esmaspäev, veebruar 27, 2012

AB cubed presents: Annika Toots x Ats Parve

Translated by Kristiina Raud

Ats Parve Camera Obscura (Photo Annika Toots)

On a warm August afternoon I stepped into a black wooden cube standing in Freedom Square and the door was shut behind me. Getting used to the dark took some time; however, I soon found appearing in front of my eyes a magical world of images, causing amazement as well as suspicion. ’Can it really be this simple?’ I asked myself, watching the upside down optical image created by the rays in the box. The square, the cafés, the busy people – they were all there in the chamber with me. A result of the collaboration of Ats Parve and Kadarik Tüür Architects, the mysterious camera obscura, literally a darkened chamber, lured many people into it during three days, and all of the visitors came out enriched with a new experience and gained knowledge. In addition to being visually pleasing the camera obscura also seems to be the best place for contemplating. It is a place where one can take a moment, sit back, and think about the progress made from the chamber to digital photography, pixels, Photoshop, and mobile phones that take pictures.

The camera obscura is thought of as the predecessor of photography, although it took centuries to get from one to the other. All the means for inventing photography existed already during the Renaissance; nevertheless, the right combination was discovered only in the 19th century. The camera obscura was accepted as an aid in painting and initially it was, indeed, as big as a whole room. Later it was reduced to a smaller, handier size. In the beginning of the 16th century many churches in Europe were also turned into camera obscuras where the small hole in the ceiling functioned as a lens. By following the image of the sun on the floor it was possible to engage in observational astronomy. The only thing standing between the camera obscura and modern photography was photosensitive material – it was impossible to fixate the image. However, making passing moments permanent is the main (if not the only) goal of photography. It allows us to capture the fleeting moments and make them tangible and, in some sense, eternal. Fixating the image was one of the main concerns of early photography. By now, however, in the 21st century, the principles and values have changed quite radically. If initially the ephemeral moment was caught in the camera obscura and then fixated onto a photosensitive surface, then now the captured moment has come full circle and is once again in the immaterial state – an image existing (and wandering) as mathematical data in a computer, materialising only when printed. Nowadays, most of the photos are in computers as electronic files that can vanish forever with just one push of a button. The medium of photography has been restless, unstable, and constantly changing. The technology and the subject, as well as the emphasis, have all undergone substantial changes.

Ats Parve, a photography student at the Estonian Academy of Arts, has brought the public back to the core of photography thanks to the life-size camera, showing that the creation of an image follows a simple law of physics. And he does so quite rightfully: what is more important than the core of things? Parve employs the same approach with other media as well. His piece A White Paper: Importance of Knowing can be interpreted as the analysis of the nature of poster art, another art form that has intrigued Parve, a known poster collector. The poster is considered to be the artistic barometer of its contemporary time and society and has also been utilised as an instrument of political propaganda since World War I. Nevertheless, even a poster with a strong communicative force is in its essence worthless and ephemeral; the paper onto which the message is fixated is extremely vulnerable. The series A White Paper: Importance of Knowing was displayed at Noorus Gallery at the Just Kids/Noorus On Ilus Aeg exhibition during the 3rd Tartu International Graphic Festival. The series consists of paper targets turned upside down, hanging slightly away from the wall. Parve collected them during the summer from the ’medieval archers’ at the foot of Toompea. Carrying a subtle social message, the targets, damaged by arrows, are visually effective on several levels. Firstly, as targets hung in front of a white wall, they are ready-mades, but the shadow projected on the wall is also important as it accentuates the sufferings of the paper. Thousands of tourists have contributed to the visually pleasing result by paying a euro to shoot an arrow at a target. A White Paper: Importance of Knowing is simultaneously fragile as well as forceful – just like cultural posters. If the message is taken from the poster, all that is left is a space of disintegrating paper – the ephemera.

The camera obscura, as well as Parve’s ready-made series, is somewhat connected to the theme of evanescence, transience, and ephemerality. It is a topic also discussed by Freud, who claimed in his essay ‘On Transience’ (1915) that limitation in the possibility of an enjoyment raises the value of the enjoyment. Undoubtedly, it is the temporal and material finiteness of posters which enhances the pleasure the collector gains from them. What about the value of pleasure gained from a photo, though? Simply put, everything is passing and therefore valuable and capturing this through photography is, in a sense, prolonging the pleasure. Through subjective cropping and certain physical and chemical (or digital) processes a moment is captured and fixated that is important to the author or even the entire mankind at a particular moment in time. The photograph often becomes a talisman with magical powers attributed to it. However, nowadays, when the passing moment is captured it also becomes endlessly reproducible and digitally manipulable, and all limitations disappear. What happens to the value of pleasure when there are no restrictions? It would seem likely that boundlessness and multitude would begin to diminish the value of pleasure. In reality, however, the change actually takes place in the standards and values. The camera obscura represents a time when there were limits to creating images and the possibilities of pleasure but the pleasure itself, as proven by the number of the device’s visitors, was more valuable.

Ats Parve is a versatile young talent whose position as an artist is still developing. At the moment his work is characterised by the shifting between different media which can lead to quite interesting results as illustrated by the two pieces of art discussed here. Besides expressing himself wordlessly Parve also believes that defining oneself more explicitly is an important part of growing as an artist. Rather thankworthy is also his wish to work with primary forms of different media, thus adding a certain educational dimension to his work. In today’s information-based society it is easy to forget the elementary things hidden under all the different layers. Parve first introduced the camera obscura to a wider audience when he finished the photography department at Tallinn Polytechnic School, and according to him it is an homage to the medium with which he is mainly concerned. His primary reason for building the camera was the feeling that photographers had started to forget how a photo is born. Considering the fact that nowadays anyone can be a sort of photographer, Parve succeeded in speaking to quite a large audience with his piece. All that is left to do now is to wait and see how Parve will manage to intrigue the audience in the future.

Annika Toots is doing her MA studies at Estonian Academy of Arts. The last 10 years, she has also been engaged in film photography, as she puts it herself, to compensate modern times` shortage of memory. She has also kept up blogging – at her text and image combining and largely photography and travelling devoted blog

AB cubed is a preparatory essay series for the III Artishok Biennale where X young Baltic and Scandinavian writers have chosen for their gesture of courtesy X young Estonian artists who have caught their eye with a witty personal exhibition or an absorbing work of art in a group show in recent years. Artishok tests experimetal editorial practice and self-inititative readiness in the art field with the series, giving writers the opportunity to take the initiative - but also the responsibility - and do one chosen artist a favour. The writers do not receive honorary for their work whereas the suggested artists automatically get an invitation for participation in Artishok Biennale in the autumn. Read more...

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