Fotograf Magazine

A Fine Monograph

The edition tranzit series brought out a monograph of the authorial dual of Czech “non-photography” – Lukáš Jasanský and Martin Polák. Soberly and in chronological order it presents the twenty-seven photographic cycles that Jasanský and Polák have produced between 1986 and the present, with several additional “bonuses” – cycles that  the artists do not currently include in their collected works. Each series  is introduced by brief, equally sober basic information (format, technique, and exhibitions – both group and solo exhibitions – and where it was originally presented).

What is most striking here is the precision and completeness concerning the last item of data. Exhibition presentation is regarded here not as an arbitrary factor – something a work of art could dispense with – but on the contrary, as its defining component. Surely this is not merely the mark of editorial thoroughness, a welcome effort to facilitate the labors of future researchers for whom the present monograph, free as it is of factual error, will unquestionably provide an authoritative point of departure. For here the artists themselves have brought the factor of exhibition installation into play, most explicitly so in one of their cycles titled Výstava fotografií / Photography Exhibition, presented at the Václav Špála Gallery in 1998. This consisted of photographs of Jasanský and Polák’s previous exhibitions, amounting to a sort of exhibition of exhibitions, conceived in this context as the main output of creative activity – as the work of art itself.

The work of Jasanský and Polák showcased in the book represents an almost perfectly coherent whole, structured by an inner concept, as if from the beginning having been governed by a clearly articulated artistic program – without major dislocations or hesitations – a single great oeuvre, a continuous cycle of cycles. Editor Tomáš Pospiszyl does not interfere with this unity, and in fact the book was produced in close collaboration with the artists. Even the few bonuses – “early and unfinished works” – presented in a separate section, outside of the main set of cycles – do not violate this sense of unity. According to the annotation on the jacket, the intended function of the book is similar to that of a “depository”. It is nonetheless a depository “without sketches  and abandoned trials”, and everything that one finds there – including the exception which proves the rule, an early series from Prague’s Olšany cemetery – has already been presented at exhibitions, and thereby certified by the artists as finished work. Still, Tomáš Pospiszyl’s essay does somewhat complicate this perfectly self-contained nature of the collected oeuvre. For example, it regards the early cycles in the context of the period – discussing their friendship with the circle around the

“Tvrdohlaví” group, and comparing the “ephemeral installation of natural materials or materials left behind on site” of Staré aranžované / Old & Arranged with the work of František Skála. In a passage dedicated to period interpretations, Pospiszyl points out the persistent failure of Czech criticism and theory to come to terms with Jasanský and Polák’s “non- photography”. One may add to the examples cited by Pospiszyl that perhaps even more eloquent than the various mis-readings or indignation registered with their “lack of imagination” by the critical community has been an enduring silence. In the late 1980s, as art historians Jana and Jiří Ševčík abandoned their original trans-avant-garde and neo-expressionist standpoint, and post-structuralist motifs began to appear in their writing,  it might have seemed natural for them to welcome the photographic appropriations present in cycles such as Televize / Television or Kresby / Drawings as an ideal material for interpretation. Yet their theoretical as well as critical writings remain captive to the New-Painting production of the period.

How well Jasanský and Polák lend themselves to interpretation within the context of “Post-Structuralist Postmodernism” was later amply demonstrated by Marek Pokorný and Karel Císař. In an penetrating essay – more summary in nature than historical – contributed by the latter to the present monograph, themes such as the reproducibility of the sign or the textual production of subject are left aside, non-traditionally accentuating the “the precise semantic targeting” of certain cycles. The motif of a trilobite, for example, or the theme of state of emergency – a condition in which the individual is stripped of all autonomy – are meant here to allude to “reality in its bleakest form” – an actuality outside of history, from which all temporal linearity is lost, and together with it all prospect of evolution towards some meaningful resolution.

The monograph of Lukáš Jasanský and Martin Polák is clearly not intended as a comprehensive historical summary of their oeuvre. Still, it goes well beyond the notion of monuments in book form which are with disturbing frequency erected in the Czech lands to living artists. It is practical both in terms of format and internal structure, and though the accompanying essays are perhaps shorter than one might wish, they are by no means limited to the few notorious facts reiterating the standard biographical eulogy. Anyone who undertakes to write on Jasanský and Polák from now on will be vastly relieved to have a book like the present one to fall back on.

Josef Ledvina