Hidden poetry and repetition.
I first encountered the Berlin-based artist Natalie Czech’s work in 2012 at Ludlow 38 in New York. Her solo exhibition, I have nothing to say. Only to show. urged me to set aside any notion of passive viewership, and while the show’s title seemed to suggest that her photographs were merely to be looked at, they did in fact say something. The images felt like words to be looked at, but also carefully read, in pieces and over time, returned to like one returns to a poem, picks it up, and reads it over again. Opening up the connections between photography and writing in such a way as to eventually obscure their distinction, Czech’s work plays the visual qualities of text off the textual elements in the photographs, activating and crystallizing a mode of perception that both undoes and reconstitutes reading and seeing.
In pieces like A Small Bouquet for Frank O’Hara, for instance, Czech asked several writers to produce a text in response to O’Hara’s calligram “A Small Bouquet,” in which words and lines come together to produce an image corresponding to the poem’s title. These new texts are composed around the original poem, which is highlighted and circled so that its embedded reproduction is detectable amidst the new sentences that make use of O’Hara’s words. In her ongoing series, “Hidden Poems,” and the more recent, “Poems by Repetition,” Czech mines texts from a variety of sources, purposefully seeking or subconsciously finding in them words and fragments, which through a process of selection, repetition, and erasure, coalesce into poems by Gertrude Stein, Robert Creeley, Aram Saroyan, Bruce Andrews, or Tan Lin, to name only a few of the artist’s sources. Sometimes Czech finds poems that reappear in other texts, replicated down to the line break, which feels miraculous. Photography comes after—it seals, within the image, a proposition for one possible reading among many, of one text through another. She’s talked about the poem transpiring through, stuttering itself into existence, into enunciation. But as a whole, Czech’s project is to open up this realm of possibility endlessly, radically suggesting anew the potential coexistence of any and all texts within and amongst each other. This interview took place between May and June 2014 through e-mail correspondence, shortly after the opening of her project Il Pleut at the Palais de Tokyo, in Paris.
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