The Czech artist Běla Kolářová gets her first posthumous retrospective at Raven Row. She died in 2010, at the grand old age of eighty-seven, but never really hit dazzling heights as a popular artist. This wasn’t specifically her own fault -- her works are strong, thoughtful and very well-crafted -- but goes some way to indicating the representation of women in, though revolutionary, less enlightened times.
Most closely associated with photography, Kolářová used a camera-less technique, playing with light, film and shadow to create, in a particular example, ‘artificial negatives’. Even then, this process of creation via a retrospective analysis (working backward, to create something resembling a negative as the finished product) is an example of Kolářová attempting to rewrite the past, to erase and build over the sins of her fathers.
And not just her own. Kolářová created work in the fog of war. Her generation was the one that promoted revolution and rearmament in Cold War Czechoslovakia (remember that, kids?). She married the poet and artist Jiří Kolář in 1949 and chose to go into exile with him in the 1980s, before the fall of Communism. Ultimately (because I’m running out of space), Kolářová realised that it was impossible to use the established methods of creation to document the world -- in fact it might have been impossible to document the world at all. So what we have is a work that straddles the line between photography and fine art, between documentary and conceptualism, between feminism and communalism. But it’s an art of change and it’s incredibly powerful.
Běla Kolářová is at Raven Row until 07 April.