Anna Baumgart at 4th Ars Baltica Triennial of Photographic Art
In Poland, Anna Baumgart is associated ?rst and foremost with the video works in which she subjects the language of the media and pop-culture to analysis and criticism (usually from a feminist standpoint); contents, patterns, stereotypes, and behavior models are also voiced via these discourses. Baumgart uses subversive strategies of ?resistance to postmodernism,? a key role of which is the seizure of the languages belonging to the dominant discourses, which are thus registered in a way more ?powerful? than the art of cultural narrative such as documentary ?lm or cinema.
Baumgart has also recently employed her experience in the area of analysis and critical discourse, gained from the ?eld of video, on projects of a sculptural nature, such asWeronika AP or Natascha. These artworks depict two realistic female ?gures; in reality, however, these three-dimensional works present not human ?gures but photographic media images. The sculpture Weronika APwas inspired by agency photographs of an injured woman, one of the victims of the terrorist attacks on the London underground in 2005. Mask-like, the damaged woman?s face is covered by dressings and bandages. The photo traveled around the world and became a media icon bearing the Associated Press copyright: the covered face of the injured woman became the ?face? or logotype of the explosions in London.
The title of Baumgart?s work is an allusion to the evangelical ?gure of St.Veronica. The London photograph is a contemporary vera eikon, or true image. Baumgart subjects that iconic image to detailed experiments that rely on overturning the process of reality?s transformation into a persuasive picture. The artist rematerializes the injured woman?s image in the form of a three-dimensional ?gure. The front of the sculpture, or the side depicting the photograph, is polychromatic. We see clothes, the mask of bandages, and details that are well known from the agency photograph. From behind, however, the ?gure is unpainted; we are looking at fresh white material. It is the dark side of the moon. Baumgart?s paradoxical gesture of presenting the unpresented deconstructs the illusion of reality built up by the media?s message. The press photograph turns out to be not a representation of reality but its mask, which cannot be stripped away, for behind it is merely a void.
Baumgart uses a similar strategy in the work Natascha, a sculpture executed on the basis of a press photograph of Natascha Kampusch. In the photo we see two people leading a ?gure, the face and greater part of whose body are covered by a blanket over the head, concealed from the inquisitiveness of paparazzi photographers and from us, the consumers of sensational news. That frustrating photograph, whose subject remains hidden from our curious eyes, is as unclear as Natascha Kampusch?s story itself: As a little girl the Austrian disappeared, only to return home unexpectedly after eight years. Natascha had been kidnapped by a pedophile who held her captive in the cellar of his house for eight years. At the end of 2006, she succeeded in escaping; the kidnapper committed suicide before the police managed to capture him. Natascha Kampusch became an object of enormous media interest. Nevertheless, her statements have thrown public opinion into confusion. The long-time captive?s complex emotional stance towards her kidnapper does not lend itself to being reduced to a simple victim-perpetrator relationship. Here, the so-called Stockholm syndrome can only partially serve as an explanation. In this context, the photo in which Kampusch hides her face under a blanket becomes a kind of metaphor of that which remains unpresented in the scope of presentation. This metaphor acquires a universal dimension in Baumgart?s work.
By executing the media picture as a three-dimensional ?gure, the artist subjects it to her own genre of reality check. As is the case with Weronika AP, this check reveals the paradoxical nature of the media?s unremitting alteration of the world in a stream of pictures. Media images tempt us with their promise of revealing the world, but in reality, they conceal it even more impenetrably.