Husband and wife, Barbora and Radim Zurek, have recently made a vibrant and significant appearance on the Czech photographic scene. Today, along with other Czech photographers, they have succeeded in precisely addressing topical creative tendencies and creating clear-cut, conceptually stable, unique, visually strong and technically perfect works that reach out to a wide audience. Similarly to other artists of the new generation, the Zureks are not afraid to look for inspiration outside the ghetto of traditional photography in film, music, literature, visual art as well as in fashion or advertising. Like a growing number of young artists, they masterly handle possibilities offered by digital manipulation with photographic images. Instead of traditionally capturing the real world and its inhabitants which prevailed in photography for the first hundred and fifty years of its existence, they create pictures belonging to a non-existent world and artificially made people, a world in which reality and fiction can no longer be told apart. Although, nowadays, photography has lost its aura of trueness, which it actually never fully bore before, it has become an unlimited means to portraying visions that don’t depend on concrete objects.
Identity and typology are among the most frequented topics of current digitally manipulated photography. Since Nancy Burson joined together portraits of various dictators, movie actresses or American presidents which were not perfect in a technical sense, and then, out of their projection she would create kind of averaged-out, typological studies, digital technologies have rapidly advanced. Today, digital technologies enable anthropologists as well as artists to create pictures of “the typical” French woman, comprised of thousands of different portraits, and thanks to the technologies Yasumasa Morimura can make himself a part of paintings by old and new masters.
It is the motifs of clones and genetic relations that interest Barbora and Radim Zurek very much. Their series Descendants with which the couple first attracted attention during their studies at the Institute of Creative Photography, Silesian University, Opava, already showed fictive children whose mother was Barbora, changing her likeness in a chameleon like way, and whose fathers were different men, including her own husband. At first sight, the comparative triplets of portraits seem to be only an entertaining game during which typical features of alleged parents join together in faces of non-existent adolescent children who have been formed in a computer. However, it is not a mere play with genes for us to be entertained by comparing appearance of generated young males and females with the likeness of their alleged mothers and fathers. The artists deliberately disrupt the game when they show children in their early twenties, which doesn’t correspond with the age of the alleged parents, who are sometimes only a few years older than the children. Barbora Zurkova, who represents the mother in the triplets and whose features can be found in all the descendants, is only twenty years old (the Zureks themselves are curious how much their real little daughter will take after the teenager they have created digitally).
The artists work with a more profound intention, as they explain: “With the help of computer assemblage we have tried to look for a broader picture of who we are, what we are about, who we used to be and who we could become.” The Zureks bring a new dimension to their project by putting up these portraits of non-existent people on different web sites that post personals ads.
The couple’s latest series called The Replacement also bears a more profound sociological and psychological undertone. So far, it is undoubtedly the highlight of their career which includes other works (e.g. a series of expressive portraits of blind people called The Blind that gained an award at the photography contest Czech Press Photo). In empty landscapes with low horizon where the sky is cloudy, Barbora and Radim Zurek portray girls and boys at the threshold of adolescence whose faces (that are appropriately adjusted in a computer) remind us of child likeness or clones of many celebrities, universally known from TV screens or newspapers and magazines – actors Harrison Ford, Al Pacino or Christopher Walken; actresses, Penélope Cruz, Joan Collins and Jessica Lange; a supermodel, Claudia Schiffer; footballers, Pelé and Pavel Nedv?d; a singer, Björk; the “pop king” Michael Jackson; a tennis player Boris Becker and even Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. First of all, the viewer’s eye is drawn to the perfect technical and artistic execution of idyllic portraits of girls and boys on the brink of adolescence, between innocence and yet suppressed erotic desire. In spite of the presence of fine clothing, fine hairdos and the digitally accentuated likeness of these girls and boys to truly resemble the self-assured famous and rich, uncertainty, confusion and melancholy emanate from those angel-like and beautiful faces. Sad landscapes where there is no sun and dull colors augment the particular atmosphere. Thus, the Zureks point out tension which exists between the original persona and his or her clone. We cannot be sure whether these are celebrities’ child portraits or their clones or adolescents who try their best to look like their idols (think about how many could be seen during the media craziness after Michael Jackson’s death). We are left uncertain, yet the artists encourage us to think about more general psychological issues as they state: “The confrontation of a clone and its original’s co-existence, versus a child and a mother‘s (father‘s) co-existence opens up an issue regarding a degree of maturity in a man to accept himself as his own replacement; to accept his own clone in the personal environment of relationships he has been building for a long time, and, to possibly face the desire to maintain private identity and uniqueness.”
Both the Zurek’s series have drawn attention to a number of exhibitions in the Czech Republic as well as abroad, for example, at a photography biennale in Lyon, France, at the Festival of Art Photography in Warsaw, Poland, or at the Budapest spring festival, Hungary. Their series The Replacement was chosen for a prestigious touring exhibition of the most talented young contemporary photographers called ReGeneration 2: Tomorrow’s Photographers Today held by the ?Elysée Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, and their work is presented in a book bearing the same title, released by a famous publishing house Thames and Hudson. Barbora and Radim Zurek have appeared on the Czech photographic scene like a comet would in the sky. However, their work possesses all the significance required to ensure they will stay there.