“Life is a crime”
20 • 02 • 03György Cséka
Szabolcs Barakonyi’s series, Cold Trail, can be seen at two venues at the same time, at B24 Gallery in Debrecen, and at Deák Erika Gallery in Budapest. As the subtitle of B24’s show indicates, this is a work from the domain of forensic aesthetics —and that is no empty embellishment. The descriptor is well-earned because the photos of the series were taken at real crime scenes, in Hajdú-Bihar County. It was of course with the permission of the police that the artist gained access to these scenes. The authenticity of the photos and the project is warranted by the fact that the Debrecen exhibition has been realized in cooperation with the Hajdú-Bihar County Police Headquarters, which even made its own contribution to the side-events, demonstrating how fingerprints are recorded, etc. Also, the artist took the actual course that trains photographers to record crime scenes.
Barakonyi’s gesture, as that of forensic aesthetics, is to appropriate, recontextualize, or reinterpret police photography, an applied segment of the vast field of photography, for the purposes of (photographic) art. We are exposed to the artistic potential or interest of photographs taken by the police on an almost daily basis: take the illustrations of crime news stories, or such great police photo archives as Magyar Rendőr Fotóarchívum and the New South Wales Police Forensic Photography Archive. What makes Barakonyi’s project special is that rather than using the image of police professionals, he adapts his own approach and camera to forensic considerations and methods—to the approach of the police. He becomes the eyes of a crime scene investigator, recording what a police photographer would, or very nearly would.
Barakonyi’s pictures are filled with strange, inexplicable things. We see photographic impressions that are guaranteed to replicate reality, but foil our attempts at interpretation. The context alone—the knowledge that all the photos were taken at crime scenes, which we are powerfully reminded of by the picture of a revolver at both exhibitions—leads us to believe that everything is suspicious. However innocuous the subject – a lock, a painting, a padlock, a shopping bag, a plastic tube, a cigarette butt, a screwdriver – we cannot but see them as the props of grave (and chilling) stories. The clues are intentionally isolated: the act of crime behind the images is never revealed, and the subjects of the photos are as void of meaning as possible—very often even the numbers and scales that are used to mark evidence are absent.
The images play with the proclivity of our consciousness to create contexts and attribute meaning: we know that nothing in the pictures is innocent, while there is practically nothing that would directly indicate a criminal occurrence. Our inferences lead nowhere, because what with the scarcity of clues and the unknown backgrounds, any clue can be connected with any other, leading to countless conclusions. From another perspective, however, this alludes to the real hurdles of police work, to what is often its complete hopelessness—which is in sharp contrast with the almost invariably optimistic image fostered in the minds of those who watch films or read crime stories. As we look at the photos, we must realize that what we find mysterious or impossible to interpret must often remain puzzling for the police as well—that in a very large number of cases the clues do not lead to cinematic happy ends with the wrongdoers identified, but to cul-de-sacs, unsolved cases. That is because even the police cannot have access to all the background information and full context that would allow them to infer the meaning.
The pictures of the series do encourage at least one more inference. We must believe that just because they appear as innocent as the things Barakonyi photographed, the scenes and objects of our own, ordinary lives are as likely to cause suspicion. Everything that is visible is undermined, because it is only a question of how you read it for it to turn out to be the manifestation of a crime. Cold Trailinvites you to exchange a passive reliance on the appearance of the world for an active search for meanings, a readiness to interpret clues. Rather than meaninglessly contingent, a torn curtain or a discarded padlock may be charged with meaning and a story—if we so wish. Which also means that the meaning of objects, formerly considered firm and unambiguous, is mostly subject to interpretation, is a question of perspective. (Translation: Árpád Mihály)
Szabolcs Barakonyi: Cold Trail - Forensic aesthetics
25 / 10/ 2019 - 30/11 2019
Szabolcs Barakonyi: Thin Air
Deák Erika Gallery
05 / 11/ 2019 - 30/11 / 2019