Unpredictable Events of the Future - Anna FABRICIUS

Unpredictable Events of the Future - Anna FABRICIUS

Contemporary Photography from Hungary 9.


Faur Zsófi Gallery and Publishing
2012, Budapest
ISSN 2060-0119
93 pages, full color, softcover

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Identity as a Self-fulfilling Prophecy in the Works of Anna Fabricius

It is a matter of common knowledge that coming to grips with your own identity is no easy feat, as it can be a drag or a burden that we carry, just as it might be something light and inconspicuous in which we luxuriate, or it can be a firm footing that supports us. Of course, living it is the combination of all of these: we are at its mercy at certain moments of our life, and sometimes after something happens to us, after passing an important crossroads in our life, we ourselves re-write and re-organise our memories and our identity by overwriting fragments of our self-image. Certainly, it is not easy to define exactly what we understand by this expression. For me, it is a process through which we construct reality, of which the person “creating” her own identity is an integral part; thus, it is characterised by a constant restlessness, a plasticity, as opposed to a final and unchanging “me”. This process is continuously being interpreted and described in various areas of contemporary culture, including contemporary art.

One’s identity and its function is thus a question people may ask themselves, and this theme has engaged Fabricius since the start of her career. One striking tendency of her approach can be seen in her group photos, in which either the artist arranges her acquaintances among themselves, or she directs members of specific, existing groups to strike poses in staged, tableau-like scenes. However, a different approach to the subject also appears in Fabricius’s work again and again, focusing on the individual stretched between the past and the future, between traditions and expectations. This is apparent in the series Dressed-up Night Butterflies (2003), Used Data (2004), Non-lieu de mémoire (2007), Star Tour (2008), Vaj-Voi (2007, 2011), Useless Best Wishes (2010), and Unpredictable Events of the Future (2011). Here, the fine threads of personality weave together memories and photographic images, collective and individual memory, and the overlapping realms of the imaginary and the real. In contrast to the rigidity of the group photographs, we see a more playful artistic approach unfold here, in which the possible and the real can both shape reality.

The line between the above mentioned groups of work is at times indistinct, as it often only means a different approach to the same subject. This makes Dressed-up Night Butterflies more closely related to the series entitled Temporary Company than any other series featured in this catalogue. Both can be said to show people who are in a similar situation in their life, of which the photographer is also a part, and what makes them so accessible is precisely the fact that she is a participant. The photographs and situations that evoke photos found on blogs and social networking sites – even if unintentionally – make personal identity relevant, since the situations are such that others can identify with, and show people in all their incidentalness. It is not the face or the gaze of individuals standing out from a masquerade ball-like crowd that is important, even when they are looking straight at us, but the moment, when they stop for a second to pose, the way they glide by in their costumes, or simply the way they are. The series is only a small part of an archive containing countless photos of each person, always changing, so that they are sometimes unrecognisable, revealing that one’s personality is not static, but constantly changing, reflecting their given situation and environment. There is only one small note on a single photo from the Night Butterflies series: “Brian is entering the - Bar to Albert - ”. It is not clear whether this is a reminder the artist wrote for herself, or if it serves to identify the document, or perhaps it is mere fiction. Image and text match, in so far as they do not contradict each other; nevertheless, the caption identifies a person and a place in such a way that there is nothing corresponding to it visually – the man photographed from behind could be anyone, and the picture could have been taken anywhere.

This single picture breaks the flow of images by giving the picture a name, by tagging it. It highlights the function of a photograph as a documentary tool, evoking the discourse on the role of private photographs, press photos and scientific documents. This is most concisely expressed in a conclusion of Roland Barthes, who said that a photograph needs words to explain it, as it can only grasp the objects in it indirectly. This means that in certain functions and situations the image and language are interdependent, just as words need to be explained using photos. It is by using linguistic and visual codes simultaneously in her photos featured here that Anna Fabricius tries to show that meanings are not final, open to interpretation and pulsating, to show that identity is volatile. The artist juxtaposes the traditional indexical quality of the photographic image and language, which by its nature, to a certain extent, arranges the facts. It is the documentary-type photographs and the texts that are somewhere between memories and the imaginary, together, that create this uncertainty about reality.

In the Used Data series, alongside the urban scenes and interiors evoking the 1970s and 80s are personal notes about past events, which at first glance call to mind the usual stories about relatives and friends. But the events took place long before the notes were written. On the day Uncle Pepin leaves, we know that he will never return from Sofia, that the owner of the bar Carmen would wear a blue shirt every day to come, or that the coveted flat is just the first in a series. The characters are just as distant, or completely missing from the pictures; sometimes we see a figure far in the background, but there is no portrait of anyone, no person looking into the camera, no gesture for the camera anywhere to be seen in the photos. It is the places in these family photos that are important, as if somebody visited these places to pick up the pieces of stories that happened long ago. What we see is time travel into the past, a past suggested by the clothes, the surroundings and the date, and the title of the series suggests it is all recycled, as if we were leafing through an album that we came upon by accident. The questions raised here are: Where is the line between reality and fiction? The story unfolding before our eyes is that of whom, or what? And should we rather believe the photos or the captions?

The Star Tour series is also pulsating with the tension between place and memory, image and text. Fabricius has taken photos of urban scenes and interiors, which seem to be the remains of something that once had a meaning, a function which is now lost, or which are the by-products of human activity: they are unidentifiable and abandoned. On the other hand, the captions attached to them appear as personal notes, reports and news excerpts written when these places were in their prime, thereby providing a strong context for the visual image. We do not know whether the texts are real documents or fragments of an imaginary story, but they do follow the patterns of real binding. The series is like the family album of a town, a document made for future generations, where the caption serves to complement the photographic information, putting them in context by naming the things seen in the picture and the turning points in their history. The information about the history of the town and the memory sets the person reminiscing into a place and time in history, thereby endowing her/him with a local identity.

The “I”, the self in both the Used Data and Star Tour series is defined by the specific location, which seems to have provided the setting for individual stories that are part of a family history. The process of self-identity, however, does not stem from the place only, but also from the shared knowledge, “memories of a common past”. The Vaj-Voi series reconstructs a common history based on the Finno-Ugric linguistic relationship. Fabricius found seven sentences that sound very similar in Finnish and Hungarian, and on the occasion of receiving a scholarship to Helsinki, she took photographs of situations corresponding to these sentences. Since the vocabulary has a common root containing the most basic nouns and verbs, the sentences are brought to life by ordinary, everyday events. At the same time, the sentence structures and combinations are not ordinary, and the alliterations that emerge in the Hungarian text and the unique rhythms create a poetic effect: “Three women catch twenty fish with a net.” “Fish swim vigorously under the ice in winter.” “My raven-eyed dog lives on water.” Instead of documentary type photos, here we see staged photographs, making the moment accompanying the sentences last forever. Although the composition is clean and unobscured, using cold tones and showing everyday situations, every moment and detail makes a strong impact on our senses, and we have a lingering suspicion that they have an added meaning behind them. The scenes depicted make the viewer feel that “this could happen here”, “we are just the same”, while at the same time, they are majestic and solemn, removed from our everyday routine.

Non-lieu de mémoire evokes the artist’s own childhood memories, using her own handwritten notes and recent photos of the locations taken by the artist. These memories are fragments of everyday life, imaginary stories or stories that we have heard repeatedly about ourselves, stories which are inaccessible to our current self. What makes them unique is that they depict themselves eternally like a bubble in a piece of amber, the way we left them once. The places that have since changed irreversibly and become impersonal do not help recollection, and this is further emphasised by dream-like, overacted and frozen situations. There is an air of uncertainty about the photos – was it really the place where it all happened? did the events happen at all? or are we just remembering things we yearned for or dreamed about? Without artefacts of the past, photos as evidence are dissolved in the realm of fiction. A photograph can only be a document of one’s past, if it was taken at the given place and time; a photo shot at a later date will lead us to have doubts about ourselves.

The road leads from the past to the future, and belief, expectation and premonition, or imagination, are made a part of the “I”. In preparation for her Useless Best Wishes series, Fabricius asked her foreign friends and acquaintances to send her for her birthday, instead of the usual useless best wishes, charms that have magic powers and help predict disasters or fend them off. The captions to the photographs in this series, hence, do not say explicitly what they are referring to (perhaps for some magical reason), but only name the act or situation that is to be avoided: “Seeing more than six foxes that cross our path”, “Eating pumpkin and sturgeon at the same time”, or “Leaving clothes out on a line to dry between two holidays”. These notions are also part of an old world common belief, or tradition, which we have for the most part dismissed as superstition. I say for the most part, for by knowing about them, we have kept a supernatural factor alive in our overly rational everyday lives. We cannot completely exempt ourselves from the unexplainable and its irrational effects – and for that matter, even the knowledge of it – as it still influences us, at least by flashing into our minds at certain moments. The nicely arranged photos hint at this phenomenon that we cannot escape: there is sometimes an elbow sticking into the picture, or a white envelope is being handed to us, or the too shallow depth of field makes objects close to us blurry.

As a continuation of this, the Unpredictable Events of the Future series explores what effects our beliefs have on our perception, and through this it raises the question of how our beliefs shape our reality. Spontaneous Polaroid photos that are strung not along a single storyline have been supplemented with the notions of fortune-telling cards. The figures in the pictures – perhaps better referred to as contributors – after the photo of them was taken, took a card at random from the deck, and the concept picked in this way helped to interpret, or reinterpret, what can be seen in the picture. Fortune-telling and the world of superstition only appears indirectly, with the recurring animal motif primarily evoking this world of symbols, where every irregular, unexpected phenomenon is assigned a meaning. The familial atmosphere created by photos that “did not turn out so well” gives credibility to the odd scenes that do not fit the situation and the environment, like the peeping black dog at the bottom of the picture, or the hand of the person clad in animal skin like a shaman, that is sticking out. Nevertheless, the random situations and framing, and the barely composed setting accompanied by these notions point in a very specific direction, and the freedom of humanity cannot be justified in this very firm interpretational framework. Interpreting an image and interpreting your own identity are both self-fulfilling prophecies.

As we can see, Fabricius interprets identity as a meeting point, as a sphere of activity, where relationships, influences and movements intersect. Step by step, she discovers the horizon, where the never-ending process of self-interpretation and self-identification takes place, starting from one’s own memories, through the memories of the family, all the way to the narratives provided by society. Again and again, she asks the question: to what extent is it possible for someone to make decisions of her own free will about her own life, future and identity?

Judit Csatlós