Fotograf Magazine

A Photographic Exhibition, but Rather One of Paintings…

Petr Vaňous‘ interview with Martin Gerboc

The Prague reprisal of the Bratislava exhibition, Punctum / Barthes Diary (photographs and films) offers yet another idea on how to view photography from a different angle and in a differently organised context. Its curator, Slovak painter Martin Gerboc (1971), chose the artist-painters, who in the relatively small space of the 1st Floor Gallery (Galerie 1. patro) would present works otherwise than we would have expected. He rid them of their main final medium (the image) and left them to present only that which precedes finality. Photographs, photo sketches, notes, films and projections received, in the context of the exhibition concept, a borrowed orginality that most of the works had not previously counted on (the exception being the music video featuring motifs of L. Typlt’s images). Barthes‘ Punctum was chosen as an aiding theoretical construct so that the curator could carry out a bold move and accompany the photographic pre-images with image assumptions without the presence of the final works. Indeed this initiation, but not completion, can be interpreted as the moment of important image transformation, present here in its rawest state and which oftentimes, thanks to the technique used, escapes the aesthetic canons of this or that artist. The exhibition can also be perceived as an attempt to enliven and rehabilitate the stiffening interpretative term (punctum) and as an effort for its new usages and practical integration. This interview builds on the theme of Fotograf, Issue 16 – Photography and Painting, which also by the way presented one of the artists represented here, Daniel Pitín.


As a painter why did you decide to put together this exhibtion? What was your ambition as a curator?

I’ve always been preoccupied by the thought of exhibiting that which is so-called “unexhibitable” for a painter, i.e. a certain collection of visuals that one can use as background, as a certain image sub-menu that an artist further elaborates, that he draws from, that he makes us of, etc. I think that when putting together an exhibition of this sort an artist, who isn’t primarily a curator, can allow himself to go beyond the term “fine art” and explore things that are possibly secondary for the viewer, but which for them do not represent the artist’s main menu that they connect with completely different parts of the work. So you can classify the Punctum exhibition as a visual “introduction” to the problem that each of the exhibitors later address in their own home medium through their home techniques.


Could you explain your application of Barthes term, punctum, in the concept for this exhibition project?

Barthes‘ term, punctum, generally indicates a certain obsession with one detail, a fact, or a specific, physical, visual “point.” However, in the environment of exhibited works this punctum can on the contrary serve as a common connotation for a different medium, presented in photographs “only” as a certain, even if equal “pre-image.” Something like a basic interpretative canvas, as a statement or starting point for a subjective comparison of these works with the fact that photographs – regardless of whether you have an independent project or research – serve here repeatedly as a phenomenological summary of facts, events and objects, which for these painters are important from the painting aspect as well, but which repeatedly existed earlier in the realm of preparations, inspirations, fascination, etc. Thus from the term, punctum, we arrive on another plane of coding one’s creative speech; i.e. to that which we can label – once again using Barthes – studies.


Why, as you write, is the Punctum exhibition not a photographic exhibition?

It is really impossible to comprehend the Punctum exhibition as a photographic one; it is rather an exhibition of the possibilities of reading in multiple directions: in relatively static territories of presented photographs, manipulated photographs, photo-collages, films, etc. a metaphysical conflict full of hazards, unstable claims and relatively indefensible viewpoints takes place. For the exhibiting artists a new question is put forward: the photographer’s viewpoint vs. that of the painter – which one of these principles is able to more clearly confirm all definitives that they had earlier constructed in their home territory? This conflict is, of course, fated to be a never-ending process…. No matter how we fight against the subsequent assumption, this exhibition is not ultimately one of photographs, but rather paintings. 


In Jiří Petrbok’s photographs we see environment as a place where elements, things and figures meet. It is a sort of configuration, from which an image could (perhaps) develop. In Josef Bolf’s (work) these are specific spaces that will host a story in the image. In your photographs they remain separated parts of a whole, which you later bring together in a collage – environment and figures. Are these almost imperceptible differences between individual artistic approaches important for your curatorial thesis? If so, in what sense? From photo to image, or the other way around, from image to deduction and back?

Simultaneous work with photographs and painting demonstrates a possible parallel existence of many internal worlds expressing similar thoughts. Here certain photographs that phenomenology (according to Barthes) would call “random objects” are – again according to Roland Barthes – merely “analogies that convey… their identity, not their truth.” This is tied soley to the character of their authors, who are not able, thank god, to reduce their work to a disembodied Self stripped of epics, narrations and all socio-relationships with which these “subjects” are born. Such an exhibition is thus one of parallel paths of thought, of seeking possibilities outside of one’s used and known territory, and finally of finding a different state of Speech and story-telling. In fact this minimum, disunified differentiation in Speech and in the means of story-telling by individual artists follows; in a much clearer position, they express themselves also in works that are (stated with a certain dose of heretical satisfaction) of greater priority, more important, more decisive than just any disheveled chaos that we carry in our heads as an initial thought or in our backpacks as secondary notes, memoirs and records…. But the question, whether the artistic path sets a route from photography to image or the opposite, from image to photography, is debatable. In each case both the first and the second process are defined only by that which we carry in our thoughts, what we believe, or what we have decided to dispute. Both paths are just the subsequent appreciation of that, which we ourselves voluntarily select from that visual sub-menu that we have had in our heads for a long time. The fact remains, however, that the reality that photographs speak of is the reality of the past; de facto the reality of extinction, of death. It is less achieveable; it is thus sooner forgotten than the reality of painting, which one can characterize by the fact that it remains. 


If photography is near death, then what is the image associated with and why?

It seems to me that photography (of course under the assumption that we accept that photography is a medium that “only” records something that is no longer what it was, something that is “dead”) functions mainly in the position of references; that – contrary to the image (i.e. to painting) – from a certain moment it is no longer able to thoroughly fulfil the term, representation. The image, which we generally understand as a lively visual environment in which we move, is on the contrary capable of such representation. It is a representation of itself. It is a living, continuously developing mechanism. It is thus clear that based on such claims one can say that the reality of the Image is de facto that of never-ending visuals, of which photography is just one of few ensembles/aggregates. 

At a certain moment a subjective reduction functions here: the viewer follows the photograph only at the moment when the plot is excluded from it: it balances between the terms “universal” and “subjective” and thus it paradoxically deprives photography of a certain hedonistic aspect of its own autonomy, which does not submit to any classifications and sorting outside the sole fact of its existence. The viewer mostly reduces the photography to a mere record. To a static moment with documentary value. But photography cannot be just a frame, a defined territory, that our conscience refers to only as a shelter, to a preserved realm (through its form) and to a static thought (through its content). A body cannot even enter such an understanding, nor leave it. This is extremely uninteresting.

Each of these media, both photography and Image (i.e. painting) have what one can call, under certain circumstances, the living term “assumption”, i.e. the possibility of a certain co-existence, the possibility to not “perceive” photography, but to “live in it”, not to act as the definitive of one finished interpretation, but to be its dynamic subject (not the photographed subject, but the subject in the plot currently taking place).


Could you explain the “living term, assumption” for photography created by a painter?

Whereas on one hand photography repeatedly codifies itself as exact evidence, at the same time it becomes a tool of a certain mystical assertion that presents itself to be true (even if the terms “reality” and “truth” are today relativised by hundreds of subsequent interventions). Photography thus has two faces: it is able to be both discrete and proclamatory, it can blur its meaning and push us off to a land of potential interpretations, and even provoke with its clear factualness; the sum of its precisely presented facts. Photography (which in the framework of phenomenology is potentially called “just” capturing objects and events, or only an object itself) moves from such a general territory with the specificity of structure and individuality having not only its own story, but also ultimately its own identity, or – more generally, is connected to other contexts – even an all-inclusive myth or at least a verifying part of any sort of sub-story. From the static term, “definitive” photography, created by the painter, we arrive at the living term “assumption” (without my having to underestimate or boast about any of these principles).


In this case is photography actually an integral part of the finished painting, or is it just a diary entry that must as a rule slip under the table? Or is it your attempt to “travel to the depths of the image”, an attempt at a sort of return to the bottom layers of the image inspiration, an expression of archaeological adventure when finding an until now hidden “situation in the field”?

It’s necessary to understand the exhibited photographs and films by painters as evidence of a certain process, which is the only one on the amorphous path to painting, which is not subject to any exact definition, that can render itself visible through precisely definable structure and terms. Thus this exhibition of photography, photo-collages and films is not an exhibition of photographs, photo-collages and films, but one of parallel paths for defending one’s own work and seeking possibilities outside one’s tried and tested territory. Ultimately you arrive at a different state of Speech and story-telling, still a related home medium, in which the exhibiting painter moves, but which is still defined by a different structure and a different dynamic. 

For a painter, who doesn’t understand photography as a definitive, it becomes a land not of experiments (Oh, too aesthetic!), nor concepts (Horror! – too intellectual!), but one that precedes or, to the contrary, one that potentially continues to suppress colours from tubes, strokes of the brush and ultimately “the story” that they have before them on the canvas. It is thus the verification of stories and the pragmatics of relationships, beyond photographic aesthetics and the photographic perspective. In this sense photography, for the painter, is closer to theatre than to its own static predetermination to act as “evidence.” It is thus rather a certain diary entry, an inverse archaeology, a certain visual sub-menu, about which I’ve already spoken.