With its hard cover with an elastic band to seal, inside an expandable pocket and sewn pages for notes, always right at the fingertips, Magda Buczek’s photobook, designed together with Emilia Obrzut, is a visual notebook from a journey, resembling the iconic Moleskine notebooks in form. The reader can choose to either read in linear order, or look at several sequences at once, as the pages are joined in such a way as to resemble a commercial brochure or a guidebook folded like an accordion.
The photographs create the main narration. Their configuration is not – as it could appear – an effect of improvisation, but a result of using an algorithm transferred from the computer screen right onto paper. The change of medium – from a digital to a traditional one – brings with it a certain discomfort and limitation. The photographic blog of the author is ordered vertically, whereas the pages of the book are turned horizontally. This is why some of the images are cut, as if they were unfinished, ephemeral – they undergo de(con)struction. A similar effect of a fissure, a breach, is achieved during a display of images in an art gallery.
However, not all the photographs in Random Selection are subordinate to mathematical rules. Some of them were printed separately on photographic paper or foils that can overlay the prints like Instagram filters. The viewer can, or perhaps even should, tamper with the work, remould its inner relations, create his or her own versions of the story. This consent to intervention is congruent with Umberto Eco’s concept of the open text that allows for a more free (though not arbitrary) interpretation by employing the movability of the work’s elements. The author is thus inviting the viewer to co-create the project.
The publication conjoins elements of a picaresque novel (particularly visible in another work of the artist, Justina&co.uk) and the figure of a contemporary flâneur. From the former it derives the model of feisty autobiographical narration (the record of the author’s private journeys) whose action not only doesn’t stop, but also keeps on gaining momentum. The figure of the ‘vagabond’ manifests itself in the critical, slightly ironic way of looking, and a liking for ambiguity, novelty, playing with the contexts. The contemporary flâneur replaces the natural space of the urban street with virtual world, setting his or her senses, instead of the body, in movement. The image of reality, changeable and multiplied by digital media, is perceived not only through sight, but also hearing and touch. Thus, astute observation turns into sensual experience.
In Random Selection we are dealing with a real journey on the one hand, and pictures posted on the Internet on the other (the difference being paper replacing the screen). Recollections are stored not only in memory, but also on the hard drive. This can be interpreted as a form of digitally intermediated participation, a state of limbo between being online and offline. The photographs exploit the poetics of error, scrunch, repetition; some photographs overlap, either becoming illegible or, on the contrary, their meanings are multiplied. They solidify the intense, multisensual experiences accompanying changing the surroundings to unknown ones. They are shaped into a travel journal, a record of impressions, impulses that are still fresh, untamed.
Random Selection is not limited to the visual sphere. It is a long-range project constituted in various media (photographic blog, performance, slideshow). The textual sphere is equally important. Buczek embeds poetical narration composed of quotations: from literature (Bluets by Maggie Nelson or Candidates for my love by Judy Grahn, among others), Internet chats, overheard conversations, or private correspondence – everything stored online on personal electronic devices. To emphasise the expression, the author uses English, which transforms from a universal code into sensual material, a conglomerate of rhymes, rhythms, various accents, and communicational mistakes emerging while travelling (engendered by different dialects, or using English as a foreign language). The partitioned text (which was earlier recited by the Japanese actor Hiroaki Murakami in Bunkier Sztuki gallery in Kraków) stylistically harmonises with the cut-up photographs.
Sensuality acquires also a strictly physical dimension. In some of the photographs, the figure of a woman is visible (or just a fragment of the body), in others – her attributes. The artist mixes frivolousness, subtlety, and coquetry in various proportions. By no means is this directed at stunning the viewer with sexuality; the objective is to create some sort of intimacy or an outlet of feminine energy.
The entire work has an air of careless fun and humour to it. The photographs look like they’ve been taken accidentally, unintentionally, they upkeep the natural expression of experiencing something new and exotic for the first time. This spontaneity and deliberate deformation of the image (by using collage, or pixelation) cause the boundaries between the real and the phantasmagorical to melt. The images are not congruent, reality dilutes and then becomes absorbed by its virtual substitute.
Random Selection is an engrossing play of colours, shapes, words, associations, and last but not least, appearances. The references to Internet aesthetics allowed the artist to achieve a unique, interactive character of the book and materialise the experience of a web user. This alone – the attempt to redefine the human status in a multiplied reality – makes the work exceptional.
Written by Agnieszka Warnke, translated by NS, October 2016.
Random Selection, 2016
author: Magda Buczek
graphic design: Emilia Obrzut / Obszar Roboczy
self-publishing (produced thanks to the Photo Book of the Year 2014 award in the category self-publishing)
circulation of the first edition: 18 copies
available as pre-order