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…The most prominent Papuan chiefs believe that when any living being sleeps at night, its eyes travel to Heaven and watch back their sleeping bodies. Thus the stars shine. Another ability of selected persons is to travel through smoke to the upper level of the world, that is, to Heaven. All their stories are real and therefore true, because the natural is not separated from the supernatural…

In repeated expeditions (1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2017, 2021, 2022), Barbora Šlapetová and Lukáš Rittstein have consistently returned to the same area of Papua to investigate, by artistic means, the leap in time of prehistoric people into the 21st century. During their returns, extensive artistic material has been produced in the form of Barbora’s photographs, experimental films, drawings and Lukas’s sculptures, which have been born gradually as individual chapters in a dialogue spanning more than twenty years. The aim of these expeditions was not ethnological research, but an artistic perspective expressing the wonder of the meeting of two worlds separated by the gulf of time. The layered testimony of the two artists can symbolically be seen as a visual probe into the souls of the last natural people on this planet before they are affected by the culmination of globalisation.

Over time, Papuan chiefs have expressed a desire to meet the greatest Czech chief, to understand who is and what does an artist, or to meet one who, like the local tribal magicians, can fly to the upper level of the world – that is, space. This has led to Stone Age chiefs collaborating with the President of the Czech Republic, Václav Havel, or transforming their real bodies into works of art. What can first be seen as documenting an exploratory expedition becomes, in the end, primarily art. We see a visual expression of transformation, opening up the possibility of gaining new contexts and escaping from the ordinariness of everyday life.

The wish of the people of the Yali Mek tribe was to meet our chief, who was chosen to fly to Heaven, just like their traditional magicians. The Papuan invitation was accepted in 2012 by NASA Astronaut Leroy Chiao. And the wish to confirm the existence of the upper level of the world was again fulfilled by JAXA Astronaut Koichi Wakata when he called the last chiefs from the International Space Station ISS on November 24, 2013 and December 22, 2022. The elite of the Yali Mek tribe in turn fulfilled Koichi’s astronaut wish to learn their smoke-flying technique. It happened on November 24, 2017…

What could not be photographed and filmed is drawn and animated. The animated drawings depict the inner world of the Papuans as they told it, and the film footage is a record of events from the jungle and the universe that actually happened. The happening film, animation and photographic material about the fulfillment of Papuan wishes is followed by the sculptural cycles Forest and the Tree of Spirits, expressing in material and visible terms the invisible that fundamentally shapes the community – that archetypal absolute that mediates the complex meaning of life and guarantees the highest values. The sculptures, about the union of the physical and the spiritual, are figuralized and, thanks to real casts of the body parts of the chiefs and 3D prints of the Yali Mek people and the astronaut, transformed from their authentic bodies into symbolic wings, they intuitively respond to a fundamental moment in the indigenous Papuan worldview of the symbiosis of the living and the dead, humans and spirits.

First contact with natural people is not usually made by artists, even though in reality such encounters are encounters of cultures. Barbora and Lukáš attempted to interpret this mutual first encounter of cultures, without any claims to seize territory or sphere of influence, as a “happening” or the capture of an unrepeatable event in time; a journey as an artistic act. The basis of everything is the intense experience of life, which is a work of art. During these repeated encounters they behaved as artists, not as anthropologists, and the conversations they recorded did not lead to the elaboration of scientific conclusions, but to another level of interpretation in the form of an artistic communication in the form of a multimedia organism composed of films, photographs, animations, drawings, paintings and sculptures. The project does not contain nostalgia, on the contrary, it is filled with a natural fascination with nature and the essence of human existence. This art is not fictional and invented, but instead is based on real encounters and observations and …it may happen that after encountering this travelling artistic multimedia organism, some viewers will not remain quite the same as they were before…


November 3, 2023
February 29


Czech Centre’s Vitrinka Gallery
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