The secret behind the glass curtain

Nový Bor, 13–15 June 2014


matragi.jpgInterview with Blanka Matragi

During today's workshop, it must have been apparent to everyone that you completely immerse yourself in your work. However, there is also a bit of theatre at work, because you also involve everyone around you, and you enjoy accepting and noticing their reactions and energy, don't you?

Yes, that's the way I am. Every artist basically lives in their own micro world, where they create something and then wait for the reaction from others. But today it was wonderful due to the direct nature of these events and that people were applauding and even bringing me flowers and a lot of gifts. This surprised me. Young people at the workshop brought their own creations for consultations regarding whether they had talent. And I believe that this is the focus of this event. Tourism involves travel, discovery and involvement in activities. When I create something, I want it to also be used by those who create things with me.

Anyone who observes your work cannot avoid noticing that you pay careful attention to every detail. It's obvious that you also pay careful attention to photographers and cameramen as well as to the output that comes from the event, since you are basically a step ahead. You also know how to do this in a way that is very entertaining, and it could be said that you are like a "theatre," right?

I am certainly a theatre, but life has taught me to pay attention to details. In the past, I underestimated a lot of things, and then I regretted that I didn't have any documentation. Of course, the rear projections in thoughts regarding such experiences are no longer as sharp as the reality was.  It is sometimes regrettable that rare moments gradually slip away. Wonderful moments are, for example, when small children ask to have something signed on their arms, or when today a pregnant woman came in and I autographed her abdomen! I can give her a blessing for that new life to continue and for that baby to be born with a major gift from an artist like me. Since I realise the intensity of such moments, I also pay attention to their documentation.

In conclusion, I would like to ask you two questions, which I ask all guests of MEET CZECH DESIGN. What does design mean for you personally?

I think that for every creative artist, design means self expression and sharing of the ideas which race through a creative artist's head. Each area of design involves communication with the surroundings, which is an excellent opportunity for a person to express everything through various activities and events, such as MEET CZECH DESIGN.

And how do you personally perceive the MEET CZECH DESIGN project?

I think the idea behind the project is wonderful. It connects cities, people and media and encourages everyone to get involved and meet for a purpose that gives them something and educates them as well. I think that these are challenges that give us the opportunity for self realisation as well as confrontation with other colleagues. Mediating a creative artist's communication with the surroundings happens very spontaneously, and this is a very pleasant meeting. Therefore, I am in favour of it and want it to continue.

boreksipek.jpgInterview with Bořek Šípek

What does design mean to you?

Design means work to me, it is my profession, but design is also an expression of our contemporary culture for me. It is a part of our life; it is something that influences our everyday lives as well as our holidays. This discipline is rather young but it is getting more and more significant for the development of our culture.

What do you think about Meet Czech Design?

I think it is extremely important that there are such projects here because many people are still not aware of the role of design, especially producers are not aware of it. They often handle their matters themselves somehow and don’t realise that design may have economic impacts, too, as an added aesthetic value.

Besides your glassworks, Anežka, is there anything else that connects you with Nový Bor?

No, I don’t have any other roots here, I am a native Praguer. I first came to Nový Bor when I was about 16 because I had a close relationship with Mr Roubíček, who brought me here. I always longed to become an architect and never dealt with glass. This originated when I built my first house and wanted to make a chandelier for it. It was in 1982, it captured me and I’ve been working with glass since then.

Let me paraphrase you now. I have read somewhere that Anežka is like a child of yours and that you have always wanted to give this name to your daughter. So these glassworks where we are now are your dream come true and I wonder if Anežka is a good child.

Anežka is definitely a good child (laughs) but her upbringing is not easy. It is naturally connected with worries because the glassmaking industry is not at its very best economically these days. But we have managed to create an environment here that we couldn’t have anywhere else. Just like every other company it adjusts its technical equipment so that it corresponds with the production and people have to submit to it a lot. Here we manage to do it as we want to.

Your workshop begins in a while and visitors starts coming, so my last question is what will you do today?

 We will only finish some easy things now, glasses, but when the workshop begins we will start creating a glass sofa which will go to Japan.

Interview with David Sobotka (the custodian of MEET CZECH DESIGN in Nový Bor)

What does design mean to you?

To me personally, it means absolute devotion to this topic, because since my student days I have been heading towards design a little. Like every student of a secondary school of art I wanted to study at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague, and in the end I decided to work with Bořek Šípek, who was my greatest teacher of design, architecture and arts and with whom I spent 18 years. So that was my school of design.

What does Meet Czech Design mean to you as the custodian?

It is a year of work for me – from the professional point of view. But on the other hand, it means absolute satisfaction. It is amazing how we could whoop up Nový Bor and its surroundings not only thanks to glass, but also due to interconnection and overlap with design.

It might be a good idea to describe to our readers what the preparation of such an exhibition and such a huge project involves.

I dealt with preparation of various exhibitions as early as at the time when I worked as a manager for Bořek Šípek so we did huge exhibitions all over the world. Of course, there are several months of work concerning theoretical preparation and selection of locations. Then, it is physical work of about one month during which you have to choose individual pieces, clean them and pack them. When you are sending pieces to New York, you must guarantee that they will arrive there in good condition. Time passes quickly then, and suddenly there is the last week and last hours that you count down before the preview is opened. There, you cannot bargain about anything you didn’t manage, so you just have to manage everything in time.

Is it always possible to manage everything in time?

Bořek taught me to become a maximalist. So our determination and devotion were what we had in common. Actually, this is what I find exciting in the world of art; artists often make maximum effort only at the last possible moment, which is something contradictory for a purely pragmatic manager.

The festival hasn’t finished yet, but still I wonder how you feel about it?

It’s obviously nervous and I ask myself if we really communicated the concept correctly and if it will be clear to understand. But I am proud to say that I’ve been only getting positive feedback both from the owners and visitors for the last two days. So in my opinion, what you can see here is really successful; we handled it perfectly. I always say it’s mainly thanks to the glassmakers because it’s them who are behind a particular piece.

vavra.jpgInterview with David Vávra

Within your work you devote yourself to a method called fusing. You spoke about this method in your lecture for our MEET CZECH DESIGN visitors. What does fusing mean to you?

Fusing brings joy, psychotherapy and then maybe joy for others, too, because this method is similar to creation of collages. You can work with it in a very similar way because you put coloured pieces of glass on top of each other, and as glass is a very merciful and artistic material, it’s usually a matter of chance, which, in this case, rather helps than harms. In fact, even without knowing glass-making techniques, which are very difficult, you can put one piece of glass over another one, scatter them with frits and then bake it all. The glass will melt, make bubbles, and when you throw light on it, you give it motion so the glass changes with sun, comes alive, which is another beautiful quality of glass.

You talk about fusing in a very enthusiastic way, indeed. What makes you so excited?

The thing is an architect is actually a slave to construction and has to overcome certain obstacles during construction. However, the obstacles are a part of the final piece of art. Then an artist usually comes and finishes the work of art feeling like a king. And I said to myself: Why do I have to suffer with the constructions? Why should I leave the last stage of delight to someone else? Moreover, I always have to explain it to the artist. So I was brazen-faced, entered this space and got hold of it for myself. And it gives me the desired pleasure.

This brings me to one of your statements, which is often cited. I mean the one that architecture should serve people. Do you think it is still true?

The role of an architect is the one of a servant. An architect should serve those who pay considerable means – they should feel like a king there. And if you want this person to feel like a king, the things must not present themselves and make the one who pays look unnecessary there. Which is actually the manner in which we take photos these days; buildings look like an esthetical conception where children and their toys are only disturbance.

What does design mean to you?

I don’t know if design is an independent discipline. I’d rather design was a part of the profession. I mean an architect should design a house completely including handles, I would not separate handles from the house. And as far as jewels are concerned, if someone designs a jewel, it’s a jewel, not design. I don’t trust design itself much. I think that those individual artists in various areas should cope with that. I find designers to be a profession taken out of context. But on the other hand, each job that brings positive energy is a good one. Design brings joy, so it is a good thing; I accept that. 

peterolah.jpgInterview with Peter Olah and Lars Kemper

Two of your exhibits are running simultaneously at Meet Czech Design. For clarity, I would first like to draw your attention to the project for exceptional students, known as Flowers for Slovakia. What is the purpose of this project?

Peter: Flowers for Slovakia is a type of sharing. When I give you a flower, I am showing respect for you or giving it to you as a gift. Our project has two levels, one of which is involvement of students with design professionals, who can share certain experience with them. Subsequent cooperation with manufacturers, from whom they can gain knowledge, can facilitate creation, and in the future they can become their employees and their designers. However, there is also a Slovak dimension, since in a certain way we are helping Slovakia, because we present it in the world. The project was created at the Slovak Technical University, and it is tied to Slovakia, but Flowers for Slovakia is not a national project at all. We are open, and the project includes students from other countries as well, such as the Czech Republic and Austria. The designers whom we invite are from various countries. An international dimension has increasingly been involved.

How do you recognise the best of the best students? How do you select students for the project?

Peter: During the first run of the project, no know was aware of Flowers for Slovakia, and the group of students involved was limited from the very beginning. We set up the concept from the start with the anticipation that we would select more students and enable them to compete, the way it is done in actual design studios. So the students compete with each other, and this gives rise to the "core team" of the project. That is how it was during the first challenge. However, when we announced the second challenge two years ago, there was a huge response, and we had a huge number of portfolios to choose from. So the narrower selection was done via multiple rounds, and the first pre-round was done by director Michaela Lipková along with other people. The top team was gradually formed, and we had to select the "creme de la creme" as the expression goes. As had already become apparent at another time, even from that selection there is only a certain part of the group who are motivated enough to endure and achieve perfect results.

The second project of yours, known as Gastarbeiter, related to your joint creations. Can you summarise it for readers?

Peter: Gastarbeiter involves our free-time activities, to put it simply. Lars and I work for international companies, and we do industrial design, which is relatively precisely defined and relatively clearly related. Therefore, we said we would do something else, for distraction. We are designers, and so the project is finished for us when the design is ready, meaning when the outcome is how we want it to be. We have never considered any commercial aspect of the project. For years, Gastarbeiter has been basically a relatively expensive hobby, which we do enthusiastically.
Lars: We both work for large corporations involved in industrial design, which is relatively strict regarding creativity. Therefore, it is natural to feel close to burnout syndrome rather quickly. Therefore, we try to find a place where we will be able to create and innovate new things. And we have not been such a failure. J There is a lot that we have done together over the years. We're talking about a long time, an entire decade. This is also fulfilling cooperation. Maybe there is no apparent economic effect, but it is important for our lives. It helps us refresh our minds, which is really crucial.

Both of your exhibits are visible for Czech visitors only during MEET CZECH DESIGN. Will our readers have the opportunity to see your work elsewhere as well?

Peter: Both of the exhibits have their premières at home, in their own countries, and they are travelling around the world. For example, with Flowers for Slovakia we have just returned from Berlin, where we were recognised for presenting an exceptional exhibit. The Flowers for Slovakia – Handle with Care project is at its end and today is symbolically ending its journey at the place where it began. I am not claiming that it can no longer be exhibited, not at all. But now the Lost & Found project corresponds to it, with which we have returned from Poland, and we will continue to try to get to Design Week in Milan. Of course it is a major milestone for students, because exhibiting at Design Week remains a huge dream.

libena.jpgInterview with Liběna Rochová

Your name is usually connected rather with materials such as textiles and paper. In spite of that I know that in 2008 you worked on a project with Mr Petr Novotný here in Nový Bor and particularly in these glassworks. How did you get to work with glass?

I feel great respect for glass and I admire the works of Czech glassmakers all over the world. I had a new creative idea and I went to consult it with Dana Zámečníková, who sent me to an expert in this area, Mr Petr Novotný. So I visited him and was nervous due to my boldness in wanting to do something like that although I am not a glassmaker. Mr Novotný liked it immediately, so we tried it and that is how The Tribute to Glass (Pocta sklu) – jewels designed for dresses – originated. The fashion show was in DOX as part of Designblok, the collection was nominated for the Czech Grand Design and then I had an exhibition and show in New York. Some of the items were also in Brussels and so on.

And have you worked on another project since then?

No. I was planning to but, unfortunately, I have been so busy teaching at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design and with my own work so I haven’t got around to it.

And now you have been offered the chance to cooperate within Meet Czech Design?

Yes, exactly. David Sobotka called me and told me he had this offer for me and I was delighted to accept. My three-hour workshop has just finished now, and I really enjoyed it. Of course, I went there with a lot of humbleness again because of the respect I feel for Czech glassmakers; I am still aware of my boldness. But suddenly, I found myself feeling the same as the last time. Petr Novotný before, Petr Kuchta now, both have realised my ideas. There must be some sort of connection between us. I have an idea in my head and don’t make exact drawings, because I prefer evoking some feelings and then working with them. I like cooperating at this level – I bring ideas and the glassmaker tells me what is possible to realise and what is not. I want his contribution, his knowledge, his skills so that we achieve the connection. I always approach him with great respect as an excellent glassmaker who adds a little of his creativity to it. We both need to listen to each other to make it work. And that’s wonderful. Like today.

But that’s really good luck that you meet and get coordinated like this. It’s certainly not so common in your profession. Or am I wrong?

Exactly, it’s a miracle, it’s not always like with Petr Novotný or Petr Kuchta. I have worked with artists from other areas and I know it wouldn’t work in this way. But it works in this case because there is mutual respect and esteem between us; we are on the same wavelength. I am really happy my knowledge improved; I want to take a glassmaking course here. I want to learn to blow glass and the basics of glassmaking because I want to know more about the craft. But I will not count myself among glassmaking artists, definitely not; I just need to make my ideas real.

When I am listening to you describing your relationship with glass in such a nice way, it came to my mind that you did some work for Jablonec before, am I right?

Yes, yes, it’s been ages; I made a collection of jewels for them in 1980s. I worked on it with Eva Nováková, their designer, and we worked with glass and components that existed at that time. However, those things were too small for me, too filigree, I wanted something bigger. But I think that in spite of that we made a very successful collection and the artists treated my ideas very well. I took another step towards glass in the 1990s. I was in Jablonec for a week and went round all the factories where glass is produced to discover what they do and what their production looks like. This was followed by a fashion show in 1995 when I already worked with glass, for example buttons were made of glass, but still I could feel that I wanted to create big objects like today, for instance.

Today, you created jewels for Mrs Gulliver with Petr Kuchta at the workshop. When will we be able to see the result?

I would like to present it within Designblok in October.

And finally, I would like to ask a simple question which all guests of Meet Czech Design answer for me. What does design mean to you personally?

I would say that design means creation to me, making my dreams come true.

Visit also other actions

Shoes that are conquering the world

Zlín, 1–3 May 2014

The secret behind the glass curtain

Nový Bor, 13–15 June 2014

The web of design

Prague, 8 September – 19 October 2014

Spin the wheels of design

Mladá Boleslav, 12–14 September 2014

The mosaic of graphic design

Brno, 2–5 October 2014