The work of Zdena Kolečková is closely linked with the region of Northern Bohemia (Ústí nad Labem), where the artist was born and where she still lives and works. She repeatedly touches upon controversial themes in Czech history, especially the expulsion of Germans from the former Sudetenland at the end of the Second World War. Her interest in the vexed issues of this country’s history is undoubtedly influenced by the German-Polish origin of her grandmother.
During the 1990s, Kolečková’s work was concerned mainly with the issue of the insertion of symbolism and ritual elements into the profane framework of contemporary society. (Vivisection, 1996 onwards). The act of vivisection, which involves operations on living animals without anaesthetic, takes place within the sterile environment of the laboratories of scientists who protect the independence of their institutions fiercely. The general public must learn nothing about the experiments taking place, which is why they are separated by thick walls that prevent the shrieks of the animals being operated on from being heard. The ritual aspect of the removal of the animals’ internal organs is lost within the context of modern scientific discourse, and the significance of the regenerative power of blood thus fades. Kolečková underscores the inability of secularised society to understand the symbolic dimensions of events and actions that place the life of a person within the framework of human society maintaining very close bonds with the surrounding natural world. The obverse of this, the manifestation of violence in contemporary society, is undoubtedly related to this inability. This violence is unobtrusive and its secrecy often involves a high level of psychological sophistication.
As well as paintings using animal blood and monochromatic paintings in which she includes details of dilapidated buildings in the Ústí nad Labem region (Shelters, 2003), Kolečková is intent on developing the multi-expressive potential of photography. The medium of photography allows the artist to abstract a certain segment of reality and reduce it to a symbol in which condensed visual information acts as the detonator of an openness and plurality of meanings (Just a Story, 1999-2000). For instance, her detailed pictures of the fate of mining equipment from the coalmines of Northern Bohemia, combined with panoramic shots of mining headframes, can be interpreted in different ways: as referring directly to events linked with coalmining in Northern Bohemia, and as a universalising metaphor for an alienated technical civilisation.
In the 2000s, the artist’s work shifted from a simple intimation of the possibilities of a story toward the untangling of its complex texture. She herself often finds herself within a situational framework reflecting the contents of the dramatic past of the border region of Northern Bohemia. In her photographic cycle Tears (2008) she undergoes a purgative ritual when writing the text of the poem of the same name by the Russian poet of German origin Zinaida Nikolajevn Gippius. The internalisation of the experiences of the poem’s contents, accompanied by the dropping of tears onto the page, results in a disruption of the original narrative sequence and a confrontation with the emotional memory of the artist herself.
The temporally unlimited installation Luftschutz (antiaircraft defence) anchors the significance of a preserved German inscription located on the facade of one building in Ústí nad Labem within new, often unexpected contexts. The inscription is installed in countries that fought against each other in the Second World War. Kolečková transcribes the inscription in the form of a mural (Graz, Austria, 2005) or using adhesive film (Pejȅ, Kosovo, 2006, Gdansk, Poland, 2007, Ústí nad Labem 2008, New York, USA, 2010).
In other projects the artist examines the insidious penetration of the evil linked with Nazi ideology into the intimate sphere of the family (the cycle of digital photos Wunderland, 2007). An unpleasant feeling is created from the discovery that the saboteur is a family member. In her photographic series On Faust (2007), Kolečková uses a dual metaphor of the experience and redemption of guilt, firstly within the narrow context of the events of the Second World War, and secondly within a general context that transcends the particular.
Kolečková’s work reveals the inconsistency between personal history and memory and the written history of a nation and its collective memory. A fateful influence on the life and personal history of the individual can be had by a striking constellation of historical events in which the main role is not taken by a grand narrative but by the unobtrusive power of minor stories. Memory wants to be heard at the moment we least expect, since personal experience is rarely included in the agenda of officially approved historical events. Kolečková records the blind spots on the map of our national and local histories and the histories of other countries in parallel.
Lyrická mezihra. Koleček, M.; Petišková, T. FUD UJEP;Ústí nad Labem, 2013.
It´s awful not to live but only sleep Kolečková, Z.; Koleček, M.; Pachmanová, M.; Vartecká, A. FUD UJEP;
Ústí nad Labem, 2009.
Just a Story Pachmanová, M. Galerie Václava Špály Praha 2000.