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Interview

Daniel Szalai: "When used consciously, photography allows questioning the status quo in a guerilla style"

text:
Futures Photography
Date:
August 24, 2020
Nominated by Capa Center, Daniel Szalai is a Hungarian artist working on large-scale, photography-based projects. In his latest works, he focuses on human-animal relations reflecting societal, political and economic anomalies. He mixes different media in his artistic practice and also works with spatial installations.

“Underpinned by post-humanist ideas, my latest projects articulate dilemmas regarding human nature and address the issues of corporatocracy, exploitation, segregation, surveillance and environmental crisis,” he explains.

In this interview, he talks about his career and inspirations:

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Can you tell us a little bit about your inspirations? Which themes do you often work with?

As an artist, I am looking for peculiar manifestations of human-animal relationships that represent our attitudes towards our environment, while allowing me to thematize societal, political and economic anomalies through a metaphorical reading. Underpinned by posthumanist ideas, my latest projects articulate dilemmas regarding human nature and address the issues of corporatocracy, exploitation, segregation, surveillance and environmental crisis.

How do you see your relationship with the medium? How do you use photography to express your art?

I am quite ambivalent about photography. On the one hand, I am mesmerized by the beauty of the photographic image. I love looking at photographs. On the other hand, the current flood of images, be it advertisement or artistic works, often makes me loose my interest and my trust in the medium as an artist. Photography is one of the most widely used and powerful means of mediating ideas and therefore, shaping the society. As such, it also carries the dichotomy of today’s world: its fascinating freedom and its exploitive, overproducing nature. I think that this Janus-faced character of the medium holds na inspiring potential for critical reflection. When used consciously, it allows questioning the status quo in a guerilla style, using its very own means.

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Do you have any ongoing (or more recent) project that you would like to share with us?

I am currently developing a new project which deals with the implementation of advanced technology in dairy farming and cattle breeding. By investigating the use of facial recognition systems and other computer vision technologies in herd management, as well as the role of global genomic databases in selective breeding, I aim to present cattle as an “animal broken to the algorithm” and reflect on the issues of surveillance capitalism, big data and artificial intelligence.

We have been facing a lot of challenges this year. How do you see this moment for art? Is it changing your practice?

Indeed, it is an irregular year that forces us to ask questions and to make sacrifices and I think art could and has to play an important role in this process of refiguring ourselves. I do believe in the power of art, especially in uniting and transformative possibilities. At the same time, for me, this is more of a time for making than showing. With many exhibitions postponed or cancelled, this year gives me a chance to contemplate and experiment and thus, na opportunity for personal growth which will surely influence my artistic practice.

What do you expect from this experience as a Futures talent?

I feel honoured to be selected for Futures as it is an important reference and a proof of quality of my work. Besides the visibility offered by the program, I am most excited about the opportunity to connect with professionals of the art world and I am also keen to participate in the tutoring.

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