Friday, February 12, 2010

Add-Art Show

I have artwork in this Add-Art online show, along with 3 other artists:

What is Add-Art?
"Add-Art is a free FireFox add-on which replaces advertising on websites with curated art images. The art shows are updated every two weeks and feature contemporary artists and curators."

What the curator (my wife, Anu) wrote about my pieces for the show:

Stephan Vladimir Bugaj uses found photography from the mid-20th century as the basis for exploring the construction of identity. Images from the “Good War” (World War II), a conflict that sent the artist’s family into permanent exile, are manipulated to emphasize the deterioration of cultural memory in an age of superficial access to information. The more data we have, the less we know or remember. Reduced to symbols, the people in these images have lost their voice to the forward march of history.

(note: Some of the images are actually from the WWI "War to End All Wars" era, as well.)

I am interested in several things when doing this kind of rephotography and photomanipulation work. One is the idea, horrifying to me, that people will discard family photos and relegate their ancestors to the dustbin of history. Many of the photos I work from are scans of photos that have been sold-off on eBay or at flea markets. The very idea that someone would willingly toss away a portion of their own personal history for a few bucks amazes and appals me. They've not only lost their voice to the forward march of history, but also to indifference or disdain from their own descendants. I like to imagine lives and personalities for my subjects, though I know I'm certainly quite far from the truth.

Some of the images are of more well known people, not just anonymous players relegated to permanent obscurity. These people interest me especially because the general public's lack of interest in history makes them so easily misunderstood. As symbols, they are subject to preconceived notions by all but those history buffs who may recognize them. In the Add-Art show, I've slipped into the mix a couple of these folks, including Kurt Gerstein. Gerstein's photo, with the SS lightning runes on his collar, will lead most people to immediately assume he is a villain in the drama that is human history. But the truth is much more interesting.

Indeed, even the anonymous soldiers in the show are a window into our own preconceptions. The Germans and Russians must certainly, to many Americans, simply be evil. In reality, though, only a small percentage of people are truly evil. We have no idea whom among them were party members, which were brutal killers, and which were just folks who wanted to serve their own tribe and keep their friends alive long enough to share another round of beer (or vodka). So most people look only at the symbols on their uniform and ask a single question: ally or enemy?

But these soldiers were ultimately the same as any other soldiers: they ran the gamut from idealists swept-up by nationalism to conscripts fighting for nothing more than survival to brutal killers consumed by bloodlust, and everything between. What you think of each individual image says a lot about you, but very little about the truth of the people in the images. Their truth has been lost, and replaced by our assumptions. War is "necessarily" dehumanizing, but its divisive effects last long after the war has concluded, clouding our view of the past, and shaping our future.

The entire series is called Processed and Filtered. In our information-saturated, high-tech media age, everything we know has been processed and filtered. First-hand observation and independent corroboration of opinion masquerading as information has become seen as not merely unnecessary, but passe. Knowing the truth of anything is even more difficult than it has ever been -- the exact opposite of the original promise of mass media technology. We know little or nothing of the truth behind these images, only seeing them through the filters I've applied digitally, and that society has applied memetically. They are an homage to notions of truth and knowledge that were never actually realized, but have since become utterly lost even as ideals.