Fotograf Magazine

Kamera skura

the magic and sorcery of kamera skura

The Ostrava artistic group Kamera Skura presents itself chiefly as an art legend. Although the creation of its self image is not its only activity, it is still precisely this kind of effort that represents one of the group’s key strategies. The work of Kamera Skura links artistic commentary on contemporary social discourse (in its various strata) with a pseudo-illusionist  production,  conditioned  by  the  magical  nature  of  the  group’s emblematic technology – the camera obscura. The group’s third field of activity is a systematic construction of their image in the media. How do these three heterogeneous  elements merge together? What is the main objective of the group?

Kamera Skura’s chief activity is performance – i.e., entering the public space. Performance here in actuality means a manner of dealing with     certain super-individual space; the examination is not directed towards the subject, but rather into the sphere of interpersonal social relationships. We are not really dealing with problems concerning art versus non-art, as it might appear, thanks to the fact that the group has created its Duchampian suitcase containing documentation of the group’s productions. Kamera Skura is for the most part a research group operating in the    field of social relations and technology. As technology in its own right we may also consider the art of creating an illusion, illusionism – especially during its tempestuous evolution during the 19th century, triggered by the application of the most recent discoveries of optics, chemistry or physiology, with the aim to perfect visual tricks. This means that the research of Kamera Skura covers the areas of art, technology and society.    From this point of view the disparateness of their interests no longer appears so essential, since these interests are linked in a complex inquiry     into the contemporary state of   affairs.

The members of Kamera Skura play certain roles. We may of course speak also of the irony of this concept; the ultimate resonance of their performances is nevertheless generally very meaningful, as a very precise and direct commentary. Kamera Skura’s members impersonate inventors, magicians, artists, show-business figures… The principle of their game is carried in the spirit of imitation, impersonation, mimesis. However, it is an imperfect imitation, non-illusive, and possibly even non-functional (the magic gimmicks are not mysterious but transparent, and so on). Kamera Skura imperfectly reflects phenomena from contemporary social reality, turning them upside down, unfocusing them. This imperfection and lack of skill refers to non-art. Non-art here nevertheless does not play the role of providing commentary on questions of art (in the Duchamp sense), but on questions concerning society and the media. Kamera Skura replays themes from this area without using any persuasive virtuality. The mimesis and gimmicks cannot take anyone in. The viewer does not identify with the story; rather, he or she retains their distance throughout. Amateurish acting, bizarre impersonation is parody. Is Kamera Skura supposed to entertain? Yes,  it is a comic group,        a cooperative of clowns. However, these are unsentimental clowns. Sentimentality means the incorporation of subjective experience into the field of play. Kamera Skura does not act expressively, with romantic introspection – instead it follows the outward character of objects much in the way of the optical device that has become the group’s trademark symbol. Kamera Skura applies an imprecise visual transfer, it operates with visual signs and symbols, especially with the simplest ones, which circulate in our quotidian life. That is why the viewers can so easily understand them, or rather can so easily recognize them. The shortcut form of orientation within the mass media landscape can hardly be termed understanding, and it is precisely this seeming transparency that Kamera Skura refers to via subtle semantic shifts: it obscures the transparency of he logo while simultaneously transforming it into the object of the game.



Kamera Skura builds its media identity by use of advertising presentation. It is as though the group had no identity and therefore had to create  it. However, we are not speaking about an identity merely within the framework of artistic discourse, but of an image in general. The main issue is that of entering the sphere of public awareness. At the same time, it remains unclear what exactly Kamera Skura is, and into what area of social praxis it can be pigeon-holed. Kamera Skura comments on a certain social stereotype:  the contemporary  assumption  that  it is necessary  to create,  to  present oneself and put forth one’s face. The accessories in this game are certain types of costumes, attributes, behavioral patterns. Society is divided    into those individuals active in their private sphere, in the sphere of social or professional groups, and in the public, media sphere. Kamera Skura are   trying to assert themselves in the last area. There is an interesting billboard where the group poses without employing any attributes, thus throwing    light onto the essence of the media image. It is unimportant who or what or why this is being presented; the important thing is the act of presentation  per se. Figures in the dynamic perspective of foreshortening appear in indeterminate space. This dynamic attack on the viewer suggests that we are dealing with an active, aggressive self-promotion into public awareness. The Kamera Skura brand thus becomes a term within public vocabulary.


The Myth

Once existence has been secured in this way, the group’s identity can be delineated by a concrete program. Kamera Skura has decided to present itself within the framework of the myth of the   artist.

The artist represents a certain accepted social role with which certain expectations are connected. Intuitive, emotional behavior is expected, even demanded of him or her. In one cycle of photographs documenting the collective painting of a nude, Kamera Skura performs in this context. Artistry, based on the principle of inspiration, is exaggerated in order to be recognized as a specific, essential social  activity.

Artistry is not however the sole identity of the group; it represents merely one of its variations. Among other possibilities are, for instance: a rock band, inventors, variety show illusionists, filmmakers, and so on. Kamera Skura alternates identities, tries on self-conceptions, changes them. What is common is the constant role of that of discoverers, ‘pioneers’, creators. Kamera Skura is trying to get to the foundations of how certain strata of social practice function, simplifying them to basic principles and imitating them using minimal means.

Members  of  the  group  obviously  derive  great  delight   from discovering and understanding certain phenomena. They comprehend them, nevertheless, via their outward aspect – they do not read the user’s manual (the computer, for instance, is to them an interesting composition of boxes and cords that can ideally be imitated by using potatoes, and so on).



These discovered and comprehended phenomena of the external world need to be simulated, appropriated. Kamera Skura thus appropriates the media environment, under whose constant pressure the individual finds him or herself, and in which therefore he or she is obliged to find their  own way.  The fact that Kamera Skura imitates and parodies certain phenomena signifies that it is trying to orient itself in the novel environment of mass culture, that it is trying to understand this area. If we are able to imitate something, it becomes in a way less alien and threatening. If I simulate some disease, I begin to understand it in some way,  and it ceases to be a night mare for me. Comprehension, reflection also forms  the basis of psychoanalysis. In the activities of Kamera Skura we encounter rather a kind of socio-analysis, an analysis of forms of contemporary   social and media practice that cease to scare us as we begin to understand their origins, even if we remain outside observers. For instance, the  masks representing monsters from the cycle of photographs entitled ‘Stars of the Silver Screen’ simulate complex cinema special effects using very limited means, and nevertheless the basic principle of the mock-up is recognized. Recognition and parody of media images with the help of masks appears increasingly often in the work of Kamera Skura.

Kamera Skura offers us, with a light tone, the possibility of orientation within the media sphere, a chance to penetrate ‘behind the scenes’ to look through the functional mechanisms of the media illusion. The group’s research into this layer of social reality is enthusiastically relentless and systematic. Let us succumb to the non-illusive illusion it plays before us.

Václav Hájek