Postmodern Nostalgia

Milanka Todić

“The imaginary is that which tends to become real.”
Qtd in: Guy-Ernest Debord, “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography”

With their digital and performance technique as well as their immense dimensions the photographs in the series Face to Face and Not So Far Away (2006-2011) by the artist couple diSTRUKTURA (Milica Milićević and Milan Bosnić) in their essence draw the onlooker/spectator into their singular world of virtual reality. Deep panoramas open before the spectator’s eyes like big screens directed at another reality. Looking at the photographs like through a digital diorama the spectator views expanses. So, if what is being looked at is in turn being looked at, who then is behind the camera?

These enchanting, technologically impeccable prints convince the spectator that one can step freely into the fictional digital image which is somewhere behind the shimmering photographic screen/mirror, just like so many others have done: a young couple firmly holding hands, lonely passersby, noisy motorcyclists or sweet schoolchildren. The demand placed on the spectator is to examine the distant horizons from the same position as was done by the photographed protagonists with their backs turned to him. Performance has always been a part of the procedure in photography such, for example; staging and posing. However, here the procedure has been doubled: it relies both on the performing, that is creative, skills of the model in the picture and the spectator outside of it.

As he encounters a compressed space, where there are no clear cut planes nor a preferential observation point, so typical for illusive spaces of the traditional painting-window- picture, another “sky” or, at least, another world emerges before the spectator’s eyes: the reality of digital optics. Computer generated images imitate photographic language and style but the spectator must know that the former no longer have direct referents in the real world. The referents roam around databases, Batchen argues, because digital images are signs of some other signs. Therefore, at his very first glance it is clear to the spectator that the reality of the digital photograph does not signify physical materiality: in the binary world, people have virtual bodies and geography the hallucinatory structure of dreams.

As can best be seen in diSTRUKTURA’s photographs, the age of electronic images allows for a reconstruction of a total image –one that, metaphorically and with its symbolic narrative, blocks completely and even eclipse the real world. Throughout the history of photography, the processes of representation have always consisted of cutting, editing and assembling visual sequences, thus constructing in one point complex structures of motion mechanical images. diSTRUKTURA’s photographs, circumscribed by an autobiographical code, on the one hand retain their uniqueness while, on the other hand, they multiply electronically as a series. They bypass the limitations of a single and restricting frame by adopting the narrative structure of a diptych in order to overcome the exclusivity of a unique statement and documentary isolation.

The tension between a spectator’s here and now and the here and now of the past when diSTURKTURA’s striking landscapes were taken only to be edited with computer programs, provokes in the spectator an unpleasant feeling, a sensation of being uprooted from his world of familiar reality and even a feeling of dizziness. Hence, the spectator has to look at the world of digital images with different eyes since completely unexpected spatial and temporal dimensions synthesize in them. Namely, in the series Face to Face and Not So Far Away time zones as well as conventional spatial coordinates have openly disintegrated and have been discontinued. Here, like in the analogue photograph, time, a single moment, is frozen and these temporal segments are then extensively manipulated in the postproduction phase. In a way, being based on a staged reality and postproduction while at the same time containing a fragmented and fictionalised narrative of commercials and advertising, the series Face to Face and Not So Far Away reproduce the method of cinematography.

After Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida we can never again forget an important detail: every single photograph always represents the past. The digital photograph too speaks of the past which, no matter what it was like, cannot and will not ever repeat itself. However, as we look at a digital photograph it becomes a medium, our time capsule, a link or, even better, an imaginary bridge between what once was and what is now and even what might be. Between someone’s, for example the photographer’s once and ours and the spectator’s now there is an immense spatial and temporal abyss that only the photograph, like an extrasensory medium, can cross. As if in a limbo, hovering between the past, present and future (of all gazes), the photograph is a privileged object which signalizes the transience of every act of observing and, hence, of every spectator and ultimately of existence itself.

This is why the fixed position of the woman, man, child or of the anonymous visitors in the flower fields around a nuclear industrial plant in diSTRUKTURA’s works corresponds more to a mechanical alignment of chessmen on the chessboard or to characters in a video game than to real and natural motion. Contemporary perceptual experience has to be constructed by other eyes and new insights which go beyond good old motion pictures. Observing/interpreting simply in one direction as well as the linearity of perspective and perception are no longer harmonized in one formula but are split and fragmented in cyberspace. Like a kaleidoscope, the digital image redirects our gaze over and over again and like a boomerang sends it back in a hyper-dimensional space and time. If di(gital)STRUKTURA’s photographs have cancelled the well-known symbolic order of a linear perspective, then the spectator too is expected to cross mentally from the second to the third then fourth – that is, always higher level. In short, that heterogenic and multidimensional frame of the digital image demands that we, as spectators, free ourselves of perceptual patterns and principles of the documentary in order to plunge into the spaces of new awareness.

A clearly visible cut in the editing of the digital photographs in the series Face to Face and Not So Far Away, that is in the technical assemblage of material images as Gilles Deleuze states, is the basic condition in the fictionalization of photographs. This is followed by the spectator’s desires that are consciously or, rather, unconsciously projected into the image in the process of observation or the deciphering and shaping of an acceptable, comprehensible message about an unknown, constructed, quasi-natural order which only appears to be a conventional perceptual experiences. Both processes, one on the level of technology and the other on the level of signification, fundamentally undermine the documentary and referential character of the photograph and lead it into the domain of multidimensional projections, into the sphere of events and miracles.

People in diSTRUKTURA’s photographs are presented as gloomy silhouettes with their backs turned because it is only when they are reduced into anonymous two-dimensional figures that they will fit functionally and without exception into the structure of a flat photographic screen that remains open to new projections. People enter the scene later, like actors, thanks to the sophisticated techniques of computer assemblages in order to recreate virtual reality before our eyes. These two-dimensional anthropomorphic representations inhabit spontaneously and quietly the scenes photographed in Cairo, New Belgrade, the Scandinavian woods and the nuclear industrial landscapes as though they emerge from nightmares. It looks as if their reduced silhouettes represent a Romanticist attempt to conquer and preserve a foothold, man’s existence, in actual ephemerality.

A new harmony of a fictitious, electronic and digital order is established successfully between this virtual man (the silhouette) and the composite world in diSTRUKTURA’s works. In their digitalized expanses, virtual figures live in tranquility, simulating realistic spectators gazing at the photographed illusionary world. Philosophers however claim that there is no real world that can exist outside representation, outside our cognition. Nevertheless, the actual content of the photographs in the series Face to Face and Not So Far Away remains invisible because the content is created by means of layering and editing of temporal and spatial fragments that differ from one another. The playfulness of the form and content in diSTRUKTURA’s photographs contains layers of photographed moments x and y. The different time lines and distant spatial coordinates are synthesized around a powerful sense of presence and absence of the simulated man. It is between these two remote points that the photograph establishes its full significance since no here and now can be the somewhere and the once. What remains in the virtual perspective of the series Face to Face and Not So Far Away is a familiar nostalgia of the photograph which casts a light shadow on the digital precision of fictitious situations. The constructed visual narrative of the digital image is no longer a photograph but, like the photograph, it allows the past to inhabit the present and to invade the future.

* Milanka Todić is a professor of art history at the Faculty of Applied Arts in Belgrade, Serbia.

Postmoderna nostalgija

Milanka Todić

 Nestvarnost je ono što teži da postane stvarno.
Cit. u „Uvod u kritiku urbane geografije”, Gi Ernst Debor

Fotografije iz ciklusa Face to Face i Not So Far Away umetničkog para diSTRUKTURA (Milica Milićević i Milan Bosnić) iz 2006.-2011. godine, digitalnim i performativnim postupkom ali i gigantskim dimenzijama, pre svega, uvlače gledaoca/posmatrača u svoj specifični svet virtuelne stvarnosti. Pred njegovim očima se otvaraju duboke panorame, kao ogromni ekrani okrenuti ka nekoj drugoj realnosti. Gledajući fotografije on gleda prostranstva koja su gledana u digitalnoj diorami. Pa ako se ono što je gledano opet gleda, ko stoji iza kamere?

Zanosni, tehnološki besprekorni, printovi ubedjuju posmatrača da se i u taj fiktivni svet digitalne slike, tamo negde iza sjajnog fotografskog ekrana/ogledala, može slobodno zakoračiti, baš kao što su to već uradili mnogi: mladi par, čvrsto se držeći za ruke, neki usamljeni prolaznici, bučni motociklisti ili slatka školska deca. Od posmatrača se bezuslovno traži da osmotri daleke horizonte sa iste one pozicije sa koje su to, pre njega, učinili svi fotografisani junaci, njemu okrenuti ledjima. Performans je oduvek bio deo fotografske procedure, setimo se nameštanja i poziranja, ali ovde je on udvostručen: podjednako se računa na izvodjačke, čitaj kreativne, sposobnosti modela u slici i posmatrača izvan nje.

U susretu sa kompresovanim prostorom, u kome nema jasno izdvojenih planova kao ni povlašćene tačke sagledavanja, tipične za iluzionističke prostore tradicionalne slike-prozora, pred očima posmatrača će se otvoriti neko drugo „nebo”, ili bar neki drugi svet: realnost digitalne optike. Kompjuterski generisane slike imitiraju fotografski jezik i stil ali gledalac mora da zna da one više nemaju direktnog referenta u realnom svetu. Njihov referent se šeta bazama podataka, kaže Bačen (Batchen), jer su digitalne slike znaci nekih drugih znakova. Zato je posmatraču, već na prvi pogled, jasno da stvarnost digitalne fotografije ne podrazumeva fizičku materijalnost: ljudi imaju virtuelno telo, a geografija halucinantnu strukturu sna u tom binarnom svetu.

U eri elektronskih slika, što najbolje pokazuju pomenute fotografije diSTRUKTURE, iznova se može rekonstruisati totalna slika – ona koja će, metaforično, svojom simboličkom vizuelnom naracijom, potpuno zakloniti, čak pomračiti, stvarni svet. Procesi reprezentovanja uvek su, tokom čitave istorije fotografije, uzimali u obzir tehnike isecanja, montiranja i ponovnog ulančavanja vizuelnih sekvenci gradeći, u jednom trenutku, složene strukture pokretnih mehaničkih slika. Fotografije diSTRUKTURE, ograničene autobiografskim kodom, zadržavaju singularnost, na jednoj strani, dok se na drugoj, pak, serijski i elektronski umnožavaju. One izbegavaju ograničenja pojedinačnog i ograničavajućeg rama i tako što prihvataju narativnu strukturu diptiha u nameri da prevazidju eksluzivnost pojedinačnog iskaza i izolovanost dokumentarističke pozicije.

Napetost izmedju jednog, bilo kog, posmatračevog ovde i sada i nekog, drugog, ali svakako prošlog ovde i sada, u kome su fotografisani, pa kompjuterskim programima preradjivani markantni predeli diSTRUKTURE, proizvodi kod posmatrača osećanje nelagodnosti, iskorenjenosti iz sveta poznate stvarnosti, čak vrtoglavicu. Zato on mora drugim očima gledati svet digitalnih slika jer se u njima sintetišu sasvim neočekivane prostorno-vremenske dimenzije. Naime, u ciklusima Face to Face i Not So Far Away došlo je do otvorenog raspada i diskontinuiteta kako izmedju vremenskih zona, tako i između konvencionalnih prostornih koordinata. U njima se, kao i u analognoj fotografiji, fiksira vreme, jedan trenutak, ali se vremenskim segmentima naknadno, u postprodukciji, bezobzirno manipuliše. Na neki način, Face to Face i Not So Far Away podražavaju kinematografske postupke, jer se temelje na režiranoj stvarnosti i postprodukciji, ali, nije im strana ni fragmentirana i fikcionalizovana naracija reklame i advertajzinga.

Zbog Roland Bartove Svetle komore, nikada se više ne može zaboraviti važan detalj: da baš svaka fotografija i baš uvek predstavlja prošlost. I digitalna fotografija govori o prošlosti koja se, ma kakva bila, više nikada neće i ne može vratiti. Ali, u trenutku dok gledamo digitalnu fotografiju, ona postaje medijum, naša vremenska kapsula, kopča ili, bolje, imaginarni most izmedju onoga što je nekada bilo i onoga što sada jeste, ali i onoga što još može biti. Izmedju nečijeg, na primer, fotografovog, nekada i našeg, posmatračevog, sada zjapi ogromna provalija u prostoru i vremenu koju samo fotografija, kao neki ekstrasens, može da savlada. Kao u limbu, lebdeći izmedju prošlosti, sadašnjosti i budućnosti (svih sutrašnjih pogleda), fotografija je povlašćeni objekat koji signalizira prolaznost svakog čina posmatranja, a onda, i svakog posmatrača pa i postojanja, u krajnjoj liniji.

Zato fiksirana pozicija čoveka, žene, muškarca, deteta ili neznanih posetilaca cvetnog polja oko nuklearnog industrijskog kompleksa u radovima diSTRUKTURE, pre odgovara mehaničkom rasporedu figura na šahovskoj tabli ili u video igrici nego realnom i prirodnom kretanju. Savremeno perceptivno iskustvo mora biti nadogradjeno drugim očima i novim saznanjima, koja prevazilaze i stare dobre pokretne slike. Jednosmerno gledanje/čitanje kao i linearanost perspektive i opažanja ne harmonizuju se više u jednom ključu već se cepaju i usitnjavaju u sajber prostranstvima. Kao kaleidoskop, svet digitalne slike preusmerava i iznova, kao bumerang, vraća nam naš pogled u hiperdimenzionalnom prostoru i vremenu. Ako su fotografije di(gitalne)STRUKTURE poništile dobro poznati simbolični red linearne perspektive onda se i od posmatrača očekuje da, mentalno, predje iz druge u treću, četvrtu, dakle, višu ravan. Kratko rečeno, taj heterogeni i multidimenzionalni ram digitalne slike očekuje i od nas, gledalaca, da se oslobodimo perceptivnih šablona i dokumentarnih principa kako bismo zaronili u prostore novih saznanja.

Jasno vidljiv rez u montaži digitalnih fotografija iz ciklusa Face to Face i Not So Far Away, odnosno, u mašinskom rasporedjivanju materijalnih slika, kako kaže Žil Delez, prvi je uslov, za fikcionalizaciju fotografije. Zatim dolaze želje posmatrača koje se, svesno, a još pre nesvesno, projektuju u sliku tokom procesa gledanja, odnosno, dešifrovanja i oblikovanja prihvatljive, razumljive, poruke o nekom nepoznatom, konstruisanom, kvaziprirodnom redu koji, samo naizgled, odgovara konvencionalnim perceptivnim iskustvima. Oba procesa, jedan u tehničkoj a drugi u značenjskoj ravni, suštinski potkopavaju dokumentarnost i referencijalnost fotografije i vode je u prostore multidimenzionalnih projekcija, u sferu dogadjaja i čuda.

Kao siluete, sumarno i s ledja predstavljeni su ljudi na fotografijama diSTRUKTURE zato što će se samo tako svedeni na anonimnu dvodimenzionalnost, funkcionalno i bez ostatka, uklopiti u strukturu ravnog fotografskog ekrana otvorenog za prijem novih projekcija. Oni ulaze u predstavu, kao glumci, naknadno, zahvaljujući sofisticiranim postupcima kompjuterskih kolaža, da bi rekreirali virtuelnu stvarnost pred našim očima. Te dvodimenzionalne antropomorfne predstave naseljavaju fotografisane predele Kaira, Novog Beograda, severnih šuma i nuklearnih industrijskih pejzaža spontano i bezšumno, kao da dolaze iz košmarnih snova. Čini se da njihove svedene siluete predstavljaju romantičarski pokušaj da se osvoji i zadrži uporište, čovekovo postojanje, u realnoj, prolaznosti.

Nova harmonija nekog fiktivnog, elektronskog i digitalnog reda uspešno je uspostavljena izmedju tog virtuelnog čoveka (siluete) i kompozitnog sveta u slikama diSTRUKTURE. U njihovim digitalizovanim prostranstvima tiho žive virtuelne figure koje simuliraju realne posmatrače zagledane u fotografisani, iluzorni, svet. Ali filozofi nas uveravaju kako ne postoji neki realni svet koji bi bio izvan reprezentacije, izvan našeg saznanja. Medjutim, istinski sadržaj slika iz pomenutih ciklusa Face to Face i Not So Far Away ostaje nevidljiv zato što se gradi na lepljenju, montiranju, medjusobno različitih vremenskih isečeka i prostornih segmenata. Razigranost forme i sadržine u fotografijama diSTRUKTURE raslojava se na fotografisani momenat x i fotografisani momenat y. Različito vreme i udaljene prostorne koordinate sintetizovane su oko snažnog osećanja prisustva i odsustva simuliranog čoveka. Izmedju te dve udaljene tačke fotografija uspostavlja svoje puno značenje jer nijedno ovde i sad ne može biti ono negde i nekad. U virtuelnoj perspektivi Face to Face i Not So Far Away ostala je još samo dobro poznata nostalgija fotografije koja meko senči digitalnu preciznost fiktivnih situacija. Konstruisani vizuelni narativ digitalne slike nije više fotografija ali, kao i ona, dozvoljava prošlosti da se preseli u sadašnjost i udje u budućnost.

* Milanka Todić je profesor istorije umetnosti na Fakultetu primenjenih umetnosti u Beogradu, Srbija.