A group show of photo artists within the scope of the Shakespeare Forever Festival
13.4.2016 - 22.5.2016
Mala galerija, Cankarjev dom, Ljubljana
Curated by Vasja Nagy
Selected theme-based exhibition showcasing: Jernej Humar, Arven Šakti Kralj Szomi, Tanja Lažetić, Bojan Radovič, Robert Hutinski, Eva Petrič
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There are two sides to Ophelia. Hamlet supports the assertion that every woman is a whore at heart, while on the other hand Ophelia personifies goodness, tenderness and selfless love.
The exhibition includes works by select Slovenian artists, photos that reflect associations with the representation of this Shakespeare’s character.
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The Curse of Photography
When I gaze at photographs the issue of underlying reality invariably arises. Strictly speaking, this is the reality that comes beforehand. The reality distanced a light time away from the surface that reveals traces of its presence. I gaze at these traces as if gazing at bear tracks in spring snow, imagining in my mind's eye the size of the bear that let his trace be captured in this flat image. Now and then, for a second, I see the image as a copy of reality. The photographic realism is so fully convincing and hypnotic that it totally succeeds in persuading me, as if the right eyeball and the whole body including the heart were the ones beholding the sight instead of a boxy camera. However, just as the paw mark is only a bear track, the photographic image is only the trace of what offered itself to my glance through a pinhole. An image evokes thoughts in the viewer that create another reality, one that is present. No matter how much one seeks the photographic referent, all that can be found is the combination of one's own memories and imagination. But when the viewer, by means of photographic trace, reaches for some concrete things from the past, the photograph also performs the role of a witness, producing proof. What we're dealing with here is actually the belief in the cult of monoscopic panopticon. After all, Barthes's punctum also forms part of the fictiveness of an image. It is only the brutal entry of the unconscious through the cracks, slips and errors in the apparatus' system that can equal – in reality's hierarchy – the trace of the photographed setting. The issue of the photography's documentary nature remains in the background, in middle- or even far-distance. This holds especially true today, at a time when the concept of constructing photographs is broadly embraced, including all the procedures that picture-taking comprises; from framing, and staging to postproduction manipulation. This is precisely the reason why representation of literary characters is problematic, as fictional heroes are images by definition. Namely, it is only with difficulty that a portrait of a fictional character could be done as a photograph. In this regard Cindy Sherman's representations approached perfection: still, she tackled her characters with a great deal of humour and sarcasm. All other endeavours – literary characters shot merely with seriousness and directness – can only be stage photography. Because the core principles of this visual medium render unviable the photographic representation of the essence of a personality, of a character like Ophelia who is seen as an archetypal woman in patriarchal society, all these attempts would invariably serve only as an illustration of a scene.
Ophelia and Her Curse
At the time Shakespeare wrote Hamlet women in patriarchal society were not allowed much freedom in deciding about their own life. The great majority of them were financially dependent on men; first their fathers and then their husbands. The woman reluctant to play the ascribed role of a future/current wife and mother was diagnosed with hysteria by the established medicine. Both of Hamlet's women, Gertrude and Ophelia, represent this type of passive female subordinated to the alpha male, observing the rules imposed by him, the regulations that empower her to control her own desires and thus qualify for social inclusion. Hamlet takes notice of this subordination in a manner similar to his confrontation with the time that's “out of joint”, he disapproves of it. As a rule, he compares women with prostitutes who offer themselves to men in exchange for existence and social standing. Tanja Lažetić's Kurba (Whore, 2010) refers to Venus, a 1977 book by Sanja Iveković that deals with the relation between fame and everyday life by drawing comparison between photographs of Marilyn Monroe and the artist. Whore contains reproductions from the original book, pages the artist stamped with red title lettering at public events. The book is safely tucked away in a glass showcase, its attractive design inviting the viewer. Its content, its body, time, perhaps even its life are for sale and attainable only after a transaction has been completed. Doctors believed that hysteria, an expressly female disease, was caused by wandering uterus that threatened female sanity. The said cause of the disease was sexual frustration, and masturbation was prescribed to relieve the symptoms. Apart from sexuality and procreation, male control over female genitals and uterus also occupies an important social role, a fact proven also by Ophelia's father Polonius (and brother Laertes) who urges her to mistrust her beloved Hamlet and abandon all hope of marrying him. Namely, it is marriage that is the most powerful instrument for attaining the goals of patriarchal society. The annual Marumage Matsuri Festival, a gathering of unwed women praying for a happy marriage, takes place on 17 April in the city of Himi, Japan. On this day, unwed women and geishas are allowed to coif their hair in the Marumage hairstyle, a long-standing symbol of the married woman, in the hope that they could one day wear it permanently. In 2012, Bojan Radovič visited Himi during this festival and did portraits of the procession, women wearing traditional makeup, garb and coiffure. Shown frontally against a monochrome background, the photographer transformed his subjects into icons. Resembling saints on an iconostasis, Radovič's Marumage (2012) features a collection of would-be-brides involving a single iconography; the wish to become a married woman. Ophelia saw an ally in Hamlet, a man she could place her trust in. She perceived their union as one of sincere and shared love, the devotion confessed by Hamlet himself. Her father and brother's warnings and prohibitions run contrary to her feelings, desires and convictions. She vigorously defends Hamlet's actions when arguing with her brother but submissively obeys her father's wishes. The relationships are clear. In the family hierarchy Ophelia occupies the position of a child, a daughter incapable of understanding the ways of the world and unable to make her own rational choices, but rather having to respect her parents' wishes. The play does not reveal how deeply the feelings of love run between Hamlet and Ophelia. There's nothing to suggest whether Ophelia still has not lost the chastity that her father and brother concern themselves so much with. 16 Ophelias (2016), a composition by Arven Šakti Kralj Szomi, is a unique visual magic square, possibly alluding to Dürer's engraving Melencolia I from 1514. Although already solved, the square still remains an enigma. Stemming from memories and feelings aroused by some DADA energy, individual images are simple and pure thoughts that could have been rearranged following any design and in every imaginable combination. In a fashion similar to an unrestrained and innocent child's play that follows spontaneously established rules. The anxiety here does not seem as oppressive as in Recognition (2013–2014), the photo series by Robert Hutinski. The effect of repeated exposition creates a sense of X-ray vision, dematerialised body and space. The obscured side areas are curtains covering one half of the scene. The states of mind, suggested by the subjects' bodies, resemble consciousness thrust into the stage spotlight, while the backstage is enveloped in darkness. Occasionally, like a forcible entry of the subconscious, a gaze would flicker over the forest and the purely indefinable forms. The abandonment of clarity and conformism is imminent. Ophelia has been left alone. Forsaken by all her men. Her father is dead, her brother absent, and her lover rejects her suggesting she go to a nunnery. She gives out flowers and sings seemingly meaningless refrains. She even dares insult the Queen. Hysteria, as her emotional state would have been termed good four hundred years ago, gradually builds to a climax. Her condition is not, as it may seem at first glance, mental derangement caused by the painful loss of her loved ones, since the flowers she gives away and the songs she sings symbolically represent the roles played by the characters in past events. Taking a complementary role, Ophelia joins Hamlet in shedding light on the ways of the world and proceeds towards her own tragic inevitability. She has been left alone and, suddenly freed of moral principles, can afford to be honest. Can afford to express her theretofore suppressed innermost self. In a manner similar to the shadows in Ofeliostaza (Opheliostasis, 2016) by Eva Petrič, whose very nature entails transience and elusiveness, they are incorporeal yet still material. First implying some feeling, the shades then grow to embody this very emotion. Existing precisely on the fine line between being and not being, they have two faces like Janus, a Roman god. When the moment of Ophelia's lapse arrives she opts for the path of sincerity and liberation. She decides to pursue the being in 'not being'. Suicide is a means of exiting society, the world of lies and evildoings of Biblical proportions, in short, the time that is out of joint, and she seemingly aware of her incapacity to set it right again. Queen Gertrude does nothing to save her, possibly reluctant precisely out of compassion that derives from her personal experience. Ophelia, a thwarted Danish Princess, ultimately becomes an outcast from the culture enclosed by the walls of exclusivity. Her inner self becomes one with water, forest, stars and the vast universe, elements emerging from the photographs featured in Jernej Humar's Odvodi in dovodi series (Water: Inflows and Outflows, 2015). She blends in with nature that pervades every single pulse of our existence. A complete opposite to Hamlet who indefatigably strives towards forcible establishment of human order, Ophelia, at a point when her power is at its most decisive, decides to withdraw.