Markéta Othová

Jiri Svestka | Prague

The photographs of Markéta Othová, a young artist who lives in Prague, could hardly be described as spectacular; in fact, they consciously oppose the avalanche of images produced by mass media. Always black-and-white, unframed, and about 43 x 63 inches, her images are discreet and unobtrusive, a pointed critique of the relentless deadening that occurs to the inhabitants of our “photographic universe,” as Vilém Flusser warned.

Othová travels a great deal, taking pictures of the landscapes she sees—meadows, beaches, parks, and streets; people rarely appear in these photographs. When she arrives back in Prague, she stores the images in an archive; some are not used for years. Here at home, she has focused her camera on interior spaces and on herself: an unmade bed, a vase, a pair of shoes, her feet and knees. Othová often works in series. In “Utopia,” 2000, she photographed children in a garden; most are standing under a window, waiting. But what are they waiting for? The images seem almost random, like chance documents of unknown events; but more than that, they suggest stories, arousing our curiosity as to what they really portray. Perhaps because of this evocation of narrative, Othová’s photographs often remind me of the ones that appear in the novels of W. G. Sebald, around which his stories are woven. Her photographs make a similar impression; they seem like the quiet and inconspicuous signs of an interesting life.

Othová’s recent exhibition featured a series of thirty-one photographs, entitled “Talk to Her,” 2006. Walking along the walls, following the images (which were hung in chronological order), the viewer soon became aware that something odd was happening in the captured scenes. What that is soon becomes clear: Every photograph shows the pop singer Björk, sitting on a plastic chair at a street café in Venice during the 2005 Biennale. Her presence explains the expressions of the passersby—some stop, a few brave souls attempt to talk to her—and the growing crowd, which moves around her. Björk remains in the same seat, sometimes laughing, sometimes drinking, sometimes frowning, sometimes with her eyes closed—and sometimes she is blocked from view. Othová took each photograph from the same position; nothing is posed, everything happens by chance.

Othová’s photographs have been compared to those of Josef Sudek, who considered photography as a kind of memory. Photographic series such as “Talk to Her” are like images passing by, reflecting actions without beginning or end—like memories released from our consciousness. These images refuse to be manipulated, and this transforms their cool rationality into nostalgia. What is remembered is longed for, like the star who remains inaccessible even in our midst; perception combines memory and consciousness to create a modern-day sort of insecurity. This is the real reason Othová’s photographs suggest Sebald, who uses similar strategies of narration. (He has also influenced young German artists such as Thomas Zipp and Markus Selg.) Her works evoke the act of remembering without the pleasant feeling of finally putting the past behind us. Here, memories are part of a painful process that brings us closer to ourselves and to the present.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Jane Brodie.