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Štrba is the daughter of a precision mechanic whose father had already immigrated to Switzerland from Hungary, though the family name is of Slovak origin. She spent her childhood in Horgen at the Lake of Zurich where she also completed her training as a professional photographer. In 1969 she married the goldsmith Bernhard Schobinger with whom she has three children Sonja (*1970), Samuel (*1971) and Linda (*1974). Štrba photographs every day since she was 15, after her father had given her an old camera. She first took pictures without any artistic intention. Her creative work, however, developed over time and brought her early recognition when, in 1972 and 1973, she received the Swiss National award for applied arts, as at the time, there was no such award for photography. In 1974, she started taking pictures of her children and her most intimate surrounding that she would later incorporate into her three-pole slide show Shades of Time. This includes images of her two daughters and her son absorbed by children’s play, having a bath, sleeping or simply placed into the domestic chaos at home. With this she made her own life the theme of her work, although her husband appears only marginally. She eventually added images of places that she visited or that were in some ways dear to her, images of gardens in bloom, towns in Poland and Silesia, Great Britain and Japan.
The formal language of her early black and white photography, and later, of her color images is that of the snapshot aesthetic showing off-centered framing while being sometimes out of focus, under- or overexposed. The different subject matters appear in times without apparent link from image-to-image and rely instead on the juxtaposition and disjunction between individual photographs. Shades of Time is an assemblage within which the family nucleus emerges in loops circling around episodes of more distant and recent events, combining images in such a capturing way that they imitate free associations and the spontaneous recalling of shifting memories. The story told in Shades of Time is therefore not just a family chronicle, but, as Gigliosa Foschi once wrote, “the artist’s personal narrative of evolving relationships, memories, and reactions as thy are played out in time.” By documenting her family, Štrba seems to have produced a type of stability within the tides of the contemporary world and her emotional life.
Štrba did not explicitly deal with the topic of nudity, though there are a handful of images of her children and her first grandson that, in 2001, caused a moral uproar when shown at the Rhodes + Mann Gallery in London, where a member of the public thought that they were "paedophiliac and offensive". Yet, when Štrba photographs her children or grand children, she portrays them in a highly respectful and artistic manner, needless to say that her models support the publication and exhibition of her work.
Swiss art critic Roman Kurzmeyer linked Štrba’s early photographs with the work of the Polish/French painter Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski de Rola) for its similarities in the naturalism and formal language as well as for her revealing of human relationships and interdependences. He also pointed out that Štrba shares with the painter the interest in the writings of the Brontë sisters that eventually inspired her series My Life Dreams. These are digitally manipulated images of an enigmatic and entirely feminine world, in which her daughters and granddaughters emerge as ethereal figures in mystical, dream-like landscapes. Based on Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, they were fittingly shown at the Brontë Personage Museum at Haworth in West Yorkshire in 2008.
The images of My Life Dreams as well as those of her other series such as Dava (2001), Aya (2002) and Nyima (2003) were created with the use of digital video and the computer that, since 1997, have both become increasingly important tools in Štrba’s repertoire. Using the electronic potential of color distortion and pictorial alienation, the artist manipulates her recordings by changing color schemes into sumptuous artificiality, transforming sharp contours into hazy outlines and melting forms into imaginative worlds of dense atmosphere that have been described as “digital Impressionism” (Markus Brüderlin). Those extreme color schemes came into her work as the period of Shades of Time was over and as she ventured for new shores in her personal life. The new electronic aesthetic simultaneously expanded the ordinary perception of the existing world, while, at the same time, being seemingly reminiscent of the late works by Pierre Bonnard and Edgar Degas. Her digital interpretations of the real blend smoothly with the imaginary, and touch tenderly the fantastic worlds of Lewis Carroll where children are essentially an expression of innocence.
Štrba is among the most renowned contemporary artists of Switzerland and a pioneering figure in new photography. Since 1990, when she had her first one woman show organized by Bernhard Mendez Bürgi in Zurich, she has exhibited widely throughout Europe and the United States. Her work has been shown at, amongst others, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, the Galerie Rudolfinum, Prague, the Tate Gallery, Liverpool and the Barbican Centre, London.
Courtesy of Marc Fehlmann
Eastern Mediterranean University, Famagusta, Northern Cyprus