TEREZA ZELENKOVA, JERWOOD PHOTOWORKS AWARDS

Text by Aaron Schuman





The photography of Tereza Zelenkova is remarkable in that, although it employs a medium that is generally limited to capturing, representing and exploring the surface of things, it strongly alludes to that which often lies beneath the surface; imaginary, subliminal or unconscious undercurrents that, although elusive and difficult to pin down in an exacting way, are both emotionally familiar and hauntingly ever-present within her work. In a visual sense, the images themselves are by no means ethereal – they are crisp, clear, carefully considered and compositionally controlled – and yet each photograph disarmingly hums with discordant undertones that hint at uncertain mysteries, tenuous melancholies or seductively hidden meanings.


In previous projects, Zelenkova has often invoked rather heavy theories or dark themes to propel her work, including the death of God, Paleolithic cave dwellings, the daydreams of insomnia, and what she refers to as the ‘shamelessness’ of Georges Bataille.  So it comes as somewhat of a surprise that her most recent body of work centers upon a seemingly straightforward return to the Czechoslovakian landscapes of her childhood, and visits to various historical and folkloric sites within it. Nevertheless, Zelenkova’s intuitively rich and darkly imaginative sensibilities thrive in such environments, sidestepping literal, documentative description and conventional cultural or allegorical associations in favor of overarching personal and emotional resonances.  Although the photographs are situated in places that purportedly contain legends of Medieval mass murder and heroic villainy, as well as the “Devil’s Table” and the “Gates of Hell”, the specifics of these histories and affiliations are secondary, if not entirely inconsequential, to the underlying and unnerving tenor of the images themselves.  ‘I’m more interested in exploring the general poetics – of the landscape and stories tied to it – than in archiving individual legends or facts’, Zelenkova explains, ‘I’m tracing a sort of subjective image of the place where I grew up, and creating what might be called my own landscape mythology’.


Within this newfound mythology, Zelenkova astutely transforms the literal into the symbolic – fallen trees, hewn rock, faceless figures and inky-black voids insist that the mind wanders far beyond the surface of the scene or the limits of the frame, and, in a sense, deeply and searchingly into itself. Yet by denying the power of the existing stories or established symbols already present in the landscapes of her childhood, Zelenkova exhumes new, resolutely ambiguous, and quietly personal meanings, retaining just enough of an open-endedness for the viewer to feel both enveloped by the dense atmosphere of their presence, and, at the same time, invited to decipher their significances and their nuances for themselves.



- Text written by Aaron Schuman

A BOWL OF MILK FOR A DISAPPEARING SNAKE

Text by curator Pavel Kubesa

NoD Gallery, Prague




Tereza Zelenková, Czech photographer living and working in London, has been dedicated to a kind of photographic practice that moves between documentary photography and on the ground research, as well as through various literary contexts. At the centre of her work stands an on going interest in various historical, sociological and transcendental realms that are subject to a thorough ideological and experiential analysis. She presents the testimony of her observation results in thematically closed analogue black and white photographic series that open themselves up to specific space of inner narratives.


In one of her earlier projects titled The Absence of Myth (2013), Zelenková established the basic clues for her artistic practice. One of the primary ideological motives which initiate the focus of topics and formal processing is the issue of time and temporality. For Zelenková the (ideo)logical apparatus of photography represents certain referential media, a tool for pointing out a network of relationships among various stories, legends, myths and particular places within urban as well as rural environments. However, her photographs disintegrate the present moment captured with the camera and the images frozen in time melt into the past, while at the same time the unspecified past seeps and grows through various crevices, tree trunks and masks into the enclosed present.


CIRCLES OF MYTHS


A similar time concept applies to the process of functioning of the myth. Mythos, similarly to logos or epos, stood for word, or speech, story, in ancient Greece. Unlike the rational logos or the subjectifying epos as the rhetorician’s voice, mythos has no (historical literary or literal) author. The myth gives the impression of having been here since the beginning of times and is therefore perceived as an ancient and permanent certainty because man lives within myth.


This ahistorical, uneventful and cyclical concept of time lies at the core of the understanding of myth by Mircea Eliade, Romanian historian of religion, who places myth in the context of archaic society. In its peculiar archaic ontology, only such things are perceived as real that imitate (mimesis) or repeat the basic archetypes, universal structures of being and the paradigms of conduct. These mimetic and cyclically repeating motives used during various transitional and regeneration rituals then cancel the profane (i.e. secular) time and history is thus periodically transformed into myth, i.e. something constant, omnipresent, in which the past interweaves with the present and the future. In the mythical consciousness, any action becomes a part of the original pattern; it participates in the sacred.


HOLLOWS AND CREVICES


Eliade’s concept of the sacred infiltrates the reality not only in the gestures of rites and conducts, but also through material space. Eliade speaks about so called hierophany, the infiltration of the sacred into profane space, which disturbs its homogeneity or continuity. Thus the metaphorical hollows and crevices in the landscape form a support structure for the sacral, a sort of centres, which become places where the sacred infiltrates the everyday being, i.e. locations functioning as backdrops for the myth. Despite its independence from the linear notion of time, the myth is always set in a certain place, landscape and nature.



BOOKS IN PLACE


In a way, Zelenková always turns to places that are charged with symbolic and mythical potential. This might be due to the fact that nowadays increasingly secularised world has gradually ceased to seek, find and see (those hierophantic) portals of transcendence within landscape. In Zelenkova’s photographic imagination the holes and dents in the form of cave entrance, crucifix intersecting a grown tree or defaced mythical figures carved in stone are always traces of something related to the spiritual realm. Guided by a vast library of literary and philosophical references including the endeavour to re-establish the unity of man and nature that can be seen in literary romanticism, through modernist avant-garde movements, to contemporary environmental thinking, Zelenková maps local mythologies and creates an unfinished, fluid atlas of places that broaden our awareness of the relationship between man and the landscape through their hidden stories. The inclusion of new places in the atlas is very slow and happens always when Zelenková turns to the right books.


AESTHETICS


The current series of photographs featured in The Snake That Disappeared through a Hole in the Wall was created in the past two years exclusively in the czech and slovak landscape. In the series of twenty pictures that are accompanied by excerpts from inspiring and illustrative texts, Zelenkova records numerous places which are connected with local stories and legends or geographic curiosities such as the Devil’s Table in the Beskids, Braun’s Nativity scene at Kuks, the reliefs of the Devil’s Heads and Klácelka Cave near Liběchov and Želízy, Panska skala at Kamenický Šenov or Kopic’s Farm and gorges in the Bohemian Paradise. In other pictures she uses stylised staging to reconstruct occult séances taking place in the surroundings of Nová Paka after WWI, or works with the death mask of Gustav Meyrink - the essential figure of Prague related mysticism. We can perceive a strong, even Adget-esque, purposefully reduced form of photographic record. Zelenková’s photographs get close to a kind of aesthetically subversive document. In her subjects, she records what she perceives as aching to the aesthetic category of the sublime. It can be the exact sublime that Edmund Burke describes as something originating in self-preservation and stems from experiencing something monumental, mighty and powerful, which induces in us the feeling of respect or even dismay; on the other hand, it can be Kant’s sublime which originates in the reflexion of something dimensionless, something that can still be thought of yet not experienced. Such experience breaks down the modern myth of the one’s monopoly over perspective or land; Zelenková’s places can lead us from the remembrance of myths of archaic thinking to a more balanced relationship between man, history and the land.


THE SUBLIME SERPENT


According to an ancient Greek Pelasgian creation myth, Ophion the serpent and Eurynome, goddess of all things, of whose dance and the wind Ophion was born, conceived the Cosmic Egg. One day, Eurynome signaled to Ophion who coiled around the egg. The egg cracked with the force of his embrace and the whole world with the stars, the Sun, the planets, the plants and the animals sprung out of it. Once however, infuriated with Ophion’s creator syndrome, Eurynome kicked out his teeth and cast him out into the dark holes underground. 


The ancient Slavic legend talks about the Snake Housekeeper that brought luck and prosperity to the house residents and could be found in every good household underneath the threshold or inside the furnace and the people used to worship him, bringing offering in the form of a bowl of fresh milk.


In The Savage Mind, structural anthropologist Levi-Strauss emphasises the liberating role of mythical thinking because of its refusal of any absence of meaning. It might be useful to recall this kind of thinking, try to regain the procedures of broader perception of the landscape, places and history. It might be the case that nowadays the serpents that are disappearing through holes in the walls and in the landscapes represent their disappearing spirit, their beating heart. It would be worth knowing which way they could return again and, if they return, being capable of welcoming them, regardless of whether they have come to bring luck and prosperity, or the Creation.



- text by Pavel Kubesa (curator, NoD Gallery, Prague)


TEREZA ZELENKOVA

___________________________________________




Table of Contents


I        Work

          The Essential Solitude . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2017

          A Snake that disappeared through a hole in the wall  . . . . . 2015 - present

         ING Unseen Talent Awards Commission . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2016

          Two and two is five . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  2014

          The Absence of Myth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . .  2013

          Georges Bataille’s grave   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . 2013

         The Other Night . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2012

          Index of Time . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . 2011

          Night is also a sun. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . 2011

          Supreme Vice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . 2010     


II      Publications

        The Essential Solitude . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2018

         The Absence of Myth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . 2013

         Index of Time . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  2012

         Supreme Vice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . 2011

     

III    Online Reviews

         The Guardian

         1000 Words blog

         Notes on metamodernism

         Calvert Journal

         Paper Journal

         Der Greif - part I, part II, part III, part IV, part V

         Dazed Digital

         Ahorn Magazine

         Photo-Eye

         1000 Words


IV    Information

         News   

         About

         CV

         Contact

       

V    Editions

                               

A SNAKE THAT DISAPPEARED THROUGH A HOLE IN THE WALL

Text by Tereza Zelenkova, Catalogue for exhibition at Foam Amsterdam