Natalie Czech detects poetry in the everyday, but her quest for the poetic focuses on existing texts, on letters appearing in any and all mediums, which she “recycles”. Text, she seems to claim, is all around us (and not only images) – why not treat printed matter as found objects? In her first solo show at Berlin’s Capitain Petzel, Czech presents works from the two series “Poems by Repetition” and “Voyelles”, each on a separate floor. Although her explorations focus on language Czech is, essentially, a photographer, and it’s her conceptual approach that lets the titular “Repetition” unfold into a reflection on the nature of her medium of choice.
Her work process is tedious, but the art works give off the sense of pleasure that one possibly finds in perusal. In found textual material, such as album covers, magazine pages, lyric sheets in LPs, iPad editions, Kindle readers and, of course, books, Czech traces the words of poems by the likes of Hart Crane, Robert Creeley, Allen Ginsberg, Aram Saroyan or Gertrude Stein, whose own deployment of repetition as stylistic device triggered the explorations in this show. The words are highlighted, while one poem runs on multiple images of one object, with different markings appearing on each. The visualisation lends the poems the semblance of Concrete Poetry, though the central connection between visual elements and content lies, here too, in the effect of repetition.
The piece “A poem by repetition by Robert Creeley” (2013), for example, shows the cover of the album “Go2” from 1978, by the band XTC. The cover features an essay on the commercial strategies behind album cover designs, while Creeley’s poem is highlighted over two images of the same cover, with apparent albeit slight variations: “Will you be dust reading this? Will you be sad when I’m gone.” The connection to music threads through the show, with albums by the Ramones and Prince also used as source material for “Poems by Repetition”. The three-part piece “A poem by repetition by Emmett Williams” (2013) shows a move within Czech’s own work, from using texts on more traditional, two-dimensional source material, to “recycling” texts on artefacts and devices. Here, a poem by Williams is traced on the overdrive pedal “American Woman” which was developed by Tech 21 in 2003 to create a distorted sawing sound like the one used in the namesake hit by “The Guess Who” on that famous guitar solo. The musicality of repetition as a rhythm-setting device, as creating echo and beat, gradually affects a sense of synesthesia, intensifying the relations between the mental reading of the poems and the movement around the exhibition space.
Synesthesia is also the point of inquiry in the series “Voyelles”, hung on the second floor. The title references Rimbaud’s eponymous sonnet from 1871, considered as a description of synesthesia, where the poets attributes a specific colour to each vowel, thus invoking smells, sounds and textures with words. Czech questions the extent to which photography is capable of affecting such multi-sensorial experience by inviting different authors to write a letter to themselves, as if written by her, in which she would describe a fictitious photograph that triggers a moment of synesthesia in the viewer.
Delving into both series implies a lot of, well, reading, which can make the viewing of the entire show a demanding, not to mention time consuming, experience. However, the works successfully traverse the murky area where a lot of conceptual art loses the viewer’s attention. The photographs, as objects, offer various levels of engagement, from the purely visual to the more studious, all of which are rewarding in their own way. Natalie Czech is a Villa Romana stipend recipient for 2014, and it’s interesting to see where her investigations will take her next.
I Cannot Repeat What I Hear
Until January 25, 2014