Magdalena Jetelová


Into the Belvedere’s lower-level rooms Magdalena Jetelová piled ten cubic meters of Icelandic lava in two corners with windows and cut it with a laser beam, allowing the light to enter the space through partially uncovered openings. These openings served as the “junctures” between the interior of the gallery and the outside of the building, which the artist considered to be an integral part of her work.

This project began with the artist’s 1992 trip to Iceland where, with the use of laser rays, she “redrew” the profile of the central Atlantic shelf that surfaces in that country and makes the geological boundary that separates America from Europe visible. The site was photographed at night and the large black and white photographs were employed as part of the installation in Prague, one built on the opposition between nature and technology, the natural and the man-made, traditional and novel systems of communication. The photographs of the mountainous Icelandic landscape, which was profiled by a thick, white, laser beam, were accompanied by geological maps of the island printed on Plexiglas placed against the wall. To further rearrange the topography of the building, the artist walled up the entrance to a large upper-floor room containing 19th-century history paintings that recall a period of intense nationalism in Czech history. (Jetelová acknowledges that the project is also an answer to the recent resurgence of nationalism in Czechoslovakia that caused the separation of the country into two states.) She made it visually accessible only through a narrow slit in the walled door and through the small openings in the windows approachable from the outer gallery. Inside this darkened room the bright-red laser rays followed the architecture of the interior space, drifting slowly, tracing lines in different directions, and writing a sentence, “The curvature of the Earth leads us to ourselves” taken from a text by Paul Virilio.

This newly achieved spatial continuity was evident in the cross sections of the building. Jetelová prolonged the outer edge of the magmatic masses—the rift caused by the incineration of the magmatic surface and the line formed by the ascending photographs and maps displayed in the galleries downstairs—with the marks made by the laser beam in the gallery on the second floor. These sections, visible only in drawings reproduced in the catalogue, had a formal as well as an ideological purpose: they allowed the artist to create a sort of neutral system (matrix) that combined opposing elements of the installation in a unified field.

Placing her installation in this ornate, historically determined space and expanding it to the gardens surrounding the Belvedere (and, indirectly, to an Iceland pervaded with symbolic intent) enabled Jetelová to operate within a more fluid geopolitical scheme. The artist used that dichotomy to formulate a response to the question of division and convergence. It also allowed her to establish her own “order of things” from the position of an outsider nonetheless intimate with the topography of a given space. That order, however, has less to do with exposing the absurdities of life and the exploration of its vitriolic side (themes characteristic of earlier works like Descending Chair, 1979–80, or Houses, 1984) than with introducing boundaries as the points of intersection of different psychological, geographical, and political realities.

Marek Bartelik