Jan Švankmajer’s thoughts on Creativity, Alchemy and Surrealism
I can’t imagine any form of creation, which doesn’t have a magical dimension. Or rather, I can, but it doesn’t interest me. Magic is a particular “active attitude to life”. However it is not just about mastering it, but transforming it because metamorphosis is the basis of every magical operation. And creation is just this type of activity. At least an imaginative creation is. Once art and magic coincided, they were the indivisible component of rituals, which the early human employed in order to receive the patronage of nature (of elemental forces, ancestral ghosts, demons). Only later did art begin to grow distant and embrace different functions: iconographic, aesthetic, representational etc., to often end up as a servant of totalitarian ideologies, in the impoverished role of a commodity of art markets. Surrealism tried to give back art its “magical dignity”. And it is precisely that, which interests me about Surrealism.
In my own creative process, just like the old alchemists, I continually distill the waters of my childhood experiences, of my obsessions, idiosyncrasies, anxieties, as to create “heavy water” of understanding, fundamental to the transmutation of life. Similarly like surrealism, which is the alternative to art, alchemy is the alternative science. There is an analogous relationship between surrealism and alchemy. JŠ, 2001
Translated by Tereza Stehlikova, image: courtesy of Jan Švankmajer