Work collected under the name Holy People came into existence in 2014, embodying a series of photographies and research that lasted for more than a year, meetings, talks, activism and analytical texts that preceded, all with one goal in mind: to achieve socially relevant, engaged and substantial art concepts. In so far, we can talk about photography that rises from traditional form and enters multi-medial artistic and research ways of functioning – socially, spatially and time conditioned and bounded. Exhibition consists of three parts: portraits of 12 asylum seekers, photo-video montage of author’s intervention with posters to public space, photographies of those posters in the process of decaying.
Holy people or homines sacri in Roman law represent pagans and outcasts, the ones that lost all civil rights – from where the author got the idea to use the term that underlines demarcation and otherness. In the context of modern society and the usage of control and bio politics, holy people are merely differently named, but they wear same tags and western union are monitored by similar mechanism. Immigrants and asylum seekers, the ones of Konjikusic’s interest, are only another set of monitored and controlled in the circle of intransparent and omnipresent Panopticon: a sophisticated discipline measure with invisible but clear centralized power hierarchy.
After Croatia’s accession to the EU, the Ministry of inner affairs delivered to photographers a „cliché to verificate biometrical photography“ – symptomatically suggestive control pattern into which Konjikusic molds the faces of immigrants, deliberately „branding“ them with anthropometrical lines which in their ideal function delete even a hint of face distinction and expressiveness; author does not fully commit to it in his work, he lets the person in front of the objective a minimal expression of individuality which aims to underline the subject and bypass the object.
Intervention that may seem as another molding and silencing but now with cliché, Konjikusic achieves the opposite: photographed people are now visible and can speak, first on symbolic level and then in concrete intervention in public space. In fact, photographies of 12 asylum seekers Konjikusic prints in 120x100cm posters (later on, as a part of 13th UrbanFestival, they were printed in jumbo size billboards) and puts on a dozen of different public locations in Zagreb and Beograd, which stimulates visibility and public dialogue about basic democratic issues and problems of marginalization and invisibility. The context that poster enters (like the one with the remains of prior poster which says: “For Croatia that thinks”), is highly suggestive and offers means to recognize the layers of struggle for space, visibility and rights to have and promote advertising materials, activist messages etc. In this semantic chaos, Konjikušić’s portrait pieces are visible only by their synchronicity with now – the fact that they are the last in the line, and that their communicational strategy is clean and doesn’t offer more references and textual explanations, escaping the usual aggressive „pornography“ of advertising materials.
After several days and weeks, the author recognizes the new dimension of the work and starts to record changing and decaying of the matter; not only by weather conditions and ones of urban micro-locations but also by doings of anonymous human hand which (un)consciously inserts new meaning – by devastation, drawings, symbols or signing, by commentary etc.
Research process ended with that decay and also encircled the complex of thorough work of examination, questioning, creating, developing, intervening and recording; it also scratched the surface of highly complicated issue to which this kind of artistic work is merely an act of sensibilisation to very few of Others (rare ones), which in this social and political communicational noise still have enough will to listen and detect what matters.
During the celebration of Croatia joining European Union, the facade of Ban center at the south side of the new Square of Europe, where we can also find an exclusive residency of House of Europe – headquarters of European commission in Croatia, was decorated with portraits of happy and smiling EU citizens as a part of highly produced promo-campaign, and those citizens, judging by emphasized multicultural touch, were there to represent the celebration of „european values“, tolerance and integration of foreigners on the Old Continent. The exposure of numerous flaws of the represented narrative/myth is the motif of Davor Konjikusic’s art work, and the art discourse used to talk about restrictive migrant politics of „European fortress“, having in mind the disintegration of social care in our neoliberal reality to which mobility and migration are just economic factors and the work logic of art field, can seem as somewhat limited task.
Konjukusic is interested in historical role of photography in criminalization of poor and the postulate of Bertillions anthropometrical system of control and surveillance (dating back in 19th century) which is used even today as fundamental principal in protecting the Schengen borders. Physical features of human faces perceived through colonial anthropological eye – such as typology and width of nose, forehead height, the gap between the eyes, the shape of head and type of ears – are key indicators in creating police portraits of „criminals“ in 19th century – and in modern (and less observed) technologies they are incorporated in biometrical passport, the key that opens the door to „Europe, the Promised land“. The ones that don’t own the passport, and which are not buried at nameless graves of Lampedusa but scattered across different countries in Europe, first among equals, are still waiting for their citizenship.
Their portraits exhibited at Galerija SC are bordered with yellow and red (biometrical) lines which artist transform to aureole, but also apply so perfectly that they fit to different faces, and by doing that the artist symbolically annuls their meaning as instruments of control and exclusion. This gesture is some sort of Konjikusic’s confrontation with his primal medium – photography. However, he does not do that only to confront the medium, he does it from the necessity of stepping out from the sphere of representation, from which photography can never escape, he is moving step forward in using art as activism, he is moving to collective work, practices that offer emancipation and not representation of subjects, to work with them not for them. In practice, that means numerous meetings with asylum seekers and joint thinking of how can art and ways of communicating help in order to put the criticism of migrant politics in public sphere, acceptance of losing control and collaborative work with other activist, artists and curators in hybrid representation of work which is by now immersed in the field of activist practice. It should be noted that even in that case the work stays between representation and emancipation, considering the position of migrants – they are the ones that cannot speak because every public action on their side can only cause more complication in solving their status, even if it is a mere photography taken at recognizable time and space. Potential of photography to be (miss)used as an instrument of control returns to us like boomerang, leading us toward two important facts: first, political questions must be thematized through art (as self(criticism) of art); second, art is not enough.
Ivana Hanaček, Ana Kutleša – [BLOK]