Fotograf Magazine

Lukáš Jasanský & Martin Polák

On a Sheet of White Paper

The artistic duo of Lukáš Jasanský and Martin Polák has played a central role in Czech art of the past twenty years, contributing fundamentally to redefining the position of photography within contemporary Czech art. Since the late 1980s, their work has been characterized by an intuitive intelligence and stubborn determination. By applying conceptual tools to the art of photography in order to deconstruct and question unspectacular and ordinary circumstances, Jasanský and Polák have created some of the most lucid and artful commentaries on various phenomena of Czech life. As more than one observer has noted, the extraordinary nature of Jasanský and Polák is rooted in their dual nature. Their work, which for more than a quarter century has been made exclusively by both together, is in fact a never-ending dialog in the style of comedy duos, skillfully covered by a cloak of seemingly passive reality, thus lending their works a kind of Dadaist guilefulness.

“On a Sheet of White Paper” is one of the duo’s earlier works, created during their studies at FAMU just before the fall of communism. In it, the artists manage to work incisively with a simple juxtaposition of objects that, merely through the act of being photographed, take on symbolic value. Their simple comparison of East German and West German 10-mark notes (at the time, German unification would have struck anyone as an absurd utopian dream) illustrated not only the different visual design of nominally identical currencies, but also shows us two entirely different worlds: one rigid and artificial, the other almost mythically enticing. The series of photographs also parodies the entire genre of photographic still life. The photographs also evoke the sense of a criminal investigation – one that has been bungled from the start: Franz Kafka and Czechoslovak TV inspector Major Zeman all rolled into one. The bitter absurdity of socialism – by then already a moribund entity – is illustrated by a simple constellation of two objects (a more-or-less useless Czechoslovak passport and a vitally necessary glass of Turkish coffee). Simple everyday documents of the era, presented under laboratory conditions, begin to live their own, surreal life. Communism is a pocket cut out of a pair of sweatpants. 

In a certain sense, “On a Sheet of White Paper” is also a precursor to their series “Jokes,” in which absurd humor is brought to an extreme through textual postscripts, as well as the later series “Abstractions,” in which the artists deal with the more deeply unsuited objectivity of objects and their photographic depiction. (As an aside, Jasanský and Polák returned to the subject of arranged still lifes in last year’s series “Colour Photography.”) In any case, the essential (and comforting) thing from today’s point of view is the fact that this 20-year-old series of photographs, though one of Jasanský and Polák’s lesser known works, is still capable of delighting and baffling the viewer in such a nonchalant manner.


In: Collection 4 / New Acquisitions. (exhibition catalogue). GASK, Kutná Hora 2011, pp. 86–91

Pavel Vančát