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Krzysztof Siatka: What inspired you to replace the traditional round aperture of the camera with a word-shaped opening?
Tomasz Dobiszewski: A natural consequence of each experiment is to take one step forward each time [laughing]. When it comes to the form or the medium, I am not consistent in what I do. What matters the most to me is the concept, only then do I look for the most apt tool to carry out the given work. For me, art is a kind of lab, a testing ground, a place to stick pins in. I check whether I am capable of visualising or implementing in a physical form the ideas that I have dreamt up. Soon after, I get into another project, not only because the previous one is beginning to bore me but also because I’m looking for another thing, something worthwhile, capable of really drawing me in, something that I’d never tried before. I don’t want to spend my entire life painting just the one and same painting [laughing].
In the case of pinhole photography, I came across various forms and shapes of apertures. Take, for instance, Thomas Bachler’s works from his series Pixel Trees, which cunningly mimicked a digital image, and yet they had been made with an analogue method, using a square aperture. However, I’d never come across images done with letters. To start with, I made an alphabet of letter-shaped apertures but after the first few attempts, which I was, by the way, pleased with, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to create a standard elementary reader, and that’s why I focus on using whole words, concepts, sentences – and in fact they are what give the paintings their meaning. Besides, the word has a causative power; something that has a name – exists; what doesn’t have a name – doesn’t [laughing].
What role in your work does traditional analogue technology have? You used a large-format camera, 8′′ x 10′′ camera; you ordered special word-shaped apertures and you made the silver prints yourself. Wouldn’t it have been simpler just to use a handheld digital reflex camera?
Pinhole camera photography has the magical power of getting back to the very beginnings of photography, but I don’t treat it as an escape from a technology-saturated, perfect digital image, that I do use quite often. Maybe I’m still deluding myself that there exists such a thing as a real, unmediated, non-manipulated image [laughing].
By constructing the camera and employing an analogue technique, I wanted to demonstrate that the final effect is not a digital transformation, but precisely the very image that the camera had seen with its word-shaped aperture. Large format allows an incredible visual effect because light reaches a much larger fragment of the light-sensitive surface. Blowing it up – enlarging a small, medium or even large format image kills that effect. On the other hand, I did, after all, use quite expensive light-sensitive materials, which, at that size, are normally used for making the most technically sharp and correct photographs. Whereas I was using them in a contrary manner to make images that (as had been clear from the very start) weren’t going to be perfect technically.
In your opinion, when we look at the world, do we see what we want to see, or what we can see? Is interpretation over-mediated by the range of concepts at our disposal? It seems to me that the series Designations presents works that deal with the inability to escape clichéd ways of thinking.
First of all, looking at the world, we see what we already know. The eyes see a melée of colourful moving splodges, but it is our brain that tells the eyes what is important and what is not. If we are unable to see something clearly enough, a search action will be triggered in our brain. Seeing is independent of us; it is our brain, functioning on the basis of free association, which looks for what we know about the world, what we have experienced earlier. Unless, of course, we close our eyes. But then we see after-images or hypnagogic visions, which, however, are also images, subject to interpretation by the brain.
As Ferdinand de Saussure put it, things that don’t have a name don’t exist, so, if we notice something, our brain has already recognised and named it. Any interpretation will always be based on a set of notions created earlier. If I say to you ‘a dog’ or ‘a chair’, your brain will refer to your memory of objects that you have seen and experienced yourself. Each of us will be referring to a different designation.
The series Designations is a contrary project. The word-camera does not register an object that defines it; it does not register its own designation. When we look at an image that contains a random word, often our brain jumps between an interpretation of the image and our reading of the word that it contains. My main goal was to provoke a conflict in the brain of the viewer: to what extent is the word used in the picture important, and to what extent is it the image itself that is important?
I think that I won’t be far off to claim that making images is a form of finding a name. ‘Exposing with a word’ whose meaning does not go with the object being photographs, I create a false designation.
You have used quotations from Wittgenstein, McLuhan and Dróżdż. Wittgenstein played a significant role in the development of conceptual art, McLuhan hit the nail on the head with his observations about the mass media, and Dróżdż gets to the heart of the art of the word – concrete poetry. The quotations from Wittgenstein and McLuhan have universal application; the same is sort of true about the quotation from Dróżdż, but this one is derived from art that can only function in Polish and is not translatable, therefore only has local impact. What inspired you to make this particular selection?
The first thing that came into my head, and very obvious, too, was Marshall McLuhan’s: The Medium is the Message. My using this lens to expose the photograph is in itself the answer to this question.
Next, I paid more attention to the meaning conveyed by particular words. That’s why, with Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in mind, I made the work Die Bedeutung eines Wortes ist sein Gebrauch in der Sprache (The Meaning of a Word Is How It Is Used in the Language). When it comes to Dróżdż, on the one hand my work is a homage to the artist who has made the most prominent and lasting impact in the history of Polish visual text and on the other hand, it is yet another game that is borderline logic and semantics and which fits very well into the whole series Designations and my game with words and images.
Work produced as part of the project There Will Be Artction! Enhancement of the Bunkier Sztuki Collection.
Part-financed from the funds of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage.
Collection curator: Anna Lebensztejn