Exhibition Preview: Interior: Constellations – Tereza Stehlíková
Kingsgate Gallery, West Hampstead, London NW6. UK
17th September – 3rd October 2010
By Guy Sangster Adams
In Teresa Stehlíková’s The Story of Violet (Go Together Press, 2007), her illustrated book for children and adults, her eponymous young heroine wonders, “How can it be so beautiful here? Why are all the colours more intense than in the world at home? Why can’t it be the other way round? Why does it feel more real here than in the real world?”
Like Violet’s reverie, Interior: Constellations, Stehlíková’s new mixed media installation, allows the viewer to become completely immersed in beautiful, atmospheric, and mysterious, richly coloured interior and exterior images, from spiral staircases to spirals of forest flora and fauna that swirl the familiar and the unexpected, into new realities. Heightening one’s perception of reality in order, as she says, “to offer a fresh and poetic vision of the world” is key to the work of the multi-talented, Czech-born, London-based, Stehlíková, who is an artist, filmmaker, writer, co-editor and founder of the cross-disciplinary biannual magazine, Artesian, and lecturer in animation. Whilst also continuing to work towards a practice-based PhD at the Royal College of Art, in London, “researching ‘tactile memory’ and its relation to the moving image”.
Interior: Constellations develops her work with tactility and memory, as she says, “both thematically and practically, as the means by which time imprints its histories into objects and sites and as the process whereby those stored impressions might subsequently be retrieved.” Made on location in the Czech Republic and Iceland, all of the pieces in the exhibition, “focus on objects and places charged with individual or collective resonance,” says Stehlíková, from her childhood home to “the equally resonant landscapes of the natural world,” and all are “imbued with the textured potential of the un/conscious”.
Stehlíková is influenced by the rich tradition of Czech Surrealism and in particular by the highly influential artist and filmmaker, Jan Švankmajer, whose work has similarly inspired Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, and the Brothers Quay. Švankmajer worked closely with his wife, the equally inspirational Czech surrealist artist, Eva Švankmajerová, and when the Communist Czech regime banned them from making films for seven years in the 1970s, they worked pseudonymously creating other artworks, including three-dimensional ‘tactile art’. “As an art form touch is a sense without any defined convention,” Švankmajer has said, “it has the advantage of not lending itself solely to aesthetical purpose. That is why touch can bring into our consciousness a great amount of authentic material.”
The French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard, is also a primary influence on Interior: Constellations and Stehlíková’s work in general. In particular his book, The Poetics of Space, which explores how we experience intimate places, and how our perceptions of houses and other shelters shape our thoughts, memories and dreams. The final chapter puts forward Bachelard’s concept of ‘intimate immensity’, which Stehlíková has utilised in the exhibition in the way that her work “plays with notable shifts in scale and point of view”.
Using projection, assemblages, and photography, Interior: Constellations creates an evocative multi-layered experience, that is aesthetically, sensorily, and theoretically inspiring, and both a wonderful trigger to the imagination and an underscore to the importance to allowing one’s imagination freedom. In the words of Švankmajer: “Imagination is subversive, because it puts the possible against the real. That’s why you should always use your wildest imagination. Imagination is the biggest gift the humanity received. Imagination makes people human, not work. Imagination, imagination, imagination…”