Exhibit Review “Imagineering — (Re)activating the Photographic” at Bunkier Sztuki

I made my first trip to Krakow, Poland, last month, and I was pleasantly surprised by what this city had to offer. It’s filled with cafes and restaurants, and with music and literature, both old and new. I visited several galleries and museums during my stay, and I’d like to share my impressions of one particular exhibit that you might find interesting: Imagineering-(Re)activating the Photographic (May 17-Aug 21, 2016) at Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art.

Curated by the German social anthropologist Lars Willumeit, the exhibition set out to question and rediscover the role of photography. Photographs have the ability to make people believe what they see. They influence our behaviour, actions and decision making, and images control how we perceive reality. The exhibition encouraged the viewer to interact with these images and interpret them freely so that he or she might discover new layers of messages hidden beneath the surface.

Källström and Fäldt travel and explore “historical layers and notions of uncertainty and chance in order to draw attention to the gap between what’s visible and what is told.” One of their projects, called Wikiland, dealt with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. But the artists didn’t photograph what the news media was presenting as truth. Rather, they sought to capture everything else around Assange’s media appearances in England in February 2011. This behind-the-media-scenes view prompts us to question how we can be so certain that what we’re seeing on TV truly reflects what’s actually going on.

Another work that stood out for me was a project called Efficacy Testing Stream, created by Discipula. As you enter the space, you hear an emotionless female voice reading about how we consume food. Multi-layered stock photos of dishes, and of Asian people biting off a piece of meat with visible enjoyment, were printed on clear plastic sheets. Although such stock images are normally used to attract people to eat, the combination presented by these artists transformed them into a grotesque judgement of our food consumption.

I found it interesting to see how these artists used photography and other media to narrate their ideas often in combination with texts, drawings, and installations of artefacts. Photographs were printed on wallpaper and on long transparent plastic sheets, or were projected onto screens and TV panels.  

Our modern world is directed by images. We snap casual photos with our mobile phones and post them on Facebook. We share and steal images from each another, and we believe that what we see is ‘real’. Today, anyone can take powerful photojournalistic images and sell them if he just happens to be in the right place at the right time. 

So what’s left for photographers? It’s important to keep thinking about how we give images meaning, and the implications of our decisions. But it is still the viewer who decides what he sees and what he believes, regardless of the intentions of the artist — and that gap offers us an interesting discourse on photography and its possibilities.  

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