Marie Tomanová – It Was Once My Universe


7/3/2020 – 12/3/2020 /// 25/5/2020 – 19/6/2020

At a certain point in her life, Marie Tomanová decided to leave and become a nomad. She soon discovered that the sense of rootlessness associated with the nomadic way of life relates not just to geography but also and above all to culture. But rootlessness can also be liberating, just as leaving one place always involves arriving someplace else. And Marie began to see the relationship between herself and her new cultural context. She initially depicted her search for identity through intimate portraits of herself in the American landscape. Once she had found – or rather, reinvented – herself, she turned her gaze outward, at the intermingling spheres of New York’s youthful post-subculture. But her photographic exploration of the world around her is a dual process that also involves movement directed inward. It is through herself that she explores the world, a world that she also becomes.
At a certain point in her life, Marie decided to return home. This decision grew not only out of a set of circumstances that made it possible for her to do so, but also out of a desire to again become home, to find her lost closeness. At Galerie 35m2, Marie Tomanová presents a cycle of photographs documenting this return in a spontaneous journal-like form. As we observe them, however, we intuitively realize that it is not so simple. The return to closeness must first be earned. It is no longer just a return or an arriving, it is the very necessity of reinventing home. The photographs that Marie Tomanová is exhibiting are proof that life is constantly full of rootlessness – even if it is just the act up uprooting oneself from the present moment of pleasure in order to set out into an uncertain future. Life is never-ending movement forward in which nothing repeats itself. In fact, photographs and paintings help us to overcome this act of uprooting ourselves from ourselves in order to become someone else – even if it is just a future version of our Self. That is why the second video presented at the exhibition, Live for the Weather, consists of a set of photographs taken before Marie’s departure for the United States. There is a certain continuity between the two videos, and a certain chasm as well: It is the ambiguity and paradox that characterize any attempt at understanding our existence in this world. We constantly have to transcend ourselves in order to ever find ourselves in the world. (text by František Fekete)

John Berger wrote, “To emigrate is always to dismantle the center of the world, and so to move into a lost, disoriented one of fragments.” Like many others, emigrating to the United States has been the most significant decision of Marie Tomanova’s life. The idea of an affirmative space, particularly around the concept of belonging, is paramount in understanding Tomanova’s work. Displacement, place, community, self, and memory became the key themes in her photography and video work, first in her ongoing self-portraiture series (2014-), then in her Young American (2015-) portraits that allowed her to connect with others, to see herself in the context of a new environment and society, to see herself in the American landscape, and finally in her latest body of work, It Was Once My Universe (2018-), an ongoing project about her returning home to the Czech Republic.

At 35m2, Tomanova reveals an entirely new body of work created during her first trip back home in eight years to her family farm in South Moravia, Czech Republic, It Was Once My Universe. Presented here as a video installation, but also existing as a photographic series, it is contrasted and brought into tension with the video piece for the 2017 photographic series, Live for the Weather (2017), Tomanova’s 2005-2010 diaristic photography of her life in Mikulov, Czech Republic. Shot almost daily with the only cell phone with a camera in her small town, years before she would turn to photography as her primary medium, Tomanova recorded moments and relationships out of this deeply personal and emotional photographic trace. Art historian Ksenia Nouril writes, “Live for the Weather embodies the carefree spirit of youth in the face of an uncertain future. Her lovers, friends, and family members mingle in this asynchronous narrative…of youth.” What writer Luc Sante writes about photographer Nan Goldin could equally apply to Tomanova, “She looks through the eyes of her subjects, in both directions…She sees herself in her subjects; the doors between her life and work are kept wide open. And that is why, when I look at her pictures…I see my own life, then and now.” And it is this seeing of life of then and now that is the essence of this exhibition bringing these two bodies of work with photographs created over a decade apart.

Together, Live for the Weather (2017) and It Was Once My Universe (2019) bring face-to-face two very separate existences and experiences, two bodies of self, not always past and not entirely present.
It Was Once My Universe (2019) is a project with which Tomanova is still very uncomfortable because of the deep personal significance of the work. It was made during her first return home in almost a decade. It was not her choice to stay away from home so long, but she could not return. And for her, it hurt to be away. During this time in the United States, she relived and idealized home in her head when things were difficult, so when she actually went back to the Czech Republic in the winter of 2018, she was unprepared for the deep confusion and conflict she found in herself. She felt she had become alien from her home, and yet…she still belonged—it is home, …but now so is America. This work is about that. It is about contradictory feelings and disorientation. It is about home, family, memory, distance, and time. The date stamp in the photos is important because it emphasizes a specific time, a moment, an instant. And yet there is something very off-kilter, just as she was in her return home, the camera is set to a New York time zone. Achronological, the images deceive in a subtle yet powerful way, like nostalgia, like memory, like a dream. (text by Thomas Beachdel)

Curated by Thomas Beachdel & František Fekete

more of Marie Tomanová