Fotograf Magazine

kolín 06/2005 in brief

The 6th annual event Funke’s Kolín added to the phenomena that have become the festival’s central theme, such as Body, Landscape, or Advertisement, another major theme: the City. It may not be a strikingly original choice, but the very breadth of its definition gave the exhibiting artists as well as the curators a wide margin for maneuver, which is often more important than a narrowly outlined concept. It seems that the main concern of the festival’s curators (Helena Musilová, Naďa Kováříková and Jolana Havelková) was to try to view afresh a well-exposed theme (that is, within the competence and role of festivals). In this sense, the potential was surely there. Shifts in the perception of urban relationships and phenomena have turned our focus towards a number of questions that can again be linked with a number of factors. Among others, certainly with the fact that in the last hundred years or so we have perceived the world we live in mostly as a binary opposition of center and periphery. As a result, the tendency has arisen to think of the center as synonymous with dynamism and prosperity, and to ignore the periphery. In practice, this has led to a split between life in the city and outside of it. The periphery, even though in the eyes of artists it was a source of sentimentality and melancholy that could be exploited, was in fact always in the shadow. The center, however, is becoming ever more cramped, and so we are literally forced to look elsewhere and to rediscover forgotten values closer to our nature. To put it simply, on our way back we notice different things than on our way forward. If to the avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s the city was an embodiment of the vision of a better future, and an object of glorification, seen as the laboratory of both technical and human engineering, this vision became compromised in the following decades. The only thing remaining was the sensitivity of the artist, which renders the city an inexhaustible source of inspiration.

In the small exhibition of Josef Sudek’s work, as presented by Helena Musilová, there appear both of the above-mentioned aspects of the city. There is the city in harmonious symbiosis with the landscape, captured in a momentary balance of powers. The city as a source of visual inspiration, but moreover, as an idyll. In contrast to this, however, are Sudek’s panoramic works, where we may already sense the warning tones of Sudek’s future landscapes of the devastation of the Most region.

The cycle of Lukáš Jasanský and Martin Polák’s large-format prints Z Petrohradu (From Petrohrad, 1999) essentially shows what we have grown accustomed to with this creative duo: the banality of their subject matter allows the original purpose of the medium to stand out to the fullest. It therefore becomes the objective recording of a situation, and allows the elimination from the frame of any kind of creative ambition on the part of the artist. This concept, or perhaps lack of one, however, strikes us as far more sophisticated if we realize that for instance the absence of people in the frame is reminiscent of the work of 19th century photographers. Photography has thus come full circle – and has returned to its roots, as it were. And it was the shift in historical context, and even more so the leap in digital technology which made it possible that what before was barely registered has now turned into a concept. An important detail in this exhibition is the fact that for the first time in their work the duo of artists employed digital printing instead of traditional technique.

Vladimír Birgus presented a selection from the unfinished cycle he has been developing for many years, Cosi nevyslovitelného (Something Unspeakable). The viewers had an opportunity to see a collection of the best work that he has presented in exhibitions over the past few years, as well as several remarkable recent works. Birgus’ field is exclusively exotic: foreign capitals, foreign beaches, foreign places. But these are mere sets for human stories that resonate with the universal human theme. Aside from the psychological level of his photographs, revealing the alienation of the people seen in them – in some cases going so far that the final result resembles a montage of several realities – Birgus works brilliantly with color composition. Contemplating Birgus’ photographs we realize two things that after years of coexistence with photography we have begun to take as a matter of fact: photography makes time stand still, and leaves behind unfinished stories. Photography is a medium of subjectivity, not only because it can in various ways express the ideas of the artist – its message is simply always far too complex to be bound by a kind of syntax which would ascribe to it a single, unambiguous meaning. As a result, there is always something unspeakable.

Our time is so restless, or so we are told, that we are unable to concentrate on a single impulse for more than a few seconds. Both our life and our means of perception have come to resemble a music video. We jump from one impulse to the next and the resulting impression is one of dynamic composition. In their form, many of the works exhibited this year in Kolín confirm this tendency. Markéta Baňková comments on her video-sequence Šum velkoměsta (Urban Ambience, 2002), where she presents several picturesque characters and their views on life: ”There are more and more of those who want to talk rather than those willing to listen.“ The artist lets the characters and their micro-stories merge in a single mosaic of sounds and images, where everything overlaps and intertwines. The city is a Babylon full of sounds, a mechanism that ignores the tiny individual components constituting it. If there appeared an existential tone in any of the festival exhibitions, here it resounded to the full, in a raw, tragicomic mien.

The works of Michal Škoda are most refreshing, for they betray at first glance that their author is not fixated solely on the medium of photography, seeing photography instead as an applied component of his public space projects. Škoda presents visual fragments of other cities, playing with the geometry of architecture and the abstract detail, in order to place the outcome – a composition of large-format prints – on the wall of a specific building.

This year there was a strong presence of artists with a marked gender-based perspective. The status of contemporary woman is perhaps only tangentially linked to the theme of the city, but on the other hand it is a view from the inside, showing woman in her intimate space. Barbora Kuklíková and Dorothea Bylica work in visual sequences. They compose emotionally charged visual stories, their strategy balancing on the edge between narrative and the freedom of purely personal association. In this sense their work also corresponded to Lucie Nimcová’s installation in the local synagogue, which definitely surprised and pleased all of those who were looking for more than merely the image. Nimcová does not make do with the traditional approach, but instead works also with space and sound. She placed her photographs on the floor for the viewer to be able to pass them by, while listening to music.

The experienced matadors of the Czech scene Josef Moucha and Svatopluk Klimeš presented their series on the theme of New York, and it was fascinating to observe the diversity of their approaches. For Moucha, New York is a town of dazzling visual effects, a pulsating metropolis where people intersect and interact. In his collection we can find both relatively classical images and photographs that are the result of the artist’s specific visual approach of shifting the frame, which formally alludes to the dynamic of the film reel. Klimeš’ New York, in contrast, is a city of buildings, a territory which has been settled. Iron light boxes with photographs attached, which the artist interprets by burning various ornaments on them, carry some of the fetishism of the original settlers that once dwelled in these parts. Klimeš’ photographic project, finally, is in keeping with his overall focus, where fire often features as part of a ritual.

Jiří Thýn sees the urban landscape as a city planner might. He acutely senses its borders and he uses photography as a place where he can simulate certain situations. In the cycle Zahrada (The Garden, 2002), where he covers parts of the landscape with black surfaces copying the horizon, he makes the viewer think what things might look like if… His theme is the relationship between covering up and emptiness, however, on the level of the medium, his disturbance of visual harmony can also be read as a polemic with the traditional nature of photography as illusion. From a slightly different point of view the same problems are rendered in the works of Viktor Špaček, as collected in the cycle Pět minut slávy pro Holešovice (Five Minutes of Fame for Holešovice, 2004). The difference, however, lies in that the artist here cites the history of representation – works that attempt to thematize or explore the relationship between the model and its representation, such as we can witness in Magritte’s paintings of the 1940s or in various forms of photography in the 1960s. Still, it was not recourse to history that Špaček was seeking. His aim was instead to draw attention to a specific kind of visual communication in public space.

This year Kolín saw an assortment of exhibitions by artists of various generations, and the City was examined from many diverse points of view. In some senses we could say that this year’s Funke’s Kolín was in its wide variety mostly a confrontation between generational and aesthetic approaches. And naturally, it was also a most pleasant occasion for the meeting of the local photographic community.

jiří pátek