Published in Przekrój magazine in 2003, this work is derived from the famous photographic series Positives, in which Zbigniew Libera restaged well-known press photos but altered their message.
If one compares the works from the Positives series with their 'prototypes', there are many similarities in framing, composition and the characteristic poses of the featured subjects. To quote the artist, these symbolic appropriations were an 'attempt at playing with trauma'. Libera focused attention on how images function in the media and how they are perceived. 'We are always dealing with memorised objects, not the objects themselves', he added. His new works challenged the status of those original pictures which preserved the past in traumatic freeze-frames.
In the Positives series, Libera reversed the meaning of the original photographs in order to create their antithesis. Iconic works lodged in the collective memory were deconstructed and opened up. To me, this was not merely a way of revealing how easily photography could be manipulated, but a gesture indicating the role images play in forming an idea of war or a vision of history. Libera highlighted ways in which wars affect the senses, and demonstrated how images can be powerful weapons.
Whereas the Positives were based on photographs shot years earlier, Bush’s Dream referred to a current event – the Second Gulf War, which began in 2003. I have selected this work for its reference to modern battlefield narratives. Instead of pictures taken by photographers and chosen by newspaper photo-editors, the source material from that war was dominated by transmissions from quasi-objective cameras, night-vision goggles and satellites. Collectively, they provided a non-stop television show that prevented us from noticing the war victims as clearly as in (for example) Nick Ut’s photos from Vietnam a few decades before. Instead, we saw fuzzy landscapes, photos from the trenches, shell fire, and the international contingent sent in to stabilise the situation on the streets. The victims only appeared later – in photographs from Abu Ghraib prison, for example – yet they were devoid of identity, often with their faces covered. Were these procedures intended to keep the killings and torture out of the Western public eye?
In Bush’s Dream, Libera portrayed a woman joyfully greeting a coalition soldier. This ironic work was the artist’s allusion to cinematic representations of the triumph of good over evil, using a kitsch aesthetic to accentuate the inconsistency between reality and the dream ascribed to the American president in the title.
Originally written in Polish, translated by MB, Nov 2018
This text is part of the project Metaphors of Independence: Poland In 100 Photos.
To coincide with the centenary of Poland regaining its independence, we have created a selection of photographs that allow us to understand both yesterday and today. A hundred photographs but so much more. Find out more.