To Imagine, Jon Uriarte
Although it may seem impossible, imagining other scenarios is essential in a crisis. We live in a world that only allows us to make catastrophic or utopian predictions, without time to develop a critical imagination so that we can distinguish between what is happening, how we understand it and the impact we want to make of it. The 16th edition of Getxophoto aims to recover time and space, and carry out this much-needed exercise.
Images play a fundamental role in this task, since they are part of the knowledge and practice capable of creating unlikely connections through imagination. As John Hilliard’s Off Screen series suggests, photography allows us to approach events from different points of view beyond the literal. Despite being one of the fundamental tools of modernity for classifying the world through reason, its temporal and interpretive versatility makes it an ideal medium too for questioning reason. Projects such as Hayal & Hakikat by Cemre Ye il Gönenli or Erased by Paulo Simão interrogate the use made from positions of power of historical photography as evidence or documentation, appropriating their strategies to diversify those readings and dispute their objectives. Likewise, Come Before Winter by Ventura Profana and Igor Furtado also explores subversive tactics against power, but focusing on the church as an institution that uses faith to tame the imagination in pursuit of an absolute truth. That same search has caused pain to all those people who do not fit the norms that its totalitarian vision imposes, as reflected by Haiek danak sorginak (All of Them Witches) of Bego Antón, and even today it hides or conditions the identity of millions of women who are represented by projects such as Mercaderas (Market Women) by Ainhoa Resano or Madre (Mother) by Marisol Mendez.
However, if imagination aspires to be critical, it cannot be satisfied with avoiding those forms of power, but must push back the boundaries of what is possible. Since when we look beyond those limits we can establish a relationship with what is unknown, with what feels strange. The idea of the monster, for example, which incorporates both the familiar and the foreign, is closely linked to the imagination, as it takes a paradox and appropriates it. The projects The Zizi Show by Jake Elwes and Neural Zoo by Sofia Crespo use the latest visual creation tools to explore this hybrid space of possibilities, in relation to both the human and other living beings. Both works explore the capacity we have to face and relate to the unusual and to situate ourselves between different identities and spaces. It is exactly that capacity that describes the power of the critical imagination.
It is not surprising that, as Gloria Oyarzabal’s Usus Fructus Abusus (La blanche et la noire) and Juan Covelli’s Tesoro especulativo (Speculative Treasure) point out, Western museums stand out precisely for their inability to develop that imagination. Both works show how colonial plunder was part of the conception of many cultural institutions, based on white supremacy, which normalizes a relationship of exploitation towards the other. However, it is not only bodies that have been subjected to the regime of order and classification, as ecosystems and the planet itself have also been viewed through this extractive prism by science and the food industry. When I Image the Earth, I Imagine Another and Tomàquets (Tomatoes), by open-weather and Judit Bou respectively, put forward fragmented and multiperspective representations as a response. The former focuses on the planet, while the latter examines the cultivation of one of its countless fruits, the tomatoes. Their cartographies of images reject the decontextualized, isolated photography that occupies the visual imaginary of photographic history, as also proposed by the duo Cortis and Sonderegger with their Icons series. Reconstructing the most recognizable images of Western iconography in a studio, their meticulous work invites us to reflect on the way in which the world has been explained. In times when intricate situations turn into reductionist, catastrophic predictions, pointing out the complexities that these icons hide can be of great help. It is an exercise that offers tools to address and unravel overwhelming situations from emancipated positions, an apprenticeship that opens the door to being able to distinguish between the effect that the collapse of a system has on its ecosystems and social relations, and the effect that such a collapse has on the imagination.
Images allow us to represent ideas, past situations, intuitions or fantasies in the mind. They are the basis of the imagination and therefore it is essential to ask how they operate in order to exercise it freely. Images have a contradictory relationship with today’s concept of time, since they feed the sensation of a constant state of alarm but, at the same time, allow the creation of other temporal dimensions of resistance. Archivo Juárez by Alejandro ‘Luperca’ Morales, for example, appropriated permanently accessible global representation and corporate materials to overcome the barriers of the pandemic emergency when he wanted to visit his hometown. However, Las flores mueren dos veces (Flowers die twice) by Cristóbal Ascencio uses the ability of images to collapse past and present time in order to keep a truncated relationship alive and thus be able to interpret its unknowns. Images can help us create our own time, free from the historical, productive and dystopian impositions of the collapse of future time.
This strange moment enables us to take a critical look at various different photographic devices and the images they generate, way beyond their utilitarian conception. As Felix Schöppner’s Cognition series proposes, they can become tools that help us create images of theories, hypotheses and phenomena that we are capable of discerning, but not visualizing. Avoiding the logic of creativity and disruption that requires the constant production of content devoid of ideas can give way to other possible scenarios. The approach proposed by Clare Strand with All That Hoopla is a great example in which luck and chance replace the laws of the marketplace and the conservative mentality that predominates in contemporary photography. It is a field that largely ignores the incessant appearance of new technologies that have radically transformed the medium in recent years. Capitalist investors and computer scientists are now the ones who develop new image-producing devices and systems, unaware of their fundamental problems and ways of doing, which continue to spread, as Marco de Mutiis’s Photographies without Photographer demonstrates. Changing our point of view is especially important in the case of newer technologies, since it allows us to learn to read between the lines of code. The DCT Encryption Station projects by Rosa Menkman and Ted Davis and Public Access by David Horvitz open up these frameworks for reflection on the impact of algorithmic digitization in areas such as socialization, intimacy or public opinion.
Critical imagination is the tool that allows us to think of a future beyond a visible and apparently inevitable end. It is what helps us discover that other possible worlds already exist in the ruins of capitalism, where, as Mushrooms from the Forest by Takashi Homma recounts, beings as strange and ignored by reason as mushrooms, are capable of imagining other possible scenarios.
GARCÉS, MARINA. Imaginación crítica. En: Garcés, Marina (coord.) «Ecología de la imaginación». Artnodes, no. 29. UOC. 2022
LOWENHAUPT TSING, ANNA. The Mushroom at the End of The World, Princeton University press. 2015
Born in Hondarribia in 1980, he studied photography at the Institut d’Estudis Fotogràfics de Catalunya and the International Center of Photography of New York. He also holds a Master in Projects and Artistic Theories by PhotoEspaña and the European University of Madrid. His work has been exhibited in collective and individual exhibitions at different galleries and centers such as La Casa Encendida in Madrid, Koldo Mitxelena in Donostia, Studio 304 of New York, HBC center in Berlin and Sala d’Art Jove in Barcelona. He is also the founder of Widephoto, an independent platform dedicated to curating activities about contemporary photography. He conceptualized and coordinated DONE for three years, a project about reflection and visual creation promoted by Foto Colectania. Uriarte is currently living in London, where he works as digital curator of The Photographers’ Gallery.