Beata expose « Entre chien et loup », à Saint-Gilles.
Agenda, de Bruxelles, lui tire le portrait
Keep your eyes wide shut. Le Salon d’Art is presenting work by the Polish photographer Beata Szparagowska,
which unfolds somewhere between day and night, at the hour when it is difficult to tell a dog from a wolf.
Reality bites !
« Reality is automatically present in photographic images. You can’t manipulate things with photography as well as you can with words. Well, you can these days, but reality always resists. It always intervenes, no matter what you set out to do. When I am taking photos, I don’t feel like I can do whatever I want. That can be frustrating, but it can also be quite interesting. » The reality check hit Beata Szparagowska after her studies in Polish and French literature in Poznan, which she completed with a paper on the impossibility of words to express what you want to say. « I reread it recently, and I was surprised to see how self-assured I was then. [Laughs] That paper was about the work of some obscure 19th-century Polish poet who repeatedly employed the same imagery in an attempt to annihilate language and thus to demonstrate that words are so hopelessly inadequate to express things. Or at least that’s what I thought then. Now I just think he was a bad poet. »
Nonetheless, that inadequacy certainly has a part to play in Beata Szparagowska’s career change. « Somehow I managed to convince my promoter that I needed to be in Brussels to finish my paper – on Polish literature ! [Laughs] When I got here, I didn’t want to leave. After a year traveling around, I returned to Brussels and started a course on literary translation, which I never finished. That first period here was actually rather frustrating. My Polish was useless here, and my French wasn’t very good yet: it was like I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t say it. In those days I had these little notebooks in which I wrote stuff, and after a while I also started pasting newspaper cuttings in them. Eventually I started taking photos myself and registered for a photography evening course. That’s when I decided what I wanted to do. » No words, but images: photography, at the École Supérieure des Arts de l’Image « Le 75 ». Immediately after graduating from Le 75, Beata Szparagowska started a two-year residence at L’L. « The residency was only supposed to be for one year, but it took me that first year to really get started and to realise what I wanted to do. The idea was that I should participate in the activities at L’L, and work with the space and the people who rehearse there, etc. In the beginning, I couldn’t live with the idea that it was so open and that I couldn’t make it more personal. Things only became really interesting when I figured out how to impose some distance between what I was doing and realised that I could pick out certain details and enlarge them, to tell my own stories and fictions. I really liked the fact that they were creating this big thing – which seems useless, but actually isn’t at all – and I wanted to play that kind of game as well. That changed my perception of things, and made me look for the theatre that plays out offstage. »
Photography is a medium that allows her to keep her eyes wide shut – that is how you might describe her intriguing way of looking at things. It is also the way that « Entre chien et loup », the exhibition at Le Salon d’Art that resulted from a residence at the Italian Isola Comacina, gets under your skin. The French proverb refers to sundown, the moment at dusk and dawn when it is very difficult to distinguish between a dog and a wolf, where reality and theatricality, the familiar and the unknown go hand in hand. « My perspective on photography had to develop. At Le 75, I still believed in the distinction between documentary and aesthetic photography. A useless categorisation, I know now, but it took me some time to put aside the photojournalistic approach, and to find my own vision of what the documentary genre is. I wanted to do – and I think I still do – documentary photography, but without the clichés. Like Antoine d’Agata, for example, a Magnum photographer who isn’t really interested in pure photojournalism, but presents his own vision, a personal way of seeing reality. Or August Sander’s portraits. Every now and again I just need to see his photos, to see how you can move beyond the purely documentary and open up the medium. »
To make room for coincidence, mystery… For capricious reality: « I’m a little bit scared of the idea of controlling everything. And it doesn’t work that way for me. You can have as many ideas and concepts in the back of your mind as you like, but in the end it is difficult to maintain a story, or even an atmosphere. Reality intervenes, whether you like it or not. I have never managed to do things exactly the way I wanted to do them. » However cautious Beata Szparagowska may be about terms like narrativity, and however spontaneously she conceives of her practice, you cannot escape the poetic power of her images, the tension that makes her images transcend the merely visible. « Maybe that poetry is the connection the work makes with the viewer? But that is not a conscious goal. I have nothing to divulge; too often reality is completely unclear to me. I want to see. To bring the things that aren’t clear to me into focus. Photography helps me to do that. »
« You know, the photos are just the cherry on the cake. You could almost do without them. The whole process is so rich and so valuable. The photo is almost a pretext; it’s essentially about what comes before. And that process is visible in the photograph as well. » But it goes beyond that. « Photography is always one step ahead. Take the residency at Isola Comacina. In a way, "Entre chien et loup" – the idea of which I developed there, though most of the photos were made in Finland – is an exploration of the self-portrait. I hadn’t planned that beforehand, but it seemed more sensible to focus on that idea than just take photos of the gardener or the landscape. It’s a coincidence, but then again, it is something I already wanted to do. Photography made me realise that. »
Entre chien et loup: jusqu’au 18/10, Le Salon d’Art, 81 rue de l’Hôtel des Monnaies, Saint-Gilles (Bruxelles) INFOS,
J’ai piqué à leur auteur, Heleen Rodiers, les photos de Beata dans son appart' ixellois.
une fois encore, je remercie Ph!l