Multilingualism and the arts

Natalie Czech: “Images Become Words and Words Become Images”

Natalie Czech was born in 1976 in Neuss and lives today in Berlin. Since graduating from the Düsseldorf Art Academy, the artist has made a name for herself with exhibitions in Germany and many other countries.

“If only” von Natalie Czech. Copyright: Czech
“If only”

In spite of this, Czech does not emphasise particular places or awards as the decisive stations of her still young career, but rather sets store on the awareness of moments: moments when a view of things important for her work as an artist occurred to her, whether in conversation, reading a book, watching a film or on a walk. It is quite possible that the viewer of her works also experiences such moments of fresh vision. With the aid of the medium of photography, Czech’s work provokes and interests because she questions the reality and possibility of visual perception.

Among other questions, her current work raises that of what influence the use of written language can have. For instance, at her recent exhibition at the Bonn Kunstverein, without words would, Czech used Tippex to eliminate all the adjectives in Robert Musil’s uncompleted magnum opus, The Man Without Qualities, and bound the book pages together into a cascade-like spatial installation. Paradoxically, by the removal of qualities, the viewer was given the greatest possible freedom to ascribe qualities. The series daily mirror is quite different: the photographs of war and catastrophe here assembled into a collage convey a sense of the timeless universality of terror. If, however, a form of readability erupts in the visual composition, such as slogans emblazoned on the banners of demonstrators, it becomes very easy to reconstruct the real context of the images.

Ms Czech, the spectrum of visual arts is broad – how would you describe the characteristic features of your work?

the artist Natalie Czech. Copyright: Czech In my work I’m concerned with the question how far and how long a photograph can be seen as a document of the present. Most of my works are collages that are composed of various temporal states. without words would, for example, questions how far photography suffices strictly to reproduce the qualities of an art work. After all, in a photographic copy of an art work, it isn’t a matter of the exact reproduction of forms and proportions, but rather of an attempt to represent the most ideal possible side of an object.

Your recent work is mainly concerned with the effect of the written word. As a visual artist, what fascinates you about that?

Images can become words and words can become images. That’s something that has always astonished me. My last two text works are concerned with an uncompleted novel. What interests me here, among other things, is fragmentariness, which for me means an immediate reference to photography. The work Unvollendete (Uncompleted), for instance, grapples with the six versions of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, The Watsons, which six different authors attempted to complete. I cut out all the words of the last page from the various first editions and sorted the words alphabetically for each book, so that the actual ending can no longer be read and the viewer is offered possibilities of free association with each word collage.

So you would say that the use of language changes perception?

A book has as many meanings as it has readers. Language lives from the imagination of the viewer. Each reader of a novel imagines another reality. The productive empty spaces in the text also play a role in my works: it is exactly in the absence of something that new visibilities emerge.

You are often abroad, often for the Goethe-Institut. Have your exhibitions been able to awake in interest in the German language?

That isn’t my primary concern. I grew up speaking German and am interested in German literature, but I see myself as an ambassador for German culture only in an indirect way. For me, travels abroad are inspiring because the distanced perspective sharpens my eye for my own view of things.

Stanley Vitte
is a journalist based in Düsseldorf.

Translated by Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion

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November 2008

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