opponent's text to Irena Jůzová's habilitation at
the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (May 2008)
Hluboká nad Vltavou, 1st February 2007
After finishing her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, Irena Jůzová embarked smoothly on a course of operating within the non-commercial, mundane and unofficial sphere, concerning herself chiefly with the physical qualities of her medium and the versatility of her materials. If I were to start with the assessment of Irena Jůzová’s work as a whole so far, I see her significance in a concern with the implications of material and reality in general, in her attempts to interpret this reality in a way which – though not easy to grasp – is still penetrating, intangible, personal and intense. In her work so far, Irena Jůzová has observed few restrictions. She has eschewed the separation of genres in art, and similarly rejects the program of mixing them at will. She respects strictly defined borders, but she defines these borders herself, just as she herself determines the overlaps between various areas of her work wherever she deems it appropriate or necessary. She therefore operates in a sort of middle ground, where playfulness and the mixing of styles does not become an end in itself. Her work is not a play with signs and signifiers, it takes upon itself in all earnestness the perennial task of art to mediate between humans and the world which surrounds us, visualizing what is invisible during our tenure on the planet. Already in her diploma work she addressed the interconnection of human beings and space, and this phenomenon runs through all her work so far. Life cannot exist in immediate terms, for this immediacy can be quoted as an aesthetic surrogate; in other terms, an aesthetization of ordinary life. The art of Irena Jůzová operates in the dimensions of time, space, and the human. Time is comprehended here conceptually, and the concept is related to the recycling of certain elements, the revitalization of something that has already happened. The artist does not stick to any single technique; on the contrary, she nearly always opts for a different medium. This, too, links her to the post-modern concept in which such work crystallizes. It means that the aesthetic aspect, once significant for a work of art, is pushed to the background – yet it does not vanish entirely; what is dominant here is adequate articulation, the statement, the message. A certain turning point in her work came with the 1991 exhibition in Ellwagen (Germany) – a joint presentation by the studios of Aleš Veselý and O. H. Hajek. This resulted in a new preoccupation with the invisible physical laws that govern the universe. “Pure” installations start to form and articulate themselves, involving lighting and sound as well as the visual aspect, amplifying the contrast between technical constructions and the fragile, vulnerable human element (as for instance in the installation Apparent Voices, presented at the Biennale of Young Art at the City Gallery Prague in 1996). As a summary of her work so far, I would draw your attention to her joint exhibition with Štěpánka Šimlová, organized by the Aleš South Bohemian Gallery, at its venue Worther House in České Budějovice in 2005, and entitled Metropolitan reality. The installation here included a series of casts of the artist’s body, translated into the plastic forms of various interconnected parts of the body. Her “material” body is transformed in these installations into a transparent coat of plastic, alluding to the common basis of the organic and inorganic worlds. The artist did not conceive this event as a mere documentary on her body, the “documentary” value is in fact rigorously neutralized. Nor is it a construct of various models of the female subject, but a construction of a subject of a new type. I would emphasise the question of figure, as this is one of the aspects of a reaction where the tendency towards denial becomes most apparent. For if there exists an explanation for the mechanisms of denial, it is in fact the search for a figure, for parts of the body, or even of membra disjecta – the search for the signs of biological form. Irena Jůzová is not focused on creating an artifact, but on the phenomenon of the human body itself. It is a kind of “sloughing of skin”. Thus she is able to dramatize the physical existence of the human body, the experience of this body in space, and space as experienced by it. In all their “playfulness”, these constituents present an opportunity for a phenomenological exploration of what the human body represents to us – a concrete human body. This original phenomenology as conceived by Irena Jůzová testifies to something important and unsettling about the influences on the way humans experience space. The obvious and the secret are subverted, they become an expression of a more innate nature of human corporeality. Even though this may not be so evident at first glance, these artifacts bear a close relation to her drawings, despite the fact these are not drawings in the classical sense – they are a combination of collages, photographs adjusted with computer graphics programs, and so on. Like her artifacts, the “casts” are not something that could actually be worn. They present a “mere” challenge. The realm of these „drawings“ is no longer the everyday world, but situations snatched from it in a photograph or a collage, another of these “in betweens” that Irena Jůzová so likes to explore. And the final product is an immaterial middle space, in which the relevant confrontations take place. We may see the works of Irena Jůzová as a kind of drama that the artist initiates, based on her construction of space, time and movement, in the framework of which all that is re-evoked melts into a visual rendition. I am convinced that this “game” is not governed by mere circumstance, but also by the suppression and the transformation of the artist’s own energy, and at the same time of the denial of an instinctive gratification. In their substitutive repetition these artifacts (be they installations of interiors, photographs, or body casts), become a gratification of the process which is inseparable from the system and context of interpretation as such. If we go through the documentation of Irena Jůzová’s finished projects so far, her artifacts may strike us with their stress on perfection. A certain aesthetism as well as an aura of perfection are the accompanying symptoms – Irena Jůzová works intuitively, but always with a clear organized order of the whole. In spite of this, almost all of her projects evince a kind of categorical “unfinishedness”; and here I would like to allude to Marcel Duchamp, who also applied in his work the principles of reflection, of optic ambivalence, activizing the position of the viewer. It is here that Jůzová’s intuition and detachment have their roots. Her art draws on critical work, instead of being some product of advanced technology and a romantic imagination. Irena Jůzová’s work so far cannot be overlooked in terms of the Czech art scene today, setting as it does a high standard. Her work invites to discussion. It is both tolerant and in a way intolerant. It goes right to the heart of the matter, yet remains open to further probings.
Hlubok8 nad Vltavou, 1st February 2007