Klara Kristalova’s first name means cope in Swedish and the individuals in her art try to cope, just as Klara herself does. The connection between her name and the verb may seem meaningless, but in fact has a very palpable charge. Klara has had to cope since a young age, and this is reflected in her art. There is reason to regard her individuals, her creatures, as messengers from her past – as refugees and migrants moulded by her hands, but most of all by her fate and her dreams, linked to her as the candle is to the flame.
Klara’s hands work the stoneware clay quickly. It’s as if she’s sketching, impulsively and immediately – only in three dimensions. When the sculptures emerge from the kiln after the first firing, blind and unseen, Klara sets to work on them with base glazes and soft brushes, as if they were delicate watercolours and not corporeal clay figures. The application of colour brings them suddenly to life, giving them expression and context (Klara has a solid background as a painter). Finally she drenches them in transparent finishing glaze, as if to cool down the intensive working process before the figures are fired again. When they emerge from the kiln a second time, they’re like strangers to Klara’s eyes: the transformation is complete, unpredictable and eagerly awaited. The ever-surprising encounters with these unknown figures are at once the price and the reward for all her toiling with heavy clay in the blasting heat from the kiln – and she copes with that too.
If Klara’s figures could speak they would find that they speak many languages, just as many refugees do. As her parents did, who made the decision to flee with Klara in 1968, when she was barely one year old and the Warsaw Pact invaded their homeland, Czechoslovakia, during what became known as the Prague Spring. Hundreds of thousands of refugees were scattered across the free nations of Europe. After several itinerant years, the young family finally settled down in an abandoned school on an island in the Stockholm archipelago, in Sweden. Some time later her mother died unexpectedly of the most ordinary of illnesses – the common cold. One day a few years later the school was gutted by fire, and the remaining family was once again bereft of everything, even though it had already lost all it had.
The greeting of the exhibition title, Hello stranger, could be directed at Klara herself, as if the things she makes with her own hands welcome her, one by one, into their circle – rootless survivors, capable, dreaming, loyal to each other and to others as only those can who have lost country and language, love and context. Those who have lost everything, but who have therefore also been able to win everything back.
KLARA KRISTALOVA “HELLO STRANGER”
Exhibition Dates: May 11 – June 25, 2016
Opening: Wednesday 11 May, 6-8pm
50 Connaught Road Central, 17th Floor