Second edition of our summer Video Journal Czech Center New York on Facebook, moderated by Anna Kotyzová. This time with Czech artist Radka Salcmannová.
We met face to face in Central Park with our second guest, the young Czech artist Radka Salcmannová.
Czech Center New York is opening a new chapter of our online programing in New York City. While following all Covid pandemic guidelines, we are fulfilling our chief goal: to promote Czech culture in the U.S. and across North America.
Photo: Radka Salcmannová
MM: In your artwork, you have been working on masks for a long time, conceptually intervening in design and fashion. At the time of the coronavirus pandemic, you turned to making completely different masks – protective face masks that you offer to the public. Can you talk about how you originally came to the theme of masks?
RS: The masks in my work began with such a special coincidence. I came to New York from Prague as a student at the School of Visual Arts. My dream was to work for Matthew Barney, which came true, and it was an important experience for me. This then inspired me to make films, combining my visual interests for performance, painting, and sculpture. I started sewing costumes, but I didn't have an actress, and I needed someone to act as a character in my experimental videos. So I started to do it myself, but because I'm not an actress and I didn't want it to be known that it was me myself, I started to create masks. These were later noticed by people from New York Fashion Week where I was invited to be the Art Director. I then started to create masks for their models, which brought me into the world of fashion.
Photo: Archive Radka Salcmannová
MM: Are your artistic masks very expressive, evoking emotions? Do they represent some symbolism, mythology or is it your own imagination?
RS: It's my imagination, and at the same time, I perceive every mask as almost a human in itself. Masks have strong characteristics and can represent a person or character. I like the fact that the viewer can imagine this person based on what the mask evokes in form and material. For example, I have black masks, aggressive ones with scary-looking spines, or masks that have a lot of eggs where something seems to be being born. I am also interested in the paradox that one can hide behind a mask, can hide one’s identity and get another, but things that are suppressed and concealed end up getting to the surface anyway, so with a mask, one can sometimes look more real than not.
MM: How did this change from a symbolic mask to a utility mask come about for you, what does this mean to you?
RS: This is a strange coincidence. Now, in early March, I was exhibiting my masks here at the Scope Art Fair in New York, but unfortunately, the course of the fair was influenced by the declaration of an emergency due to the coronavirus. I planned to continue working on my art masks, but the situation eventually arranged it in a different way. I started sewing masks, and I got a lot of inspiration from sewing masks in my home in the Czech Republic. I enjoy being able to help, and at the same time, it is a continuation of what I did in art, albeit it being different, functional. I also like the fact that it is bringing the world, which is now isolated, closer together. I hear people and often important colleagues in my field that I have not heard from for two years needing a mask. When I went out to send the masks, I noticed that people were smiling at each other more on the street, I think that good is being born out of the bad. The world will stop, reshape, and surely the perception of us all will change. Personally, I try to be optimistic and believe that something new and better can arise from a crisis situation.
MM: Do you follow a certain style in your masks? Is design important to you?
There are still many people on the streets without masks. Probably because of the fact that they are not explicitly mandated, but at the same time, people cannot or do not know how to get them. Shyness may also be part of it. People don't wear face masks so much in New York – do you think design could make them popular?
RS: I don't think people in New York are ashamed to wear masks, they think it doesn't matter. You will not find a unified view on the masks here. Newspapers, politicians, everyone has and –very strongly – holds a very different view. I think people have contradictory feelings arising from that. Now there are more masks, but there were very few masks just a week ago. I want to make masks that are cheerful, artistic, and maybe a little crazy, so we don't go crazy and to maintain a positive mood. I created a positive, colorful collection, and I hope we don't start to panic and adopt an apocalyptic mood. It doesn't work here by opening up notions fabric stores so people can buy material – getting fabric at this time is very hard. Therefore, the masks that I sew are limited in number, and most of the fabrics are enriched with a personal story of how I got them. It's a powerful improvisation.
MM: Practically speaking, how is it coming along? How many masks do you sew and how do you distribute them?
RS: It became literally a full-time job for me: I get up early in the morning and sew into the evening hours. Of course, my boyfriend is not enjoying it anymore – no one expected the living room to become a small manufactory. I make about 35 of them every day. It's laborious, I do everything myself. I even knit the strings, because now I can't get elastic laces, a detail that takes more time than making the mask itself. I try to look for and change fabrics and patterns. Last week it was romantic, a lot of floral patterns, black and pink flowers, now it got pretty wild – maybe it reflects that we've been locked up at home for three weeks. I distribute masks to a wide range of my contacts. I'm glad it isn’t growing into more production; I have a conversation with every person, it's personal.
MM: This is a very rewarding activity these days, masks have surely changed your life.
RS: In making those masks, I realize what's important and what's not. I am thinking quite intensely about how I could link my art and creativity with functionality in the future. In fact, it is a very lesson-learning experience for me, which I will certainly use as a base for my future projects. I'm already working on sketches, and I'll see what it turns out to be.
MM: Your creativity is very encouraging and instils hope. Do you think the current situation will change us as a society? Would you like to tell people something encouraging?
RS: As I mentioned earlier, I think every crisis is important and will bring something positive. I take it as a natural cycle of life. I can say for myself that this stopping in time and space – almost literally, in fact, has taught and enriched me a lot. Once we are overwhelmed by uncertainty – I think artists and people in the creative industry are used to it – maybe we will all re-value and start doing a lot of things differently. You also start to enjoy the little things, things that we normally do not even perceive in the everyday amount of information and stress. I am extremely proud of all the people who help, sew, and observe quarantine measures. Look at how we hold together as a nation. That seems incredible to me and it’s absolutely unique. Czechs like to complain about Czechs very much, but in this crisis, I hope that Czechs are proud of Czechs. It’s truly a beautiful thing to behold.
Radka Salcmannová (1986) is a successful Czech artist, designer and filmmaker living in Brooklyn, New York. She is known for her bold approach in pushing the boundaries of contemporary visual design. Her studio RS Visual Thing focuses on the cross-section between art, cinematography, fashion and experimental installations. She graduated from the Academy of Art Architecture and Design in Prague (2009) and studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York (2012).
In 2016 she received a prestigious FCA grant, which is awarded annually to the top five artists. Modern Painter Magazine listed her as one of “25 artists to watch”. She presented her designs at the Los Angeles Fashion Week (LAFW 2016) and Vogue magazine recognized her as a must-know designer from LAFW. A year later, she created a series of silicone dresses, shoes and headgear as part of LAFW 2017 inspired by the design of Game of Thrones. Her experimental film Light Year was screened on Manhattan Bridge (2017). In 2018 she was selected to participate at the prestigious SCOPE Art Show in Art Basel Miami and 2020 SCOPE NYC.
She worked for major icons such as, Marian Sell, Leo Kuelbs and Wonderful Production.
She worked for award-winning artist Matthew Barney on installations of his opera film called River of Fundament from 2014. She created a unique installations and art direction for the designer Carolina Sarria at New York Fashion Week (2015,2016).www.rsvisualthing.com
This program is sponsored by Trebitsch Whisky, first Czech single malt whisky in the US.