smoke and mirrors

an exhibition marking 30th anniversary of the foundation of Department of Photography and New Media at Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava

17 November – 13 December 2020
Galéria MEDIUM
Bratislava, Slovakia

curatorial team:
Ema Hesterová, Barbora Komárová, Ľuboš Kotlár, Oksana Hoshko, Miroslava Urbanová
Eva Benková, Leontína Berková, Tomáš Agát Błonski, Petra Cepková, Iva Durkáčová, Martin Frič, Romana Halgošová, Anna Horčinová, Peter Huba, Dominika Jackuliaková, Jakub Jančo, Andrea Juneková, Ján Kekeli, Zuzana Kmeťová, Robo Kočan, Deana Kolenčíková, Ľuboš Kotlár, Dominika Ličková, Maija Laurinen, Matej Longauer, Lenka Lindák Lukačovičová, Paula Malinowska, Kvet Nguyen, Ingrid Patočková, Silvia Saparová, Magda Stanová, Ján Šipöcz, Filip Vančo
exhibition architecture and visual identity:
Lucia Gandelová, Adriana Mišková, Doris Sisková, Jakub Tóth

The exhibition Smoke and Mirrors presented on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Department of Photography and New Media of the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava is a non-chronological curatorial selection of works by graduates and students of the department throughout the entirety of its thirty years of operation. At the same time, it is a preparation for a deeper analysis of the view of photography in connection with the functioning of the department, which gradually profiled from (primarily) applied photography towards expanding the field of photography, to work with the photographic medium in the context of contemporary art.

The main criterion for selecting the individual works represented at the Smoke and Mirrors exhibition was their continuing or rediscovered relevance visually and in terms of content, without taking into account the technological background associated with the creation of the work. The trajectory from analog to digital (and back again) is neither linear nor definitive, but rather a kind of imaginary curve describing the needs and preferences of individual authors, often without a direct link to the prevailing trends in topics, techniques or genres of individual generations of students. The exhibition does not contain complete series and original installations, most of the works are presented in the form of partial outputs. This fragmentation, the breaking up of already existing narratives, together with the disruption of initially closed units of meaning, have the task of revealing other possible layers of meaning and the intersection of the represented images. They do so not only through their mutual confrontation, but also through the skeleton and folds of the exhibition architecture which frames the works anew without efforts of glorifying history that seek to anchor the individual realizations in time.The leitmotif of the selected works is research in various areas of identity/identities - in terms of searching, losing and finding oneself in the fleeting moments of deep awareness in oneself, and in places and people that we know and hold dear.

As the title of the exhibition Smoke and Mirrors suggests - taken from the English idiom for describing delusion, (artistic) obfuscation of reality - reality perceived by the senses is not only the subject of faithful photographic documentation, but also an apparent platform for its bending, staging and co-creation. It is precisely the instability and the social conditioning of identity that repeatedly appear in the works of students of photography that were created during their time at the department - whether in terms of personal experience of everyday reality or in its more objectifying forms referring to societal discussions about the body, gender, cultural and regional awareness and their representation. An interesting moment are the opposition of projects, which use similar strategies, such as exposed corporeality, banality of established genres or repetitive fragmentation of appropriated images, but in fundamentally different contexts. Many of them carry elements of self-reflection or criticism of the medium of photography as such, which has already gone through several revolutions over the period of the department's operation.

The medium of photography is problematic in its essence - from its very beginning it has been connected with the question of the truthfulness of the representation, the credibility of the photographic image, its manipulation and the potential bending of facts. Photographs created by the daguerreotype technique were, paradoxically, in the past called "mirrors with a memory", and the mirror is still a common part of photographic equipment today. It is precisely the moment of mirroring that occurs in photographic work on several levels - to what extent can photography objectively reflect reality, how much of it is subject to the indisputable author's intention or the will to exceed the limits of the camera? After all, as Magda Stanová asks with a hint of seeming banality in the exhibition series In the Shadow of Photography, why are photos angular if the lens is round?

Ľuboš Kotlár, Miroslava Urbanová

*photo by Paula Malinowska