I belong to a generation born soon after World War Two - this fact substantially affected my attitude to the world and in a specific context this theme became a standing component of my work. I have always been fascinated by the existence of people in extreme situations, by people - victims of the terror of totalitarian regimes, of war catastrophies, by their lonely existence surviving at the very brink of death. Many projects could not have materialized without intermediaries - without people who had lived some specific experience and could submit their testimony. Most important for me was Ota Kraus, author of a number of books, in which he objectively described the functioning of the extermination camp Auschwitz. He was also the first person to point out to me the nature of the armed conflict in former Yugoslavia at a time, when our media published only scanty information about the situation. He declared: "My lifelong efforts were in vain." I was astonished and I only graped what he had in mind, once he spelled out the meaning of his words: "Just look at what is happening in Yugoslavia." I realized only later, when visiting the war zone, how right he had been.
The organization of cultural and humanitarian missions in Bosna was a rich experience, and I found out a great deal about my fellow human beings. I was very lucky - all my trips to the region, during and after the war, were almost accident-free, not withstanding a car accident in Croatia and a hold-up in the Serbian part of Sarajevo. These were things one had to expect in a war. What really shattered me was an experience in wrecked Mostar. When I passed from the Muslim part to the Croatian side, I saw a picture of the Crucifixion. It was a replica of Mathis Grünewald’s painting. The Crucifixion was for me a cultural symbol - but in Mostar I looked at this symbol of Christian faith and culture for the first time with sufficient detachement to realize how frightening the dead body on the cross must be for people from other religions and cultures. The distance, which at that very moment arose between me and the traditions, in which I grew up, shattered and unbalanced me. Never before did I feel such an absolute spiritual vacuum.
At the age of 25 I read excepts from the Carnets of Albert Camus. These texts, which tackle many issues of human existence, were close to my heart and I had no doubt whatsoever that one day I would find answers to all of them. I have gone back to the Carnets after thirty years, this time to the full text, and realized that even today I had no answers to questions about the meaning of human existence. I just know that the only thing that reconciliates me with the bloody past and present of humankind are the great intellectual and artistic acheivements, of which Man is from time to time capable.
I was of old convinced that I had the right to the fruit of my untiring and systematic labours. In many instances I considered the selfless help of my friends and sympathizers as matter-of-course. I realized only lately how lucky I have been, that eveything was and still is a near thing.
I was present at the death of an old man, who as a young soldier escaped from occupied Czechoslovakia to England. He fought in Europe and towards the end of the war crossed with his unit parts of Germany, where fierce fighting was still going on. I was interested in his soldier’s experiences from the battlefield, but his stories invariably ended with his tears. He did not weep for himself or his companions, he wept for the German civilians he had to kill, as the army advanced. Until then I always thought that people fighting on the right side never questioned their acts, and never had any qualms. For a long time I did not understand it, but now I do. War is hell for all concerned, for both the winners and the defeated.
In 1976, in the Small Fortress in Terezín, I realized for the first time that with my art I was able not only to enliven a place, but to totally its atmosphere and to endow it with a different content. Again and again I could transform an environment of total destruction into a dramatic which endowed a specific place with a new dimension. My art projects were only of limited duration, today they exist solely in documentary photographs or films - they often came to an end with the end of the environment, for which they were created. For me work on such projects was always an independent activity, which gave me a feeling of absolute inner and artistic freedom and the pleasure of creating, regardless of the political realities of the moment.
Everybody involved in creative work experiences now and again a strange situation. Such a person knows exactly, when he/she has upon something essential that exceeds his/her possibilities and his/her very existence. This is a rare occurence. One of my friends once it a moment of truth. I would call it a fleeting moment, when we reach the limits of our nothingness and become a part of something beyond description, but which nevertheless at a given moment really exists.
From the very beginning my interest focused on figurative art. Although judged by my activities to date this interest may appear marginal, the very opposite true. The measure of all my projects has been the human figure and its active presence. In many instances my art provided a stage for actors performances. I learned to work with the body not as a static model, but as an active and dynamic element. It was a long process, which developed over three decades. During that time I worked with tens of amateurs and professionals. It was invariably exhausting work that called for great concentration commitment. Work with performers is not the same as painting or sculpture. You have to transfer your energy to the actors or dancers - and they have it, submit to it and accept my ideas. It is a ritual of non-verbal communication. In this respect my long experience from the boxing ring stood me in good ring is a delineated stage, boxing takes place within a clearly defined space, which has to be taken into account. In a way boxers are actors and their art is a the audience. A regular fight, which abides by the rules, may provide a similar aesthetic experience as dancing.
One of the outstanding personalities of Czech art in the second half of the 20th century was Jirí Kotalík, professor of the Prague Arts Academy director of the National Gallery. Not withstanding the difficult circumstances he was able to carry out several imporant projets - he succeeded in the Trade Fair Palace for the National Gallery’s collections of modern art and the convents of St George and of St Agnes of Bohemia collections of old art. He was an art historian, who really understood art; he was also genuinely interested in contemporary artists, who at didn’t stand a chance of exhibiting in official establishments. Probably thanks to him the projects I carried out at the Terezín Memorial and town of Most did not end for me and my collaborators in more serious clashes with the political powers that be. Without his influence my most probably have taken quite a differen turn. He helped, directly or indirectly, many of his colleagues and many artists with their professional personal problems. Unfortunately, after the revolution in 1989, instead of gratitude he often met with attacks by the very people he had helped past. By then an old and sick man, this experience no doubt prematurely ended his life. In the Czech milieu an almost model situation - and far encouraging. I am glad that I found a good friend in his son Jirí T. Kotalík, who participates in my projects in his capacity of art historian.