Many of Ester Krumbachová’s images show angels soaring (or getting their portrait taken?) who sometimes look like cats, sometimes like fish. Krumbachová’s drawings, photos, and Polaroids are full of cats, as if they were one of the means through which she understood the world. In her portraits, cats take on the features of human faces.
Letters to cats are not a particularly common medium. For Krumbachová, they serve as something between literature and a genuine need to communicate with her dear companions. Krumbachová’s cats are what kept her in Prague, they were the reason she signed Charter 77; as she sometimes confided, they were the reason she had to stay alive and make money, so she could cook them treats in accordance with their dignity. She compared the nobility, beauty, and amorality of animals to God without religion. In a text called “Occupation”, she writes about an encounter with an animal: “I’ve always experienced anew that feeling that I know nothing, absolutely nothing about the planet because I’m sewn into a coat of culture and civilization like a sack and that they’d throw me into the water in it with everything like Saint John of Nepomuk until I died, so I won’t ever learn WHERE I lived.” Her drawings, photos, and Polaroids are full of cats, as though they were also a medium she used in understanding the world. In her portraits, cats take on human expressions and features. Her “dark fairy tales” are likewise based on metamorphoses and interspecies coexistence with animals, which helped her attack the nuclear family model that takes firm shape in childhood through the royal families of fairy tales. She and Ivan Vyskočil, a long-time friend to whom she wrote long letters, used to play a game based on acted dialogues: they played the roles of her cats, so Ester might be Fazolka, and Ivan, Bajaja. She also kept up long friendships through letters with her former partners, her brother, and her friends, for example with the artist sisters Jitka and Květa Válová. Krumbachová’s letters are a literary genre, communication, and also therapy. Their language is less controlled than that of her scripts and stories, closer to her distinctive form of spoken expression. They can’t be broken down into topics, because their thought process was rhizomatic and associative, running off in many directions and coming back again to its trajectory, only to flee once more a moment later. They have a mix of stories, memories, thoughts, works, the problems of life. They’re funny, joyful, sad, plaintive, and sometimes also critical. She spiced up her fine sense for language here and there with coarse phrases and intentional errors. Krumbachová must have felt tied to her country not just by her cats, but also by the Czech language. In every letter, she plays affectionally like a cat; we can almost hear her purr.