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            sport : politics : culture
in the work of Zdeňek Němeček


A Journey to Understanding Artwork
Created Outside Our Ideology and Time

Zdeněk Němeček in the Artistic Research of Michaela Režová 


A passion for sports, a sense of its specific rhythm, and an interest in the visual aspect of sports—all of this, including a somewhat passive approach to actual sporting activities, connects me with sculptor Zdeněk Němeček.


I am fascinated by the graphics of old Olympics, books, and sports magazines, and I enjoy the cultural richness embedded in sports. My research for my diploma thesis led me to the personality and work of Zdeněk Němeček. In 2017, I created a short film called Chase at UMPRUM, and through the statue of a hockey player outside the sports hall in Holešovice, I gradually discovered other sculptures from his extensive body of work dedicated to sports. This sparked my curiosity about the person behind these works. When I found only fragmented information about the artist, my interest in his story deepened. Who was Zdeněk Němeček? Not just the creator of sports sculptures but also the Sputnik that stood in Prague’s Stromovka, a lover of cimbalom music, folklore... and a communist.

Through extensive research and numerous interviews with the sculptor’s close associates and art historians of art, a more nuanced picture of Němeček began to emerge before me—both as an artist and as Zdeněk, the friend, father, husband, and human being. During the development of the film, which I pursued intensively at UMPRUM during my doctoral studies focused on oral history and maintaining an authorial approach within animated documentary, I balanced the intention of conveying to the audience my fascination with his artistically valuable sports-themed works and narrating Němeček’s life story. An integral part of my effort was also to challenge the flat image of the "sculptor-communist, committing suicide after 1989," which had emerged from my initial online research.

For some, Němeček's personality and work are fascinating; for others, they are at least controversial. The public spaces where his sculptures now stand also tell a story. These spaces are often built-up, limited, and full, where the past tangibly meets the present. The artwork stands alone—detached from the era it survived and from its creator. It must be acknowledged that since 2016, Němeček's legacy has been partially rehabilitated. The Czech Olympic Committee published a monograph of the sculptor, his works appeared in several exhibitions dedicated to sports, and a few texts about him were published.

However, after several years of developing an animated documentary, animation experiments, multiple script versions, presentations, and awards at international pitching and co-production forums, I faced a strong and decisive rejection. My intention to create a short animated documentary centered around Zdeněk Němeček's sports sculptures was highly problematic for the Council of the State Cinematography Fund. The film proposal was rejected twice, the second time with a clear message that films about such people should not be made.

My research and intended film have always been primarily a journey to understand artwork created outside our ideology and time. Before 1989, there was not only forbidden art and the underground but also official art of significant quality. I cannot change the sculptor's party affiliation, and it is a fact I never intended to conceal, nor do I seek to defend or harshly criticize him for it. My primary focus is on his exceptional and extensive work centered on sports. Němeček's fascination with sports and his lifelong effort to immortalize the phases of movement in various materials are evident in nearly a hundred works such as the peloton of cyclists in Mileston of Peace Race, The Swimmer, and The Hockey Player. Countless other studies and sketches reflect the sculptor's fascination with sports dynamics, his effort to capture moments of human endurance, and the desire to win.

This led to the idea of transforming the existing research into a multimedia exhibition, presenting several layers and perspectives that we can read in the context of Němeček's work within the triangle of sports, culture, and politics. The ideal timing, which we have long been aiming for, is the connection with the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. This significant and intense sporting event has increasingly been associated in recent years with issues of sustainability, invasive urban interventions, overblown budgets, and not just political scandals. Yet, can we still perceive space for telling individual stories and valuing human encounters in sports against the backdrop of the grand games? For the exhibition concept, the dimension of an individual's fate against the backdrop of great history is crucial. Thus, we also emphasize the human aspect of Zdeněk Němeček as a father, husband, sports enthusiast, and person.

The multimedia exhibition combines video, audio, archival materials, miniatures, and models of sculptures with Němeček's originals, models, and forms. The artistic approach I have chosen for the film, and which I am presenting in the exhibition, is based on Němeček's work and experiments with it through various artistic and animation techniques. The sculptures can come to life thanks to animated 3D scans and other potential treatments in diverse artistic techniques and materials, such as clay, plaster, or 3D printing, combined with traditional puppet animation methods. Most of the sculptor's work, including models, has been scanned since 2020.

Throughout my journey alongside Zdeněk Němeček, I have experienced many moments of excitement. Notably, when I first showed someone the animated sculptures—the magic of bringing them to life through animation always sparked an interest to know more from the story behind the sculptures and their creator. As with any adventurous journey, there were also disappointments. One such disappointment was the mysterious disappearance of the Message sculpture from the area near the Strahov Stadium, which became an advertisement for a moving company on social media. However, the greatest disappointment was the inability to produce the film after its lengthy development, as the subject was deemed problematic.

Animated filmmaking is a collective effort, and I am incredibly grateful to everyone who trusted the project and dedicated their time, space, and unique talents to it. I believe that the Art of Movement exhibition will not only be a step towards the possible rehabilitation of Zdeněk Němeček's work but also a tribute to the contributions of those who left their mark on the project. And the film? We'll make it another time.

I would like to thank producer Kamila Dohnalová, curator Veronika Soukupová, production master Ondřej Slavík and the Divize studio, dramaturgs Martin Horyna, Diana Cam Van Nguyen, and Radovan Potočár, editor Lukáš Janičík, sound master Michaela Patríková, animator Dávid Lipkovič, animator Bára Anna Stejskalová, post-production master Patrik Velek, graphic designers Josefina Karlíková and Matěj Vojtuš, researcher Jakub Václavek, and exhibition architects Magdalena Uhlířová and Adéla Vavříková.

I would also like to thank my doctoral thesis consultant Milena Bartlová, my doctoral thesis advisor Jakub Zich, and the Animation and Film Studio and the UMPRUM for their unwavering support. Special thanks to Robert Záruba, Jiří Kulíček, Rudi Baťa, Pavel Karous, and Honza and Kornelie Němečková for their interviews during the research.

For all the valuable advice and consultations, my thanks go to the SYAA (Sisterhood of Young Animation Auteurs) workshop, Anidox workshop, CEE Animation Forum, Animarkt, Anna Vášová, Karolína Davidová, Michelle and Uri Kranot, and Hans Frederik Jacobsen.

And one big and the greatest thanks once again to Honza and Kornelie Němečková for their trust and openness in all respects.

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