It started with silicone—a clear, flexible substance with no form and little purpose. Then there was an idea, one that swirled around in Prague-born visual artist Radka Salcmannova’s mind for months. Back then, she was living in New York City, a place that always seemed so elusive and beautiful and, yet, paradoxically, toxic and teeming with chemicals. In that regard, silicone—a semi-organic synthetic concoction of silicon, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen—dictated its fate within the context of Radka’s project. To her, it was a perfect metaphor of the city—something that felt organic and raw, but was completely fabricated by man. She wanted to capture that chasm between the natural and synthetic.
The process was somewhat akin to drawing. Silicone gave Radka time to pause and think. Before each and every move she made with her fingers, she could determine if it were the right one. Every fold was deliberate, each stroke carefully planned. Working with her hands, Radka shaped and molded the material. The end result? Intricate, otherworldly masks that transforms the wearer into someone else entirely. When they were completed, the masks became essential pieces in various performances and music videos, including a NYFW installation showcase for fashion designer Carolina Sarria’s S/S16 collection dubbed “Deep Is Never Enough.” In looking at the images, models are seen caught still in a moment, the masks—spiney, spiky and some bulbous like branches of pearly coral—obscuring their faces and piercing the space ahead. It becomes immediately obvious that Radka’s opuses are not just masks, they are pieces of contemporary art that speak to anyone grappling with identity and freedom of expression.
Last summer, Radka jaunted off to Los Angeles with the intention of spending the three-day trip working on an experimental film. It was then that she was offered the opportunity to showcase her work at Los Angeles Fashion Week. She thought, what if she tried to make dresses out of silicone to complement the masks? It was a challenge she set for herself to see just how far she could push the limits of the material. Each dress took a week—with anywhere between 14-16 hours of daily work—to construct and finesse.
When Radka sent her elaborate designed pieces down the runway, the collection garnered a lot of attention from both local and international publications. She was even listed on Vogue as one of the three must-know designers from LAFW, in which her work was labeled as “surreal.” The article noted: “The models wore long braids, blue paint on their faces and elaborate masks that would fit right into an episode of Game of Thrones.”
Shortly after Radka debuted the collection at LAFW, it was showcased at Pier59 Studios in New York, with several pieces making appearances in photo shoots and music videos. But Radka always knew there had to be more, that the dresses still had a lot more to say. A year later, she decided to melt and transform them into a sculpture, instilling new meaning into them.
She called the piece, which stands a little over seven feet tall, “The Golden Drop.” Aside from boasting a certain whimsical cachet, the sculpture also has something that makes art more than just an aesthetic physical item—it has a lively past. Because “The Golden Drop” has shape-shifted numerous times, the piece boasts a unique narrative—complete with twists and turns, and stories of journeying across the country. In December of 2018, the sculpture, in its digital form, was selected for Art Basel Miami. But there’s another reason the sculpture occupies a particularly special place in Radka’s heart—its ability to hold a magnifying glass up to very specific moments in her career as an artist. In that regard, much like Radka herself, “The Golden Drop” is still evolving. Despite all its past lives, there are still many chapters ahead to thumb through before her masterpiece’s story comes full circle.