Cargo: A Chest That Remembers
When reflecting on photography, I find the inspiration - and a gladly revisited one - in a TV documentary titled Kristl (Croatian Radio Television, 2004). At a beginning of the film Vlado Kristl asks an invisible cameramen: "Do you know what is the responsibility you move around and about, yet... without being aware how responsible you really are?" Then camera records as Kristl in a foreground, speaking to us, the observers: "You are watching from one side of the camera, and I watch from the other side, and that is the secret of camera! Afterwards, only I will remain visible, but actually it is you and your actions who are seen!" Regardless the fact that here, referring to Kristl, we speak of the other camera, the film camera, I find this relation concerning a point of view to be a meaningful introduction to the Cargo project by Ljiljana PetroviŠ and Aleksandar KostiŠ. Because, in photography, a photographer gazes at his own gaze, while we are actually gazing at that second gaze, along with the responsibilities stemming from that which becomes/remains after the photography is exhibited.
The photography, similar to the painting, acts as a trap for a gaze. This is not because it offers the gaze a fixed shape, one that would arrest gaze's circling. It is entirely mistaken to conceive the photography as something merely static, as opposed - for example - to the film which can preserve the illusion of motion. The photography, which renders visible the timelessness contained in the actual time, is never solely about shaping. Even when it yields shaping, it is the otherness that breaks up a photograph. One needs to know how to observe from the other's viewpoint, somewhat akin to an actor who - in order to evaluate his own acting - has to learn how to watch himself as if he was an observer.
The introduction has listed some of the links within the Cargo project. One concerns the photography, regardless a fact that Cargo is more than just photography. The second link concerns the fact that the author of photographs, Aleksandar KostiŠ, just like the anthological Kristl, is a film director and a cameraman. Moreover, the project includes the actors, that is a world of theatre, because the figures from the photographs, besides sculptors, graphic designers and three girls include also the Serbian actors and ballet dancers. Each of these has been placed or sometimes squeezed into a large wooden chest missing one side. As if we're standing in front of an open chamber theatre scene - an intimate contact between protagonists and audience has been established. However, in Cargo, the human presence retreats to a background, as a result of the staging of chamber theatre. We are looking at the manifestation of poses and bodies' gravity, the texture of applied and enfolding materials, therefore the physical forces which do not represent themselves. As if "higher beings" are at work, managing and ordering the authors to create images of their personalities. This is the issue of an intended liberation, of luring out, of procedures and consequences wangled through a script, so the protagonists are set up in a manner enabling them- by the strength of the bent and that which is, inconceivably, revealed - to remain deeply etched in our memory.
To avoid confusion, the approach of Aleksandar KostiŠ and Ljiljana PetroviŠ is not connected to the tradition of self-portraits, but to the tradition of switching identities and spaces. In this case, the unspoken plays about journeys are being expounded. In Cargo, the artists travel both physically or via their works and performances, while the children travel by the means of imagination. So to say, all of them are both there and here. Just as Cargo, whose production was completed in Belgrade, after which it was purposefully mailed to an address in Novigrad.
Eight fitted large format and four smaller photographs arrived, together with a wooden chest. It is the same chest wherein the figures appearing on the photographs were shot. Now the chest is empty, covered in labels that usually mark precious shipments. All of the above stated does not disclose much, since the authors of Cargo operate within a wider conversational framework, whose stratification is inasmuch open and polysemic as the actual art of photography.
On one hand Aleksandar KostiŠ and Ljiljana PetroviŠ denote a difference between the older art practices and the contemporary hybrid expressions which are aggressively visual, material and tactile. On the other hand both authors mediate the knowledge concerning the historicity of media as well as an awareness of the changeable conditions of cultural productions. Therefore, Cargo is an aestheticized post-theatrical space, that was created with the aid of both creation and usage of ambients, on the basis of visual, applied and performing arts. Which does not mean that it serves just to be looked at (why not?) or to be admired for its' artisan skills. There is a possibility of a new naming which, borrowing the term from the painting and ICT, can be defined as a digital landscape theatre.
Besides a formal model, Cargo also contains a model of travelling. Physical characteristics, condensed in a large wooden chest's format, as something that should be packed and travel to an address, are being experienced - to use a Bachelardian metaphor of a nest - as a pre-image of dwelling (and heaping), of shelter and safety (despite instability). The chest is also a metaphor of journeys and returns, marked by endless dreaming, since the returns happen according to the big rhythm of human life, the rhythm which is skipping years and fighting all the absences with a dream (Bachelard, 2000). Cargo opens up such a constellation, where the chest becomes a space to be remembered.
In this manner Cargo opens up a space for intersubjectivity, correspondences, whether in forms, media, discourses, impressions or, most often, merely in space. The chest is here to define the space. However, Aleksandar KostiŠ grasps frames in a way that makes figures speak on non-spatiality which makes up an image. This is contributed by the actual KostiŠ's procedure of transforming the photographs from analogue to digital, placing a special emphasis on the chiaroscuro relations. Like a white wedge, the light cuts through the photographs, creating a point of view, resembling an indiscrete spotlight which serves a theatrical play. Here, we might add a selection of atypical medium - the voluminous Fabriano paper and painting canvases - which seemingly present an anti-fetish to the exalted white papers which are most often used to create photography.
We find interesting a comparison which Alfred Binet used when mentioning a term fetish for the first time. A fetishist love is like a theatrical game, where one of the extras breaches up to the frontline and takes over a leading role. Here, we notice how Cargo is indivisible from the world of theatre, while the extra who took over the leading role is not representing the figures from the photographs, but the project co-author Ljiljana PetroviŠ. Not only is PetroviŠ a professional costume designer, who designed and made costumes worn by artists and little girls, she also used KostiŠ's photographs to bring in/on/over the manual elements - a coloured embroidery. The handwork is manifested not only through the act of using needle and tread, but also in a completely opposite way: it is creative and rewarding, due to the peculiar skills it requires. In this manner, a discrete warmth - with a connotation of universal humanness which is not entirely deprived of explosiveness - spreads through the photographs. In Cargo, the invested handwork which took up quite a lot of time, connects concentration, therefore the capacity of containment, and that which could - rather ethnologically -be referred to as the art of squandering. In a way, the embroidery functions here as a bypass, full of passion that has been weaved from (in)visible stories, which stress the parts of parallel surfaces on photographs. Interventions are visible. At places they are rather minuscule, hardly noticeable - a tiny red thread connecting something - while elsewhere they rivet one's attention by their baroque splendour. Here, the invisible is very similar to opening a jewel box, allowing us to glimpse at the enchanted kingdoms: Gulliver and Lilliputians, sea expanses, child's drawing, letters, lotus flowers, golden insects and even more coloured threads. Just like the most luxurious tapestries, which take us into limitlessness, faraway from our own time, from the past and the future at once.
Thus the photographs by Aleksandar KostiŠ and Ljiljana PetroviŠ posses the restless incompletion, which creates an interspace, one easily ascribed with a status of an edge point between the cold rationality and the warm emotionality. Between those points, temporally stretched throughout the staged questions of identity and place, arises a relation which merges a scene's beauty on a photographic surface. However, a sigh for that beauty is not the only thing remaining. What we see is being transformed into something we wish to possess. Is it because their photographs are a sort of alchemy (Sontag, 2005)? Or because they are exaggerated, cluttered with obviousness, as if caricaturising - not the forms of what they represent, but the actual existence of the same forms (Barthes, 1980)? We are more inclined to see the answer stemming from the authors' artistic capacities to anticipate and hold together that which is yet somehow inharmonious.
The nearest definition of their art practice would be image art, if definition is needed at all. Aleksandar KostiŠ and Ljiljana PetroviŠ accept various art labels: conceptual (regardless the fact they are not pursuing concept art), theatrical and filmic (both belong to those milieus), applied (hand embroidery, making the chests) and performance (regardless the fact they do not perform).
Technically, here performance is exclusively intended for photography. It is developed through a reconstruction and with a certain special category of "understanding the understanding", arising from a big openness or relax attitude towards themselves, which is exemplified by both the authors and the portrayed artists. Their desire to search and find the true "that-has-been" (Barthes, 1980) is immediately connected to a sort of critical humility in regard to the identity of photography, which came to growingly depend on the changed understanding of artistic and living space. Both actively interpenetrate, based on an interaction wherein the practice is not defined in regard to a given media, but in relation to processes, operations, culturalities and a wider palette of disciplines.
Thus Cargo gained - in time - a different, active and actional, mobile and transitive form. We are close to a theme of "the ideality of conception - the reality of realization". Perhaps this actually instigated the authors to connect their comprehensions of dynamized world we are living in with a relation between an ideational origin and the realization processes. In this matter it was revealed that departures, usually due to the production obstacles on the way to an actualization, are equally complex as a realization itself. Because, Cargo does not presume a realization result in a sense of "finished artwork", but an interactive approach which, once exhibited, involves the audience's participation. In the light of these deliberations a concept of temporality is introduced, arising primarily from facing the possible situation in Rigo Gallery which, during the exhibition's opening and duration, by the virtue of audience participation, will undergo a transformation from a showroom into a working and dynamic space.
By a performative gesture of "selfie", visitors (whoever wants it!) shooting themselves inside the exhibition - installation space, will infuse the layered aesthetics of Cargo by a simulation of contemporary communication modes, re-contextualizing the meaning of project and therefore the observer's position. Its' usual voyeuristic position destabilized, the audience will directly influence the development of Cargo. In a situation where the exhibition grows beyond the frames of photography alone, the participatory moment peculiarly reveals a code of the presented works. By enabling the transformation of a passive observer - who merely observes and assumes a certain contemplative attitude - into an active participant who has been given a possibility of self-recording and therefore the possibility of posting an image on social networks, the authors of Cargo seductively suggest confusion and hysteria immanent to the era of contemporary media spectacle.
As a specific link between contemporary and traditional performing-participative practices on one side and audience-including activities on the other side, the actual exhibition appears to be a peculiar breach into discourse, condensing, twisting, complicating, provoking, amazing. Yet it does so not at the levels of content or image, but as an initiator of the change within the ingrained channels of production and reception, where art is being disclosed as the most dynamic terrain. Once more, a new visual identity and a new presentational moment is being created. And the authors observe all of that, together with ourselves.