by Shraddha NairAug 30, 2021
Encumbered by the tension of deception and reality, the art of photography for the longest of the time fought for its voice that is unique, yet compelling enough to translate veracity of an event onto the screen. The photographers in the recent times have not only deployed it as a tool to create art but also continued to raise concerns pertaining to what makes an image and its politics of circulations on different media channels, be it social, media or digital. To this end, photographers have worked with a multitude of images – archival, found, personal – to question the idea of truth. In a similar fashion, the Slovenian photographer, Vanja Bučan, currently living and working in Berlin, with her vibrant photographs, critiques the relationship between human and environment determined by dominance of commerce and technology. Attentive to lopsided dynamics between the two, Bučan plays with her images: superimposes images to create a visual lexicon that would invite viewers to ponder upon their acts.
Not strictly a performance-photographer, however, one gets a glimpse of stages that Bučan meticulously orchestrate to create her work. In an interview with STIR, she mentions, “I like your mention of performance photographs. Because my work is done in a few steps, it can be interpreted as a performance. I also add time to my photos and this is the second performative component.” These performative photographs have nature at its centre. The human hands, synthetic plastic or mirror, in the series Sequences of Truth and Deception are not external to the green environment. It participates with the nature to put across a thought that human and nature co-exist, even if human needs have disharmonised this relation. Bučan states, “My photos are like personal ecosystems, gardens of the imagination. I do not approach nature realistically, because realism does not intrigue me. I like to add layers of my own transformative elements to the base photo. I still take the base photo or the background photo myself, so I still need to take the realistic photo first, but after that, I apply new stories to it.”
Bučan’s sensitivity towards human acts of inclusion and exclusion could be tracked back to her formal academic years. She briefly discloses, “I did study environmental sociology, but I left it in the back pocket, I didn't properly finish and use any theoretical practice later in life. However, the fact that I tend to still read sociology literature, and I never stopped, and I was an environmental activist, it did influence my themes in photography. I don’t really make big environmental statements in my work, but just describe a point of view of our Anthropocene existence. I prefer to keep politics separate from my artwork.”
Nature makes itself available in a plethora of forms. The variety of ways in which we encounter nature in our daily lives has engulfed us to reconsider our response to the conditions in which it thrives. The series, Mauerhasen, stems from the lives of wild rabbit, known as Mauerhasen in Deutsch, that made the area between the inner and outer Wall of Berlin as their home. Interestingly, rabbits are swapped with human figures in the series. The satirical tone of the series indicts the human-constructed boundaries. When Berlin Wall barred any human and cultural interaction across East and West Germany, the rabbits filled the void.
Bučan talks about the presence of humans as an essential part in her work, in order to put the stills in an anthropological context, “Let’s remember that nature and ‘natural’ is defined by humans, we think we own nature, we don’t treat it as an equal component of this planet. I use the body as a monument and rarely display human faces because once the face is there, the image becomes ‘about someone’. There is no particular ‘someone’ in the majority of my work, but just a generic clue about civilisation and nature.”
The series Anatomy of False Memories has an array of people whose faces are either covered with a piece of cloth, body turned upside down to hide it, or the position of embracement where faces are overlapped in an effort to not reveal itself to the viewers. Like memories that have a myriad of expression, often rendered without necessary features yet meaningful in its own sense, the series draws a parallel between human anatomy and boundary-free memories. Bučan explains, “The series talks about cumulative memory, which is not real but imagined. It touches some dreams and memories of dreams. When we are traumatised, we remember things, which did not really happen, so we add new fictitious components to some past events. The bodies were central to narrate these dreams, distorted and duplicated bodies, monumental like our dreams. I think this was my big shift into creating floating monumental bodies, faceless and atypical. This series also indirectly addresses the freedom of deciding about one's own body and sexuality. I moved away from documentary storytelling at this point. It was a very liberating work, staged and unconventional.”
Despite the criticality and multiple-layers of the work, Bučan narrates her visuals with a language that speaks to people. The artist mentions, “A few years ago, my work was exhibited in a photo festival in Biel, Switzerland. It was set in a modern house for old people. I went inside to have a look and found old ladies sitting on a couch and staring at my work. I was so happy because they were sitting and staring at those gigantic hands holding the flowers. It made me feel good about the fact that it gave pleasure to them, and it didn’t feel unreachable to common people like most museal art is.” She adds, “Some people find my work intense or abstract, I especially refer to my last five years where hands and parts of bodies are intertwined with nature. But I think whoever likes slow and philosophical photography with the sense of irony and pictorialism, might find it interesting and pleasant.”
If the bright visible traces of layers in the Bučan’s work are indeed scrutiny of the shared interdependence between human and environment, she, then, extends these discussions to her medium of photography too. Irrevocably, Bučan is perceptive to refrain from drawing a moralistic viewpoint that holds the world accountable but escapes her practice.