THE PHOTOGRAPHER Lucia Nimcová is one of few Slovak arts frequently exhibiting abroad. Her creative approach is not limited to photography – and she uses a very wide spectrum of approaches to this medium. This interview concerns her three most recent cycles – Unofficial,Leftovers and Double Coding.
Lýdia Pribišová: How did your trilogy of projects UNOFFICIAL, LEFTOVERS and DOUBLE CODING come about? What links them, and how are they related to your prior works?
Lucia Nimcová: The projects UNOFFICIAL, LEFTOVERS and DOUBLE CODING deal with reality in the period from 1968 to 1989 in Slovakia from three different perspectives: official,privateandhidden. I consider these three independent projects as work that helped me return to myself. I feel that this is a necessary process after finishing art school.I decided to work with archives in my home town since I wanted to create a structure that could then serve as a model for relations in society as a whole. The fact that the town of Humenné has only 35,000 inhabitants assured me that this trilogy wouldn’t become a lifelong project. I worked on it from 2006 to 2010.
LP: What role did those photographers you worked with in Humenné have? What role did they have in your life?
LN: I noticed Juraj Kammer as a sixteen-year-old. I won third place at Amfo and Diafoto, I think it was in the “free arts”. The republic-wide exhibition was always in Humenné. If someone wanted to receive a prize in public, he had to travel to Humenné! In short, I won the prize, so Juraj Kammer came to take a picture of me as part of his project started in 1977 when he began to take a picture of everything that happened in the town. Then he became my colleague when as an eighteen-year-old I was hired by the Regional Cultural Centre as part of a public works project. I became the main organizer of Amfo and Diafoto and 1,500 crowns a month. I was just getting my feet wet in the craft when I learned of the existence of the official archive.
Marián Kusik was the person who lent me my firstcamerawhenIwasnineyearsoldand he helped me develop my firstfilm,a black-and-white photo. He told my parents that an art school might be right for me. I owe a lot to him. I was really impressed in going through his entire archive of best work. I chose for the book the part of his archive labelled LEFTOVERS.
LP: A Pictorial Report on the State of the Country 2009 project for the Institute for Public Affairs contained in its finalversion not only the book Leftovers, but also a CD and postcards.
LN: The CD has two videos. A slideshow on the socialist work collective with photos by Juraj Kammer and a documentary filmon it by Marek Molnár. The collectives were to be officially photographedin the studio, but Juraj Kammer convinced the head honcho that it would be more natural to capture them at work. So an excellent document of workers at their workplaces was made in the spirit of August Sander. Marek Molnár, a second-year student at the Performing Arts Academy saw my exhibition in Bratislava and decided to shoot a short documentary on Juraj and the work collectives as part of a school exercise. A selection of historical articles on socialist work collectives from the local press is also included on the CD.
The LEFTOVERS book contains Marián Kusik’s memories mixed with commentary by Michal Moravčík and me. We spent a half year on Skype. I was in Amsterdam and Michal was in Bratislava with a broken leg. I essentially had incredible luck that he broke his leg – otherwise LEFTOVERS might not have been made. I was tired after the UNOFFICIAL project. I didn’t want to start in on another archive, but when I showed Michal sometime in January of last year my selection, he was hooked on it. We just started to speculate over the photographs and after six hours of analysing various details I offered to work with him. We got along very well. When we completed the book over the summer and chose the sentences that we wanted to use in the book as the generation’s testimony, the final corrections stretched out over three consecutive days into the morning and we were still enjoying the work. That was a good sign. The postcards are by Jozef Lauruský, a well-known photographer from Humenné. He received several first prizes in the Amfo and Diafoto competition, mainly in the portrait category. For me it’s a kind of book in a space with a prescribed text on the backside. These are postcards that I send to myself at home.
LP: In the UNOFFICIAL and LEFTOVERS projects you also appear, with your family and a socialist prefab housing backdrop, in select photographs by Marián Kusik and Juraj Kammer . You’re singing in a choir conducted by a teacher – a secret police agent. For the past few years you’ve spent most of your time abroad. What motivates you to deal with the past, with a childhood spent in socialism?
LN: I needed to stop and do a little recap. The moment you cross the Western border, you’re from the East. I’ve been from the East my whole life since I come from eastern Slovakia. So I told myself why not “be from the East” in Amsterdam like in Bratislava. A half year before I had got my first studio (at the Rijksakademie), I scanned works of Juraj Kammer at night. Then I wallpapered my studio with his photographs. That was my voluntary year-long home prison.
LP: In many cases the photographs that were to originally have a representative purpose instead defy this intention…
LN: I feel that in these photographs – mainly in the UNOFFICIAL project – there is absolutely no intention. Total passivity by the person recording. It took me a long time before I understood that this approach was absolutely the best for documenting life during communism. There prevailed a brutal passivity with regard to personal responsibility. Juraj Kammer wasn’t for or against the regime. He was simply there and photographed everything. I looked at his negatives that were created over a twenty-year span and chose from them photographs for the book.
LP: What do direct participants – the people in them and their authors – amateur photographers – say about your photographs? How was this work inspirational for you? How did it influence your view of photography?
LN: I think that anyone can see themselves in my photographs – they are so common. That was important for me, so that they could identify more with the result, so that I’d make them think more about what they long ago wanted to forget. As for my view of art, it was certainly liberating to be the author. I think that after seven years of studying at the photography school I was a little tired and in a rut. Many documentarists have it in their head that they should always be everywhere and photograph everything. They are quite neurotic. I tried this craft. I very much enjoy documentary photography. I like to learn from real life, but I feel a little tired after the Instant Women project that I worked on for six years. It was good timing that they chose me for Rijksakademie. I needed to stop and take a look back. I had this intensive feeling that I wouldn’t get further without a deeper understanding of my own past.
LP: You moved on from taking photographs to another means of working, to classifying, archiving, to selection and post-production. How do your apply you original basis of being a photographer? Do you still take pictures?
LN: A lot has changed for me. At the beginning of the publication I lived with this idea in my head: “If that one had stood a half meter to the right, it would have been a great photograph.” A half year later it changed to: “This will really floorthem,it’sreally bad. This is brilliant, I really like it. “When a photograph fell into this category, it went up on the adjacent wall in the studio. I’d review them for a long time, which photographs I still liked and why. The song “I still like it…” became in a way my hymn!
LP: What criteria do you use to categorize and choose photographs?
LN: I’ve always been interested in the space between the professionally good and that which is considered to be amateurishly bad. Especially in photography. The superficial perfection of media photography hindered me. It’s interesting to observe which principles and forms are created in a photograph and how it changes over the decades in a given context. I categorize photographs according to what I want to say with them. The order in the book is always a fictitiousline, a story that’s going around in my head. Bit by bit, in quite unpredictable intervals, some themes push their way through the abundance of material to the surface. But it needs time and patience, lots of time…
LP: In the Double Coding project that was recently presented in the Central Slovakian Gallery in Banská Bystrica you selected fragments, moments from vault films in which there had penetrated traces, details, intended and unintended slips of the tongue testifying to life in the past regime. Can you tell me something more about creating the project – how you chose the fragments, how you got to the films? Did the creators of the works know about the project?
LN: ??? Do the parents know about it? I watched 40 feature films and used the same method as before. Principle of time. Nine films came to mind from a half-yearof watching. I then worked with those for another half year. The result is a video-installation with four video-projections and three different soundtracks in the space. So in this filmit’s as if you become the co-author, but also the censor. This may sound complicated the way I’m describing it, but when you sit or stand in the installation, it’s simple, at least at firstglance.Ifyoustaya little longer, some images and sounds may remain fixedin your head. They became for me a symbol of what I couldn’t say.
I think the censors were bothered the most in this fictionbya“differentreality”thatthe directors tried to sneak into the films.Dušan Trančík became my favourite.
LP: Could you give a few examples of the double coding used in the films?
LN: The image of a rotating coin that someone flips and waits to see how it will land appears in many films. In my view this image depicts the position of each censor.
“Today heads, tomorrow maybe tails”
When the water boils over on the stove. In the film it’s only a few seconds, but the seseconds seem like an eternity to you. You immediately have the feeling that some- thing isn’t right. As for the sound, I used only original sounds from selected seconds or I removed the sound. Spoken words aren’t used there, only at the end a Slovak folk song is playing: Tell me that you’ll tell me, will you be true to me?”
I added the soundtrack to the final installation; in it I’m saying with my own voice sentences from the films or my own observations from the period in which I saw all the films.
LP: You’ve just returned from Kenya. What were you working on there?
LN: I’ve been interested in events in Africa for several years now. Last year I was a month and a half in Ethiopia; this year I managed to visit Kenya. I worked on a children’s book whose working title is Chuanita Diary and I managed to make a stamp poem. I’m curing myself of a lack of poetry in my previous work and meeting wonderful people. I’m travelling and observing. I needed to clear my head a little and get slapped by a different reality.
Lucia Nimcová (born 1977 in Humenné) currently lives and works in Amsterdam. She studied at the Institute of Creative Photography in Opava, where she continues in her doctorate studies, and at Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam.
She’s received many international awards such as the ECB Photography Award, Germany, 2008; Oskar Barnack Award, Germany, 2008; the Oskár Čepan Award, 2007; Baume & Mercier Award, 2007, Italy. For more information go to: www.luco.sk
LUCIA NIMCOVÁ, Marián Kusik, Remainders, 2009, C-print (documents from the 1980s). On the other side: Battle of Adwa, 2009, C- print. Photo: Artist’s archive.
LUCIA NIMCOVÁ, Double Coding, 2010, video; Unofficial,2007,C-print.
MariánKusik,Remainders, 2009, C-print (documents from the 1980s);
Juraj Kammer, Unofficial,2007,C-prints(documents from the1980s). Photo: Artist’s archive.
Lýdia Pribišová is a curator and an editor of Flash Art Czech & Slovak Edition. She lives and works in Rome and Bratislava.