there is another sculpture which is really close by so they are taking about whether the shark will eat the sculpture and so on. So we’ve had a wonderful response to this one, and in the Vltava River we placed Michal Gabriel’s explorers –three figures that we placed directly into the water in the Vltava, near the galley Mánes, so that is something unusual.”
Which is your own personal favourite?
“It would be The Explorers, because that is a story in itself. You can see them walking on the water and you can stop and think about where they are going. For me as an organizer it was more challenging than it looked, because placing sculptures directly in the water is not easy and I have to check on them from time to time because I don’t want them disappearing. I hope they stay there throughout the summer and make people happy, because people are surprised when they walk down the riverbank to suddenly see figures on the water’s surface –exploring the water.”
You have already partly answered this question, but what has the public’s response been like to the festival?
“So far we have had positive feedback. We are surprised by the many positive reactions that we get, we were even prepared for complaints, but it seems that people are really enjoying the sculptures. Some are armchairs made for sitting so they quickly became part of the public space which was the main idea behind the festival – to enrich the public space so that you can experience the town in a new way, with new eyes. So people are enjoying them and we are getting a response via Facebook or via our festival’s web page and we try to encourage a big response so we have prepared a photo competition where people can send pictures and thus take part in documenting the festival.”
“The main idea behind the festival was to enrich the public space so that people can experience the town in a new way, with new eyes.”
Take pictures of themselves with the sculptures?
“Well, it is up to them really, we just encourage them to take a picture of the installation from an interesting angle, light or even with themselves…but we get few of the latter, usually people are focused on the statue itself and they take a picture in an interesting light, at different times of day, against the sky and so on. And we would like to reward the best pictures with a T-shirt decorated with Sukhi Barber’s Buddha because the Buddha –Emanation – became the official symbol of the festival. So one of those will go to the best photographer in our competition and I’m looking forward to that.”
Since it is proving to be such a success –what are your plans for next year?
“Well, we would like to establish a tradition so hopefully, if everything goes well, we will be back next year. We will see whether we want to do it on the same scale, smaller or bigger, maybe we could work it around some historical event that is being celebrated –like the Charles IV anniversary, so we will see, but it looks like as soon as this year’s festival is over we will have to start working on the next because it is a lot of work. We are already talking to some artists and are already looking forward to inviting them and bringing together new authors both from the Czech Republic and from abroad. And we hope that some of the sculptures will be created for specific places in Prague and we are talking to our partners and Prague City Hall about possible locations that could be enriched by site-specific sculptures. So we will see. Hopefully all will go well.”
What happens to the sculptures when the exhibition is over?
“That’s a good question. We would be happy if they could stay where they are, but of course the festival is only temporary, it lasts for four months, so some of them will go back to their authors but we hope that some of them will stay. We are already in talks with partners or subjects who would like to buy some of the statues. Some of the negotiations look promising, so some of the statues could stay where they are and then hopefully every year some of the statues could remain in place and become an integral part of the city.”
To find out more about the festival go to: www.sculptureline.cz