Aleksandra Vajd & Markéta Othová: What Is Life? / Reviewed by John McDougall / 25.10.17
To die, or to have died as many commentators on photography suggest is the fate of the medium, is also to have lived or to have been alive. If the act of dying is simply the end of a lifetime, an extinguishing of all the things that go towards making a life, then perhaps it serves a better purpose to understand what those elements are and how they can be identified to ensure that life is truly recognised?
What is Life? At Street Level Photoworks brings together two artists, Markéta Othová and Aleksandra Vajd, to create an exhibition of works which contrast sharply in style yet come to complement one another in function. Vajd’s abstracted colour field compositions are reminiscent of test patterns from a printer with their bold colours standing out against inky black boxes sit, uncomfortably at first, alongside Othová’s large format imagery depicting real world forms and structures.
In an accompanying text Karel Cisar of the Academy of Art, Architecture and Design in Prague makes the argument, distilled via Matthew Witkovsky’s utilisation of Yves Alain Bois’ Painting as Model, that it is art history’s models of criticism that are dead or beyond usefulness. Instead Cisar offers up the argument that it is photography’s ubiquity, its ability to “move into a variety of shapes and forms” which allows it to consistently undermine art criticism thus providing it with new life, encouraging art world criticism to recondition itself, or risk its own untimely demise.
Cisar suggests a kind of “Materialistic Formalism” as a route to understanding contemporary photography in what has been described as a “post medium” condition. Through close reading of artistic decisions, we can objectify photography and find innovative ideas, new life, within its form.
This is what draws the work of Othová and Vajd together despite their aesthetic and technical differences. Vajd’s investigation of the boundaries of photography itself provide a foil for Othová’s study of the fleeting moment, the momentary action of exploding fireworks becomes as solidified as the blocks of colour it shares the wall with. Through exhibition and curation, themselves well-argued examples of ideas embedded within form, the individual bodies of work become a celebration of photography in its multiple guises. An illustration of photography as something which lives on through its adaptability, its ability to subvert not only its own history, but also the shackles placed on it by art history and criticism.
Curiously, despite calling for close reading and understanding of artistic decision making there are no obvious clues as to what those might be. This may make the exhibition unapproachable to the casual viewer making it difficult for them to spend the time needed with each image. To the trained eye however, provided with enough information as to how the exhibition wants them to read it, untangling its technical and aesthetic decisions with their own understanding of the medium is perhaps where the joy lies.
If the answer to the titular question is the ability to reflect, evolve and inhabit a wide range of situations, then What is Life? suggests that photography is alive and well and those who are suggesting its demise who may need to check their own vital signs.
– reviewed by John McDougall
What is Life? continues at Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow until 18th November (installations views below) coinciding with both the Czech Season in Scotland and also 2017’s Season of Photography in Scotland.
Street Level Photoworks,