Marta Bogdańska, SHIFTERS
Curators: Anna Bas, Karolina Wróblewska-Leśniak
The archive is not only a physical space wherein material traces of events are collected and stored, but also the archival techniques that generate functioning versions of memory. The term ‘archive’ is derived from the Greek word arkheion, meaning ‘seat of power.’ Those who control the archive decide what form memory will take and whose story will be told. The archive holds the power of interpretation. The photographs and materials collected by Marta Bogdańska for her SHIFTERS project are traces of the existence of other archives, other histories. Instead of asking, ‘What, and who, are we looking at?’ should not the question be: ‘What or who is looking at us?’ Putting ourselves in the position of the animal, we look at what the animal was looking at—but do we see the same thing? The question of the status of the animal is perhaps one of the most important questions we must ask ourselves. In The Animal Point of View: Another Version of the Story, the French historian Éric Baratay ambitiously seeks to transcend anthropocentric conceptions of the world. His book—the inspiration for Marta Bogdańska—pushes us to change the way we read historical sources: to extract from them the unsaid and the omitted while empathising with the plight of animals. The point is to ‘reverse the writing so as not to talk about the coachman driving, the picador stabbing, the veterinarian treating, the master feeding; nor about the work imposed, the blows delivered, the food provided, the care ministered; but about the horse straining, the bull stabbed, the cow operated on, the dog eating…’
SHIFTERS is an attempt to tell a story about a non-anthropocentric construction, reorienting the emotional and intellectual point of view to the side of the non-humans. For centuries, animals have been entrapped in representations authored by people; performances that justified the use and exploitation of animals by humans.
The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. (Genesis 9:2)
What does our story do to the animal? It domesticates, breaks, trains, drills, makes obedient, disciplines, tames, moulds, so that the animal is useful, efficient, suitable, durable, low maintenance, weatherproof and able to be worked in all conditions. It shapes. Shapeshifting can be a destructive or a creative force, depending on how it is utilised. The transformation that has taken place is attested to by an implanted foreign element: something added that does not derive from nature, but from culture. Paradoxically, what is natural is treated as foreign in the hybrid, whereas natural is redefined as what we ourselves have inculcated.
I imitate, therefore I am?
To subject a living thing to transformation is a demonstration of power, using skills and technologies in order to achieve specific ends. Animals are drawn into events that are deemed historical. The transformation process involves masking, equipping with props, deformation of the body, and, in the process, the introduction of new planes of meaning. Animals are turned into lethal weapons, a workforce, cannon fodder, barricades, entertainment to pass the time, secret agents strapped with spy gear, accomplices in the slaughter, a source of heat and sustenance. Looking at the photographs, let us refrain from pointing out the allegorical and symbolic and see instead these sentient, aware, agential beings who found themselves involved in bewildering situations to which they did not give their consent.
The identity of the human subject is largely constructed on the basis of oppositions, which facilitate the demarcation of lines separating oneself from the other, the known from the unknown, safe from dangerous, better from worse. The tradition that juxtaposes man with animal is the same legacy that juxtaposes man with woman, White with non-White, enlightened with savage, normative with non-normative, alike with alien. As the animal is an other, so, too, does the other become an animal. The word ‘animal’ is assigned as a pejorative to the other in order to diminish their status, humiliate them, execrate them, strip them of their rights. When does the border become a precipice? Jacques Derrida terms one such precipice ‘the edge of an anthropocentric subjectivity.’1 Beyond that edge there is a heterogeneous multiplicity of beings to whom we deny the right of communication, of participation in history. Even if gaining true access to the animal’s perspective is out of reach, in a non-official archive we may discover—left by the animals, partially effaced—traces, tracks.
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. She is a graduate of the Academy of Photography in Warsaw, the School of Looking at the Fort Institute of Photography, and the Open Institute at the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw. She has carried out international artistic and cultural projects, including in Lebanon, where she lived for eight years, and is a member of the Archive of Public Protests. She was the winner of the Pix.house Talent of the Year 2020 competition for her artist’s book Plaintext. Her works have been shown at the Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam, Milano Design Film Festival, BLICA – Lebanese International Biennale for Cinema and the Arts, TIFF Festival in Wrocław, Art Market Budapest, Fotofestiwal in Łódź, Odessa Photo Days, Encontros da Imagem in Braga, Imago Lisboa Photo Festival, FIF – International Festival of Photography of Belo Horizonte, OBSCURA Festival of Photography in Malaysia, the Sursock Museum in Beirut, and the Labyrinth Gallery in Lublin. 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.
Galeria ASP, ul. Basztowa 18
*3.06 exhibition closed