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tracing europe an introduction to a documentary spectacle

Tracing Europe is a long-term project addressing to European social change from the late 1980's to the present. Francis Fukuyama proposed in 1992 that the long battle between various ideologies had ended to the victory of western liberal democracy. In Fukuyama's opinion this might have signalled the endpoint of humanity's sociocultural evolution and the final form of human government. However, the recent changes in political situation seem to prove the opposite.

I believe that setting the particulars - the numerous European narratives - into the context of the general enables reflective judgement of the era under inspection.

a story from croatia

In August 2017 I spent a two-week holiday in Makarska, a small Croatian holiday resort by the clean Adriatic Sea. I came to read there about the early years of tourism in Tito's Yugoslavia and about the reasons behind the Bosnian war.

On one of my walks I ended up to an interesting-looking hotel, where I asked the concierge about the history of the building. The young man, fluent in English, told me that it was built in 1984, the year of Sarajevo winter Olympics, and was soon after the opening rewarded for its genius architectural design: all the rooms from the two terrace-like corpuses offer a view to the sea.

Hotel Meteor

During the Bosnian war, Makarska Riviera received hundreds of thousands of refugees who were accommodated in the hotels that were understandably empty of tourists. The awarded hotel in question accommodated the diplomats and NATO generals involved in solving the war.

The concierge was a teenager then and remembered well the people accommodated in his own family. "Unlike today, all the refugees - either a Bosnian Muslim, a Serbian Orthodox, a Croatian Catholic or a Jew - were offered shelter and food."

The fire from the plateau, the very same plateau where the Bosnian refugees had arrived from, was spreading down to the town along the small bushes and pines growing between the rocks.

Just before my arrival, the Mediterranean area had suffered of a heat-wave that was raising temperatures near 40°C in Makarska area. Forest fires were a constant threat also during my stay. The fire from the plateau, the very same plateau where the Bosnian refugees had arrived from, was spreading down to the town along the small bushes and pines growing between the rocks. I was sitting on my terrace and watching for a couple of days how two yellow aeroplanes were fighting the fire by masterfully dropping loads of water on the mountain slope.

The tourists on the beach looked rather indifferent to man's fight against the catastrophes boosted by the climate change. For them, this all seemed to be too a distant worry - unless it led to evacuation of the town in the middle of their vacationing.

a version of reality

A quarter of a century ago the atmosphere in Europe was, despite the war in former Yugoslavia, enthusiastically positive indeed. The big wave of freedom and democracy took down the Berlin wall and wiped out the Soviet empire, while the western Europe was moving towards tighter integration. However, the battle between ideologies has not ended: if there today is no clear left and right, there is even starker contrast between the liberal and conservative. The worry of the rather harmless Polish plumber moving to the west has changed to anxious fear of refugee's invasion and radical Islam terror.

Once again, borders are being closed: nationalist, isolationist, and separatist forces are being encouraged and supported from Kremlin, while the delusional #45 is creating confusion in the trans-Atlantic cooperation with his post-truth commentary in the social media.

We are facing the reality, or better: representations of reality, in the various medias on daily bases. Evaluating the truthlikeness of the news and their possible harm of the events for us is a difficult task. It requires sophisticated education and ability to read the media critically along open-minded observation of our own environment.

I have thus set on the road to explore Europe. Similarly, to John Steinbeck, I need to get to the grassroots of our continent to understand how time has been treating people.

The results of my discovery will be seen as a series of large-format photographs, each of them narrating an essential feature in the near history of the country in question. I believe that setting the particulars - the numerous European narratives - into the context of the general enables reflective judgement of the era under inspection.

MIKKO WALTARI (b. 1966) is a Finnish photographer (MA) who is researching the representation of reality and the documentary truth in photography.

about

My artistic work consists of topics relating to social history and to the spectacle. Theoretically my work falls into practices that can be categorised as documentary or half-documentary. Yet, a single work usually consists of several digital frames that are merged into a tableau-size panorama. This can be seen as an extension of the third dimension - time - in photography. The merging of the landscape takes my work towards post-documentary, but I myself call the style documentary spectacle.

My earlier career in exports has contributed to the critical approach to narrative: the sales-process is comparable to a creative story-telling where facts and fiction come successfully together. Therefore, documentary spectacle relates to concepts such as scientific truthlikeness. It also borrows from the theories and practices of documentary theatre, documentary literature, and documentary film, i.a.

In the end, the meticulously constructed image shows an aftermath of an event instead of the event itself – the image becomes a trace of a trace of an event.

disclaimer: the related photographs are not to be confused with the intended result of the project.

Created By
Mikko Waltari
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©mikko waltari

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