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Interview

Marta Bogdanska: I would call myself both a photographer and a visual artist; my approach to photography is hybrid

text:
Futures Photography
Date:
January 11, 2021
“My approach to photography specifically is hybrid: I can use it very literally, in documentary style, or as an artistic medium with all its advantages and flaws.” In this interview, meet Marta Bogdańska, nominated for Futures in 2020 by Fotofestiwal Lodz.

Marta is a Polish photographer, visual artist, cultural manager. She holds a MA degree in Philosophy from Warsaw University. Marta's lived and worked in Lebanon for 8 years, where she realised artistic & cultural projects. ⁠

⁠With additional background in gender studies & activism Marta’s artistic work focuses on geopolitical and social issues, gossip & fiction, as well as personal experiences. She experiments with various media including participatory workshops and sound installations.⁠

Below, she talks about her career and inspirations:

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

Having background in philosophy, gender studies, activism & informal education, recurring critical approach is significant for me. I focus on geopolitical realm in relation to personal experiences, critically approached social issues, and the representation of minority groups (migrants, refugees, LGBTQ community, or animals). Themes related to gossip & fiction, espionage and political geography, as well as the mundane, temporariness and the everyday, influence my projects. The subject matter of each body of work determines the materials and the forms of the work. Each project often consists of multiple works and in a range of different media, grouped around specific themes and meanings. During research and production new areas of interest arise and lead to the next body of work. A lot of my work starts with research, but I combine two approaches to work: a research-based, conceptual one with a more spontaneous, experiment-oriented one.

Travels, or better to say ‘lives’, in various cultures and places, really influenced me on many levels and also taught me to be persistent, creative and strong. They also taught me modesty, showed me the limits and false pretence to universality of the Eurocentric perspective. A lot of projects that I have done touch upon topics such as women rights, migration, LGBTQ+ rights, animal rights. I love exploring! Be it in my nearest surroundings or faraway places. I often do it in a kind of photo-flaneur way.

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

I would call myself both a photographer and a visual artist. My approach to photography specifically is hybrid: I can use it very literally, in documentary style, or as an artistic medium with all its advantages and flaws. In my work I use photography, text, archives, and video. I also experiment with other media and participatory tools like workshops or group work, as well as with sound. They are increasingly present in my practice. I also work with film.

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

I have a few ongoing and recent projects.

'PLAINTEXT' in an espionage world & language is a text before or after encryption. Therefore it should be easily readable. After it becomes encrypted the message is obscure and unreadable without a key. Lebanon, especially Beirut, has a long history of spy stories. The country attracts a lot of attention. But it became my second home. Since 2008 I have spent 8 years there. 'plaintext' is a project that spies on me, my feelings, and tries to decode my relationship to Lebanon. For 10 months I had been receiving WhatsApp messages on my cell phone while working in an international organization. These security updates arrived several times a day and made me feel trapped in a 'danger zone'. I decided to look at them closely, read into their codes and keys, and try to relate them to Lebanon that I know and to my photography. This project evolves around notions of post-conflict discourse, creation of discourse of fear & danger, new technologies used in repetitive propaganda, political geography and personal experience, & art as a way to create a new narrative. ‘PLAINTEXT’ was recently published.

SHIFTERS project proposes to look for history from animal point of view. Reflecting on this concept, coined by French historian Eric Baratay, I investigate the visual history of animals in wars, animal spies, animal in services like Red Cross or police. It started as an archival research and a collection of articles about animal spies. Suspicious squirrels, spying dolphins, misidentified stork, nuclear lizards, photographer pigeons – all these animals were accused of spying and information about it appeared in mainstream media. I am looking at the human use of animals as soldiers, spies, police, and kamikaze. The images used in this project are the ones circulating on the web, called by Hito Steyerl “weak images”.

I am interested as well in analysing the meaning of the term ‘agent’ itself: a spy but as well a subject doing action. Taking into account this interesting twist of animal agency I want to relate the multifaceted history of animals in war to the one of the liberation of animals and animal rights.

The heart of this project is a 14-chapter artist book of 750 pages, an author vision of history of animals in military, police and in spy programs.

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

This year has been difficult and things have happened in unexpected ways. I think, for me, it was mostly difficult financially. On other levels on the other hand the time we had to spend at home helped me develop projects, work more, and come up with new, clear ideas. I was also very lucky to be part of few programs and residencies that took place despite COVID-19. I do miss the usual networking and meeting up with people during events, openings etc. When it comes to my practice: it did not change that much. I was lucky enough to be able to carry out even the participatory projects I was involved in.

I am not sure what to think about this moment in time: with the climate change, and the fear of climate catastrophe looming, and the global crisis coming up after the pandemic, we might be forced to continue to work in more remote, online ways, so we might have to get used to this.

Can you share with us some of your plans for the future? Do you have any new project in mind?

I have quite a few things coming up in 2021. I will have a solo show at the Krakow Photomonth, an exhibition in Landskrona, and hoping to get my book ‘Shifters’ published.

I also started a new project “Love that dare not speak its name” during my recent Foto Residency at Landskrona Foto and I am continuing it with Laimun Residency. Following the footsteps of Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf, the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize for literature in 1909 and membership in the Swedish Academy in 1914, whose private letters published 50 years after her death in 1990 revealed her passionate relationships with women, the project investigates which traces of her life, intimate thoughts and feelings can be found in Landskrona today. By weaving several elements together - archives, images, video, interviews / texts, sculptures - the project looks at Selma’s queer legacy & their contemporary situation through an exchange with the local LGBTQ+ community. I am combining archival & correspondence research with my own photography, video pieces, photography portraits and interviews with local queer persons. I am also working with the materiality of letters: experimenting with objects & sculptures, which I construct and then photograph.

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

Being part of Futures was a very interesting experience. I do wish we had the opportunity to meet up in person, it is always best way to create new collaborations and ties. I think this is what I would like to take with me from being part of Futures programme: new connections, new contacts, new people that know me and my work, and that I can reach out to in the future. I hope it will also bring possibilities of showing my work in festivals, venues and help me develop my career.

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