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.
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.
Thomas Beachdel, PhD for exhibition It Was Once My Universe at 35m2 Gallery (Prague)