About the Bojan Salaj‘s Interiors-Correspondences project
A few months ago, withing the framework of Photonic Moments festival in Ljubljana, Bojan Salaj mounted a show Interiors-Correspondences dealing with the visual insignia of power. The exhibition consisted of four big-format photographs showing ‘interiors of power’ in a symmetric rectangular formation that followed the architectural features of the National Gallery in Ljubljana. The entire installation appeared like a stage set. These monumental photographic compositions (made by large format camera) displayed The Parliament of the Republic of Slovenia in Ljubljana, The Parliament of the European Union in Strassbourg, UN General Assembly hall in Geneva and NATO Conference Centre in Brussels. The artist depicted places that symbolically – with their image – and actually – with their competences – (used to) dominate the lives of every single individual, whether in Slovenia or in Europe. One one level Salaj’s idea was to show the iconography of power, the symbolic domination of these silent places and the timidity of an individual who is faced with enormous institutions. Although these places are completely deserted, they nevertheless remind a viewer of the state apparatus behind these interiors, of the powerlessness of the individual (or the masses), of the sacredness of these places. They look like shrines.
In general, one could say that over the past twenty years the concept of ‘interiors of power’ i.e. images of buildings – exteriors or interiors – of great symbolic value, is omnipresent in contemporary art and photography. And, there is a reason for that. Some artists and photographers are apparently critical, some intimidated by these institutions (on which they often depend themselves)? Salaj is analytical instead. So what is it that makes these images challenging? It is their wider context which is reflected in the desolation and emptiness of their motifs. These places are the monuments to the era of enlightenment that brought about the formation of the modern state; however, they are also reminders that these institutions became a farce in the 21st century. Institutions such as schools, courts, academies and parliaments were all conceived in the 18th and 19th centuries in order to strengthen the power of the state that is now dissolving. Thus in Salaj’s photographs one can only see the illusion of power. The decisions are not made there anymore but rather in gated villas, on yachts and private jets, away from the eyes of the public. These (once powerful) institutions neither crucially decide on recent antagonisms that (predominantly) the West conducted around the globe nor could they prevent them. These institutions do not decide but rather they obey the invisible hand of capital. Salaj sees that as a defeat. But to understand the Interiors-Correspondences project better one has to consider also his earlier projects where his intention has always been to penetrate below the surface, to show or at least indicate what is not obvious or what is hidden.
In 1992 he started a series Snapshot whereby he photographed images on the TV screen in order to question the banality and opinionatedness of (mass) media discourses. His early pictures of the massacre in Sarajevo and prisoner-of-war camps in war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina implicate the cruel media spectacle and the ambiguity of mediated image in the events themselves. Later he created a series of projects titled Interiors. The first one depicted confession rooms, places for washing one’s sins, in order to highlight the absurdity of their supposed function. In the second one he documented interiors of crucial Slovenian state institutions such as constitutional court or president’s office in order to point out their symbolic meanings. The third one was even more subtle and visually challenging: he made camera obscura pictures of empty landscapes that have immense importance in the construction of Slovenian history and mythology; the line between the two is of course extremely thin.
© Miha Colner, 8 January 2015