Běla Kolářová articulates something unusual in her posthumous exhibition at Raven Row.
The French novelist Georges Perec sought to investigate what he referred to as the infra-ordinary, the essence of the quotidian, of the habitual. He posits that the common things in life – where we eat, where we sleep,
‘bricks, concrete, glass, our table manners, our utensils, our tools, the way we spend our time, our rhythms’
– are essential to understanding the nature of our being. In an extract from his book L’infra-ordinaire Perec questions how we are to speak of our mundane daily patterns as to give them meaning, and to let them speak of what we are.
The selection of works by late Czech artist Běla Kolářová currently on display at Raven Row gallery, form a rather personal record of the infra-ordinary and establish its creative potential. This exhibition spans Kolářová’s camera-less experiments, her artificial negatives and light drawings, arranged photographs of everyday objects and bundles of hair, as well as assemblages, collages and drawings. Kolářová’s preoccupation with small, intimate objects like hairpins, various utensils and mechanical parts is often associated with the domestic and the feminine.
Although feminist overtones may be important to several of Kolářová’s works, particularly drawings made using make-up, such as Day after Day, Semaphores of Lips and pieces in which patternmaking takes on a heightened significance such as Swatch of Cosmetics, works that depart from a feminist reading are far more successful.
Kolářová’s abstract photograms as well as her arranged photographs, which pay ruthless, systematic attention to the everyday, convey a more profound meaning. Her black and white photographs of broken china, eggshells and rusted bottle caps, appear to communicate something universal.
Kolářová’s images of everyday objects, in which she arranges eggshells, beer caps and bundles of hair into grids, indicate what Perec refers to as rhythm, or background noise; they suggest the passing of time. Kolářová takes this one step further in a photograph depicting a cracked teacup surrounded by a selection of objects including a wilting flower, potato skins and various metal utensils. Untitled (Still Life) is reminiscent of the symbolic artwork known as vanitas, an allegorical still-life in which the objects depicted were meant to be a reminder of the transience of human life. Particularly prevalent in 17th century Holland, this type of painting often featured a skull, rotten fruit, watches and hourglasses.
Kolářová’s photograms as well as several of her assemblages perpetuate these notions of duration. Her light drawings are often multiple exposures of small objects, creating numerous temporal layers within a singular image. The sense of movement resulting from this technique is heightened in Radiograms of Circles, which in turn illustrates the elliptical nature of our daily patterns.
Assemblages where the artist arranges the cogs and springs of wristwatches and clocks, such as Expanded Time, communicate notions of time and its measurement in a more literal way. Finally, Kolářová’s use of human hair is also indicative of multiple temporalities; clumps from the plughole speak of the daily, the cropped full-length locks photographed in Hair indicate a prolonged period of time.
By directing her attention to everyday objects, items which we hardly notice–‘scraps from dining tables and desks, […] pages from newspapers and magazines only briefly scanned, […] a carelessly dropped ticket after a completed journey or a piece of wrapping paper from a sweet we’ve just eaten’– Kolářová articulates something universal. Particularly her photographs, which depict the remains of past processes, emphasise the transience of everyday objects and, by extension, mortality.