Whilst in Prague I had the pleasure of visiting the atelier of legendary Czech artist Jan Švankmajer. Švankmajer's films are perhaps one of the biggest influences on my own work and I still think his cinema is rivalled by no one. I first met Švankmajer at the opening of Metamorfosis, 2014, a large exhibition in Barcelona, and later Madrid, focussing on the works of Ladislaw Starewicz, Jan Švankmajer and the Quay Brothers, curated by the brilliant advocate of animation in Spain, Carolina López.
As the Visegrad Animation Forum meant I would be flying out to Prague anyway I decided to take a week after AniFilm in Trebon to spent some time in Prague having meetings as well as hunting for obscure Czech DVDs, books and anything I could find on Czech puppetry and animation. It was nine years since I was last in Prague and even then it had only been for a few days so I was keen to explore more of the city.
I'd arranged with Švankmajer's producer to go out to their offices and I arrived their with Marketa Tom, a past collaborator of Švankmajer and a veritable source of knowledge on the Czech film industry so we had a great deal to talk about. From the offices we were driven out into the Czech countryside, West of Prague, where Švankmajer has his studio. Like so many artists to whom physicality and the essence of objects are important, the Quay Brothers included, Švankmajer's studio is a piece of art in itself, a decor from some lost film, a palimpsest of past projects. Walls were lined with artwork, posters, collages and costumes, shelves were piled with sculptures, objects, props, prosthetics, film canisters and archives. This is a building which houses the output of an incredibly prolific artist, who at the age of 82, shows no signs of slowing down.
Švankmajer is in the process of finishing what will be his last feature film, Insects. The film, based on the play 'Ze života hmyzu' (Pictures from the Insects' Life), 1921, by the Čapek Brothers, had a brilliant crowd-funding campaign which saw practically the whole film funded in a matter of days by Švankmajer fans across the globe. Švankmajer showed us around the set for the film and explained the animation techniques and how these would interact with the live action which was shot first. The director doesn't speak English but the passion in his voice is infectious and the wisdom behind his eyes elicits the utmost respect.
Outside of the feature film he is creating assemblage sculptures from natural forms in his personal studio and adding to his colossal collection of native art. He is now considered one of the top collectors of native art in the world, particularly of sculpture and artwork from Papua New Guinea and the Oceanic islands. The trip was a combination of surreal, inspiring, humbling, motivating and joyful and an incredible privilege to be able to ask so many questions and converse with such an incredible, diverse and iconic artist.