Baby Jesus’s hattrick, boxers, marbles, gym shoes and sit-ups in artworks by Vendula Chalánková

Baby Jesus’s hattrick, boxers, marbles, gym shoes and sit-ups in artworks by Vendula Chalánková

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As a child, she wanted to become a famous tennis player and marry Karel Gott, however, it is more or less an accident that sports became a topic for the Brno artist. According to her, she was dissuaded from sports at her secondary school. Despite it, she still enjoys swimming and cycling and from time to time is drawn to sporting topics through one of her projects, such as when she turned a finger football box set into a nativity scene or designed boxer prints for Sokol merchandise, or even as part of her Tragicomics, capturing a humorous comments about our attempts to keep in shape.

Vendula Chalánková, Boxer red, graphic on t-shirts. Source: author's website

Vendula Chalánková’s name has become known in recent years in connection with the Gregor Johann Mendel anniversary, for which she illustrated a cookbook and created a short animated film in collaboration with artist Ján Obyšovský. Her artistic range is extremely wide, she works with comics, embroidery, performance and installation, as well as fashion design. Her practice is specific for its simple form, behind which lies significant effort and careful preparation. The seeming naivete of her works is broken by her sense of capturing the essence of things, as she states herself - she is good at finding the point.

Vendula Chalánková, Fitness, computer graphics Architecture. Source: author's website

„This is exactly how I feel contemporary art should look like: it should be clear and understandable, have meaning and depth and critical subtext,“ She comments on the work of Marian Palla, her tutor at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Brno. She also follows these rules herself. When it comes to sports, she feels “it plays a curious role” both in the arts and in her personal life. 

Girls and Baby Jesus in the Goal

Football has been a topic for Vendula since childhood. As a kid she enjoyed playing it, but because  she only ever played with boys, she was always placed in the goal. She used a game of finger football she recalled playing while growing up in her 2001 piece Baby Jesus’s Hattrick. This sporting nativity takes place on the tiny football field and includes the traditional characters of the Holy Family, the three kings, and carollers, all made from the footballer pawns, dressed in costumes. She placed Baby Jesus inside the goal.

Although the original object has been lost, Vendula Chalánková reconstructed it in 2017 for musicologist Jiří Zahrádka, with whom she collaborated on a book of recipes by composer Leoš Janáček’s housekeeper for the Janáček exhibition. The new version has been updated to include new costumes. 

Vendula Chalánková, Bethlehem Jesus' Hattrick, 2001. Source: author's website

Vendula Chalánková and Jiří Zahrádka over the model of Jesus' hattrick, CSFD, Art Territory Guide, Vendula Chalánková, 2020. Photo: Czech Television

Marbles and forward rolls

Vendula Chalánková became a direct participant of her first “sports projects”. During her performance Marbles, which took place on the 24th of April 1999, she dug a marble a small hole into the ground, using the dug up clay as the material for her marbles. She then flicked the marbles back in the hole, like in a traditional game of marbles. A year later she conducted a performance during which she imprinted her likeness onto paper in a forward roll, documenting the entire process.

Vendula Chalánková, performance Marbles, 1999. Source: author's website

Gym shoes and tennis balls drowned in a water plant

In 2013, she designed merchandise for Sokol, creating bags with a minimalist imagery of the iconic gym shoes worn during the socialist era.

In 2017, she created an exhibition for the Orlovna Gallery in Kroměříž, made specifically for the space of the Archbishop’s Waterworks - a unique technological heritage site from the turn of the 20th century, that is a part of the exhibition space. 

Vendula Chalánková, Bag Gym Shoes for Sokol Brno. Source: author's website

The entire space consisted of two parts, the so-called Orlovna, built as a gym for the newly-founded Orel Sports Union in Kroměříž, which has been used as gallery since 2008, and the Waterworks, which to this day house the original equipment, despite the 1997 floods. After the floods, the members of the civic association of Orlovna Gallery (GO!), which manages the space, helped with cleaning the waterworks. When they first accessed the space, they were in for a great surprise - the place was filled with tennis balls which landed here from a nearby court. This is the incident that Vendula Chalánková decided to bring back in her exhibition. 

I was fascinated by the idea, so I installed this image in the space once more,” the artist describes her artwork, titled 90 tennis balls, which gave name to the entire exhibit. “The bright green balls were installed on the black metal machinery. The situation reminded me of A. Breton’s surrealist quote: ‘As beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table.’”

As mentioned before, tennis plays an important role for Vendule even on a personal level: “As a kid I wanted to be a famous tennis player. I used to play against myself on the garage door and I counted how many times I hit the ball before it fell. I think I was really good at it.”

Firm thighs, flat stomach and shapely hips

Vendula Chalánková started making comic strips while she was still at university. The first impulse was her trip to India, where she made her first works in this field.

She cuts out her comic book heroes from coloured paper and folds them from basic geometric shapes which she draws on with markers. Each strip is usually made from three panels depicting a dialogue between two characters. She bases the plots on her own experience and stories from friends - relationships, financial situation, feminism, embarrassing situations from everyday life, or classic “female” problems, like trying to keep in shape or intentionally trying to stand up to this societal pressure. The artist captures these complex situations with admirable ease but says that their humour develops over time. Apart from a smile that her warmhearted rendition invokes we can also clearly feel her comics showing us a mirror.

Tragicomics from the book Proč nejsi jak chlapi v práci, vole? (Why aren’t you like the guys at work?). Source: B4U Publishing, 2015, s. 22

The author has been collecting materials for her so-called Tragicomic series since 2004 and published in 2015 in a book titled Why aren’t you like the guys at work? for which she’s been nominated for the Muriel award.

Tragicomics from the book Proč nejsi jak chlapi v práci, vole? (Why aren’t you like the guys at work?). Source:  B4U Publishing, 2015, s. 16


Vendula Chalánková is a Czech illustrator, conceptual artist, and comic book creator. She was born in 1981 in Přerov and studied at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Brno at the Atelier of Environmental Art under Marian Palla and Vladimír Merta, where she graduated in 2006. That same year, she received the Josef, Marie and Zdenka Hlávkovy Award for Young Talent. In 2009 she was given another prize, this time Zlatá stuha (The Golden Ribbon) for her illustration of the book Little Red Riding-hood. This year, she placed second in the international competition Mural Bazaly in Ostrava. Her works are represented in the collections of the National Gallery, Cheb Fine Art Gallery, Olomouc Gallery of Art or the Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna. She lives in Troubky nad Bečvou and in Brno and keeps four cats. 


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Published 10.01.2023

Anna Strasserová vystudovala dějiny umění na Filozofické fakultě Univerzity Karlovy, působila jako webová redaktorka Národního památkového ústavu, nyní pracuje pro pražskou Artotéku. Amatérsky hraje florbal, má ráda kolektivní sporty, běh a běžky. Propojení sportu a umění je její vysněná kombinace. Obdivuje Miroslava Tyrše, má ráda jemné vzory a dobré knihy.

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