Jiří Valoch - Coded Images by Jana Babincová, 2006

This time I am genuinely delighted to have selected Jana Babincová for a presentation. In my opinion, she is another original and therefore “noteworthy” artist of the younger generation. The final thing that spurred me on in this regard was her exhibition in the municipal library in Vyškov, where she lives... More precisely, we should say that she “oscillates” between Vyškov, where her parents reside, and Olomouc and Brno, where she studies, as well as Prague, where life’s twists and turns have also taken her...

She took courses in art education and German studies with the Faculty of Education at the university in Olomouc. Of course, even when she was there, she worked creatively in a genuinely systematic manner and her talent was highly rated, When she completed her bachelor’s degree in Olomouc, she decided to continue her studies by enrolling in a master’s course with the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Brno University of Technology. By a fortunate coincidence, she eventually ended up in the studio of Petr Kvíčala, who was able to support her interest in painting and to also develop her focus on geometric and conceptual designs, which in essence combined subjective decision-making with clear intellectual reflection.

It is interesting to remember that even in Olomouc, she had already created a whole range of essentially geometric compositions, which were part of her meditations on the changes occurring in her favourite phenomenon of the present day – the outlying areas of towns and cities. We could perhaps use the most radical details from her work entitled Periphery as the most concise way of characterising her simple compositional structure and plain, essentially impersonal style of painting.

Petr Kvíčala introduced me to the young artist in 2003, when she began producing her first coded images. I was genuinely captivated even then by how thoroughly she used the language of geometry. But the most important thing was the new conceptual approach consisting of the fact that a certain, predetermined, simple geometric syntax was “imbued” with colour segments according to a predefined key. Each image by this artist was based on the creation of an initial code – each grapheme and each alphabetical symbol was assigned a certain colour. This code remained recorded and was subsequently applied in a thorough manner while filling a certain structure with colour. For the artist, it was really the discovery of a new world – the possibility of “transcribing” a chosen text into the shape of “her image.” I had the opportunity to introduce her to the Prague poet Ladislav Nebeský, a member of the group that founded the new Czech or experimental poetry of the 1960s, who is the only one to use coding to this day, although naturally he employs it according to completely different concepts. (We referred to his new work in Prostor Zlín’s). We agreed that the path this artist was following was truly original and deserved to be developed. I believe that Jana Babincová has genuinely succeeded in doing this. At the same time, it is interesting and important that the choice of text is really something that concerns the artist’s subject. And because the possibility of such a conceptual transference of text to the structure of a geometric painting first appeared to the artist in a dream, the first visualised text was the children’s prayer My Guardian Angel..., which comprised a structure of identically sized squares gradually filling up the square area of the painting.

A similar concept was systematically developed in choosing the most common prayer of every Christian – Our Father... In this instance, the artist has contrasted the Czech, Slovak, English, German and French versions of the prayer on rectangular images in vertical lines, which she has hung next to each other in sequence...

At first glance, Jana Babincová’s images are different to normal geometric abstractions – they are not neo-constructive systems or serial works with clear syntactic rules that we can precisely identify sooner or later, like those we have encountered since the 1960s. Nor is the objective purely to create an optical effect similar to those we know from previous decades. They are also not intuitive constructions of spaces and lines, which have been familiar to us since the 1920s and 30s, etc.

Since the mid-1960s, the plainest, purist shapes of conceptual art have been progressively appearing on the international art scene, most often in the form of texts or photographic series... Gradually, however, the diverse possibilities of applying conceptual thought to the traditional image have also been appearing as a means of determining a certain (mostly geometric) structure. I believe that the artist has succeeded in finding a new way to determine geometric structure through a specific meaning. Although she sometimes lets her images operate without commentary as a new type of geometric artistic communication, they work best when she places some form of chosen code in the picture and challenges us to “decode it!” Of course, both methods are possible – either the viewer is simply aware that he is encountering geometric images whose syntax is different because their colour composition is different from his experience, because it is determined by the fact that they are de facto visual transcriptions of certain texts... Or he can become more “involved in the game” and perhaps begin to actually identify the text. The fact that the artist brings a new structure to each series of works is part of the quality of her coded images: the first ones were completely simple, starting from formations of chequers in a square or lines in a rectangle. These were followed by concentric circles with a given centre. Nevertheless, the artist has also tried out the difference between completely intimate formats and images in formats as large as 170 x 400 cm (where a concise text created a succinct, planar syntax), or the painting of stripes “by hand.”

And finally a new structure arrived in 2005 which, in a normal interpretation of colour, created the optical spatial illusion of a cube that sometimes even appeared three-dimensional. Consistently respecting the code therefore gave rise to a paradoxical situation – the disruption of this optical illusion. This is actually the newest form of the artist’s message – these images are reminiscent of optically functional structures, but effectively this is not what they are, and this signals to the viewer that it is the result of a chosen conceptual design, using the coding of text through colours as a determining principle.

Jiří Valoch