Double Motions. Phantom Views

Plunge/Soar, Centre Culturel Suisse, Paris, 2014



Alexandra Navratil’s work engages with the history of film and photography or rather with their pasts, but always gesturing toward what is not yet, or what kind of visibility and images we would be confronted with in the future. Many of her works demonstrate interest in another tension - between the materiality, the weight, the tangibility of images, and their disembodied, virtual nature; their capacity to float and migrate across media and periods of time. Her work, informed strongly by research in a variety of archives, is a poetic reflection on the traces of methods of archiving on the surface of images, the micro-history of the modes of production of materials and their effects and proliferation into a broad set of cultural gestures.

Contrary to a historian who would develop an explanatory narrative that assigns meaning to historical objects, interpreting them as evidence, Navratil animates the archive, summons images to life by departing from details whose significance would be overlooked: material traces of deterioration of nitrate celluloid or the stencil coloring in early film. Views (2013) and Sample Frames (2012) set in motion and reflect on the ghostly resonance of such fragments, their blind materiality is set counter to their potential to bring to visibility another, deeper trace, different from the illustrative claim of the archive. They make us aware of how, for example, color in film coincides, or co-originates with the construction of the view of the exotic object. The historical gesture of the works then, or their archival claim, spills into multiple histories, and highlights the fact that there are always many co-possible, one could say virtual histories, with minute details as possible points of departure. Navratil’s work is positioned between the desire to touch the past, which will be always lost and setting the fragments of that past in motion, of making a juxtaposition, a montage of times.

Both archives and media are characterized by set of conventions, they are frames rendering images, organizing and presenting objects.  But the fixity of these conventions is a carefully negotiated fiction. They are open to be used against their grain - the archive has its counter-archive, and the medium has its counter-medium. Navratil opens the question of another history, a counter-history in a sense, vertiginous or meandering and performed through images. The multiple resonances of the media fragments and the images she uses opens a space for thinking, yet without a vanishing point, or claiming the certainty of a conclusion.

Three closely related moments punctuate her work: the micro-history media and modes of seeing they articulate; her work with the archive with an attention to a details which usually remain outside the archive’s infrastructure; and the question of the temporal complexity of images related to obsolescence of media. These three add up to works, which are reflexive in complex sense – they not only show images showing, but displace them both towards the past and the future. The claim of Resurrections is not precisely to illustrate the history of a material as photographic emulsion, but plasticity as fundamental aspect of image-making. Plastic in Modern Magic is both the subject of presentation as a material, and of representation with the history of its perception as malleable material with endless applications.

Navratil’s concern with obsolescence cannot be reduced to a nostalgic reflection on media gradually falling out of use. She recasts it as a particularly contemporary moment, in which the medium becomes an object, undergoing a transformation from an invisible support into an emphatically visual object. She problematises the different modes of reproduction of images, including their digital archiving and storage. In many cases artists have access to analog archival material only in its digitized version. It is significant that she uses digitally produced or edited material, which is transferred to analog only in some works. In this sense the role and the effects of the digital, and its interaction with the analog, are integral part of many of her installations. Phantom (1) and Untitled are digitally produced animations, consisting of seamlessly edited imagery, with floating disembodied view of the camera. The digital image becomes a counter-point of the indexical trace and its weight, materiality is confronted with the immaterial, or made to resonate in their simultaneous presence. June, 2014