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Eye Exhibition: Jan Svankmayer

Eye Exhibition: Jan Svankmayer

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Eye Exhibition: Jan Svankmayer

2 December 2018

Legendary Czech surrealist and experimental filmmaker Jan Ŝvankmajer will be the focus of the next EYE exhibition in Amsterdam. Jaap Guldemond explains why to Nick Cunningham.

"Ŝvankmajer is a perfect example of that attitude of daring to do what you want while giving full expression to your imagination," explains EYE exhibition chief Guldemond of the renowned animator, whose work includes the features Alice (1988) and Faust (1994), as well as Insects (2018) which world-premiered at IFFR. Devotees of the Czech master's work include Terry Gilliam and the Brothers Quay, the latter themselves a subject of an EYE exhibition in 2013/14.

But the new exhibition won't be addressing Ŝvankmajer's feature output. It will concentrate instead on his shorts, collages and 2d works, with a core presentation of three themed wunderkammers , or extended cabinets of curiosity, that will exhibit the mad, unique, profane and surreal objects that he created over the past half a century, and which have both informed and populated his works.

Whatever creative ephemera doesn't fit into the wunderkammers with fill the rest of the exhibition space. The vast majority of these objects (masks, dolls, skulls, religious totems, Bosch-inspired hybrid creatures and much more) will be transported from Svankmajer's studio in Prague and his castle three hours from the Czech capital. Throughout his career Ŝvankmajer has sought to challenge and disrupt the core tenets of animated filmmaking through the collection, manufacture and animation of such objects in order to, in his own surrealist way, explore the possibilities of nonempirically derived knowledge/ information.

"It is amazing as he collects, like a madman, works mainly from the Pacific and Africa, all those fetish objects - and there are thousands of them. He is making his own Rudolf II wunderkammer there where he has sessions with the last remnants of the Czech surrealist group," comments Guldemond.

Speaking in 2010 Ŝvankmajer said of his modus operandi : "I don't actually animate objects, I coerce their inner life out of them," adding, "I like things that have passed through human hands. Things that have been touched. Such things are charged with emotions that are capable of revealing themselves under certain, extremely sensitive circumstances. I collect such objects, surround myself with them and in the end I cast ‘fetishes' in my films."

The EYE exhibitions have proven to be very popular since the museum opened in 2012, but Guldemond finds it impossible to second guess the tastes and intentions of the Dutch and international public.

"I have learned that is difficult to foresee what will attract a large audience. Right now we are having the Ryoji Ikeda exhibition, a Japanese radical electrical composer working with data, and it is our second best visited exhibition ever. We did the Alex van Warmerdam which we expected to be popular, and it was, but it was nothing compared to the current show. So you never know." The most popular exhibition to date has been William Kentridge's astounding ‘If We Ever Get to Heaven' exhibition from 2015.

Guldemond sums up the appeal of the Czech surrealist to EYE audiences. "These days, it seems that everything has to be very rationalised, but I think Ŝvankmajer is doing the exact opposite, and represents a different attitude in a world where technocracy and algorithms are taking over. I am not taking a political standpoint, but it makes sense to do this exhibition now at a time when imagination seems a kind of luxury and is not taken seriously enough."

SEE NL Magazine #33 November 2018 / IDFA Issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by EYE International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.

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