The Balkans are a special place; with its diversity of cultures, religions, and nationalities, the region is very much like a bridge between Asia and Europe, the civilisation of the East and West, Christianity and Islam. The exhibition at the International Cultural Centre presents over 30 works from a photographic series by Michał Korta which came to life as a result of his journey to the Balkans. The artist described it as follows: “Without plans, expectations, or a set return date. My only goal was to see the Balkans. I visited eleven countries, travelling without haste with my car, which became my home for several months. I didn’t know what I would be doing the following day. I would think with images, I was in a photographic trance. […] I took pictures of people and places, here and now.” Korta’s photographic essay, composed during this journey, follows the tradition of “on the road” photography. The artist makes a purposeful reference to the classic photographic works of the 1960s and 70s, as well as to contemporary artists, such as Rineke Dijkstra and Alec Soth.
Carefully composed portraits, deserted landscapes, and seemingly meaningless, trivial details are among the recurring motifs. They combine into a visually intriguing story, as well as reveal the “hidden meaning.” Korta – a watchful observer of the Balkan reality – seeks to capture in these images the complex identity of the region, the atmosphere of the world that stretches in-between the past and the present. Although his perspective of an uninvolved observer and outsider brings the risk of stereotyping and generalisation (the trap of Balkanisation, as defined by Maria Todorova), Korta avoids superficial Orientalism and easy exoticism. His photographs offer an insightful portrait of the region. His pictures of people, places, and landscapes build a story of contemporary Balkans, which is full of hidden meanings, ambiguities, and uncertainties. A basketball court – one of the recurring motifs of the series – is one of the symbols of occurring changes. Those objects, emerging as a result of the success of Yugoslavia’s national team, once lively, are now deserted and ruined. Miljenko Jergović writes in the exhibition catalogue that they tells us “[…] more than all those fallen steel plants, deserted factories, ghostly industrial suburbs in places where there is no industry anymore, for in such places, in those courts set among the perfect karst emptiness, there are buried the last Yugoslavian generation’s dreams of happiness and success, of better life and promised freedom. […] Korta photographs what he sees, with his own understanding experience. If we judge by the pictures, his intimate world seems not very remote from the Balkans. His eye has become familiar with those landscapes. He doesn’t picture them as a stranger would. This is a compliment. His pictures are much like Stasiuk’s «Taksim». It is the same kind of respect for the dying, receding world of the time of political transformation.”
Deputy Director for Programme Policy
International Cultural Centre
Michał Korta – studied photography at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow and German at the Jagiellonian University. In his projects, he addresses issues such as identity, identification, and representation of reality. Portrait photography plays an important role in his oeuvre. His works were exhibited extensively in Poland and internationally (in Italy, Germany, Spain, and Israel). His major projects are: “Painter’s Notebook” (2017), “The Shadow Line” (2016), “Balkan Playground” (2014), “Female Israeli Soldiers” (2013), “Fashionistas” (2012), “Kazakh Dismounted” (2010), “After Collapse – Former Soviet Republics” (2006–2010). He collaborates with publishing houses, advertising agencies, and cultural institutions. Author of 2 photographic books: “Beautiful Monster. Skopje Brutalist Architecture” (2016), “Balkan Playground” (2016/2017). He teaches photography in Poland and Switzerland.
Curator: Natalia Żak
Coordination: Regina Pytlik
Graphic design of exhibition: Monika Chrabąszcz-Tarkowska
Exhibition partner: Tengu Gallery