Vanja Bučan: Imaginary Ecologies

Opening: 25th September 2019, 19:00
Exhibition: 25. 9. - 25. 10. 2019


Vanja Bučan is an internationally renowned Slovenian photographer, who lives and works in Berlin. She graduated at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague at the department of documentary photography, however, she distanced herself from the documentary genre during her studies, and focused on staged photography instead. Before becoming a professional photographer, she studied sociology at the Faculty of Social Sciences in Ljubljana, and actively took part in environmental activism, which is evident conceptually in her artistic oeuvre. She views photography as an open medium, a realm where she can freely express her views and critique of society. A professional role worth mentioning is her position as the official photographer at the Maribor European Capital of Culture 2012 for the collective Urbane Brazde before she relocated to Berlin. In her signature artistic style, she alters her own photographs and places them in staged compositions in order to achieve deconstructed and multifaceted realities that generate a visually rich expression, which verges on fiction.

The current exhibition at the Photon Gallery presents two of her remarkable series, Sequences of Truth and Deception and Looking for Sadiq, which at their core put forth the concept of the relationship between humans and nature that is interpreted by the author as co-dependent and manipulative. In her work, the latter is conveyed through visual metaphors that serve as a tool for expressing broader societal issues and also give the photographs a surrealist dimension. Both of the aforementioned series thus evoke several interpretations, which are contingent on varied sensibilities and individual experiences of the members of the audience.

In the series Sequences of Truth and Deception (2015–2019) the author explores, as per her outlook on the subject, our ambivalent relationship to nature ruled by domination, exploration, and, paradoxically, its idealisation. In the anonymous portraits and still lifes, Bučan strives to create a complex and a deconstructed vision of nature. The photographs in the series appear as playful sketches of our conditional and “exotic” love of nature. In contradiction to the incessant pollution inflicted by the contemporary way of life on our planet, many people still demonstrate various actions of minimal concern for the environment (i.e. planting trees, recycling, caring for endangered species, etc.), which only insignificantly affect our dire environmental reality. This series demonstrates this duality between our domination over nature and, on the other hand, our romanticisation of it. You could view Sequences of Truth and Deception as the author’s allegory of anthropocentrism, where it is difficult to discern whether the photographs depict love or domination.   The series successfully introduces Bučan’s concept of “imaginary personal ecologies” through abstraction and various metaphors, where human presence is suggested only through isolated body parts, which in ambivalent settings enact various conceptual “situations”.

The series Looking for Sadiq (2018) presents the author’s reflection and contemplation on her recent travels in Morocco. It could be viewed as a visual travel diary full of representational photographs of local landscapes and cultural details. However, Bučan skilfully translates her experience of Morocco into the photographs by intentionally deconstructing and transforming the images in order to convey her outlook on, as she deems, the society’s anthropocentric relationship towards nature. Because Morocco is commonly perceived as an ancient and mystic land, the evidence and signs of pollution were more obvious to the author. In Looking for Sadiq, Vanja Bučan masterfully incorporates manmade objects made out of plastic and other synthetic materials into her works. Visually appealing blue gloves holding a cluster of bananas; a woman covered with a digitally printed floral scarf with plants in the background; a plastic bottle placed in front of the traditional Moroccan tiles boasting a cap matching the colour of the tiles; a creased plastic bag mirroring the traces of the wind in the surrounding dessert etc. — all these motives play out their aesthetic as well as conceptual roles accordingly. Due to the author’s mastery of staged photography, all objects appear in symbiosis with their environment, add a metaphorical realm to the photographs, and thus become integral elements of “imaginary ecologies” as constructed by Bučan.

Her work has been exhibited at several major international group exhibitions, such as: Month of Photography Los Angeles, Official MOPLA Group Show (2018); Camouflage, City Oases, NORDICO City Museum in Linz (2018); Visions of Nature, Kunst Haus Wien, Museum Hundertwasser in Vienna (2017); official exhibition of the Renaissance Photography Prize, Getty Images Gallery in London (2016). She likewise participated at various biennials and festivals around the world: Directors Choice Series’ Circulation(s), Photo Zurich, Switzerland (2019); Vento Solar, Solar Photo Festival, Fortaleza, Brazil (2018); Loba 2018, Photolux Festival, Lucca, Italy (2018); Athens Photo Festival, Benaki Museum, Athens, Greece (2018); 3rd Beijing Photo Biennial: Confusing Public and Private, CAFA Art Museum, Beijing, China (2018). Her works have been nominated for the Prix Pictet and Leica Oskar Barnack Award, and she received two prestigious awards for her series Sequences of Truth and Deception: Lens Culture Exposure Award (2015) and Renaissance Photography Prize (2016).