Nicolas Grospierre’s book is based on the impossible premise that it could contain proof of its own inception and destruction. 'Its very destruction (…) forms the basis of its own existence', writes the author in his description.
This project should be treated as a whole – the documented accompanying activities are just as important as the book itself and the photographs it contains. Grospierre plays a game with his audience in which photography’s function as a source of history, truth and beginnings is at stake.
The artist creates a sequence of images depicting various evidence of the titular book’s existence. In the photographs, we see a fireplace containing the ashes of the Phoenix from the title – the connection between the various shots and the final texts and photographs that are sent off to the bookbinder’s. Can photographing a fireplace actually represent the ashes of the Phoenix? This question only sprang to mind while looking at the first photograph in the series, but each successive picture confirmed my belief that it can. In Grospierre’s work, the logic is reversed: since there are references, there must have been a source. If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.
Another photograph from the project shows Phoenix actually on display, surrounded by other books. Primus inter pares – first among equals. Why first? Not only has it risen from the ashes, it has also witnessed its own demise.
Other documentary photographs show the author driving a car, walking onto a beach, building a bonfire and placing the book onto it. Once more, the Phoenix returns to ash and disappears. The final photograph in the series turns out to be the same as the first.
In this work, Grospierre questions our faith in images and historical sources. He shows us how easily photographs can be used as evidence, imprints or souvenirs of times past, and how simply one can fall under their spell, swayed by the immediacy of their message. How easy it is to believe in proof that relies on dubious sources. Photography may only be considered a historical testimony when its apparent clarity or transparency is placed in a cultural context.
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.