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News > Forgetting Remembering: Czech and Slovak Prints and Books

Forgetting Remembering: Czech and Slovak Prints and Books

Katerina Kyselica 25 November, 2018

Following the success of the Celebrating Print Exhibitions, a series of presentations showcasing the Czech and Slovak contemporary art prints at BBLA Gallery in 2013–2015, I was invited to curate a new exhibition on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia. More than twenty presented printmaking projects explored the precarious nature of memory and perception of reality, and reflected on the labyrinthine nature of human mind while showcasing a masterful command of the printmaking medium.

Eva Hnatova's project Lamentation, 2010.


(Photo above) Consul General of the Czech Republic, Mr. Miroslav Rames, at the opening of the exhibition "Forgetting Remembering." (Photo below, from left) Consul General of the Czech Republic, Mr. Miroslav Rames, curator Katerina Kyselica, and Consul General of Slovakia, Ms. Ladislava Begec (Jan Mericka's screen prints on the back wall). Photographs by Karel Smekal.


Most of us believe that we remember events as they really happen. We have no reason to doubt our memories and, thus, notice our memory mistakes. Yet, our unconscious works with data provided by our senses—sight, smell, hearing, touch. As it turns out, the sensual data are incomplete; the unconscious fills in what is missing, and passes the perception to our conscious minds. In short, our brain, a mysterious complex machine, for now, is designed to fool us.

Memory as a concept for this exhibition of prints and books seemed befitting for two reasons. The first reason is the parallel between the memory and a matrix—a printing block that stands in the center of the creative printmaking process. What you could see in the space were artworks as printed matters, images first composed on a matrix that enables repeated printing. As a repository for impulses, ideas and processes, matrix—like our brain—gathers input processes and initiates others. It can happen on a piece of wood (woodcut), metal (etching or mezzotint), or in a computer through the use of algorithm (digital prints, video).


Lenka Vilhelmova's series Between Me and My Head, 2017-2018.


The second reason for selecting memory as a narrative of the show is the significance of the year 2018 for Czech and Slovak people. We are commemorating crucial events that had shaped our destinies, for better or for worse. We call upon historical records and memories of survivors to re-create moments of the past. But how do we remember what we lived through, what we were told and what we learned from others? When we are repeatedly asked to re-create a memory, we reinforce it each time, so that in a way we are remembering the memory, not the event. Development of group memory, or culture, comes to question as well. Moments in time may be forever forgotten or viewed through a distorted lens. Yet something of them survives within us, permeating our unconscious. I would like to quote Marcel Proust’s observation in his book In Search of Lost Time: “When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered...the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls...bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory.”

The presented works manifested artists’ investigations into memory. In the project My Disappearing Family (2009), artist Dagmar Mavrevova uses old family photographs, with relatives she no longer remembers or those no longer alive, to reclaim the past through a reconstruction of the relationships. Eva Hnatova reacts to the overload of images via the 24/7 news stream meant to shock, portraying suffering of people on the run, in distress. In the project entitled Lamentation (2009), which includes scrolls made of impressions on carbon paper, she explores the phenomenon known as compassion fatigue. Through drawing on, hand-pressing or ironing carbon paper, she has attempted to create a pictorial apparatus for reawakening the sensitivity of viewers, your sensitivity as you walk around the hanging scrolls, to the suffering and hardship of others. Jan Mericka also looks closely at people at distress, but for different reasons. He has recently engaged in explorations of migration, a rather sensitive matter in present-day. Yet his prints are absent of political context. One might interpret them as impressions of human civilization. He has developed a visual language of movement that reveals patterns emerging from screen printed layers of schematic drawings. For the screen print Quota II – Refugees (2017), he also worked with photographs of people from newspapers, but searched for patterns that illustrated how people behave, enveloped in a bustling crowd and acting according to unspoken rules. Through a process of simplification, the reality in Mericka’s work becomes uncertain, challenging us to question the image and information it contains.

Dagmar Mavrevova's digital prints My Dissapearing Family, 2010. Dusan Kallay's etching Encounter of Labyrinths, 1998.


An artist’s book, the 20th century phenomenon, is bound to printmaking, for without the invention of press there would not be a book. I have, thus, selected several artists’ books to share different concepts—books as visual poems, journals, books bound in traditional methods or constructed as an interactive game. Jorge Luis Borges wrote in The Garden of Forking Paths: “Before unearthing this letter, I had wondered how a book could be infinite. The only way I could surmise was that it be a cyclical, or circular, volume, a volume whose last page would be identical to the first, so that one might go on indefinitely.” Andrea Pezman’s 3d>html< (Infinite Book) (2010) presents the idea of Internet being the infinite book. Using the symbol of infinity, she created three objects, without a beginning or an end, that reveal a code— the present-day reality etched onto the matrix and printed.
What we remember shapes who we are.


Andrea Pezman's artist's book 3d>html< (Infinite Book), 2010, etching on paper. Kamila Stanclova's etchings on the back wall.


The exhibiting artists included:
Eva Hnatova, Dusan Kallay, Dagmar Mavrevova, Jan Mericka, Dalibor Smutny, Kamila Stanclova and Lenka Vilhelmova. The show is accompanied by a set of artists’ books, including works by Katarina Cakova, Anna Niklova, Andrea Pezman, Miloslav Polcar, Martin Raudensky, Zuzana Sebelova and Kristyna Smrckova.


>> view photographs from the opening and the installation.


Katerina Kyselica is an independent curator and lecturer. She received a BFA from VCU School of the Arts in Virginia and a Master’s Degree from Charles University in Prague. She organized and curated the Celebrating Print Exhibition (New York City, 2013–2015), a series of surveys of contemporary prints from Central and Eastern Europe. Kyselica’s articles on art, printmaking and design have appeared in Czechdesign.czDesign MagazinMF DNESCelebrating Print and the Journal of the Print World. She is a managing editor of Celebrating Print Magazine.


Forgetting Remembering was presented at BBLA Gallery located at Bohemian National Hall in Manhattan from Thursday, November 15 - Friday, November 16, 2018. The exhibition was organized by Consulate General of the Czech Republic in New York and Consulate General of Slovakia in New York, with support by BBLA.

Bohemian Benevolent & Literary AssociationHospodaThe National Czech and Slovak MuseumAmerican Friends of the Czech RepublicCzech CenterConsulate General