Jana Paleckova: Raising the Dead

Jana Paleckova: Raising the Dead

First published: Summer 2018

Jana Paleckova abhors a vacuum. After scouring thrift stores, flea markets, estate sales and antiques shops, on the hunt for orphaned vintage photographic portraits, the 36-year-old self-taught Czech artist found herself left with a nagging itch that she has been scratching ever since. Begging explanation, Paleckova instantly sensed that something was missing from these forgotten portraits, whose histories had long fallen into obsolescence. Stasis, in some ways, is restless, just as silence can speak multitudes. Unable to shake the tantalisingly suggestive, yet ultimately entirely concealed nature of the once-cherished, now long-forgotten stories behind these hauntingly poignant, discarded artefacts, Paleckova felt a compulsion to take matters into her own hands by teasing out entirely new visual narratives where photographic documentation left off (or perhaps fell short). The result is a large body of work that raises questions as to the slippery nature of documentation and preservation, the suggestive potency of deeply personal images when taken entirely out of context, the equally illuminating and deceptive quality of elaborate self-presentation, and the ways in which photographic images take on a life of their own long after capturing a specific, solitary moment in time.

Not content to let the dead bury the dead, Paleckova began subtly manipulating these discarded portraits, gingerly lacing them with tenuous but significant modifications achieved by painting directly onto their black-and-white and sepia surfaces in muted gradations of eye-catching oil pigments. Working spontaneously, while quickly responding to the portraits on a gut instinct, Paleckova’s oil-paint interventions in many ways bring to mind the automatic processes favoured by practitioners of Surrealism. Paleckova’s work equally recalls the core practices cultivated by direct carvers, with their emphasis on “liberating” meaning from source materials and their insistence upon “the truth of materials”, or the idea that properties inherent to the raw materials an artist uses should remain physically apparent and largely intact in the creation of finished artworks.

Working through a rhetoric of amplification, however, Paleckova’s addenda possess at best an uneasy relationship to their source material. The objects and figures originally captured in the portraits remain at odds, or only in strained and precarious concert, with the visual addenda that encroach them. At times the subjects appear confused by the intrusion of the new content, while at others it is difficult to imagine the addenda as having never been present in the portraits to begin with. Paleckova’s works present hybrid images that operate in a round of competing proofs, each inflating and exceeding, confounding and complementing the other. Rather than clarifying or even over-determining the interpretation of the original images, Paleckova’s oil-paint additions – which are more hypertext than subtext – are of such an enigmatic and fragmentary nature, at odds with the apparent content present, that they instead serve to further muddle and fracture, no matter the potency of the anecdotal teases. This, however, seems to be the point.
 

This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #98