‘This world of ours is ordered in such a way that all around I can find every reason to despair, see death as the reversion to nothingness and a deplorable word – the key to the incomprehensible existence into which I’ve been incomprehensibly thrust.’ (Gabriel Marcel, Presence and Immortality)


Were we to say that the photographer Ivan Pinkava (1961) expresses himself through the classic depictive repertoire of black-and-white photography – figures and still life – the description would not be entirely fitting. Figures and still life here fuse to form an unusual whole that can only be interpreted through the artist’s coalescent view of perception of the world and the role of the human individual within it. The human form emerges in the photograph as much a living organism as a material artefact that fills the space. Room is given to meaning and measure. What kind of meaning and measure? That is not entirely clear. But what does seem clear is the emphasis on the role of time in this recurring process.

Pinkava’s photography, often referred to as symbolist and decadent, is not primarily concerned with the manifest surface aspect of reality. What is important are the reciprocal relationships between selected, individual elements, their relationships to the chosen frame of each photograph and to the transmutations and variations in individual photographs. Subtle, minute alterations of motifs suggest recurrence and thus a detailed exploration of some territory.

If we take a linear view of Pinkava’s work, like a path, something remarkable occurs. The dominant, self-centred human figure maximally exposed to view in the earlier works changes. It becomes episodic or vanishes. It is disappearing. All that remains of it are various imprints in space. Traces in memory. If we choose a non-linear reading, which in this case is clearly more appropriate, we find that the epicentre of the author’s thinking is stationary, and Pinkava’s imagination and chosen iconography revolve around that epicentre in varying whorls. It is a kind of fixed point in the universe and the author’s explorations of human transience run around it. The questions that are being posed relate to human mortality, which is constantly reaffirmed, and to the hope of overcoming it, the faith in immortality. In terms of expression, here the photography resembles theatrical forms. 

The transition point, the no-man’s land, the border crossing, is the act of death. An experience that in the course of human life cannot be avoided, cannot be bargained out of, and cannot even be driven from one’s consciousness. It is the end of one linear time segment, beyond which is dark and non-consciousness. Confrontations with death occur at various intervals and with varying degrees of intensity throughout life, from childhood through one’s productive eyars and on into old age. Even birth as a beginning, as a starting point, implies some kind of finitude. The human awakening to the temporality of the individual and the quest for defence against the panic, confusion and desperation that can arise from this feeling seem to form an axis that runs through Pinkava’s work. In this context Gabriel Marcel has spoken of the ‘axis of spiritual activity’, which in thought articulates freedom and mercy. That is also the source of Pinkava’s ambivalent motif of the youth as the bearer of renewed vitality and also as single instances of the temporary perfection of life that over time is ineluctably destroyed.

The author named his exhibition in Padua SILENCE, SILENCE, DREAM AND 3 MATRESSES. This is more a code than a poetic illustration of the idea of the exhibition, but it is still informative to the perceptive viewer. Neither silence nor dream can be captured directly, they can only be reconstructed. By finding and formulating a ‘visual analogy’ to them. Three mattresses and a cast shadow are here representatives of objective materiality. This determines the main layout of the exhibition – the relationship between an idea and its physical verification. Reality and fiction are intertwined within the state of sudden awakening. This is where the assumed similarity to ecstasy comes from, which might resemble the transition to another consciousness after death. Compared to earlier photographs of upright figures, here the emphasis is on horizontality. Figures and objects in improvised settings are prostrate. Sometimes they relate to an acknowledged horizon other times they negate it. Expectations associated with the motif of passivity evoke an impression of metaphysical experience. The author transcends material categories linked to objective perception. ‘The idea of some kind of I-territory is in reality a fictitious idea’, writes Gabriel Marcel in his essay ‘Presence and Immortality’. In some way what is captured here is the difference between desire and hope, between the feelings that are aroused by angst about the physical end of human existence. While desire is proprietary and fastens on to the physical world of forms, ‘hope is not egocentric’ (G. Marcel). Objects are imprints of the human present, which is transitory and is replaced by new sources. Even objects themselves age, succumb to time, and are replaced by new ones (here the impermanent material that the author makes significant use of – foam). Their function, however, does not especially change in any way. It is about breaking away from oneself, no longer shadowing oneself. Attempting to ‘exist in the light’, and understanding that objective categories, and therefore finite death, are fiction, as is the opposite of such a statement. The possibility of choice is what is important here. Freedom and mercy. This is the experience that Ivan Pinkava’s exhibition is about.


Petr Vaňous, Prague/ Kutná Hora, February 2009