Fotograf Magazine

Unheard Voices

It is to the great credit of art historian Jaroslav Anděl that he has rehabilitated the pre-war group Linie, active in České Budějovice in the 1930s, with a groundbreaking exhibition and book-length catalogue.
The central figure of the overlooked Linie group was Josef Bartuška (1898–1963); professional and biographical cameos of another eleven avant-gardists and adherents of Modernism, as a rule of the same generation, were written for the catalogue by Zdeněk Stolbenko (with the help of Jaroslav Anděl and Arno Pařík). Members of Linie worked with photography, created both visual and written poems, published art- object original books, painted, drew, engaged with collage and graphic art and design, wrote dramas and film screenplays, produced both musical and theatrical events, and collaborated with radio, while also devoting efforts to architecture, progress in lifestyle, art theory and journalism. Their magazine Linie (published from November 1931 until June 1938) attempted to transcend the narrow boundaries of a traditionalist region. The predominant profession for the greater part of the group was teaching. Three members had a background purely in the visual arts: Emil Pitter, Ada Novák, and Richard Lander.
It appears that, aside from Bartuška, those who photographed the most avidly were Karel Valter, Ada Novak, Jiří Linhart and Oldřich Nouza. Never- theless, other members of the group also participated in the activities of the so-called Fotolinie section, and the catalogue also hints at other regular members of the photo section, whose work and biographies are unavailable (such as for instance O. Červenka, whose first name is unknown).
The catalogue’s fault lies not with the interpretation of the significance of the group through the persuasive power of the fragments of group production collected in the publication, but rather in a certain paradox: the somewhat insufficient work done on the list of those things that could not be researched. It remains unclear, for instance, how many members Fotolinie had at various times. In May 1933 (according to the chronology by Zdeněk Stolbenko) the group was represented in Pilsen by eighteen artists (this number most probably also includes guests). In March 1936, at a definitive retrospective held in České Budějovice, eight people exhibited their work as members of Fotolinie (alongside the Brno group of five photographers f5, a collection from Jindřich Štyrský from Prague, and the illustrious international Lászlo Moholy-Nagy).
The curators of the state collections approached the remnants of the Linie group so late that most artefacts were either lost for good, or had ended up with private collectors. Luckily, this was with one exception – the curator of the photography collection of the Moravian Gallery, Brno, Antonín Dufek, who saved 186 original prints as well as Valter’s film Experiment (1934). This, however, is unfortunately the only surviving evidence of – if we are to judge by period reviews – the rather distinctive cinematographic work of the group.
If all the group’s work had survived, both the exhibition and the accompanying book would probably be have a more convincing impact. We may take film for instance, as it was a key medium for the avant-garde. Its possibilities emanated novatory impulses in all directions, and these in turn influenced photography, poetry, and dance, as well as theatre… Another warning sign is when art history does not pay attention to negatives: Czech museums are not accustomed to this type of item for collections, because they learned nothing of interest about them at their philosophy or aesthetics department. (Photography as an important medium for historiography is at least taught to students of archival studies and history at universities in Prague, Pardubice and Olomouc.) Things being as they are, it is hardly surprising that the negatives of Josef Bartuška were acquired by gallery owner Jiří Jaskmanický only quite recently. It should be noted that he subsequently had them printed and presented a successful exhibition at Fotogalerie U Řečických (1998).
Anděl’s initiative has revealed the extent of the general condescension towards any art created outside of Prague. Of the excellent graphic designer of the Linie magazine, the curator writes in the catalogue that in spite of Pitter’s extensive activities, his name remains unknown in most studies of modern typography published in the Czech Lands to this day. The main contribution of Linie lies in the field of book culture: Anděl classifies this with insight in the relevant international context. The catalogue does not lack reproductions of double pages of these illustrated literary works: a portion of Linhart’s prose work Osudy andělů (The Destinies of Angels, 1937) and Bartušek’s collection of poems Podzim (Autumn, 1936). Still, Linie realized more of such editions, and there survive also those designs unrealized as a consequence of economic crisis and world war. An extraordinary contribution of Linie members were original art-object books. The multimedial nature and the mutual influence of various disciplines is justly presented by Anděl as a more significant creative characteristic of Linie than evolutionary shifts between the echoes of Futurism, Cubism, Expressionism, social critique, abstraction and Surrealism.

josef moucha