Adela Matasova (Czech Republic)

Adela Matasova is a member of the generation of Czech artists who first asserted themselves around the mid-1960s, and who displayed a remarkably wide variety of outlooks, engaging in numerous trends of art, both figurative, abstract and conceptual. For a brief period they were given an opportunity to look beyond the fence then surrounding their home country, and to take part in developments taking place in the broader international context, establishing valuable contacts with the outside world and acquiring experience. After all, however short-lived that period of freedom was, it did present them with an opening on whose benefits they would still be able to draw later on, during a long era of isolation not just from the international scene, but also as regarded their mutual communication within the boundaries of this country. By then, each had to rely on himself, as all of the previously existing organically formed groups and associations had been disbanded by the communist regime's authorities. Only some withstood the pressure of the circumstances and refused to resign on what they knew were matters of principle. Adela Matasova ranked among those who managed to stand by their beliefs and who eventually proved that free expression could actually be developed under any conditions, that its survival was a question of each individual's inner integrity and independence from a given historical context. Her early output dates from the first half of the 1960s, when she was still a student at Prague's Academy of Fine Arts. She was marked by the atmosphere surrounding the final echoes of the Inforrnel movement, marking a period during which living contemporary art was allowed first chances to present itself in a comparatively free manner to the general public. Adela Matasova's work from that time mirrors life in its complexity, variability, ambiguity, as well as in its duration and its transience. It is embued with an unceasing search for links and associations between the various aspects of life, involving the process of discovering its diverse layers, including both tangible ones and ones that are deeply embedded and hard to define. It reflects the perennial cycle of birth, growth and decline, of emergence and disappearance. Whether applied in the fields of painting, drawing or printmaking, her idiom would at that stage never fail to project her germinating leaning towards relief sculpture.

It was first outlined in her paintings from the decade between 1963 and 1964, formally derived from Gothic panel painting. In terms of structure they link up with the tenets drawn up by Informel, even though they diverge from that movement in their obvious inspiration by the human figure. The individual components of those works came to be constituted and grouped together in correlation with the artist's master-plan, where a basic idea would define a clear-cut frame within whose limits was a construction which, distinct though it may have been, would not renounce the options of movement, rearrangement and transformation. Delivering a message of inner concentration, the signs present here speak of an affinity towards nature, with underlying references to the various phases of life's origin, evolution and ripening, as well as introducing a system which apportions room for the free, unhindered development of forms. Apart from that, they also involve a sense of aesthetic order, coupled with feeling for composition and evenly balanced paintery surface, as well as for a precise rhythm governing the alignment of colour elements.

Her drawings from 1963–1966, grouped under the collective title of Subjective Landscapes, were markedly influenced by Adela Matasova's interest in the macrostructure of lichens, coupled with strong impressions from her visit to the display of African masks at Paris' Musée de l'homme in 1965. Drawing on those sources of inspiration whose impact she still enhanced by sharp inner focusing, she proceeded to create enigmatic, bizarre landscapes emitting a mighty urge towards the attainment of order, and at the same time towards transcendence of the borders of reality. In those works motion alternates ruith stillness, clear, sharply defined lines are intertwined with an indeterminate tangle which is permeated with mystery. Organic forms converge with one another, serving as a medium within which are projected natural phenomena in their endless variety and countless sets of both random and regular patterns. Emerging from the thickness of lines which betray freedom and independence of thought, as well as relatedness to the supreme harmony governing the universe, are undercurrents of unbridled imagination. Those works documented processes which involved the harmonization and overlapping of lines opening up a wide variety of labyrinthine roads front which there might be no return, and yet which might occasionally suggest ways out of situations that would have originally appeared devoid of all hope for a solution. They feature reflections of natural structures, as well as openings revealing subconscious goings-on in which dream interacts with reality, and long discarded thoughts and ideas coexist with mirror-images of the present time in its variety of forms. They are permeated with an energy controlled by reason, they wed a delicate feeling for nature with exact architectural vision, a coupling which results in a stratification of the pictorial space on several planes and levels of meaning.

Matasova's work from the years 1966–1967 documents a process during which her painting gradually came to assume increasingly three-dimensional characteristics bringing it ever closer to relief form which, in its turn, required a corresponding change of technical approach, with a view to achieving greater plasticity. Her reliefs and objects dating from 1967–1971 drew on the properties of artificial resin. "The change of material - which went hand in hand with an inner urge to detach myself from structures and to try out an idiom that would be simple and would rely chiefly on symbols, indeed that would even tend towards objectiveness - did not alienate me from ideas of fantastic giant architectures, wbere these relief details would function as buildings located in a landscape." (A.M.) Matasova's output from that period embodies an interaction of forms arranged in a flawlessly balanced and precisely harmonized composition. It relates closely to nature, depicting the underlying essence of landscape and human body, commenting on the complex relationship existing between the various elements of the animal, vegetable and mineral realms of nature on the one hand, and the human civilization with its often reckless action impairing the delicate balance of things, on the other. Inscribed within those works is the correlation between the individual and society, the tensions between the male and female principles, definite and real attributes of physical existence, and the fact of the indivisibility of birth and decline. That period as a whole came to a close in 1971, with two large-scale exhibitions: at the Art Gallery of Ostrov nad Ohri (Summer Pavillion), and at Prague's Galerie Fronta.

What was a promising creative trajectory, however was obstructed by the time's political adversities. A promise of escape from the stalemate came in the form of an invitation from the actors' studio of the southern Bohemian provincial theatre company from Ceske Budejovice, where Adela Matasova produced a stage action of her own, in conjunction with electronic music by Varese. The impulse of that performance, in which she used for the first time vinyl foil and human body (involving metallic cubes draped in translucent vinyl which was torn by people who had been previously placed within the construction), was to serve her as a potent source of inspiration for a number of subsequent years.

Work with foil and motion frozen to a standstill in plaster, which was strongly inspired by the aforementioned stage action, marked the beginning of a phase in Matasova's career during which she focused on small-scale experimentation with movement, but also with various applications of originally styled hand paper, a material which she first came to deal with after 1974. This became a starting point for a series of multiples and relief prints. She was greatly impressed then by a visit to the old paper-mill at Velké Losiny, where she familiarized herself with a wide variety of technical processes. That encounter, coupled with her constant search, led her to a new creative stage, during which she would concentrate on work with paper mass. She set out to make reliefs shaped with the use of both positive and negative moulds. Once again, her main concern there was with capturing motion frozen in time, as well as depicting force being applied to surmount some kind of resistance. The individual reliefs display exact imprints of the shapes of various solid objects, simultaneously attesting to the presence of streams of energy flowing in to overcome obstacles. There, bands contained halfway through their movement formed a sign delivering a message of multiple meanings. Matasova's embossed prints and reliefs from that period, sometimes straddling the borderline between printmaking and sculpture, testify to interaction between natural forces and delicate, sensitive arrangement of elements, resulting in the latters outpour into space. Adela Matasova developed various ways of treating paper, including some quite extraordinary methods. She pierces its layered structure, crumpling it and rolling it over, softening its mass down to pulp and moulding it with the use of the most straightforward procedure. She then pro­ceeds to liven up the surface and enhance its dramatic potential by exposing it to appropriate lighting in which its relief is revealed in all its refinement and sharpness, on the background of a naturally structured plane. The paper's creasing and condensation serves to reflect the artist's projections and creative processes that are essentially similar to natural phenomena which can be witnessed for instance in the formation of landscape, when everything is in motion, when all kinds of forces are alternately multiplied and reduced or eliminated, when changes of correlation can result in either marked increase in tension or on the contrary, a release of energy. These reliefs document the lightness, weight, delicacy and bulkiness of matter. Paper has played a major role in the art of the present century, owing not ably to its endless variety of forms and uses. It offers itself to the medium of collage, which has developed from the time of the Cubists to this day, to produce a wide array of derived approaches, involving the cutting, slicing, tearing and regrouping of elements, pasting up objects, structuring and modelling raw paper mass in layers, hueing it with natural pigments, as well as moulding and arranging it in atterns forming either harmonious or disharmonious wholes. Some artists paste over, pierce, tear or burn through surfaces covered with drawing, an approach whhich spread worldwide during the 1980s, which was documented by a number of international exhibitions. Unfortunately. artists from this country were only rarely allowed to take part in those shows. Virtually independently from this global trend, yet almost simultaneously with it, by some kind of intuitive analogy the inevitability of such expression became obvious in these latitudes as well. With the somewhat relaxed political atmosphere characteristic for the final decline of the communist regime in the latter balf of the 1980s; and feeling an increasingly pressing need for the organizing of unofficial displays, albeit taking place in makeshift conditions, Adela Matasova interrupted for a brief period her work with paper, to return to artificial resin: a step necessitated by her renewed concern with larger-scale relief objects.

The phenomenon of "frozen movement" in liquid plaster, waiting there up to the point of solidifying, became yet another principle of artistic idiom, one under which a gesture of the human body determined the definitive and at the same time all but random form of a relief. Thus Load was the result of sliding sackcloth dipped in plaster across a surface; Humility was produced by an imprint of the head, knees and forearm in soil; while Pompeii, Diagonal and Imprint were generated by shifts in the position of the human body and its pressure upon the ground foil which for its part then came to represent drapery. Finally, the relief was assigned definitive form with the addition of resin, as the plaster cast would have been too fragile. Soon, however, resin was substituted by a flax substance which brought into the process the elements of light weight and fast processing. In 1986 Matasová mounted a show at Prague's Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry, displaying apart from large resin objects also the first three reliefs made from paper mass. The new materials solidity facilitated the making of large-scale projects, with reliefs jutting out and overlapping into space which the sculptural mass divides and endows with rhythm, while at the same time harmonizing or contrasting with the environment in which the reliefs are set. The artist's idiom gradually acquired monumental dimensions, marking a preparatory stage during the 1980s for the coming of her installations between 1988 and 1989.

In fact, her installations did not represent anything like a major turning point in Adéla Matasová's work. Rather, they constituted a logical continuation of her previous work. Where they did differ from it was their substantially broader scope of meaning, their combining of diverse elements and means of expression, and their contextual linkage with a pre-determined space with which the work formed an organic whole. In May 1989 she presented her first installation, entitled Situation I, at Národni dum, a community centre of the Prague district of Vinohrady, whose exhibition gallery was reputed throughout the 1980s for its clearly defined programme, becoming one of the handful of islets of open dialogue in the arts which then managed to survive in Prague, grappling with countless obstacles posed to their existence by the regime. Situation I presented the contrast of biological and organic vertical elements made from flax paper, horizontally embedded within which were suspended beams of balsa wood which assigned to the installation a sense of order and a constructive dimension. On the whole, the work embodied a distinct tension between the human and geometric parameters, between randomness and the pre­cisely determined rhythm of recurrent elements. Variability; transience and lightness amalgamated there with weight and permanence, strict stereometric pattern intertwined with freely flowing, undulat­ing and folding layers of paper. The installation symbolized the symbiosis of all strata of life, the blending and overlapping of different meanings, the permeation between historical legacy, present-day reality and future, as well as the coexistence of a situa­tion from which there seems to be no way out, with a perspective of hope. At that time, shortly before the revolution and the country's restoration to democracy, Adela Matasova was one of the first artists in this country to make installations using sound (the recorded sound produced by a long wire in a sonic installation by American minimalist Alvin Lucier), which both "expanded" and "attacked" space.

Between 1990 and 1991 the stable of the artist's country home in Jarotice became the scene for the making of an installation called The Road: wooden boxes whose insides were soiled with asphalt and which were stuffed with paper mass that would be slowly hoisted up on a hemp rope. The image of levitation over the asphaltlined boxes, acting in conjunction with the beam of light pouring in through the open stable gate, was firmly linked with the work's southern Bohemian setting, and with the studio-exhibition room which has long been the actual birthplace of a substantial part of Matasova's output. From 1990 the artist had set in her mind the concept of Situation II, an installation prepared specifically for Prague's Nova sin gallery in whose beautiful, pristine space it was mounted in the following year. It was coupled with a music installation by American artist Ellen Fullman. In terms of concept the exhibit linked up with Situation I, once again featuring a combination of wooden beams and structural elements made of paper and rope. What the new installation differed in from the earlier work was heterogeneity of expression; additional features included thick ropes and metallic architectural supporting pillars, at that stage still covered with corrugated paper whose structure related to the artist's preceding creative period. By now Matasova's central theme was the phenomenon of expansion and constriction of space. In her installation, space was opened wide by support arches, only to recollapse towards the centre of the room due to the effect created by a suspended beam bearing an arrav of organic forms. A stabilizing element was represented there by a triangle which had the ultimate effect of preserving the overall balance of the composition. Thus in this case it was matter which becanre the actual source of inspiration for this representation of constriction and expansion undergone by an object, while in Situation I the principle in question had been carrted across merely by means of sound. Situation II may be characterized as an installation that was at once transitional and ground-breaking, in that it embodied both the final echoes of a certain outlook and sensitivity, and the discovery of new ways and options, by combining diverse means of expression and by alternating compositional rhythm.

To endow her ideas with substance, Adéla Matasová has made use of widely varied spaces, ranging from standard exhibition galleries to venues selected with a view to their serving a definite purpose which can be achieved only in symbiosis with the environment, landscape or architecture. In Communication (1992) she was given the opportunity to redefine the modern architectural design of a large hall on the top floor of Typografia office block near Prague's Masaryk Railway Station, with whose characteristic composition her installation harmonized and contrasted at the same time. A new relation was established between the hall's in­ternal and external space, with the pillars of the installation propped against the glazed outer wall inducing an impression of incompleteness, openness and seeming, purely optical imbalance. An important part was played by light which sharply divided and defined the area.

Still in the same year (1992), Emil Filla Gallery in Ústí nad Labem hosted an installation entitled A Shift in Space, for which the artist put up pillars and propped them against iron plates. The concept became the basis for an object she subsequently installed in the seaside resort of Agios Nikolaos, on Crete, where the work's technicist arches were supplemented with large mirrors turned towards the sea, reflecting its surface and the shoreline in the course of their everyday transformations taking place from dawn to dusk. The installation was the product of her participation in a symposium. Her meeting there with other artists sharing her aspiration to interact with landscape, both being influenced by it and transforming it. gave Matasová a fresh impulse for the further development of her idiom. involving a constantly growing sensitivity to each individual site chosen as repository for her ideas. She consequently evolved an approach based on the acquisition of a thorough knowledge of a place, including identification with its atmosphere, so she would be able to add her own share to its substance, to enrich it with a dimension which might sometimes be quite unexpected and surprising.

In 1993 Brno's Old Town Hall became the venue of an exhibition called Communication II. There, she displayed new elements in the form of tetrahedral U-shaped air-conditioning units placed on the ground with the option of swinging movement, combining a state of equal balance with easily attainable deflection from the object's naturally stable position. The use of juxtaposed mirror walls resulted in a "tunnel" view in which the various parts of the object multiplied and its entire space optically expanded. The concepts of projection and echo constituted the underlying motive for the incorporation into the project of an accompanying vocal duet chanting vowels and consonants in alphabetical order, as the rudiment of human communication, fragmented and distorted by the echo. The sound was switched on by a photocell, upon the spectators reaching a specific point. This generated a surreal effect ushering the viewer into a world of visions stimulating his imagination. (The sonic composition was on that occasion created by Matasova herself.)

For the realization of Communication III (Inhabited Landscape), of 1994. Adela Matasova was offered the space of the open-air grounds of Klenova Castle. The castle's tower was virtually dotted with mirrors, an idea that came to her at the sight of the holes which had remained in the outer wall after the removal of scaffolding used in previous repairs. Helped by a team of mountain-climbers the artist stuck into the holes as many wooden poles at the end of each of which was mounted a polished-metal mirror. Systematically distributed all around the object, the mirrors kept reflecting light from daybreak until sunset. Under the tower Matasova installed various metallic objects which could be used by visitors for resting and rocking. Upon the castle fortification walls she fixed a precisely arrayed set of larger polished metal sheets to mirror details of the surrounding vegetation. She also hammered light aluminum rods into a high wall sheltering the castle well, eventually covering its entire surface with streaming metallic clusters. The bristling rods would vibrate when touched or unsettled by a gust of wind, emitting characteristic sounds. Under the tower, shaded by tall trees, is a tiny artificial lake whose bottom is made of black-painted concrete, and whose surface reflected the tangled branches of the canopy above. Installed underneath the surface of its water was a mirror, a device that doubled the reflecting surfaces to heighten the work's impact. These objects complemented the landscape as an environment where human action mingles with that of nature.

In late 1994 New York was the venue of a festival of Czech art held under the title Celebrate Prague, which included several exhibitions. a ballet performance, video shows, samples of modern architecture, various performances, etc. Also part of it was a display called Changing Places, whose curator Charlotte Kotikova brought together works by Magdalena Jetelova, Adela Matasova, Margita Titlova, Ivan Kafka, Frantisek Skala, Jr. and Martin Mainer. Adéla Matasová had prepared for that occasion an elaborate installation making the best of the industrial character of the spacious office-tower lobby in which the display was mounted and whose huge shop windows communicate with the surrounding cityscape. Matasova fixed onto the ceiling with its undisguised air-conditioning ducts an array of curved metallic objects, generating an impression of their permeating the whole building. Pouring out of their open ends were clusters of aluminium rods vibrating in the flowing air or on being touched. From a window lintel on the lobby's opposite wall streamed more rods, passing over the visitors' heads, suggesting an outgrowth of the outdoor environment. This induced communication between the inside and the outside, as well as creating a rapport between spectator and installation.

In 1995 Adela Matasova presented at Prague's Via art gallery an entirely new installation entitled Tombs, created specifically for the gallery's unusual, narrow space. Located underneath the groundfloor of a church, the gallery offered the artist a crypt-like frame. Simultaneously, the installation projected aspects of modernage civilization. The exhibit incorporated lettering, with the show's title forming a strip winding round the room's walls. The tombs, made of polished steel, were laid on a bed of straw, as in the moment of birth, their half-open lids letting out rays of hope. Hanging above them was a trough fashioned from stale straw, symbolizing the continuity and contrast of ancient past and present. The opposites embodied in different materials, as well as in the juxtaposition of order and randomness, definiteness and formlessness, internal and external light and reflection, certainty and uncertainty, constancy and volatility, were bound to induce existential feelings associated with the gallery's location and with the fragmented atmosphere of today's world.

The present exhibition at Prague's Kinsky Palace is not a retrospective in the proper sense of the term. Rather, it strives to point at the links existing between Adéla Matasová's various creative stages, to lay an emphasis on the decisive moments in her development, to reveal and demonstrate the close affinities prevailing between certain phases of her work regardless of their distance in time, and at the same time, to trace the broader orientation of her endeavour. By no means merely summing up her achievements so far, the show brings several new elements. Conceived in correspondence with the specific properties of the exhibition rooms, it constitutes a single organic whole whose parts are mutually linked by the continuity of the artist's early and recent output, and of its different chronological and semantic planes.

Jirí Machalický, Prague, January—February, 1997
(translated by Ivan Vomácka)