Guest Rooms: Milena Soporowska. Documentary photography as an artistic inspiration

– Please tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Milena. I’ve studied history of art, photography and museology in Warsaw, Poland. I was always interested in art in both practical and theoretical way. That is why I am usually investigating different issues simultaneously as an artist, art historian and curator. I work with photography because of its strong connection to notions such as objectivity, realism, proof or document. Photography raises questions about what we can actually call “real”. Is there reality that can be proven beyond any doubt? This philosophical instability is what fascinates me.

– You are an art historian, photographer and artist. How did you arrive to collage? what caught your attention of it and what led you to make and study it?
Anxiety – this is what got me into collage first. This creative feeling of doubtfulness whether any of these images represent what they represent. And collage gave me the opportunity to almost therapeutically work through my discomfort. Dadaism and surrealism also played a big part –  not particularly because of their artistic production but rather philosophical approach. These artists started to see everything as ready-made, everything as a potential piece of art, including daily routine and everyday objects. Just like Freud saw the mechanism of dream which turned everything into a symbolic material.

– What´s your definition of collage?
Collage is for me one of the most interesting artistic strategies mainly because of its surrealistic potential. By mixing different realities, separated from each other by time, formal convention, history or worldview you can create a totally different territory for dialogue. Collage is for me always associated with collision, confrontation, sometimes even violence because it literally rips out parts of reality from different contexts. This thin line separating but at the same time connecting all those distinct worlds makes collage an interesting form of expression not only at the moment when it was invented, but also now or in the future.

It is also a very democratic medium as it opens up to actually everything – suddenly pictures from an advertisement leaflet for Jehovah’s Witnesses meet with photos from a vintage Playboy magazine and so on. Practically every reality has the right to enter.

– Can you talk about your investigation of documentary photography as an artistic inspiration?
I treat documentary photography as a point of reference since it embodies this eternal longing for realism. It frames our existence, slices it into pieces which then are meticulously described and categorized, becoming a form of visual colonization. I was always astonished by the amount of hope and faith that people have put into photography as this scientific tool. Years go by and, even after postmodernism era, we still believe in its transparency.

I’ve never particularly liked this kind of documentary photography which is, in many cases, at the same time considered as art. I am more into documentary photography which doesn’t claim to have this “high-status” and therefore is much more free – that is why I love Useful photography by KesselsKrammer Publishing.

But when it comes to typical (and popular nowadays) form of photo reportage, which is also presented as fine art, it usually reminds me of packshots, but instead of only objects you have also people and landscapes.

Of course there are photographers who play with this convention like for example Charles Fréger or Jeff Wall, but the majority just seem to follow a strict set of rules, which makes their works sometimes indistinguishable.

Anyway, I will never vote for elimination of documentary photography as it always stands for this imaginative realism, this realness of real, which I don’t trust. I respect an objective eye of documentalist as means of historical investigation. I guess I’ve always treated document like a really good interlocutor when it comes to philosophical debates, and that is why it will be an endless source of inspiration for me.

– How do you think collage is considered in contemporary art?
After Aby Warburg, Georges Didi-Huberman, Hans Belting, Gottfried Boehm, W.J.T. Mitchell we look at pictures in a different way. From my point of view I can truly admit that because of social-media and Internet in general we live in a visual hegemony era. There are so many visual stimuli that I can even call this new type of perception “collage perception”. Of course you have to be always careful with that sort of slogans, but I sometimes think that images which surround us, if you look carefully enough, almost naturally overlap each other creating spontaneous collages. The whole idea of scrolling for example – picture after picture, from totally different sources – they collide and blend at the same time. I just think that nowadays artists live in times of visual fertility and have incredible access to so many images that they can either flourish making use of this productivity or be overwhelmed and start to fall into repeatability.

Besides being somehow representative for contemporary art in terms of a certain way of thinking, I guess collage is always treated as an extremely decorative medium and therefore attracts not only because of its content, but also sheer beauty.

Featured project: Guest Rooms:
Unheimlich is the name for everything that ought to have remained hidden and secret… and has become visible.”
F. W. J. von Schelling, [in:] Daniel Sanders, Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache, (1860, volume I), Leipzig

This project was for me a way to explore space once alive, today transformed into a museum showpiece accessible for the visitors only through the sense of sight. Processed into postcards, they separate themselves from their original function, becoming a radical version of objet trouvé. Introducing amorphous item; alien, yet based on the coloristic reference, I wanted to deconstruct the seeming unity of the interiors and question their title “hospitality”. For me, the encounter of what is defined and familiar with what is disturbing and cognitively unstable, constitutes a specifically fascinating issue