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Wednesday, 18 April 2018

How to Secure a Country When the Past is ahead of us

It was very enjoyable talking to Salvatore Vitale, a man who knows how to talk, about his project How to Secure a Country for the current edition of the BJP.

It's a project about the overlap between the history of Switzerland, geography of Switzerland, the way tmanifests itself in the Swiss national identity, and the way that in turn has spawned systems of surveillance, security and control that in turn feed back into the geography, the economics and the politics of the country to become almost a self-sustaining ideology that has is both a system of control of the outside world (because in this way of thinking Switzerland is a haven of safety and security) but also of itself. If you are in this system, you are subject to its control.

For his project, Vitale photographed the country's systems of control, and as he did so he found himself internalising its mentality. What is also interesting is that he was photographing systems of control while very much subject to those systems; in terms of permissions, access, time, and content.

Vitale was aware of this and that's what makes the project so interesting. It's images of control that are part of that control.

All photography is part of a system of a control though. Everything that follows the broad brushstrokes of the large format, plain background, deadpan, grid, horizontal plane/vertical view, mapping structures of photography is part of that system of control. Foreground any of those elements and we are essentially adopting the language of fascism, colonialism, scientific fascism, eugenics, land control, and the mentality of consumption without responsibility.

Which ultimately is what Liz Orton's ideas on the medical gaze and Lourdes Delgado article on the politics of the mugshot are talking about. Images of the past inundate the present. They affect how we see the world, how we understand people and they work, for all their scientific control, at an emotional level which it is almost impossible to resist.

There's the idea of the past (if it exists at all) being something that is behind us as we stride into the future. But the archive teaches us that it might be that it's the past that is ahead of us and the future that is behind. Which then messes up our whole linguistic idea of memory, images and the linear nature of time with the future ahead of us. And then where would we be? 

These and many other issues will be talked about on Saturday 5th May at the Arnolfini in Bristol in this brilliant symposium on the archive with speakers including Francesca Seravalle, Maja Daniels, Charbel Saad, Thomas Sauvin, Kensuke Koike, and Amak Mahmoodian.

It's a serious bargain at £25 for the day and takes place in the wonderful waterfront location of the Arnolfini, with fantastic food, drink and cake all available within a few minutes walk.

Buy your tickets for ICVL's Activating the Archive here.

In commemoration of this fact, I'm running a series of posts connected to the themes of the archive, the album, and the multiple histories they carry within the

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