[ISEA2008] Isak Berbic – The Unfriendly Negotiation Of The Aesthetic And The Political



The parameters of documentary practice are difficult to define. I propose to present my pseudo-documentary art pieces at ISEA to engage and question the legitimacy of understanding the document as index, but rather to understand it as fiction. My interest in the theme Reality Jam stems directly from the ideas that drive the conceptual and formal process of my works. As a victim of war, and more importantly: war coverage reporters, a fundamental aspect of my practice is to talk about not whether a document is “truthful” or not, but to point to the index as an aesthetic apparition and not only as a trace mediated by medium. For example with technological advancements such as infrared sight technology in modern military warfare the indexical representation of reality is far beyond actual sight, and therefore enters the realm of pure aesthetics.

Many of early documentary practitioners such as Lewis Hine and Sergei Eisenstein, did not think of themselves as artists but rather activists driven by social concerns. Others, like Walker Evans, went to great lengths to disavow political motivation in favor of a rigorous modernism. This disagreement, in fact an ideological struggle over the stakes of representation, has persisted throughout the history of indexical mediums. Since interpretation is constructed through the looking-glass of ideology, our readings of culture are subject to the culture of the historical present. Following this logic medium is cultural.

My argument is that mythology and mystified delivery of information universalizes the act of interpreting, lifting it above history and context. My point is that myth works to charm the masses and it, being intrinsically tied to folklore, appears to us as a hologram of present/past, simultaneously. Folklore contains traceable root from the perverse mythological present to its banal past and it hides well the artifice of national collective memory that poses as meaningful history.

The use of indexical medium as a carefully constructed critique of it’s limits suggests an intervention in the politics and semiotics of representation. By working with these complications, one can contest the prevailing dichotomy between truth and fiction, by advocating that it is not a simple choice between truth or fiction anymore – rather a choice of formulating certain strategies of lies and fictions to reach relative truths. The old myth that indexical mediums tell the truth has been replaced by the new myth that they lie.

I will discuss these issues by reading text, showing my art works, which include video works, photography and performance documentation.

Isak Berbic Biography

Full text (PDF)