Natalie Czech, Paperdraft, 2015, ink-jet prints, resin form, glue, 46 × 31 3/4".

Natalie Czech, Paperdraft, 2015, ink-jet prints, resin form, glue, 46 × 31 3/4".

Natalie Czech

Natalie Czech, Paperdraft, 2015, ink-jet prints, resin form, glue, 46 × 31 3/4".

A few years ago, while speaking about some of her early pieces for the series “Poems by Repetition,” 2013–, Natalie Czech described these works as “writing with photography.” Abstract as it might sound, her statement stayed with me, and now in retrospect it seems key to understanding Czech’s work. This was most recently apparent in her extensive solo show at the French CRAC Alsace, where examples from all her important groups of works were exhibited. Czech’s photographs incisively present subtle semantic linkages between image and sign, text and object, literary and quotidian genres of text and image. Her image-making process involves the subjective reading of poems (and, most recently, visual symbols) into found materials such as magazine articles, advertising circulars, album covers, and other printed matter. For the series “Hidden Poems,” 2010–12, for example, she marked letters and syllables that, when read sequentially, produced a particular poem; the photographs reveal otherwise invisible poetic (sub)texts within unpoetic textual and visual contexts.

The photographs in the series “Poems by Repetition” are divided into several sections. Czech draws out each poem using a motif that is photographed multiple times. In this way, photography (itself a medium of reproduction) becomes explicitly constitutive of this iterative form of writing. For this project, Czech used poems by such writers as Vsevolod Nekrasov, Gertrude Stein, and Aram Saroyan, who themselves experiment with repetition as a stylistic device. Despite the often extreme brevity of the passages, these are complete works. Czech never intervenes in the texts she uses. For the three-part A poem by repetition by Aram Saroyan #3, 2015, Czech selected the cover of a 1987 brochure advertising a television set manufactured by the German company Braun. In a dark, “cool” setting, the appliance is presented frontally, making its illuminated screen look like a window to the outside world: The viewer’s gaze wanders with a peculiar vagueness past three deck chairs and a railing to a partly cloudy sky. The brief text of the ad, white on a dark background, reads DIE FERNBDEDIENBARE ATELIER ANLAGE 87/88 (the remote-controlled Atelier unit 87/88). The same line appears in each of the three photos; in all of them, Czech has blacked out most of the letters with a marker, leaving different ones visible in each picture. From the white letters that remain, Saroyan’s short text can be deciphered, as Czech has arranged the photos one atop the other in such a way as to produce a text alignment resembling that of the original poem: “Later / the atelier / ate her.” The resulting work is a laconic, metaphorically complex play on advanced media consumption and the atelier as a classic site of art production.

Along with additional groups of earlier works, Czech showed “to [icon],” 2015–, for the first time: The title turns the noun icon into a verb, an invented word referring to the reading of images. Czech’s interest in language in this case pertains to the uniquely contemporary pictographic abbreviations that are now quotidian objects of “image reading” on cell phones and on the Web. To create this work, she photographed pieces of clothing in order to read such icons into their outlines, folds, and seams, then applied the symbol in question directly to the surface of the photo as a colorful plastic casting. Paperdraft, 2015, for example, features the blank page with a folded corner that’s used in digital applications to represent a document. In Czech’s photograph, this image coincides with the placket and collar point of a blouse. But the meaning and use of these icons changes or varies in each application. For this reason, Czech adds a sort of product label to the photographed article of clothing and cites her sources. For the symbol from Paperdraft, these include MAIL IOS 8.1.3 FOR IPHONE, EPSON SCAN 3.9.2., and WINDOWS XP. The program-based semantic variability of the icon reads as an associatively poetic text in its own right: A DRAFT / A BLANK PAGE / A PREVIEW / AN ARTBOARD / OR JUST / NEW. Yet another way to write with photography.

Jens Asthoff

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss