Marie Tomanova/Marie Tomanová: World Between Us

“The photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star.”
          ― Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

“Call your mother. Tell her you love her. Remember—you are the only person who knows what her heart sounds like from the inside.”
                                                                    ― Found text on wall

World Between Us (2021) is a site-specific installation at the Chateau Mikulov. Created for the 2021 Mikulov Symposium Dílna, the work consists of 38 photographs made during July 2021 in and around the artist’s childhood home, 36 of which are installed in four groupings in the symmetrically disposed vitrines of a major chateau hallway. At each end of the hallway is a large portrait, an enlargement of a Polaroid photograph, one of the artist Marie Tomanova (2021), and one of the artist’s mother with whom she shares the exact same name Marie Tomanová (2021). Overall, the installation speaks to themes of place, memory, home, identity, family, and history.

The portraits of the artist and her mother at either end of the hallway provide context for the photographs in the vitrines as the world between artist and mother. It is the space that both mother and daughter share; it is home. But the simplicity of this is belied by the fact that the artist, Marie Tomanova, was exiled in the United States for eight years between 2011 and late 2018, unable to return home, to her country, her town, her family.

The 36 photographs in the vitrines reflect a discovery, or rediscovery of being, place, identity and memory. They are almost archaeological, bringing to light elements of the past, such as a photograph of the diary entry of the artist as a 14 year old girl, and family photos of her father who passed when she was 16. But they are also very much of the present, displaying recent images of family, home, and self-portraits of the artist. The vitrines themselves, linked to the chateau and its history—their massive glass doors left open as a gesture of invitation to the world shown within—have been left in their found state, their uneven yellowing paint decades old with still visible fragments of the past adhering unevenly to their surface, connecting visibly to photographic trace, memory, and the passage of time.

Perhaps the most significant layer of meaning in World Between Us is the relationship between the artist Tomanova and her mother. Having been apart for so long, the artist conceived of this body of work as a collaboration with her mother, building a relationship, familiarity, and intimacy. The essence of this work is not only the shared space and filial bond of daughter and mother but is also about the process of its creation. The artist took Polaroid photographs of her mother each day as a means of co-creation, as well as 35 mm film photographs in the environment of home. The artist and her mother, Tomanova and Tomanová, each created their own edit of the entire body of work, choosing the portraits for the ends of the hallway and the images for the vitrines, or the World Between. Thus what we see are two edits of photographs, one chosen by daughter and one chosen by mother, beside one another, reflecting one another, but also revealing distinct concerns in what should be represented. This process-driven, performative aspect of the project reaches beyond capturing a moment, or as a mere glance backward into memory and the past, but reflects the durability and significance of place, identity, family, and home, it attests to the importance of shared experience and love.