1994 / 2010


  1. The spectacles that travel – A journey to the show

In the photography series „Backstage”, Stysiak, the author, takes a closer look at individuals who function on the margin of the contemporaneity. She enters backstage of the circus usually not available for the public, takes a glimpse, captures a mixture of situations and incidents and finally puts herself on the line between them and us. The project considers the nature of temporality of location, events, the demand for the particular performance and its relation with the venue. She suggests concentrating on time and by placing the show and the spectacle, she leads to conclusions of swapping functions between stage and backstage. However, the proper and most interesting show has been taking place elsewhere, before or after the already directed show. And apparently, this is the right show the audience has been waiting for. Crucial for reception of this photo series is the invisibility of the photographer’s presence and approval for such activity given by the photographed. Captured on the photographs, the circus performers connive at the peeping tom actions, who belongs to the “other side” – the audience, or else, they just don’t see her, busy preparing for the gig. A few smiles, seemingly directed towards the camera, quickly disappear and vanish away. Their attention is grabbed and the contact between the camera and the performer blurs.

Are the viewers of the show converted into the spectators of the peculiarities? Where there any other viewers apart from those looking at the photographs? The author tells a story about her fascination and the choice she’s made when getting in touch with the vanishing world of the circus. No matter how the traditional circus would be ignored in categories of “contemporary entertainment”, her photographs highlight its manifestation. Packed with emotions, the photographs import and record the atmosphere of direct experience and participation.

We observe a kind of an arrangement meeting, a public event, an accident spot, pet fair or a film set. We wonder if this tensity is misery or freedom. This collection of depicted moments of artists’ preparations also gives a clue about the circus which slowly leaves the stage entertainment wise. The adrenaline and excitement is being felt. It’s a good but also a startled and anxious circus. The circus that was exposed by Stysiak depicts nomadic community met awhile on the occasion of the show in no apparent location, somewhere in the grim area for travelers “coming from nowhere - designed to nowhere". In the past, circus troupes were the only entertainment always en route offering mass recreation, visual and emotional exotic flight from it all, of their cities. Modern migration is something more than just a continuum of tradition of fugitives, asylum seekers, outlaws, workers, smugglers and acrobats sharing their existence in the grey zone. Now it’s called tourism and accounts for cultural journeys of musicians, theatre and visual artists. Old circus, earlier eagerly awaited, is now despised and regarded as backward. The moments of publicity owes to activists who defend animal rights.

From Stysiak’s “circus” negative we have photographs that look like x-rays. From the fleshy dark homogeneous matter of reality, shining figures of people belonging to a mini community are distinguished. Somewhere in the modern world, old vans with fatigued elephants and dazed white horses make their way. And along with them, caravans full of constantly trained shaggy dogs and sparky clothes that tamers throw on themselves in the evening. The “Circus” has been issued to the mercy of our emotions, beliefs and imagination and that which holds this photography series to carry on its tournée.

  1. The spectacles that travel – A journey for the show

How far? How long are we already there? At first we flew to one of the cities in some country and then we took a bus. Through the border. For three weeks. The way of traveling and taking photographs you can make a trial of recovering, very often condensed space time. We squint  eyes because of the wind and sand. Because of the sun. Something got to the eye. Imagine that we fell into someone’s eye. We popped into this reality just out of the blue and we trod the grass for someone’s sheep, took the picture of somebody’s palm tree. We squint  eyes differently in the place we came from, we observe our body which reacts differently to our new and temporary reality. We understand that we are at our own peripheries. We colonize new territories. Our territories are being colonized. The intensity of that exchange, this relation made on the spot differ for various individuals.

Stysiak’s photographic series entitled “I RAN” doesn’t attack with obviousness of the place and action. It presents itself in opposition to technological achievements which enable the photographer to take sharper and color balanced photographs,- the key features of the press photography and travel photography. The artist has chosen an old analogue camera, an “urban toy” and let it face the “exotic” location. Contrast, exposure, lack of knowledge. “Handicapped” vision of an old equipment widen Stysiak’s photographs. Intensive in its simple form, they transmit the energy of a gesture of a few moving silhouettes. While the photographer makes a try to put herself on the right side in this location, the relations between the location and the objects, in the overall photo plan, are being determined. Such vision brings us to the wider context. In spite of being deprived of directness, admiration to details and perfect image quality, which the contemporary documentary photography values most, the viewer is exposed to suggested presence. She sets the task to go through the image faked by the camera, not pretending that thanks to its real look we transfer to the place where it was taken. Also, we need to face the presence of the black frame of the negative and the image inside. The presence of that black frame makes it clear that we look at the piece of an enlarged cell or a sequence of cells, grains, pixels, candles, not a reality.

The lack of focus undermine the importance of an exposed single frame, parallely widening its time capacity. It seems as if in a single photograph, there is more time gathered than it was needed to expose the film. We look at the back mirror and rearview mirror experiencing the time which was crucial for crystallizing the particular situation. The elements of the image comes out one after another, creating the eventual probable versions of events and mutual relations.
They are emerging. From behind the curtain. From behind the bars. Exposed to the wind. Face to face with a (wrecked) lion. We Reveal curtains on the historical view with the dead in the background, to another colonial corpse in the closet1, to the ruins of an ancient city. Peeping with fear into the habitants of a modern city Tehran , who come out onto streets in February 2011 and could not survive it. We leave the city.

Affiliation. Metropolis offers its residents and visitors a sense of being a part of “something”. Replacement automatically generate sense of comfort for those who are just passing through and don’t belong. They are not an active part of any initiative, they are just there in a given area. At some point they realize it and leave. Once on the new territory learning about and observing local factors and phenomenon.

Stysiak found an accurate way of photographic registration setting misty goals of wanderings and involved in these trips gestures. Her works transfer vibration of transit states. Transmit noise in space and monumentality found in both natural and man-made items. We would like everything to be clear. Doubts, however, fall onto the overall, albeit infinite divided into plots and areas of migration, background. Cast a shadow. We wish you a pleasant trip out of town. Next stop - periphery. Next stop - picturesque ruins.

"In Iran, there are many groups of nomads in conflict, all from different tribes, who wander like a circus troupe (...) we met two families in the mountains, where the cable railway was built for tourists. Those tourists enter the railway, go straight to the tents of nomads (to their homes) and tread grass for their sheep. "A few months later in Thailand: A., who lives in P., has experienced a sudden irritation. "How exhausting this summer is;-)" she wrote, relating via the Internet its two-week stay on an exotic holidays. She added the semi-colon, hyphen and closing bracket, but it really annoyed her. The quasi-urban world of tourist resort and ancient ruins of urban civilization with 173stairs exceptionally high. ""Tourism, a secondary product of commodity circulation – the human circulation, that takes on the form of consumption - is reduced basically to explore what has become banal. Organizing trips to various destinations is now an important branch of economy, which itself is a guarantee of uniformity of these places. The process of modernization, which emptied the journey from temporal dimension, deprived it also of the authentic space. "2

What connects the two photographic series of Stysiak is the position of photographer who visits the venture and the places changing her status from the central to the marginal. Formulates a strong visual documentation of the trip in the form of images, which, thanks to the development of specific contrast and sharpness are visualized fragments of the memory, dreams and sudden insights. Stysiak photographs emotions and fascinations, also strongly suggest accompanying physical and chemical conditions of photographed places and events. They inform about the occurrence of complex factors such as humidity, "density" of the atmosphere, "vagueness of" tension, "freshness" expectations.

Stysiak is interested in phenomena of transit, travel restrictions, blocking freedom of movement. The theme of her works are a minority, whose activity displays at a variable rate on the fringes of modern times. Thus, in the series, both a vagabond circus group with imprisoned animals and nomadic family from Iran was captured.

The artist by the means of the photography, processes a photo-reportage style and put an emphasis on the portrayal part of it. This motivation leads her to different places. Seemingly, she deceives the viewers. Her work can evoke images of brutal urban reportage precursors like Weegee or Roger Ballen. Thanks to its imprecision, within the photographic genre, works by Stysiak constitute of a document of the reaction (or lack thereof) for the presence of a photographer. Represent the placement of the person in unknown circumstances. We do not know under what conditions the photographer got there. Despite the apparent nature of the reportage rather than full information about time and place, we get the expression, energy and localized nature of confronted characters, their collective gesture, their coordinates placed between the poles of occupied space. These quasi reportage do without a clear indication of the victims, the perpetrators, losers or winners. Searching for a "base", suggesting a multi-faceted stories and guiding to the matter.

The spectacles that travel. Observations of endangered wanderers in photographic projects of Marta Stysiak.” by Zbigniew Kotkiewicz, Kultura Miasta, nr 1 (8) 2011.

Text:by Zbigniew Kotkiewicz, 2011

Translation by Marta Stysiak

1 In 1946, Iranian Kurds, in consultation with Iraqis, in Mahabad proclaimed the Kurdish Republic. An attempt has been brutally (15 thousand. Victims) suppressed by the army with the participation of Iranian and support of the British troops and American help. Source: http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurdowie

2 Guy Debord - The Society of the Spectacle (168)