View of “Anna Hulačová,” 2022. Photo: Michal Czanderle.

View of “Anna Hulačová,” 2022. Photo: Michal Czanderle.

Anna Hulačová

Although Anna Hulačová’s art has always been informed by folklore and myth, it grapples with very contemporary questions. As one spends time with her work, its self-contradictory aspect fades, and it begins to speak of a present-day menace and, even more forcefully, a dystopian future.

Jedlý, Krásný, Nezkrotný” (Edible, Beautiful, Untamed), the artist’s recent presentation of six untitled sculptures, all 2022, was a good example of how this happens. Entering the gallery, the visitor could only be baffled: What to make of these enormous, brash, lumbering, vaguely archaic forms? There was something almost laughable about them, and yet an air of urgent warning was undeniable. Three of the sculptures were nine feet tall—portraying, respectively, an outsize ear of grain, a narcissus flower, and a thistle, each growing out of an enormous bird’s foot. These works lent the show its title. The plants were carved out of wood, while the stalks were made of metal coated in a rubbery sealing agent, an unprepossessing material used to waterproof balconies. Technical execution is especially important to Hulačová, as is the effect of a particular material on the beholder. Eclectic combinations of natural staples (such as wood) with industrially manufactured ones (such as the sealant) stake out an imaginary field among the poles of nourishing, cultivated, and wild nature.

Set up between the three plants turning into birds were three bulky objects reminiscent of farm machinery. Molded in concrete, with select components such as grilles in ceramic, these pieces exuded a feral aggression that contrasted with the leggy elegance of the plants. Their shapes also prompted associations with chimerical creatures from mythology; like the bird plants, they were odd hybrids. In the rear gallery, a seventh work, a concrete relief, elaborated on this theme, portraying a braided plait morphing into an animal paw, a bee turning into an angel, and two fairy-tale heads seen from behind observing the whole rather bizarre scene.

In his seminal book We Have Never Been Modern (1991), French philosopher Bruno Latour traced modernity’s failure to achieve its aspiration—shared by modernist art—to demarcate boundaries between nature and culture, man and machine, by purging extraneous “ballast.” What it did instead was unleash a proliferation of hybrid phenomena. We now stand bewildered and helpless before the consequences of this development, which has taken on its own dynamic and increasingly eludes our control. It is hard to think of a greater menace. Hulačová’s hybrid monsters, disconcerting and also oddly harmless, even playful, bring the threat into focus.

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.