The Ecology of Photography: Documents, Art, the Production of History and the Politics of Representation
“How does photography serve to legitimate and normalize existing power relationships? ...How is historical and social memory preserved, transformed, restricted and obliterated by photographs?” Allan Sekula points us to the key questions regarding the operation of photographic records, their dissemination and impact. What is it about photographic image-making, its dispersion and archive that makes it ever susceptible to the production of official narratives? The representational, documentary property of photography naturally absorbs visual culture, reassembling it in ideological orders and presenting it back in organized structures. Either through direct imposition or reverberation photography works in the forming of particular collective memory and the accumulation of an orchestrated historical knowledge. However, for what can any number of images taken of any sight truly tell us when one considers that each, depending on the photographic frame and moment, reveals a mere fraction of the ever-expanding space and time of our world? The answer of course is histories. We produce extensive records using technical apparatuses, mounting a sense of vérité towards representation of actuality. The task is to interrogate this seemingly coherent collective memory and break down the authority of the document in order to recognize expanded semantic systems of multitudes of operating coefficients in signification. This coexistence of contradictory signs and their interpretations confirms that homogeneous information structures no longer exist. Artists such as Hans-Peter Feldmann, in the piece 9/12 Front Page, 2001 arranges worldwide newspaper covers printed the day after the September 11 attacks practically demonstrating this fracture of information. The argument here lies not in the inadequacy of our recording devices, but in the politics of signification. The emphasis is placed on the social generative process, on understanding fluctuating political contexts and meanings, on audience, communication and distribution, on the diachronic and momentary evolutions of the experiences we create and interpret. Through examining contemporary practices of photographers and artists such as Allan Sekula, Christian Boltanski, Braco Dimitrijevic, Doug Ischar, Martha Rosler, Andrea Geyer, Taryn Simon, The Monument Group, The Arab Image Foundation, The Atlas Group, among others, this paper discusses the collapse of the notion of historical coherence exposed by the overlapping networks of meanings. By working with these complications and entrusting doubt, one may contest the prevailing dichotomy within documentary discourse which splits truth and fiction, accuracy and gonzo expression, ubiquity and particularity—by advocating that it is not simply a choice between truth or fiction; rather the unraveling of relative fictions in order to absorb information.
At the Art Dubai "Forum Forum" exhibition curated by Shumon Basar
Title: The Battle of Petra, 2011, DVD video, 6min

Isak Berbic presents The Battle for Petra, a video piece that investigates cinematic aesthetics through montage of appropriated material, form the streaming news footage of the Cairo march, 2011 protests. The color bars open into an epic battle between the north and south. The camera gaze is fixed from the position of the viewing stands onto the football-player-sized actors. As the crowds roar, our gladiators take on even more daring risks in quest for victory.
At the Art Dubai Global Art Forum:
Title: "Narrating the Broadcast" / Artist's Presentation: Isak Berbic

Avalanche in Kosovo. Two meters of snow in Bosnia. Syrian conflict in the neighborhoods of Tripoli, Lebanon. Whitney Houston. Fighting escalates between protestors and police in Athens. Isak Berbic presents his recent works: Narrating the Broadcast, an online performance in which Isak reported on the reporting on Egypt and Libya. The Battle for Petra investigates the cinematic within the live video feed from Cairo during the March 2011 protests. Brief Histories, a curatorial project in collaboration with Fawz Kabra, explores curatorial practice that is immediately responsive to rapidly changing political contexts and meanings.
At the TRACE performance night, Art Dubai:
Title: "Collectors Co-Op"

For this performance Isak Berbic invited a community of friends to form a committee which will select and purchase, through a collective jury process, an artwork during Art Dubai 2012. The group will determine a time-share schedule for the acquired artwork, which will travel and reside amongst its co-owners' homes. To reach a consensus the committee meetings will consider points such as: taste, preference and selection; love for the artwork and interest in the artist; affordability; size and material; domestic setting for the artwork; display, care and safeguarding; transportation and handling; life of the artwork following the time-share cycle, cultural value; capital value and investment.
At the Sharjah March Meeting Symposium:
Title: "Material of contingency: discursive art practice"

Tendencies in art practice, curatorial strategy, institutional and pedagogical approaches recently show a prevailing paradigm shift in focus from an object dependent model onto a discursive one. Rather than emphasizing commodity the privilege is placed on the social generative process, on understanding fluctuating contexts and meanings, on audience, communication and distribution, on the diachronic and momentary evolutions of the experiences we create. Therefore, art experience emerges from collaborative situations where artistic production becomes the shaping of conditions for an activity to occur. Engagement in this way provides a constant source of discourse where utterance, articulation and exchange are played out by artists and viewers; eliciting both as collaborators in the making of meaning and the production of information. Artworks in their discursive state are ever-increasingly dispersed through common secondary media such as photographs, printed material, soft-copy files or emails. Due to this, the conventions of giving primacy to an essential experience, gazing at "the piece" in its ideal space, have been dislocated into the variables of a mass audience privately receiving a public broadcast. This transformation and dematerialization of art's reception has made an impact on artistic production. Along with discussing historical precedence Isak Berbic will be presenting his projects that investigate such practice. The collaborative project by Ministry of Culture takes the 1961 Piero Manzoni work Socle du Monde as a starting point for an inquiry into the role of public sculpture and it's ability to reach the public. In this work, the object "Shifting Base" was transported to its ultimate destination, Abu Dhabi’s Rub’ al Khali sand sea, where it was set adrift in the shifting sands of the Empty Quarter. However, a catalog constitutes the work’s sole form, allowing it to become a site-less, traveling exhibition.
D.M. The Arabian Gulf Chapter at the SIKKA Art fair
“D.M., The Arabian Gulf Chapter” imagines and casts the work and travels of Engineer D.M. in the Gulf during the 1980's. This project assembles photographic material, drawing from private, found and media images, staging a story of expatriate guest-work, political conflict, a rare vacation, and life back home. The narrative, presented as a sequence of photographs and footnotes, records fragments from the life of engineer D.M., an expert on thermostable materials for the production of industrial chimney-stacks. D.M.’s work took him, and his camera, through the Gulf, Libya, Lebanon, East Germany, Italy, the Non- Aligned, and Africa dating from the 1970’s until the 1990’s. Complicating the binary of fiction and nonfiction, I propose a history of an individual, whose account unfolds into current global politics. “D.M., The Arabian Gulf Chapter" combines archive material, technical photographs, documentary images, tourist snapshots and text, speculating on the visualization of histories, cultural, ideological, socio- political and aesthetic production of memory.
Back to Top