9. 4.—11. 5. 2014
People are strange when you’re a stranger
Faces look ugly when you’re alone
Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted
Streets are uneven when you’re down
The Doors – People Are Strange
'I have climbed a tree, I see beautiful apples I can’t reach yet, but I'm closer than I would be if I climbed down... I have to keep climbing, even at the risk of falling', Libuše Jarcovjáková wrote in her diary in September 1986. She has climbed a tree like that several times, and has mostly come crashing down. As soon as she moved house to be with her fictitious groom in West Berlin, she was run over by a Mercedes, and spent her five-year sojourn in a new culture alone with bolts in her knee and a debt of 5000 DM. Her girlfriend, whom she moved to Tokyo to be with, who was suffering from postpartum psychosis, made excuses to her, while still in her pyjamas, saying that no one had asked her to emigrate. The girlfriend was interned, and just when Jarcovjáková was beginning to get assignments in Japanese fashion photography, Japanese emigration policy put her back into the role of a chambermaid who couldn’t make enough money even for heating fuel. In Prague, the authorities immediately revoked her passport and told her she would no longer be going anywhere. 'I told myself even more,' she said, 'that I wouldn't be staying here, that I would go and try my luck at a bigger pond.' Smashing a glass window with her head, depression, wanderlust.
The photographs in Ziellos (Berlin, 1985, 1986-90, Tokyo, 1978, 1986, 1998, and Prague) are records of, or rather participation in, existential interims, taken out of ordinary contexts, a web of relationships and everyday activities, which at other times verify our identities and give us a feeling of direction. It is, she said, 'as if I were living absolutely without a plan – ziellos, aimlessly, said the doctor'.
And the Prague photos were also made in focused, more purposeful periods in which Jarcovjáková was making and experiencing her closed series differently. The daughter of two painters, she is accustomed to analysing a situation with the help of pictures, and in a foreign town, without history and a diary, only with the stigma of the immigrant, photography served as a means of exploring an unknown space and herself (and that frequent looking in the mirror, from someone able to leave the house without even combing her hair).
Without noticing it herself, Jarcovjáková’s life and works offer several unexpected parallels with the works of Nan Goldin: an education in art, but a rejection of the canon and a rejection by the canon, a similarly lukewarm attitude to technique and technology, but a positive attitude to emotions, parties, and the search for a substitute family outside majority society. But two analogies are particularly important here: the use of photography as a means of touching, sometimes also as a means of stroking, which changes the chaos of the surrounding world into a comprehensible form – photography as a ladder in a swamp and also as a heartbeat: something repeated, monotone, but able to accelerate with excitement and almost stop, and always remains the central life function.
A diary in photographs sometimes still endeavours to maintain its image of having the craftsmanship of the documentary tradition, but it is quickly covered over with the much more intuitive and expressive snapshot, which can creep out when everyone – managers, fellow-students, and secret police – have finally left.
The energy of the underbelly, the poetry of piss on the asphalt, of televisions, of burning nighttimes streets, of stains, and doubts, gallantly takes the side of the mistake in the interest of expanding the room for manoeuvre, of defiance to the orderly, sharply focused norm, which Jarcovjáková has long expressed also with sympathy to minorities and people neglected in various ways: Vietnamese, Cubans, Roma, 'printers' impregnated with toluene, the soggy regulars of Smíchov dives, and, later, also her own LGBT community. Birds on the pavement and in trousers, sewers and other traces of people in the isolation and intoxicating freedom of the big city on the boundary between tolerance and indifference – all of that is the sound made by someone whose skin is stuck in a zipper that cannot move up or down, and yet longs to become acquainted with everything, to touch everything, to free oneself from the restraining circle, but also not to be left alone. And so: Stay on the tree and keep climbing!
Michal Nanoru, Co-curator
The photographs by Veronika Nastoupilová, who is participating in the exhibition as a guest, reflect a change in contexts. Although Nastoupilová has much in common with Jarcovjáková – school, Berlin, a way of life, and some shots, their backgrounds are different. Nastoupilová has just recently graduated, Jarcovjáková is a former teacher; Nastoupilová was a tourist, Jarcovjáková had nowhere else to go from that divided city; Jarcovjáková fought against mockery, Nastoupilová grew up in a technology-saturated time that elevated expressive imperfection to a confirmation of authenticity and the carrying out of the ubiquitous orders of individualism. The railway-station lockers that in Jarcovjáková’s works, with their doors prized open, disclosed emptiness like a mouth that had its teeth knocked out, in Nastoupilová’s work are prettily aligned with the tiles, and are stylishly bent by the distortion of the lens.