Paradox of Plenty. Social Life in Contemporary Photography from South Africa and Romania

Cristian Nae, Judy Peter
Fri, November 25, 2016 to Fri, January 20, 2017

The exhibition entitled "Paradox of Plenty" focuses on the artistic practice of two photographers significant by interest in the policies of memory - Jeannette Unite and Iosif Kiraly. Both artistic discourses, coming from extremly different countries, meet in the representation of a recent history of violence, focusing also on the social precarity. Together, the exhibited images give voice to the paradox constitutive to global capitalism: any accumulation of capital requires extensive processes of dispossession and destabilization, that result in generalization of precariousness.

The work of Jeannette Unite, "Paradox of Plenty: Between the Stratum of Trauma and Violence", which gives the title of the exhibition, is part of a wider range of works devoted to the paradoxes discernible in the constitution the new African united nation, that combines graphic intervention with photographic representation. Mineral colors used in making these images are extracted directly from mines and places with a specific historical heritage, the resulting images thus encapsulating inherently narratives about modernity, neo-colonial acquisition, the relationship between democracy and autocracy.

According the artist, these minerals used in the construction of certain monumental images that seem to celebrate the industrial sublime, express both human activities and desires, and narrates how the earth is measured, legally regulated, assigned, mapped and divided. Land and territory support hierarchy of the labor. Who is on top and who is bottom becomes obvious in a Eco sequence which finds echoes in social stratification. Mining is here used as a metonomie for racism and conspiracy at work. The image above depicts a mask from a performance accomplished after the artist’s home was robbed, while the representation at the bottom of the work presents an image of archive of the miners who are in a underground gold mine.

In contrast, in the "Indirect" series started in the 90s, Iosif Kiraly uses expansion through further processing of a captured photographic moment in order to document a social phenomenon specific to transition. This was due, on one hand, to the absence of a responsible governance of public space, which was intensely deregulated immediately after 1990, and, on the other hand, to extensive processes of demolition and forced reconstruction to which Bucharest was subjected particularly in decades seven and eight of the last century. Images with a strong emotional impact, made using flash during night time, reconstructs the experience of anxiety and insecurity which dominated the daily life of those years. The explicit violence of these photos, which capture attacks of stray dogs organized in packs, contrast with diurnal benign images of these domesticated animals who sleep quietly along streets, passing almost unnoticed.

What is striking for the viewer, forced to recall a common experience, contemporary until not long ago, is the contrast between the everyday life diurnal and the nocturnal regime that thus marks  multiple and unstable positioning of the Romanian society, trapped between East and West, between the allegedly "civilizing" image displayed by savage capitalism of those years and the violence that it was based upon and tried to withhold. Equally contradictory is the relationship between rural life that the presence of these stray dogs evoked and the process of forced urbanization corresponding to unfinished modernization. The photographic series recreated during this exhibition destabilize the territorial distribution of the city, marking thus its local limits and redrawing the invisible borders between rich and poor.