Fotograf Magazine

Tereza Zelenková

The Dead, Secret Language of Moths

In a tucked-away courtyard full of history, Tereza Zelenková is exhibiting a collection of new works. This is a compact exhibition that works in a refined manner with the gallery space, creating a strange rhythm, suggesting a possible grammar and dictionary for uncovering the essential; that which the images and texts only suggest. The exhibition might be small, but it is an exceptionally concentrated and remarkably rendered cameo. 

This new solo exhibition at the Josef Sudek Studio is Tereza Zelenková’s third outing in Prague, following Two and Two in Five at Gallery Jelení (2014) and, three years later, A Snake That Disappeared Trough a Hole in the Wall at NoD Gallery. The gallery space is relatively complex, placing very particular demands on how works are selected and distributed. These seeming disadvantages, however, can transform into strong inspirations. The main part of the exhibition features  six works. In Tereza Zelenková’s work, connections are never random – the individual works contain a number of references but they also offer individual readings. Zelenková has always found inspiration in literature and philosophy, indeed openly admitting these links, which even become a natural component of the works’ installation. She references Georges Bataille and Joris-Karl Huysmans, mentions Austin Osman Spare and Gustav Meyrink. The new series includes a portrait of René Descartes and Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World. Even at her NoD Gallery exhibition, she inscribed the walls with texts that did not serve merely as complements to the exhibited photographs, but were a firm and important part of a whole, which suggests at least the outlines of what is to be represented. Some works from the Dead Language series include text directly in the passepartout and also make use of a referential image. The exhibition and its works, therefore, are not only seen but also read and thought through – we leaf through its pages like a book. We therefore find ourselves in an environment whose line of inquiry radically exceeds the usual photographic exhibition. Zelenková’s references are to be seen more as suggestions; as invitations to possible crossroads. What takes place is an uncovering – as well as disguising and con- fusion. Reading is not direct – that is suggested in the off-kilter placement of the works on the main wall. Some pages in the imaginary book are entirely without text and contain such communications as are incomprehensible in the other – mysterious and dead – language. It is no coincidence that one of the works is called Open the Book. References and links come to the surface, become part of the photograph. They are not only its history but most importantly its present, delineating its possibilities; its space and borders. Each of the photographs represents a complex message that mixes science with mythology, giving rise to idiosyncratic hermetic ciphers and image codes. The main part of the exhibition is then rounded out by a kind of appendix: an almost sacred installation of a single large-format photograph showing an anatomical model of a human hand in a highly stylized sculptural gesture. Everything returns to the beginning.

Otto M. Urban


TEREZA ZELENKOVÁ is a photographer who lives in London and Prague. Between 2007 and 2010, she studied photography at the University of Westminster, followed by studies at the Royal College of Art (2010–2012). She has taken part in a number of group projects, mostly in Great Britain but also in the United States, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Her works are part of several significant collections including the Victoria & Albert Museum (London), Foam Photography Museum (Amsterdam), Musée de l’Élysé (Lausanne), Saatchi Gallery (London) and Fotomuseum Winterthur (Winterthur).

OTTO M. URBAN is an art historian and the main curator at the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art. His focus is on Czech and international art at the turn of the twentieth century, particularly symbolism and decadence, and contemporary artists (Joel Peter Witkin, David LaChapelle, Václav Jirásek, Ivan Pinkava, Tomáš Rasl and others).

#38 death, when you think about it


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