India Ray: I stalk youu
Curated by Lukas Hofmann
March 17 – April 12, 2020, Karlin Studios, Prague
Child terrorist / Safari shooting
I looked like a child terrorist underneath my worn-out sweater. I mean, my oversized clothes did come in handy - my mom could tie a bizarre double ‘bullet belt’ made out of cigarettes around my torso. I had packets of them everywhere - we stuffed my tights with them, I had one in each pocket, my mom filled my rucksack with cigs and covered them with some toys. The carton paper would go some place under the clothes. Whenever I got out of the train like that, I felt like Terminator.
I am from Brest, Belarus originally, and back in the nineties half the town made money smuggling tobacco and alcohol to Poland. It was an advantage to have a young child as no one would check them at the customs. Either way, we had to plan strategically which day to carry these missions out, because some custom clerks knew that I was a child-smuggler. I knew all their names and we had a literal timetable of their shifts at home. In my childhood, I was already a gangster.
Once, when we had no money, my mother stole sweets for me. She still regrets that she did it, but I perceived it as the biggest proof of her love. Another time, when she carried me home at midnight, a lady saw us and shouted at my mother, blaming her for exploiting a small kid. For me, though, these were purely fun times because at the age of five I was already making money and partially feeding the family, and because I got Polish crisps in return for smuggling so many packets. To me, crisps still are the embodiment of a reward.
People in films barely eat, sleep, or shit. Our visual media culture cautiously curates what is worth being depicted and what is not. There is an agenda in our surrounding imagery obliterating ‘the commonplace’ in the name of advancing the plot. Iryna Drahun’s instagram, in that respect, constitutes an antidote to this mechanism. @istalkyouu depicts the everyday flashes of subtle triviality, the modestly miraculous sparks and slits in the Matrix-come-true mode de vie nowadays. With a great deal of intuition, she directs her gaze, and often her instinct is right. She gets the shot. Her complete lack of value filtering highlights nanoseconds, quivers of gestures, twitches that we ignore in our daily processes. The little chihuahua confoundedly stuck behind a glass door. The lovely folds of fat belonging to a lady who is lusciously soaking in the sun, emanating a sense of self-sufficiency and comfort. Children acting out the weird, weird creatures they are, testing and flexing out their face muscles, hiding behind napkins, falling flat on the ground like sacks of potatoes. Various people with an inventive and/or gorgeously terrible sense of style, the lady that happens to look like a Balenciaga model, and other, mostly elderly people who don’t give a f. The lady that looks like a pink poodle. The actual poodle with the saddest eyes in the hood. The proud eyes of an unknown heroine, caught unaware. Eyes in general.
In between us and image, there lies a colossal layered cake of mediation translating to us what things are supposed to appear as. Just like the brain places its “best bet” in interpreting messy signals and reverberations of our surroundings to create a perceived illusion of order, computational photography takes a similarly interpretative role. Having become face-trained and enjoy literal billions of images to practice on, the digital-camera image has become a normativising agent, reviewing the codes of what a face, a tree, the sky should look like. The capacity to recognise a face, the expectation of blue shades of the sky and human shades of skin are woven into the fabric of image-processing itself. This digitally-processed world now reinforces the physical one in such a manner that if you decide to play the game, then it is ‘pics or didn’t happen’. The impromptu photoshoot of an instagram celebrity currently sitting in the café where this text is born, ascertains that if you don’t share pictures of your coffee mug, you never drank it in the first place xoxo! When our brains’ processing memories are outsourced, nostalgia arises at the same moment as the event itself. We are rendered incapable of giving up the fleeting now and obsess about juicing the moment for the camera and then freezing it to create a … succulent smoothie? And that’s what it all comes down to for Iryna. Not to miss the moment forever.
When someone takes a picture of you and you know it, you make a face. When you don’t, no official face is delivered, no real intent to be perceived a certain way surges. The atoms in our Schrödinger-cat-body aren’t aware of being seen, and they don’t form the shape of a Person. Iryna, herself previously prey to evil classmates, told to be ‘less of a person, more animal-like with crooked teeth and ugly skin’, now in return proclaims her prey. Public space becomes a safari, the lens of her expensive phone a glass separating her as the visitor and the bewildered animal in the zoo. (The open range to roam has long been removed from all of us by means of data-point-collecting stomachs we so willfully feed hundreds of data-points daily, in, surprise surprise, an unequal relationship to the advertising companies we call s****l media.)
In some way, things come into existence no sooner than when we find out about them. And it is particularly through our sight that we bring our environment to life and sometimes murder it by looking away. A particular tension that Iryna is incriminated in, then, surges from depicting the some time overlooked, those who are perhaps less privileged than the assertive metropolitan beasts that many of us are. And there is inherent controversy in this. None of these people, unprivileged or not, provide consent to be taken pictures of. Noone really believes that Iryna would be just so rude to shoot someone a metre in front of her. But, well, she is. And they all unwillingly partake in her hunt. In Brest, she would get beaten up, she says. The impossibility to control the situation and the adrenaline have a stimulating effect, though – you never really know what picture you’ll get. Instead, you just point, focus, and shoot.
Text by Lukas Hofmann