KAMERA DIRECTA – Approach, Appropriation and Representation in the Egyptian Spring 2011
Starting from a search for subjective perspectives on the Egyptian Spring 2011, KAMERA DIRECTA exemplarily rises questions of approach, appropriation and representation artists and “cultural producers” often find themselves confronted with in the post(?)colonial globalised present.
The Project: In March 2011 just after the first big manifestations of uprise, I (a Swiss based media artist) distributed a set of single-use cameras in Egypt, mainly Cairo. The cameras were accompanied by the question “What do you want to tell us about Egypt now?”. Initial point was not the urge to do a research on site, but the aim to investigate in terms of distance and proximity. This investigation followed two lines: How much and what kind of ‘information’, or literally spoken, what picture(s) could one get from the current situation without physically going to Egypt? And secondly: How can one relate to and act accordingly to something that geographically happens in great distance, but nevertheless touches one? According to these lines of investigation future collaborators in Egypt were contacted via mail and online platforms and a network style structure to distribute and collect cameras was established. Following a principle of ‘autodocumentation’, favouring self-presentation over reportage-style documentation about ‘the other’, 27 collaborators took pictures with a single-use camera, each telling their stories of the time being. The cameras were then sent to Switzerland for developing. Negatives were copied and sent back to the photographers. An exhibition was put together to be presented in Zürich, Switzerland and Berlin and Hamburg, Germany. Curatorial core principle for the exhibition was narration. Pictures were arranged in series particularly aiming to suggest stories. Along the pictures from the distributed cameras, press media pictures were hanged, without highlighting them as such. Visitors in the exhibition were equipped with ‘negative audio guides’: Instead of listening to a guided tour through the exhibition visitors were invited to record their interpretations and readings of the pictures, to again tell personal stories themselves. From these recordings dialogues and epic texts were composed by the Swiss author Noo Steffen, later several adaptions were performed by the collective NEUE DRINGLICHKEIT at theatre festivals such as the 100° Festival at Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin, Germany. Transcriptions of the recordings were translated into English and made accessible to the collaborators in Egypt.
Theses and Reflections: About the Image’s Semantic Value:In the exhibition’s framework several issues concerning the possibilities and impossibilities of an image’s semantic value were addressed. Pictures appeared as individual subjective figures and objects of semantic change. This is valid in terms of the producer as well as in terms of the viewer. On the producer’s, that is the photographer’s part, the fact that a question was posed by a foreign artist automatically had an impact on the perspective he or she took. The question “What do you want to tell us about Egypt now?” easily evokes the question: “What does she want me to tell her?”. As well it came clear that intertextuality in terms of both the exhibition’s and the viewers contexts and the arrangement of pictures gravely influenced the interpretations performed. A good example is the picture of an advertisement poster that has often been misread. The poster by a tourist agency of Elgouna, shows a black fist on black background holding a pair of red sunglasses. Above this icon it is written “SUPPORT EGYPT’S TOURISM” in bold letters. Many of the Swiss and German visitors misread “Tourism” for “Terrorism”. How this is is object to speculation, but the assumption that the post 9/11 broadly published “war on terror” hysteria could have had an impact, is not far-fetched. As well a couple of pictures of a pro-Syria demonstration were often interpreted as an anti-Mubarak demonstration, due to the lack of Arabic knowledge or at least the missing ability to distinguish the different Arabian flags. It became clear, that the cultural background, or to term it more accurately with Foucaults term Dispositif influences if not engenders the possibilities of interpretation.
This also appeared in the discussions lead among visitors and in the recordings where a transformation of the perception of images became audible. The image’s status of objectivity was being deconstructed. Images were no longer, in contrary to press media’s claims, treated as “objective” transmitters of information, but as ambivalent objects of change, according to the viewers differing contexts and many other factors. This change of perception went as far as to the conclusion that there is no true image of reality, as much as there is no reality.