The name ‘LOOK’ covers 43 third-year photography students from the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague. From September 2012 until January 2013, they are working towards a group exhibition, consisting of individual projects inspired by and concerning the theme ‘beauty.’
For this column, a selection of students participating in the exhibition is featured, up until the opening on the 11th of January 2013. The different stages of the process will be illustrated through text and images, collected by fellow students Lynne Brouwer and Merijn Koelink. Each column will highlight the work of two students while we search for similarities, differences and insight.This article features: Olya Oleinic and Majda Vidakovic.
Throughout life, we change. Many sayings poetically describe the thought that 'the only thing that doesn’t change, is change itself' , and yet, despite that constancy, we fill our daily lives with arguably feeble attempts to create order and understanding around change. We measure what is left behind or what has yet to come: age, wealth, time, assets, or grades, for example. But can something which is invisible, fleeting or deeply subjective also be filed or categorised by being visualised? Is photography a means of stopping change, even if just for a second? In the development of their projects on the topic of beauty, image-makers Olya Oleinic (21) and Majda Vidakovic (22) are connected by their perspectives on the concept of change.
After realising the extreme subjectivity that surrounds the concept of beauty, Olya started with a self-proclaimed ‘medical, dry encyclopaedic’ method of research, in an attempt to make the subjective, objective. Her approach led to a search of how to scientifically measure beauty. She found within her research that beauty is most often associated with physical appearance, and therefore decided to focus on elements of the human body considered attractive. We attach or detach elements to ourselves in order to gain beauty; by growing long hair, cutting off or painting fingernails, or even going as far as removing a rib for a smaller waistline. From common and small adjustments to extreme surgical corrections, maintaining the state of being beautiful takes time and effort. But what happens when these decorations of beauty are not up to our personal standards anymore?
Olya looked at these tangible detachments, wondering what their function or aesthetics were, after being shed: "In essence you can not measure when you are still in the possession of beauty - but when you get rid of it, it becomes something physical, an object. You see something as beautiful as long as it is in the right context; when it’s out of context, it is often not attractive at all anymore - perhaps even disgusting." Olya’s images show this paradox; all of her images are carefully constructed still lifes, where the detachments are given a stage in order to gain (back) their aesthetics, thereby returning full circle. By changing the visual context, she makes us question our contextual subjectivity regarding physical beauty.
When searching for her own perspective on beauty, Majda also found herself interested in the way our view of the beauty of an object changes over time, yet she approached it from the perspective of an emotion she finds notably valuable: nostalgia. “A memory is so personal, perhaps even unique, yet everyone has memories. So how can you relate to those of others? It’s in fact a massive and frustrating paradox. When I found a framed photo of a woman in a second-hand store, the ambiguity of it struck me. An object representing a memory, something so personal being placed in the wrong context and even being sold, made me think of a thrift store as one big collective memory box.”
Majda started searching for people who have collected souvenirs of meaningful events from their lives, listening to their stories and documenting the object’s physical appearance. A seemingly random object, even something small or insignificant, can hold so much invisible content: be it a rock, a walnut or a drawing. Majda then selected objects representing different themes or stages of life, like friendship, love, or childhood. Her photographic strategy of documentation shows a clean and minimalistic style, demonstrating her respect of the value of these ‘specimens of sentiment’. “It’s about reaching out”, she says. “We might not relate to other peoples personal invisible memories, but we all understand the need to preserve and objectify this memory through an object.”
Her photo of a walnut looks small and fragile, but equally significant. Though sensitive, it’s demanding in its function: to make you remember your memories.
The projects of both Majda and Olya illustrate the way in which we project beauty onto otherwise neutral objects, and point out the way we interact with those objects, whether distancing ourselves or pulling closer. Yet, perhaps more importantly, what their work draws attention to is the importance of effort when viewing objects, consciousness of their personal and cultural significance and, above all, the simple act of remembrance.
For more updates and information about the ‘LOOK’ project, visit www.expolook.nl, and facebook.com/lookexpo. This is Part 3 in a series of 3 blogs. Read the other two:
- LOOK - Nick van Tiem and Daan Liu
- LOOK - Robin Butter and Stije van der Beek