Ilaria Sponda: You assert you treat images as mechanisms, tools, concepts. How so?
Bruno José Silva: The work I have been developing seeks practical research on the concept of image in our contemporary era. In recent years, I have been looking for different approaches and perspectives on its status, use, and mechanisms of production. My work relies on this background and I develop artistic proposals in various media, but always using images. I have also been interested in discovering other perspectives, academic thinking, and artistic work portraying the same issues.
IS: What are you working on at the moment?
BJS: I am currently starting research and experimentation for a new project that stems from a previous work ‘Limit of Disappearance’. I’m obsessed with exploring new possibilities of visual representation and, for that, I am working with 3D photogrammetry software. I have been creating image compositions (through digital processes) that stem from accumulations of renderings, abstractions, leaps into the void between mediations, and aesthetic interpretations. The more destroyed the data is during the rendering process, especially when large amounts of data/information are missing, the greater my fiction will be during the digital process. I still don’t know where this research will take me.
IS: I remember being fascinated by your art installation Limit of Disappearance at Banco das Artes in Leiria (PT) last year. The fascination came from the ambiguity of the image you were presenting. It didn’t feel like an image as broadly understood but as something else, yet a hyper-image maybe representing the real image in contemporary society – an image that is structurally digital, exploitative and part of a capitalist system of production-obsession. Would you agree?
BJS: I completely agree, the proliferation of digital technologies has transformed the way we produce and consume images, and the nature of these images has become increasingly complex and multifaceted. Images are no longer just static representations of the world, but part of a broader system of image production and consumption. In this sense, ‘Limit of Disappearance’ exposes the visitor to an image created from images available in online databases, in a search for abstraction of meaning and the breaking of any potential spectacularity. It is an installation consisting of an image printed on fabric, placed on a pulley mechanism, which is activated by the presence of the visitor who causes an irreversible transformation of the image. The exhibition device attempts to make this image an object of desire, in the sense that it is only meant to be seen by a single visitor, in an exclusive relationship. Consequently, subsequent visitors will observe the image from the perspective of those who transformed it before. Each visitor is responsible not only for their own experience but also for what others will see.
IS: How can photography be contaminated with plastic forms of display? What are the interesting unfolding paths?
BJS: This has been a complicated question that has been troubling me a lot. Experimenting with new techniques and processes of creating images has been my research. I have been trying to find other ways of producing images that stem from photography but become another medium in their production process. Additionally, I have been exploring the idea of not having control in their production. To do this, I have been using technological mechanisms that produce images without my gaze and control. This exploration, to which I voluntarily have no control, where the viewer is proposed to be the active agent, even with material consequences, comes from a reflection and a conceptual proposal to question the means of production and the placement of humans facing digital production mechanisms.
IS: Andrew Dewdney’s book Forget Photography dives deep in the limits and prescriptions of thinking with photography today. I can see a parallelism between his view and your as an artist working with the medium of photography. What has led you to rethink photography? What are the limits you have encountered in this art (?) form.
BJS: I feel that we need to think beyond photography as a medium, to start thinking more deeply about the ways in which images shape our perception and understanding of the world. I believe this is one of the main concerns of my work.
IS: Do you face any friction in working with the photographic medium in Portugal? How’s the art photography environment over there? From my experience I perceived almost zero interest both from artists and gallerists/institutions in bringing a critical vision over this fast-changing medium. Is it true?
BJS: Before discussing the photographic medium in Portugal, it’s important to consider the artistic context in which photography (and other disciplines) are situated. It’s still difficult for emerging or independent Portuguese artists to secure financial support for their projects. Often, these artists must work other jobs to fund their projects, which can be exhausting and challenging. This is a common reality in other countries as well, but in Portugal, there are still many gaps in government support that make it difficult to create dignified working conditions and sustain the artists’ careers. Regarding the photographic medium, in recent years, many artists have been working on photography in a more experimental way, rethinking its role in contemporary society. There may be some institutional resistance, but there are currently several independent spaces interested in exhibiting these types of projects. Interestingly, many of these spaces are located outside the major urban centers.
IS: Photography as art – because of its ubiquitous nature – is mined by the general knowledge and perception people have about it. As an art form it might not get the interest of many as mostly circulated online and suffering from not being “nothing more” sometimes when printed and exhibited. What’s your feeling about this ubiquity of images? What role does a more plastic display and ambiguous one play in re-engaging gazes with photography?
BJS: I think that the ubiquity of images in our contemporary society has led to a kind of visual fatigue, where we can’t truly see the images that surround us. However, ambiguity can also create a sense of discomfort and uncertainty in the viewer, encouraging them to question their assumptions and engage more deeply with the image. Therefore, a more plastic and ambiguous approach to photography can contribute to a re-engagement with the medium and encourage viewers to look closer and see beyond the surface of the image.
IS: What’s the role of the viewer you envision when working on a particular project?
BJS: In my artistic practice, I seek to challenge the way images are consumed in contemporary society and explore new ways of engaging the viewer in this experience. I create hybrid devices that require a certain level of difficulty, so that these images can only be enjoyed with effort and genuine desire. The viewer must want to see the image. The process of stopping to observe, using devices that require a time/stop relationship, instigates a contemplative perception. For example, ‘I’ve seen this face before’ is an installation consisting of a Raspberry camera (which captures real-time images of the exhibition space) and a small screen (which contains an image of a micro-organism). Here, the visitor is not just a spectator but is forced to participate. Their movement is processed in real-time through computer software that affects the image on the screen, making it impossible to view (any movement around the camera changes the pixels being captured, which in turn adjusts the sharpness of the image on the screen). To be able to see the image in its entirety, it is necessary to learn not to react immediately to the impulse, but to learn how to stop.
IS: Art photography, I believe, can play a role in somehow unveiling the system behind our image-exchange-based communications. It can also nurture critical thoughts on what’s behind itself, especially when considering the technology it is supported by. How does this merge from your research?
BJS: By experimenting with spatial devices using different media, I aim to question the conventions and norms of photography and encourage viewers to reflect critically on their own involvement with images in the digital age. Through my work, I see photography as a tool to promote critical thinking, political engagement, and social change in our increasingly mediated and image-saturated world.
IS: What simply motivates your art practice?
BJS: My works arise as an extension of thoughts and concerns that I have daily when looking at the world. Therefore, the ideas developed from these observations – exploration of the potential of the image to create alternative narratives or new perspectives about the world; exploring the materiality and processes of image creation; examining the intersections between technology and art. Moreover, the works motivate new works because no work can answer every question, hence they are all part of the same reasoning.
IS: Are there any future projects you’d like to share?
BJS: In addition to my work as a visual artist, I am interested in collaborating and developing work in various artistic areas. Due to my background in architecture, over the past few years, I have been collaborating in theater productions and performances, especially in scenography. Currently, I am developing a performance, namely a collective creation that will premiere in November 2023. As a collective creation, this project allows me to continue the work I usually do in visual arts, but also connect with different creative universes.
Bruno José Silva (1992, Leiria). Lives and works in Lisbon, Portugal. He received a BA in Architecture from FAUTL (2015) and completed the Full Photography at HÉLICE in Lisbon (2018). His artistic practice, research, and experimentation is based on the concept of image. The artist explores different approaches and perspectives. The image, broadly understood, is always present as a tool to question its status, use, and mechanisms of production. From this central axis, he tries to develop forms that question our sensorial experiences and the act of exhibition itself, creating proposals supported by various media that address concepts related to space, materiality, and time. He presents his work in collective and solo exhibitions both in independent and institutional spaces. Since 2018, he has been collaborating with theater and performance, developing scenography and photography. He was the winner of the Video Keep It Brian 2021 Award, a finalist in the National Exhibition of Young Creators 2021, and received an honourable mention for his work in the JOV’ARTE Biennial 2019.