SHIFTERS publication—a fourteen-chapter, 850-page artist’s book—is the outcome of the multiple years the visual artist Marta Bogdańska spent researching, collating, and editing together archival material, primarily related to the use of animals by Western militaries, intelligence agencies, and police forces since the late nineteenth century.
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Building on concepts such as ‘history from animal point of view’ by Eric Baratay, ‘biopolitics’ by Michel Foucault, ‘weak images’ of Hito Steyerl, as well as new materialist and feminist theories, Bogdanska invites the viewer on an artistic journey through animal presence in military conflicts, spy programmes and war machine from late 19th century to the 1970s.
She questions the Judaeo-Christian legacy allowing us to exploit animals and deny them agency, and seeks to create a more nuanced understanding of our coexistence with animals. Invited writers contribute with texts based on Bogdańska’s findings, opening doors to even more interpretations.
The novelesque form of this book as an object—the choice of paper, the format, the way it is printed—is a reference to the roots and birth of the modern novel. It also calls to mind the genre of ‘pulp fiction’ with its crude materials and printing, and its mass popularity and bad taste going hand in hand. For this volume, Bogdańska decided to avoid any approach where the editing would limit the material. Instead, she sought to embrace profusion, arranging it into layered sequences of associations and visual narrations in order to showcase the scale and scope of animal work, the animals’ courage and sacrifice, their exhaustion and suffering. As a result, anyone who picks up this book will immediately feel its weight and burden, both literal and metaphorical.
Marta Bogdańska is a visual artist, photographer, cultural manager, and filmmaker, including of the documentary Next Sunday. She studied philosophy and gender studies at the University of Warsaw, and with Anton Vidokle at the Home Workspace Program, organised by Ashkal Alwan in Beirut.
Her artist’s book SHIFTERS was nominated for the Kassel Dummy Award, the Luma Rencontres Dummy Book Award Arles, and the MACK First Book Award.