In Tereza Zelenkova’s artist statement accompanying the body of work Supreme Vice (2011), the Czech-born visual artist explains that this body of work evolved from ideas surrounding the occult revival in the 19th century. This renewed interest in the occult posits a counter-narrative to prominent Western ideologies regarding perception, reality, and the human experience. As many have noted, photography was born from a collective desire to accurately render the visual world. There is the simplified story of Louis Daguerre and Fox Talbot simultaneously arriving at the creation of commercially viable photographic technology, but the idea of photography was inherited. The increasing dependence of Western ideology and thought on vision, the preferred sense from which to perceive and understand the surrounding world, accounts for the photographic impulse that entertained the use of the camera obscura, diorama, physionotrace, and other interpretations of the photographic. The pervasiveness of positivism, rationality and the scientific method justified what could be seen and quantified as the only valid form of experience and truth. The photographic embodies this reliance on sight and reality. It is important to account for Zelenkova’s use of photographic technology to unravel the façade of rationality we attribute to our history and society. Her use of compositionally direct black and white photographs, a medium associated with truth, to give credence and visuality to “our susceptibility to irrational beliefs” emphasizes this duality as an integral part of human experience.
The seeming opposition of the irrational and rational, of vision and blindness, is acutely illustrated in Supreme Vice. Zelenkova’s sophisticated rhythm and imagery implicates us into an uncomfortable state in which fear, superstition, and death are the norm. The last image in the booklet presents us with the culmination of esoteric symbolism, a robed and hooded figure placed in front of a stark white background. We are not afforded the resolution of identifying with the figure’s humanity as the face is completely hidden, leaving us involved. She continuously deprives our desire to define the subjects who are photographed. There are no faces, no geographical landmarks, no references for us to grasp to, and this ambiguity reinforces her stark postmodern vision. The second spread presents us with a disconcerting pair: the left image is of varying bones artfully and decisively placed in a triangular pattern, the right image is of a dressed skeleton in which only the skull is visible. Not only does the skeleton obviously remind us of the nature of our existence but also the bone symbol implies a talismanic quality invoking ever-present death. This preoccupation with irrationality, spiritualism, and death not only questions our seeming rationality; it also reminds us that photographs create mediated experiences and contingent truths. This tension is most wonderfully illustrated in what appears to be an otherworldly aerial landscape. It is at once an optical illusion and a fictitious truth; under scrutiny the landscape is inconsistent and impossible until the realization that it is water over sand. Although its illusion and untruth has been revealed, there is still the stubborn impulse to regard it as a landscape. It is symptomatic of the human experience to be able to fully invest in two contradictory truths, into rationality and irrationality, science and mysticism, blindness and vision. The occult revival was a backlash against overbearing concepts of reality, which threatened to reduce the multiplicity of experiences and perspectives enjoyed by humanity into one meta-narrative of truth.
19 X 27 cm
Published in London by Mörel Books
Images: Supreme Vice, 2011 © Tereza Zelenkova & Mörel Books
*Quoted from Tereza Zelenkova’s statement, which can be accessed at terezazelenkova.com