Michaela Thelenová has been active on the art scene since the start of the 1990s. At present she works mainly with digital photography and computer technology. Her deep knowledge of the expressive possibilities of photography when combined with a fundamental creative awareness allow her to achieve surprising results that reveal an ease of deliberation and an unsought-for humour. The current interest of the artist related to the use of the comprehensive expressive potential of photography was preceded by a gradual and smooth development begun by drawings of every experiences undergone in the post-industrial location of the region of Northern Bohemia.
Thelenová’s early drawings tend to compression and insinuation, to expressive qualities free of a definite allocation of meaning to a thing. The artist does not offer a realistic description of reality, does not maintain a cold distance from things, but submits to the internal logic of their mutual relationships, becomes accustomed to them so as to allow their shape to appear and to offer being the spectral possibility of speaking out. The primary preconditions of her work arise from the inclusion of the artist’s life in the conditions of the fluctuating dynamic of the “late period” (a term used by Bělohradský). According to Bělohradský, this “late period” suffers a loss of memory, or, worse still, the people living in it do not even have to remember that they are threatened by amnesia. Thelenová’s oeuvre retains a knowledge of these crucial changes in variously modified, motivic and thematically freely permeating aspects (gender, motherhood, partnership, the problem of determinism versus free will, the relationship to place, etc.). However, the artist does not lose her sense for the therapeutic effects of apparently commonplace activities and events, allowing us to reconcile the present with the past and prepare the ground for that which has not taken place.
From an examination of the presence of the principle of the circle in nature (Circle, 1992), the artist gradually moves to an investigation of the boundaries of harmonious social cohabitation and arrives at the realisation that “circularity” in the sense of a never-ending process organises not only natural processes but cooperates in the establishment of social reality.
The artistic investigation of minor events and actions played out within the environment of the family has become a central theme in Thelenová’s work. The depiction of phenomena evoking meanings linked with partnerships and parental bonds already appear in early projects that make visible the links between the creation of individual thought and public discourse (e.g. the cycle of black-and-white photo collages Advice, 1994), and has recently been enriched with moments of the tolerance featuring in a fulfilled marriage (Reflections of Wife, 2008) and the amusing exaggeration of careful household cleaning (When you get back from work everything will be tidied up…, 2010).
In the cycle Little Dresses (1994, 1996), comprising three-dimensional objects and black-and-white photographs covered with tracing paper, the artist addresses her reminiscences of the hidden, fossilised time of childhood. The motionless ruffs of the dresses held together by a plaster frame urge us to guess at the missing body inside. The interpretation of the plaster frame from the point of view of the relation of a fragmentary body, social unconscious and the subject allows us to see the boundary, from behind which the individual ego arises from the originally undifferentiated. The transfer of the gaze from the frame of the dresses to the fantastically conceived openings of their coloured canopy (the cycle Clothing, 1996) then opens up the possibility of finding an inspirational lead to both variants of depiction. The lyrically realised apertures through the dresses, with a hint of nostalgia, lead the gaze through whirling movement up to the rippling opening for a head, at which our desire to know, which culminates in the objectification of self and the world, stops, influenced by the delay in the magic of the moment of slowed down time, which takes us back to the still waters of childhood. Looking into the internal folds of the clothes provides the realisation that things have their own depth, their internal horizon, which has them appear in limits corresponding to them and independently of the manipulative will of the subject.
As far back as the 1990s, an interest is apparent in Thelenová’s work in investigating the problem of the enshrinement of life’s contents in the intangible area of media reality. The example of an aestheticising, conceptually grasped form of a playful, innocently operating “entry” into television broadcasting, the result of which is the undermining of trust in the truth of the information received from the media, is close to the direction of interest. This aspect also pervades the latest of the artist’s works, whose cultivated artificial development is applied in a cycle of digital prints called Satellite (2002-2003). Here the artist works with original photos taken by satellite and downloaded from the internet. She then attaches to each picture its created opposite in “casual clothes”. The material used is rich and quite curious. Thelenová opts for a broad palette of various textiles, threats, dice, furs, cotton wool or a solid slice of meat. The results of her playing with reality provoke not only admiration at the readiness with which we receive information provided by information technology as true, but also intensifies the feeling of laborious difficulty in the effort to successfully distinguish fiction from fact. It is by no means impossible that a kind of demon stares at us from the corner of a photograph, who maliciously puts obstacles against the movement of attempts at a sober evaluation of what is apparently given.
Thelenová’s ongoing interest in the sphere of photography remains in pictures of the surroundings of the place where she lives and that is at present in the centre of the former Sudetenland village of Sovolusky, situated not far from Ústí nad Labem. The artist takes fragmentary shots of people and the landscape of a place associated with the problematic history of the expulsion of Germans after the Second World War and the destructive impact of the communist regime on the natural landscape and human thought, and incorporates these historical relics still influencing the fates of people living in the area into the context of global problems of contemporary technical civilisation. The artist uses fragmentary, anti-descriptive language to liberate the multilayered strata of reality and call into question the dominant status of the power centre.
Ludvík Hlaváček, There is Nothing There, Ateliér 2012/.. s.