“All the savor of existence; […] the unceasing ebb and flow which fills human history like tides of the sea; […] the very substance of history, […] as it was in the ages of man’s hand-to-hand struggle with the wild beasts of wood and mountain, and as it will be indubitably, in the most infinitely distant future” can be found in the Thirty-Six dramatic Situations according to Georges Polti’s ardent introduction to his eponymous oeuvre from 1916.
Polti’s research is based on the efforts of Carlo Gozzi who had identified the 36 dramatic situations already in the 18th century, of which is said that not even Goethe and Schiller, despite taking great pains to do so, could find more.
For Polti there is nothing mystic or cabalistic about this particular number, he not only firmly believes in the identification of these, but more surprisingly, that they coincide with but thirty six emotions we are able to experience in life, presenting us with a problem not to be resolved.
Wherein lies hence the value of such a seemingly restrictive system? Contemporary critiques argued it would eradicate and inhibit all creativity, turning drama into a department of geometric extrapolation. For Polti though the imagination is “merely the kaleidoscope of our memories, stirred by chance”, therefore leading to “banal, monotonous results […] returning mercilessly in all manner of methodless combinations”.
From his perspective the manual is an endless well of resources. If one will, a support structure that will allow any creator not only to rapidly review the field before them but also offer nothing less than one thousand three hundred thirty two possible basic combinations since there is “no situation which may not be combined with any one of its neighbours, nay, with two, three, four, five, six of them and more!”
In friends of friends are friends Vajd confronts us with a kindred system, where on first glance minimalist, seemingly flawless, geometric photograms, reinforced by bold aniline-based colours are paired to couples. These couples, or better, situations, gain momentum as they incite our imagination to envision all the inherent storylines contained in the sombre areas that become centre of the stage and ersatz for the representational. Models of mental states.
It is in us!
The drama is in us,
and we are the drama.
We are impatient to play it.
Our inner passion drives us on to this.
The dramaturgy places each protagonist and antagonist in their own setting, where “one of two strongly opposing colours will thus dominate the entire work, according as we shall choose, near the beginning, which of the two parties shall possess the greater power, the greater chance of victory.”
The twosome is not only main element of declination in this particular cast of works but core methodology of Vajd, one might say. Be it a long term partner, short term collaborator, late mentor or else the architect, curator, gallerist or commentator the work always develops and evolves around the opposition and tension, ultimately the fine balance of two antagonistic characters in negotiation and flux.
A recurring topic in conversations with Vajd is the sculptural quality photography gains, through its materiality and method of presentation. Interested in the moment when photography, once confined to two dimensions, conquers space and becomes its own pedestal Vajd wonders what might happen, as it wants to go back to the wall – what kind of pedestal could truly do it justice then? Intrigued by the challenge of creating an architecture, or better, a stage, we set out to explore the scene as a backdrop, pedestal and frame all at once, within the confinement but also the logic the gallery space offers, simultaneously following the rules given by the situations themselves, namely to connect through separation.
So friends of friends are friends. Doubting if it is an old proverb or a Facebook photo sharing privacy setting it actually is neither, and as much as we would like to believe it, we must admit it is not really true. Still it accurately describes a contemporary feeling of structure, applicable to social networks, professional relations and on a more abstract level maybe also a false sense of security in convenient or comfortable thinking.
Returning to the basics of analogue photography and the sensuality of the darkroom, gloomy red lights, damp plastic trays, taming stubborn papers, meticulously exposing and delicately hand colouring the situations into existence Vajd turns inward to reset her practice, while seamlessly pursuing questions central to her thinking.
The abstract nature requires us to focus on the process, materiality and technique. We give generous attention to every little detail. Before long, the seemingly distant, strict, cold geometries, reveal many traces of the craft and manual labour. Curvaceous paper, accommodates slight concentrations of pigments, sharp contours give way to subtle imperfections and softly blurred edges. The situations gain confidence, and adopt a more playful language.
In the novel Fuck Seth Price one line of thought evolves around artificially generated abstract work and states that the beauty of it stems from its ability to level aesthetic taste, be both abstract and representational at the same time, thus solve another long standing problem in art history, as eventually it need only represent itself – the process of artificial abstraction. I imagine Seth Price smirking at us as he writes these lines.
And while Price’s cynical and contradictory narrator, a successful but somewhat resigned artist, constructs his argument around digitally created abstract painting and we need not take it too seriously, the almost masochistic exactitude, manually executed in the situations does point to what working in an analogue way means nowadays, with a digitally tainted gaze, expecting nothing less than perfection and a universal aesthetics floating on the surface of our uniformly grey desktops. This expectation is disrupted, or better corrupted, by the limits of working with ones own body, related restrictions of material and equipment, accompanied by constant pleasurable mistakes while still striving for maximum precision, if not perfection.
“The laborious effort of artistic creation is itself a dramatic theme – so unruly, so assertive, is this thing called ‘life’ ever rising to harass and defeat anyone who would interpret, crystallize, devitalize it.”
The photograms do show traces of their lives, of processes formerly standard and specific to a medium, rendered useless through its evolution, ultimately elevating these marks to bearers of symbolic value.
With this in mind the situations are left at our disposal, independent of their own author, we can project on to the black space of possibility stories the author may never have dreamed of
– they are there, dying to live their part.