Vesna Pavlović statement

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Between memory and history

My background, together with the current status of the photographic medium, has informed the themes important in my work. Cinematography studies at the University of Belgrade in the 1990s, where I was the first female graduate, made a lasting influence on my photographic practice. In the next stage of my career, I worked as a photojournalist during a tumultuous political era in Belgrade. This experience contributed to the documentary aesthetic recognized in much of work to this day. Issues of appropriation, copy, and authorship have transformed the medium of photography in this era. I examine the photographic representation of specific political and cultural histories. These representations include photographic archives and related artifacts, which I treat as material to produce new images and installations. I challenge traditional modes of photographic representation, expanding the photographic image beyond its frame, traditional format, and narrative. Issues of appropriation, copy, and authorship have transformed the medium of photography in this era. Today, we are faced with the vast amounts of existing and newly taken images, found and computer-generated, widely and instantaneously disseminated through multiple social media platforms. My photography challenges these conditions by exploring institutional archives, often suspended, forgotten, and in danger of disappearance.

I am interested in the moments of our collective history that we choose to keep, and which ones to forget. What is the promise and the agency of the archive? Our memories are in the continuous process of mediation. Photographs gain agency in translation. The black and white negative carries the grain which will become a pixel of tomorrow. The memory is always in flux, never fixed, carrying a promise for future remembrance. I am invested in Pierre Nora’s notion of the opposition of memory and history, ‘one being in permanent evolution, a bond tying us to the eternal present, while the other, remaining problematic and incomplete, of what is no longer’. My most recent series, Sites of Memory, expands on the long-term research about growing up in socialist Yugoslavia. It is a psychological portrait of the era of cold war, burdened with photographic representation of socialist propaganda. History appears fragile and slightly distorted in my images and installations. I engage with the past to offer multiple views of the past, which often appear unclear and obscured by the passage of time. Rippling effects on the images provide a personal perspective about unstable memory and obsolescence.