Whether you realize it or not, you have probably seen one of Slavo Cech’s sculptures before and, thanks to the treasure hunts he has recently organized through social media, you might be about to stumble across a few more.
Cech’s sculpting career spans over 30 years, and, during that time, he has become a local mainstay with an international reach. His work ranges from twisting steel ribbons reminiscent of blowing prairie grasses to freeform sculptures of iconic Alberta wildlife. Aside from being dotted across Edmonton, Cech’s sculptures have also been featured in the Royal Alberta Museum, gifted to Prince Edward, and commissioned by clients as far away as the United Arab Emirates.
“I like the three-dimensional aspect of it,” Cech says. “I like walking around the pieces. I like looking at [the pieces] from different angles, and sculpture affords that. It’s just the fact that I like [the process] to be tactile and not just two-dimensional but three-dimensional.”
The story behind Cech’s now beloved treasure hunts starts with PedalToTheMetal2020, a community bike ride that he organized with some friends last July. The event took riders all the way from downtown Edmonton to Cech’s West Edmonton home, stopping to see some of his outdoor public art pieces along the way.
Cech also gifted three lucky riders each with a small original sculpture and, after seeing their reactions, he realized there might be an even wider demand for his unique mix of abstract and representational styles.
This spawned citywide searches for hidden sculptures in what Cech likes to call “art hunts.” The initial format was straightforward: Cech would post a picture on social media of a sculpture at a recognizable Edmonton landmark, and then it was open season for whomever could be the first one to get their hands on the piece and earn the right to keep it. First come, first serve. Simple as that.
Cech hid sculptures at landmarks like the former Royal Alberta Museum, the University of Alberta and the “End of the World” lookout on Keillor Point, but after a few successful attempts at what he refers to as “Amazing Race-style” treasure hunts, he decided to turn things up a notch.
“Basically, I’m just posting two pictures of it and that’s it,” Cech says. “And that’s a beautiful thing. You stick it in [a] tree, you take four pictures of it, and the only clue that I gave was ‘Keep right, go slow.’
“People figured out that that could possibly be a sign leading on the bike trail into the ravine, and that’s exactly what it was. And so, this woman was walking her dogs and she goes, ‘Hey, maybe this is a clue,’ and went into the bush and found it.”
So far, Cech has staged seven increasingly difficult treasure hunts. The most recent post consists of nothing more than a video of a small sculpture hidden in a bush (Cech estimates that the piece would fetch about $1,400 in a gallery setting), and instructions to search somewhere “within the Henday Circle.” Compared to the earlier hunts, the bar is significantly higher.
But, according to Cech, treasure hunters have loved the increased difficulty. And, regarding the sculptures’ fate once they’re found, Cech acknowledges that it isn’t for him to decide.
“Once you put it out to the universe, it’s out of your control,” he says. “I actually think it’s cool that maybe this one won’t be found for a couple years. Maybe it will be found by accident and it just gets kind of taken over by nature a little bit.”
Cech also says that, despite their popularity, this most recent treasure hunt will likely be the last one for the time being. After seven hunts in nine months, he doesn’t want the treasure hunts to seem commonplace, or worse even, careless.
“I encourage people to contact me via direct message or email if they have any questions,” Cech says. “I’m really trying to break down that barrier of artists being perceived as unapproachable.”
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This article appears in the Summer 2021 issue of Edify.