The mezzotint of dark sky, 35 mm film of eclipse and a photoprint of stone in dark cave

(notes from London)





When I was walking through exhibition spaces at the Documenta in Athens last year, fastly becoming tired of the amount of artworks I was confronted with, I was instantly catched by small dark images, very minimal (also because my work look pretty similar in that size from the distance). They were mezzotint prints of the night sky, simply showing darkness filled with small dots that represented stars. Although the drawing was very precise, resembling photography, I was immediately aware it is not a photo, but a construction, maybe truthful and maybe not, of the skyscape.


“Her work is not simply about seeing the night sky. Rather, Celmin's depictions of nature are about the struggle to see the painted image for itself, as something made, something that sits in this world. Her continuous cycling through the same images, many based on photographs she collects from magazines, insistently repeating them for over five decades, importantly reiterates this position. ”




Looking at a total eclipse of sun filmed in 1999, the frames of the film are an analogy to our perception, frame by frame, of looking at something we cannot embrace in all its aspects. But the film shows what was “really” before the camera and without a visual discomfort we can gaze on the heaviness of planets floating in space, which slowly change position against each other and us as the spectator, the three points in the universe which happen to be at a very special position of directions and proportions for a short moment.


Accompanied with the heavy and loud sound of the film projector, I am watching a film still of person laying peacefully, with clouds moving slowly above his body. I can feel the heavy work of the camera, huge amount of film material needed to depict this unproductive scene, huge effort of all the processes needed to make all the frames of our life work together - to create any moment - every grain of the presence.




“This print is not well made, so maybe his family would not sell it at all, or only for small money” Commented the woman on a print where some light came in a possibly unexpected way. It is one of the cave prints which were the last works he has made after the accident with the inability he had and with the knowledge of shortness of the time he had ahead. He was placing stones on a photographic paper, recording the time he has spent in a cave - with light that was forming the black surrounding of the stone shape. Hours were needed to expose each of those.  


“I am so glad I have found spaces of the Dry Cave. It is a very suggestive space. I will be coming there for the talks wirh God and with myself. The TIME has another dimension.”




Or a great action that turns out unproductive. Guido van der Werve's Requiem which is composed of great romantic music together with a heroic action - transportation of a piece of soil from Chopin's family house in Poland to his grave in Paris performed by the artist as seven “Iron man” triathlons in line (swimming, cycling, running) , or Francis Alys 'moving the mountain' or creating an animation film of a shoe polishing over a period of eleven years.


What connects these works is a sense of seemingly unproductive effort, or action. Re - drawing a photograph to produce a graphique print (Vija Celmins); working with the medium of film instead digitalising it to make it cheaper and easier for processing, storing and copying (taking the “heaviness” of this process as a medium of expressing the meaning)(Tacita Dean); spending time in dark cave producing random images of shapes that point only to that time itself(Michal Kern); physical action overcoming the limits of human ability, close to total exhaustion, only to transport a piece of soil - to materialise an abstract symbol for feeling attached (Chopin's heart is buried in Poland, body in France)(Guido van der Werve); great effort of many people on an exhausting sun to symbolically move a piece of mountain (Francis Alys)


Within my practice, the ideas emerge from inside feelings, experiences and not from a rational relationship to world and its politics. When I started to think how this relates to the contemporary topics and to practice of other artists, I have found a group of works and was looking for a connecting point. 


All of them are in a way a manifestation against modernity, as Christine Ross writes in her book “The past is the present, it's the future too: Temporal Turn in Contemporary Art”.

“Modernity is confined with promises of development, opportunity, perfection, novelty, fulfilment and supported by technological, industrial and scientific progress. As a result, it articulates an increasing asymmetry between memory and hope, between experience (the present past, whose past events have been incorporated and can be remembered in present) and expectation (the future made present, which directs itself to  the not-yet, to the nonexperienced , to that which is to be revealed”


Not that the backround of creating them would have that in mind - rather I think it is a sense of presence that these artists had that led them to take a certain act of creativity. All these works took my attention instantly when I saw them first - without any consideration, they just had the power that I expect from an artwork, something going beyond the visible and tangible, beyond the ideological and rational.


The important point between the artists working in the “west” and the one from Czechoslovakia - Michal Kern and his cave prints is the dramatically different cultural political backround during creation of the work.


In contrast with artists in US who started to abandon the gallery space already in the 60ties, out of the reasons of limits and artificiality, artist in Czechoslovakia were strictly forbidden to exhibit in gallery spaces after '68 occupation - only propaganda was allowed to spaces presenting art. Except this official history I would try to describe the social atmosphere forming slowly and growing through all spheres of life continually as the regime was growing stronger. With the only one official truth about the meaning of life which was declared by the communist party and with all other opinions strictly persecuted, one of the regime's weapons was destruction of the communities. All unofficial gatherings were strictly forbidden and there were “secret agents” through all layers of society. These agents had the responsibility to report any activity against the regime - which ment even saying “ I don't like the communist party”. If someone baptised the baby in secret, he/she could lose the job in school, being replaced to mining or some other terrible conditions. So what happened - the society was extremely cautious, closed in a very small circles of families and best friends. Anyone could be an agent, even my good friend. Paranioa was a normal part of social presence. Madness was official.


Natural environment therefore became a space freed from this paranoia, people could gather there and talk freely, of course with those they trusted. From the artistic point these conditions triggered many “festivals” (Festival of snow), group actions and performances, games, ephemeral interventions - which were all taking place in nature.


This puts a very different context on the nature as a site for creating the works during totality. My key artist Michal Kern was living in area far from the capital city, saying his studio was nature itself.


My practice builds upon the strong feeling for this history we have behind and also on it's present remains. My cultural context is therefore very different from the one of the artists I was mentioning above, but still there is a strong feeling of connectedness with their work. I started to think what exactly are the connecting points and how this could start a fictive dialoque with other contemporary artistic strategies.



There are some parralells between the socialist ideology and present operating mode of capitalism.


The longing I felt when dining with my grandparents, my father.... is very similar to the one I felt studying and walking the streets in Vienna, New York, London.



An old man sentenced as a political prisoner by communist regime to work at the mines says as being pulled down to spend another day mining in darkness:



“Oh people, but I am so happy... I was born. And all that grief, all that has all burned in a fire that has purified me...I am happy – I have found myself.”


(quote from the movie  “Skřivánci na niti”, Jiří Menzl, 1969)


The strong longing for transcedent that is present in the artworks made in totality is not naive and is still very present in the works made by young artists in Slovakia and Czechia.



The work of “western” artists communicates well towards my experiences with the world, but is it effectively working also the other way? Are the intentions I put inside my works presented and communicated in language, that is understandable for the audience raised in a very different socio - cultural presence and history?


Is there an audio-visual language working with common experiences which could create a new dialoque between audience of western and eastern Europe?














Wind! One has heard it a thosand times already.




Salón, Nitrianska Galéria, Župné nám. 3, Nitra. 14.12. 2017 - 11.2. 2018




Present. Present moment. Landscape. Transcendency. Here and now. Then and there. Retrieving the absent. Light. All of these words and sentences may seem to have nothing in common. Nevertheless, they can be found all over the work of a young artist, Lucia Papčová. They surface in all of the media she uses to express herself – photography, video installation and object.




The exhibition titled Wind! One Has Heard It a Thousand Times Already begins with a video art piece, accordingly titled Greenery (2017), whose aim is to draw the viewer into the story and the exhibition itself. Lucia uses an authentic event in her video art, while disrupting its narration on purpose. The story is divided, fragmented, its key places (background, environment, the main character) are explicitly absent, deleted or just suggested. The actual landscape, being the artist’s main theme, if often retrieved with abstract words that stimulate the viewer’s imagination - the landscape is then newly recreated in their minds where it takes the same vague, abstract, impalpable, mystic form as in the case of the artist’s photographs. Sound plays a very important role in this process of “retrieving” it.




The element of deconstruction has a different nature in the photography medium. Lucia negates the presence of the material world using specifically positioned cut-outs and achromatic tones that go against the main purpose of photography – to depict. This is the basic concept of her formally clean work. She deletes the landscape in the process of photographing it. She uses it as means or material in order to build an abstract image. The artist responds to our current information abundance by reducing and suppressing the depicted and to the circulation of redundant digital photographs across social media by avoiding post-production and opting for analogue photography. The presented photographies demonstrate a radical shift towards a clean abstract image. The horizon – a fundamental reference to the material world - is missing.




Analogue photography and video are dependent on the physical conditions of our reality which adds another dimension to the artist’s strategy - a performance dimension. The artist often spends several hours in the mountains without any social or cultural interference until the natural elements (light, wind, air, humidity, etc.) are in the perfect constellation. The unpredictable conditions the artist finds herself in give her work the performance dimension. The process of creating the photograph thus becomes a part of the artwork. At the same time it serves as a metaphor of the ideal world we are trying to create, but we always hit an obstacle. The idea that man is subjected to nature is brought into the exhibition concept – a part of the exhibition is illuminated only by daylight. At a certain moment, some of the images become suppressed in the shadows and remain only in the viewer’s mind. 




Erik Vilím




Text for exhibition "I Woke Up In A Valley" by Daniel Grúň



I Woke Up in a Valley




Lucia Papčová (1987) studied at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava and the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, completing her study of photography at the Akademie der bildenden Künste in Vienna. Her exhibition project I Woke Up in a Valley is the culmination of her doctoral study at the Bratislava Academy, where she focused on the problems of representing a landscape in a medium of moving image and sound. The project consists of four video installations, where a film image projected into the gallery space intersects with found objects and sound traces.


Although these works, exploring the landscape setting, turn out to have common premises with her series of photographic works, Papčová concentrates more on the aspects of performance and story in the video installations. What makes her approach inimitable is how she welds the duration of performance and fragments of a personal story into the plotlines of individual videos. The video installations are connected by the common motif of a performer – boy, mature man, old man – isolated in the activity of recollection. Although Papčová is working with an authentic story, she does not create narrative-style films. On the contrary, she disturbs the story’s continuity and concentrates on the extreme subjective experience of trauma and its processing. The landscape in which the action is situated is not at all shaped as a backdrop. The artist uses the reverse perspective of the film image: frequently we see the performer from a sharp angle, in a detail shot, or even lost somewhere on the horizon in the distance; on occasion we only hear his voice. The immediacy of the action, the sensitive and at the same time raw manner of recording, compels the viewer to feel his way into the reality being experienced. Steps plunging down to forest land, harsh light refracted in the camera’s object, sudden gusts of wind resounding in the hall of a railway station...


Papčová suppresses the social and political associations of her videos and concentrates on a transformation of reality using the abstraction of landscape. She is orientated more towards object traces, synopses, gaps and speech pauses. The insoluble controversies of personal fates produce tension between the seen and the represented. Participants are deeply marked by the transition of society and its legal system from real socialism to democracy. Hence the seemingly banal scenes make reference to complex social changes which have traumatised many citizens’ lives. The inability to attain fundamental human rights has led them to a renewed effort to accomplish social justice and not come to terms with the given state of affairs. Papčová accordingly presents a reflection on the possibilities of human justice, with answers merely hinted at and left open to further interpretation. Memory is uncovered and simultaneously silenced, between that which can be mediated in language and what the viewer, now entirely reliant on signs, may experience with landscape and in landscape, which swallows up all traces of trauma and transcends to another quality.


The cycle of four separate video installations uses contrasts of static and dynamic camera and is built on the principle of synopses.Spring After 33 Years directs attention to a place in a landscape where an inconspicuous event is occurring, shot from a great distance so that it is swallowed up in the surrounding countryside. A Journey to the Ridge, on the other hand, presents a dramatic climb to the summit right to the moment when memory is confronted with a written document, though the viewer has no access to this and can only guess its content.The Landscape There again draws us, by monotonous depiction, into a narrative about landscape. Gradually we discover that it is a landscape beyond this world. The station hall, scene of the last of the four videos I Woke Up in a Valley,is a place of controversy and physical transition from one reality to another. The landscape here is represented in a complex system of framing, where props from the past are confronted in an image of a landscape which encounters injustice and simultaneously, in the figure of a singing child, indicates faith in the world’s good. In the contemporary art context Lucia Papčová’s cycle of video installations is an exceptional work, because it is based on the hitherto little-used procedures of film narration, subjectivity and the representation of landscape.


Daniel Grúň



From the review at


Lucia Papco’s traditional silver halide photographs, though small, ironically offered thoughts on “otherness” in terms of infinite space. In “That Country #1 and #2” a small pocket of light barely illuminates a dense forest that remains surrounded by the vastness of the dark. At risk of overusing a perfectly good but abused term, I immediately sensed a regard for the “sublime” in the work, one that Immanuel Kant called the mathematical sublime. This is the kind of thing that Hiroshi Sugimoto’s admirable ocean photographs — with waves out to infinity — are intended for. I found Papco’s work to be just as provoking, perhaps even more so: matter falling off into infinitude of space in all directions, the perfect crop of the celestial body creating a portal in the darkness. Then, in this world of “ubiquitous” bad art writing, something astonishing happened. In looking up what the artist had to say about her work, I found it to be as good as the work itself. Perhaps even better. In a March 2013 interview with Martin Guttmann, Papco states:

I like the idea of not trying to inhabit another world, one that imagination constructs, but to stay and ‘inhabit’ this world, to stay in this world. And in this context I thought of Kant, whom you lectured on. I think of his view of the sublime and of nature –how he looks at the sublime not as something beautiful, overwhelming the human being, but as something that is quite dreadful, because it is the point where we approach our limits and where our ability to act is limited. We are used to creating a mental landscape, which we can control. And I think this is something Kant likes, to judge by his philosophy: the world he  can control. And then, when we arrive at the limits, or at the point where we cannot control the world – something infinite makes its appearance, the space surrounding us which is infinite, but we don’t really think about it. We only think about the proximate space surrounding us, which we are able in some way to contain. We don’t think about the infinite space that is further. Infinity too can be something pleasurable, but for most people I think it is not pleasurable to imagine all the space round about us, which we cannot control. We are too fragile.



Reviews at


reviewed by Dan Peyton for ArtVetting on Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I must confess I was lost when first looking at these photos. After reading the artist statement it literally became clearer. I love the idea of the image in all its permutations and potentialities being present in the chemical structure of the paper. In a way these become abstract expressionist works. Black. But maintaining a connection with their meaning is hard, the IDEAS are hard-wiring my experience of the work rather than the work itself. In a gallery they must have a physicality that is monumental. Also, glazing would introduce the viewer and the room into the frame, allowing further interaction.
‘John in Love’ presents a rather traditional narrative with the tiny figure (nude/semi-nude?) in the landscape (Dejeuner avec les arbres?). However I feel more power from the trees that seem to pour down the topography suggesting a mirror or manipulation but probably resulting from trees being lost to landslides or clear cutting. These facts, or suggestions of facts become crucial signposts in making ourselves comfortable with the blend of minimalism and photographic representation. The ‘That Country’ series makes us work even harder. I war internally between the need for meaning and the realization that I must let go. This space, this gap between comfort and understanding mirrors again the chemical reactions that create the images in the dark room. More light means a darker image; less light means a slower build of the silver in the image. But remain vigilant. If you starve us, we will surely perish.


reviewed by Lis Ivers for ArtVetting on Monday, March 25, 2013
The phrase I like best from your artist statement is where you state that you invite the viewer “to enter the deep forest, where myths come into life.” Your work is difficult for us to see in this format, but we selected it anyway because of its reductive nature is aesthetically challenging. It is also emotionally resonant. You are using landscape photography and removing most of the awe and majesty that we are accustomed to enjoying. However, you are not abandoning these strategies all together. Because your subject matter, where those myths make their home, is about potential or source for what lurks in our minds. It’s almost like you’re saying – Here you go folks, this is where all fairytales are set. And with your approach to composition, you squeeze the horizon into tight corners as in That Country III as if restraining that powerful picture-making tool, the horizon, to a minimal usage. The horizon is a convention we hold dear, as the beginning, middle and satisfying conclusion to a story. It’s very hard for us to give that up. Your works are deeply cerebral yet of the natural world. You use the landscape almost like a graphic artist, framing and manipulating it for your purposes. This process is something you control this is not merely documentation. You determine how this will be presented while there is still quite a lot of mystery.


reviewed by Susan Inglett on Thursday, March 28, 2013
Everything and nothing. Positively dreamy. Within this work the artist has left a wide open space for the viewer, a place where memory and imagination can play. The ambiguity of the image as it dissolves into abstraction is a tricky balance to maintain yet appears to have been done so successfully here. Enough information is given to ground the viewer and suggest a direction or story line without dictating a conclusion. I do not see where scale is noted but it would clearly affect our experience of the work. My assumption is that the photograph is or should be large enough to envelop the viewer in order to allow one to metaphorically enter the space. As a technical detail I would also be interested to know how the artist frames the work, whether under glass where she must consider the reflection of the viewer or mounted and laminated. All of these decisions affect the viewers experience of the work and should not be discounted. The choice of subject matter, the forest steeped as it is in mythology and fairy tale, makes for an excellent starting place for what could be an expanded series. An indeterminate urban environment or body of water suggest like places of collective memory which would allow Ms. Stranoiva to continue and expand upon her worthwhile project.









Seeking Footsteps in Soft Grass


An Interview with Lucia Stráňaiová


Daniel Grúň




Landscape is a major theme of yours. It’s a contemplative landscape where civilisation has not made drastic inroads; landscape as a dramatic scene, apparently in expectation of something. Linked with this, you put extreme sensitivity in your works, you sharpen contrast, you work with a cumulation of tension. While manipulating the reference frame of the landscape space, you let the light that illuminates it go to the limit of visibility. At the same time you retain respect for materiality; in your photographs you describe and you emphasise the surface of living things. What does the truth of photographic realism mean for you? What kind of truth are you seeking?    


The truth of photographic realism interests me precisely because a reference to reality is present. That presence imposes a limitation, and for me this raises the value of the image. Necessarily it includes the presence of the author in a given place at a given time, and all that had occurred previously – the search for the place and the lighting conditions with a large format camera. Also, as I see it, the limit set by reality, with its geographic-lighting potentialities and my own opportunities to translocate myself in space with the equipment that I need, creates an important part of the work. It’s a kind of “struggle” with reality and, let’s say, with truth, and so it becomes my partner and my enemy at one and the same time. This process therefore has a further inner dimension: the quest  for potential in this world, and the quest for one’s own place in its midst.  In those instances where it’s necessary to go deeper into the forests or valleys, when I feel alone in a potentially dangerous environment, and where socio-political reality retreats into the background to the point of utter irrelevance, the process gains in importance. The image carries all these elements sealed inside, it’s not just pressing a trigger at the opportune moment.


Looking at your photography, it’s obvious that you put great emphasis on the formal side. If we take, for example, the cycle That Country I-III, often the composition leads the viewer’s eye along an almost plastic surface towards the horizon. Your work suggests that the potentialities of black and white analog photography are far from being exhausted. Do you sense a broad space there for your own achievement? How did you arrive at the use of underexposure?  


The formal side is important to me because it becomes a join for connecting all elements and a potential for the image to go beyond its referential dimension. I began working with black and white photography when I had a pack of films that was past expiry and I didn’t know how to use them – this accidental circumstance  forced me to try working with black and white, and I’ve been using it since then.  Reduction of colours to the monochrome scale of black enables me to shift the image of the landscape more towards abstraction, preserving its reality. There’s a space for achievement in all media, to my mind; it’s a question of what we are aiming at and what we are drawn by. As regards video, which by contrast works with reality in full colour and detail, I see great potential there for development, in terms of working with landscape and possible interactions with it. 


Probably I began subconsciously using the principle of underexposure thanks to my experiences in adolescence, when I spent a lot of time in the countryside by night. I used to walk a great deal in the countryside and the mountains, and sometimes I went on non-stop treks in the ranges, where one might be a whole night on a hillside or in the forest. Outdoors I slept just in a sleeping-bag, so I was able to feel my surroundings more immediately. The perception of reality, the countryside, and immediate relationships too, is always different. I’d previously worked with underexposure in my installation of lightboxes, “I Would Like to Fall in Love with You”, where dim, almost non-luminous lightboxes are displayed in a darkened room – the image materialises slowly, according as the viewer’s eye grows accustomed to the dark. The lightbox is only a dark object in the light, illegible as an image.


I’d also be interested to know how you work in the landscape and how you choose the motifs for your works. Do you keep returning to the same places (That Country cycle)? Would you admit that behind the landscape photography there may be an expression of your subjective emotion, or a latent story (I’m thinking of the name of the cycle John in Love)?


The way I work is, using a map I select places with potential for finding the conditions which could be used to energise an image,  to express a significance, a principle. I go to those locations and, taking account of the light and the shape of the landscape,  I seek places which – when demarcated and cut away from location and time – could produce some sort of independently functioning entity, capable of communicating something to viewers. Afterwards I return to those places, and I wait for the right moment when the lighting situation that I need comes into being. Along with that, I try to seek other possibilities which I had not previously noticed. To be sure, every work reflects the emotional world of its creator, because it is focused on specific situations and specifically processed. In my case, however, the result is influenced so much by the potentialities of the landscape and its own “emotions” that here I leave it up to the landscape what “statement” it will itself provide. The name of the cycle may unify the photographs or leave them more independent, and naturally it may give them a subtext or “reader’s instructions“. In the case of John in Love I did want a unifying name, and also I was interested in how a straightforward, maybe trivialised name like this can influence the reading of the landscape and conversely the landscape may influence the name itself .


Taking the whole of your work over the past two years (2011-2012), it seems that you aren’t concerned with the contemporary social contexts which influence the character of the landscape, whether in our own context or worldwide. I am thinking mainly about how the landscape is changing under the influence of global capitalism and how civilisation is vandalising the monumentality of nature. But you, on the contrary, seek something timeless in it, you concentrate on the subjective experience of the landscape... On the other hand, there is something apocalyptic in your landscapes... What do you think of this ”reading“?


The landscape has life all on its own, independently of us. It has its own system, its principles whereby it responds to the interventions made upon it, and so on. On the other hand, Slovakia’s forests are not virgin: they are controlled, artifically planted and cleared. In many of my photographs I work precisely with these interventions as artistic elements. But I’m not engaged in imparting information, how insensitive they are and so on. I take them as some sort of intervention which I do not judge, but I’m assimilating it and using it for my own purposes. Yes, I am seeking more the timeless values contained in a brief moment and in the reality of this world. My aim is that the images may to that extent be projected into the viewer’s world and conversely, that he or she should be able to assimilate their experience. To be truthful, I’ve never had an apocalyptic feeling from my works, but of course the feeling of space losing itself in darkness, as if it were vanishing, may evoke that feeling. For me though, this empty, unreconstructible space is rather a potential for creation, something that is lost so that it may be filled by the subjective projection of the viewer. As in painting, in geometrical abstraction. Space becomes something unexplored, and thus one is challenged to step into it and examine it. And beyond the horizon there’s a suggestion of further space, which is thereby also present in the image.


Michelangelo Antonioni once wrote that a film which you can express in words is not a real film. Your cycle of three-channel video films The Bush I-III is apparently non-narrative. I would say that it’s scenic. The movement of the camera, the synchronisation of the three images and the sound track focus the viewer on the emotion and atmosphere of a live object situated in a landscape space.


That’s the reason why I try to work with reality and its image-time-sound. Reality is a highly determining and exhausting material for work, but at the same time it’s also very active in the process of creation. Many things evolve or change direction while the work is being done, and this also can be used and developed. Often it’s at the point  of “I’m never going to get that done”, but in the end I go back to doing it. What Antonioni wrote is what I think also, that by working on reality things may be expressed which cannot be expressed in words; that viewers may be led to a very complex experience directly connected with reality, which can have a real impact on how they afterwards perceive things and may become their own adopted experience.   


In The Bush I-III I worked with individual scenes, where I set very basic ideas and live objects in a natural setting, separated from context. The three figures, a horse, a man and a woman, are equally separated, however, from the natural setting. A process is played out in them which is legible to the viewer only via their real presence in space. The event is played out abstractly, purely by elaboration of sound and image: composition, camera, details bearing significance, and a certain context and interaction of three pictures.     


They reminded me also of the nature scenes in Lars von Trier’s films. Do you acknowledge the influence of classical film, do you work consciously with the language of film?


Today it’s hardly possible to avoid the influence of classical film, or the influence of everything that surrounds us, art, music... I do work consciously with the language of film, because it makes it possible to highlight the rending of the image from reality. We subsequently see the  image differently, alienated from our experience of seeing reality, and this opens a space for a new interpretation of reality in the viewer’s eyes. At the same time it enables a different sense of lived time, which is very important for the mediation of a more complex experience. Sound is an instrument forming the entire space of the scene.    


Specifically in your case I’d be interested to know if when portraying the landscape you feel, or film-style you actually stage, male and female elements, bodies that move, breathe, perceive. Overall, for me your presentation of nature evokes corporeality... Are you pursuing some such aim?


I’m trying for a certain form of objectivity, which tends to show things such as they are and as they are lodged in reality. In that way I’m trying to break free of the perception of things through concepts, language, learned definitions, social structures, abbreviated significances on a subconscious level. People have a tendency to categorise everything to structures; they create a database of significances, which they assign to ideas, and then they try automatically to assign reality to those ideas. But in doing so they often lose the capacity to perceive the real nature of the things and objects that surround them. I’m trying to restrict this tendency and ideally to supplant it entirely, and that’s why I’m working with corporeality.


This approach, “defamiliarisation (ostranenie)” was championed in times past by the Russian formalists, it is used in various forms in art, and the reality seen through the camera latently contains it. Work with corporeality is one of the forms in which this approach can be used in the image of reality. Attention is fixed on surfaces, structures, details, the life of the landscape and of the object. It’s the opposite approach to that of symbolism, which accumulates the significances and histories of the object and shifts it into an intellectual, conceptual sphere, instead of focusing on that particular object in real time and space.  


In your video films you leave notable space for natural sounds, susurrations and movements. What importance does sound have for you in combination with the image? Does it connect in  some way with your interest in classical music?    


In cinematography sound adds character to what one finds in the image and also it outlines everything that has to be found beyond the image. It defines the environment, mood, weather, temperature, it creates a third dimension in the two-dimensional image. And so it’s a very important instrument, because it leads the viewer through the time and space of the image possibly even more than the image itself. When working with video, the recording of sound has cost me a great deal more time and effort than the image. For ordinary footseps in soft grass I’ve had to go quite far into the mountains, so as not to have any other interfering noises in the background. I wanted the authentic sound. To find soft grass which is in a place without the noises of civilisation isn’t so simple. Of course, that’s why practically all the sounds in films are made artificially, post-production, and a database of sounds has emerged –  these sounds recur, though chances are we don’t notice. For that reason sound is something that shows similarity throughout the film world. If suddenly an authentic sound appears somewhere, it has an odd ring, or it feels different. Needless to say, I haven’t been able to record all sounds authentically – for example, it’s an arduous task to record the wind properly, you need special equipment and you need to catch the right kind of wind in a place without other noises. So I used a wind from a databank, and afterwards a friend of mine said to me: I know that wind, I use it too...   


Sound and the space which it depicts has a musical significance for me, and I’m planning to work with it in the future. I want to try to make something deliberately, as in a composition, with natural sound. Certainly, yes,  it’s connected with my interest in classical music, because that has an epic quality, which can be composed in a similar way with the sound of natural settings, even when the image doesn’t have that epic character. Movement, the object, the setting, by their nature can be descriptive and create narrative.


That sounds to me like the pantheistic idea that every stone can move the universe... With your friend Štefan Papčo you’re an active rock-climber. Is it safe to assume that there’s a link between your interest in rock faces and the way you work with video  and photography?


If we’re to go into religious philosophy, I’d choose for comparison an Old Testament verse: “But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day, and it attacked the plant and it withered” (Jonah 4,7).


Certainly there’s a relationship between rock climbing and my work with landscape and the way I want to do it. Rock climbing is a pure interaction between the human being and the landscape in its natural form. Essentially this is artificially evoked: it is not conditioned by the needs of survival or conservation of life. Quite the contrary, it goes rather against the natural law of human existence in the landscape space. And yet, based on this interaction, a potential emerges for a variety of experiences that form the human being in a different way – different, that is, from contemporary natural interactions with the landscape in the developed world. It’s not just sport, movement, or attaining performances. It’s a creative process of movement in the landscape, because every movement must be adapted to the shape, the space, of the rock-landscape, otherwise upward movement would not be possible. It’s creative because often, for example, climbers have to figure out how to master a key position – they have to “invent” the exact procedure for getting a grip on the rock’s irregularities, for setting the correct balance. Of course, often it’s a matter of training and experience and having what’s physiologically required.  There are various and very specific hazards in the different types of rock routes, determined by the type of landscape. Something else that’s inseparably part of climbing is the dimension of danger and fear – routes of different types have varying degrees of hazard and danger, and the dimension of human error is very important. If I fail to solve a problem, there’s real danger looming, and the consequences can be anything from minimal to fatal. This type of interaction with landscape offers a psychic formation which can be very beneficial in ordinary life – the manner in which a person is capable of solving problems, mastering critical situations, and so on. At the same time, it points to the infinity contained in the landscape: no two identical routes exist. Each demands a different constellation of movement.




Interview Martin Guttmann / Lucia Stráňaiová


I’d like to say more about what I’ve been doing recently in photography. To put it simply, my aim is to modify the form of landscape we are used to, by working with low light or other extreme light situations. This means that the image or parts of it are darkened, often to the limit of visibility on the print. These light situations we cannot possibly see in such a complex way with the naked eye in the natural setting. In the dark we can’t see so many details, and during daylight the contrast of the image we see looks different. Our eyes are not able to encompass such a large space in one single gaze, not in daylight and much less so when the light is dimmed. If we cut the image away from its surroundings and from the ordinary conditions of light, a possibility opens up to comprehend space in a different way, possibly taking space “beyond itself”, or it might be better to say, beyond our stereotyped perception of space in the landscape. In the darkness there can be everything the viewer allows to be there. The artwork opens up for the viewer so he can project himself onto it. At the same time, it still holds its reference to reality and if I can put it like this, some kind of moral meaning of the landscape, which is present in the landscape as such, revealing itself by composition and details.


So would you say that you take away the unnecessary details so that something more essential will remain?


In a way, yes, but I don’t think that much about the details which should be left out. I think about each picture as a situation, as a setting where possibly some parts are visible, some invisible – and about the potential of this situation to communicate something to the viewer.


In another words, you don’t choose the details which you will eliminate.  


No, because the space and light potentialities of landscape choose themselves. The only thing I can do is to move in space and time (with a different position of the sun, with the daily or seasonal shift) in relation to the image depicted. The sun’s position is the absolute precondition for choosing the situation. This picture here, for example: I would not have been able to take it if the sun had been in another position relative to the shape of the landscape by sundown. This happens in a specific few minutes during a brief period of the year; I am really dependent on the landscape position vis-à-vis the world’s rotation. This is a large limitation in a way, but at the same time very interesting – it’s really the landscape itself and what is possible in it. So I have to look for the places, and it’s not that easy to find them.


But there were abstract painters who were trying to do something a bit similar. For example, some people were saying that the essence of landscape is the horizontal line that divides the image into two – the sky and land; like in the Bible, which says that God separated the sky and the land. So they were trying to keep in the image just the most minimal designation of the landscape. But you are not doing that; first of all it‘s not painting, but it’s photography. And the second thing is, as you were saying before, you don’t start from an a priori notion of what makes an image into a landscape, but you open yourself up to the light conditions and wait for them to decide for you what will be eliminated and what will be kept in the image. Can you imagine yourself doing painting rather than photography?


If I were doing painting this way, it would be something very different, because I really like the layer of reference to real space and time which is retained in the image – that it is not something imagined, something derived from the mind; I really like the fact that it is real and it makes a connection between reality and abstract thinking.



In another words, what you were saying that you like the unexpected details, which you can never ever think of yourself, because nobody can think of exactly all the forms that remain when the light is very minimal.


Yes, and also that the world in the image is not somewhere apart, purely in our imagination. The world is in the world.


Ok, so in another words, maybe that is also your definition of photography. The reason why you are doing photography is that it’s not that nature occupies a different dimension than you, but you are in the landscape, part of the same system that gives things light and the things that are being given light, so you, as a matter of fact, are part of the process rather than someone who decides on the process.


Yes, and I also like the idea of not trying to inhabit another world, one that imagination constructs, but to stay and “inhabit” this world, to stay in this world. And in this context I thought of Kant, whom you lectured on. I think of his view of the sublime and of nature –how he looks at the sublime not as something beautiful, overwhelming the human being, but as something that is quite dreadful, because it is the point where we approach our limits and where our ability to act is limited. We are used to creating a mental landscape which we can control. We have friends we like to socialise with, but we don’t like being together with people whom we cannot control; we don’t like to go into circumstances we cannot control, for example, some dangerous situations in the natural setting. You could say, normally we create a world we can control. And I think this is something Kant likes, to judge by his philosophy: the world he can control. And then, when we arrive at the limits, or at the point where we cannot control the world – something infinite makes its appearance, the space surrounding us which is infinite, but we don’t really think about it. We only think about the proximate space surrounding us, which we are able in some way to contain. We don’t think about the infinite space that is further. Infinity too can be something pleasurable, but for most people I think it is not pleasurable to imagine all the space round about us which we cannot control. We are too fragile.


Let‘s go back to the sublime in a second; but first, how do you imagine that your pieces touch this issue of the sublime?


I try to connect the infinite, immersive space in nature, which reveals itself in a picture, and the infinity that is within us – the imaginative and mental infinity. For me, there is a kind of connection. When I imagine a minimalistic object, where there can also be a kind of infinity because of the reduction of shapes and references, and I try to apply this to the real world, which is the landscape – I try to interfuse these two infinite worlds, of space and of the mind.  


But where do you see infinity here, in this world for example?


The obscured or disilluminated space becomes, in a way, infinity. For example, when you see this line here, you can’t really distinguish how far it goes, and the information is forever not there. So you get lost in space trying to reconstruct it, but it can never be reconstructed and finished. The horizon represented by the line can be further, closer, wherever.  And since the substantial element above the line is not sky but land, the line is also an abstraction of exploring the substance of land, or going beyond it, which represents an infinity in a way also. When we don’t see the substantial shape or surface of the land, it moves to the imagination, it can be land of all kinds.


Ok, the definition of the sublime that Kant gives, to be a bit more precise, goes something like that – you look for example at the pyramids, or very tall buildings and in the beginning you feel that you are infinitely small with respect to these structures, or that the building itself is infinitely big. In the beginning the feeling creates fear, because everything that is so huge relative to you, or makes you so small, is something you fear, because it’s so huge and powerful relative to you. But then you say – wait a minute, this infinite is something that I am not supposed to be able to comprehend and yet I do comprehend it because I fear it. And then you say – aha, so that means, once I fear it, I am already with one foot in the world that is beyond finitude. In other words, once you understand that fearing something means that you in some  sense comprehend its totality, so you are saying -  wow, I am actually able to comprehend the infinite in some way. Maybe not entirely, but enough to fear it. And then you say: So, it just was proven to me that I have one foot in a non-sensible infinite world. Now, in this work, I would say that when you look at this horizon line, and as you say, you don’t know how far or near it is, you can imagine it to be a line in infinity. And once you think of it that way, because there are so few details and you don’t see the details, then perhaps, something similar happens – wow, I just put a very small foot in the realm beyond the finite. I actually think that you are right about this work. I know that Barnett Newman was thinking about the sublime. In general, some sort of abstract, like spiritual abstraction, really does have this kind of thing with the sublime, more or less for the reason that you said, and it is very nice that you discovered that, and it is particularly nice that you found a way of using photography to invoke it, because with painting, paintings are artificial. So the viewer says, yes, maybe I get the sublime here, but maybe it is some sort of a trick, artificial trick, but with photography, the assumption of the viewer is that there are no tricks and therefore, you are discovering a certain  infinity in nature through your photographs. That is a bit different than the sublime in the painting and I think that this is a very interesting place to be.


Yes, that is what interests me and drives me.


And also, another related topic is the issue of spirituality. Again, when it started in painting, people like Kandinsky spoke about the spiritual in art - a lot of the time it was about the fact that certain painting puts you in a certain frame of mind, but from your point of view you discover the spiritual in the landscape, not in any artificial way but by putting yourself in these particular light situations, and it is kind of nice to imagine you with your camera in some deserted place, when the sun goes down and it gets darker and darker and you are waiting for the light to become smaller and smaller, and as you are waiting, you kind of open up both yourself and your camera to this moment of just before the complete darkness, and in that moment you put yourself in a completely receptive mode, you are not trying to intervene, but you are in open receptive mode, you and your camera and somehow, this moment reveals itself on film in this way, that is in some ways very different from normal photographs, because it’s done for a different reason. Usually the photographer wants as many details as possible, but you want as few details as possible, because you have this very precise idea that the moment that you want is on the border between visuality and complete darkness.


Another thing I feel in these moments when I’m in nature: I am not afraid. When I am deep in the forest valley, I could be afraid and try to get back home as soon as possible, but the boundless wild terrain gives me the feeling of freedom, not fear. This is also something I like - that in these different conditions all the social connections lose their power. I can see myself more clearly, how I react in a situation that is not comfortable or secure, and this gives me freedom, because I feel one with the world somehow.


Good. I was just trying to ask you about it, because we spoke about it in the class, that an important aspect of aesthetic experience is that the fog that usually disturbs your vision disappears, and all the details become available to you, and in a kind of a democracy of details everything reveals itself to you, because you are not interested in your own predisposition and you are not trying to focus on the things that you like, you don’t try to find something that furthers your interest, but you are just there in a state of complete receptivity, and that is why, according to Kant, the aesthetic experience has the potential of creating a condition of communion with nature, of being one with nature, simply because you really  feel that you are close to every detail and every detail is as important as any other detail, and fear, as you know, requires a certain conceptual involvement – like you have to identify something as a wolf or bear or something to fear it. But since in the aesthetic experience you explicitly try to avoid using concept, then maybe there is less of a reason to fear.


Actually, when taking photographs in the woods in Slovakia, you really might have some reason to fear wolves and bears …

The last time we spoke about paradigms in photography, and I am interested why you think that there are no paradigms anymore, and also whether you think my approach to photography has any place in contemporary art practice.


What I meant when I spoke about the paradigm is that, from the early 1990s until very recently, I had a feeling that art photographers were following the example of Ruff, Struth, Gursky and people like that. The meaning of that was, first of all, with respect to the photographers themselves, it was a combination of technical perfection, large format cameras and a kind of a certain detachment – cold photography that leaves you emotionally neutral, so when you look at it, you have to kind of look at the details with cold eye and see how the picture articulates the information. For a while, the issue whether the prints were pure analog prints or not, but at some point they all moved to Photoshop, so that became a moot point. And I think that for about twenty years it was very difficult to do a different type of photography, because these examples were really so strong. And I think in the last – really recently – maybe two years ago more or less, the power of this paradigm lessened a bit, in the sense that we just no longer feel the same type of compulsion to follow this type of photography. That’s what I meant about the paradigm, but of course that does not mean that I question the value of work of someone like Struth for example, I think he is a good artist, but at the same time, it’s very clear today that it is just one possibility among many others. Now, one of the unfortunate results of the Gursky/Ruff/Struth paradigm is that this kind of coldness, the documentary style, leaves out a lot of aspects of photography that are extremely important. One of the things that photography can do very well is to really create psycho-active images that have a very strong impact on the mind. And when that happens, the experience is a very strong experience - for example, when you catch the eye of somebody in the photograph and this eye really catches you strongly, you cannot remain cold about it. It really defines your experience in a very different way than if you have a kind of laid-back expression that doesn’t move you. This is just one example of what I think is left out, but there is other stuff that they left out. And I think this is a good time to be a young artist doing art photography because you can do things in a much freer way, you don’t have to worry much about this paradigm. In your case, I think that your work is….I like how you were describing today this moment when you are alone in the forest and how the light goes down and how you are really part of what is happening and you are receptive, trying to receive this atmosphere and the issue of the fear and the issue of the openness to the natural environment, I think that all what this modus operandi brings in is the fact that there is much more in the moment of photography than this click-click thing and that what you bring in is a kind of existential moment. What I mean when I say existential, is that your state in the darkening nature and how you kind of follow the disappearance of the details, it’s almost a performance. It’s something that really refers to the moment in a pretty interesting way, because it’s subtle and you don’t exaggerate it at all. It’s just that this is the condition that you do the photograph and you remain truthful to this condition and I think that’s exactly how it should be done. The second thing that I find interesting and this became more obvious when you chose the framing you did, is that on the one hand they are made of metal, but on the other hand the thickness and the distance from the wall refer to painting. Generally I think that the way your work places itself between painting and photography is really very interesting, because it’s not about trying to have photography imitate the effect of painting, it remains very true to photography, but at the same time, and we spoke about it earlier, the issue of reduction of details, the issue of the sublime - all these things that happen in your photographs - have a parallel in abstract painting. And I think that placing yourself in this relation to abstract painting, not just any abstraction, but this kind of spiritual abstraction – by that I include certain type of monochromes and Barnett Newman, Rothko – this kind of abstraction – I think that to find a way to get to these things through photography I find it very interesting. And again, I think that you would have a much more difficult time doing the work that you did if you did it for example five years ago. So from this point, I think you are at the right place at the right time.







From the exhibition "Weird scenes inside the gold mine"

TXT Alun Williams, Director of Parker's Box Gallery



The last work to be encountered in the exhibition is Bush (I) by the young Slovakian artist, Lucia Stráňaiová (1987, Bratislava, Slovakia). The piece shown is the first part of an ambitious trilogy of works, each involving three screens. Filmed in a forest in Slovakia, the spectator is put in extremely close proximity with a blond-maned, muscle-bound horse, and we are quickly conscious of the imposing size and mass of the animal, which seems unable or unwilling to move, as if the victim of a spell condemning him to immobility for a hundred years. The fairy-tale atmosphere of the forest is compounded by the heavy sound of the horse’s breath contrasting with constant twittering birdsong, and it all seems timeless in its hyperrealism. And yet on closer scrutiny, it becomes clear that the horse is not ageless – he may even be at the end of a tough, working life, but his presence is mesmerizing. The a

Artist statement