Journal of a Portrait
In March 2010 the young Uruguayan-Swedish artist, Esko Tikanmäki, was to open the show ‘Journal of a Portrait’ in the Signal gallery in Mälmo, a multimedia experiment dedicated to the character of Matti Tikanmäki, his father, deceased in 2006. Three days prior to the opening, Esko drops-off an old leather suitcase in the deposit of the gallery; he then disappears and two days later he lets the curator know, without further explanation, that his show must be cancelled.
A few months later, through a common friend, Esko’s project Journal of a Portrait is revealed to us through the blog where the artist maintained a record of his personal and creative process. In the context of Fotograma 2011, we embarked in the process of studying Esko’s material and eventually proposed to him to allow us to appropriate the contents of his project to further develop it in Montevideo, place where the artist spent his childhood.
Journal of a Portrait is a project that has a purpose: to ponder about the role of portraiture in today’s photography, starting from a paradox: the collective creation (we are three artists based in Uruguay, and two other collaborators based in Europe) of the portrait of a person unknown to us, based on the appropriation of material accumulated and developed by another artist, who knew the subject of the portrait.
To participate in a venture such as Fotograma presupposes, first of all, one question: what is photography today? Then the inquiries that arise multiply as if by association, related to the technique for production and reproduction of images, the dialectic relationship between the analog and digital formats, how the relationship of the photographer and the light has changed, as well as with the documentary record, with the history of photography, with the meaning of capturing an image. Would Walter Benjamin have foreseen the infinitude and the complexity of the dimension of reproducibility of an image in the era of digital photography and the Internet? Would he maintain the same stance before the necessary demystification of the aura that defines the authenticity of a work, that stops its unique instance of emergence, its context in the ritual? In this connection, it is interesting to revisit a paragraph in which the German philosopher thinks about the founding place of the portrait in the history of photography, and later describes its gradual shift from a place of worship to one of exhibition, and how this transition expands the perception of the photographic object: beyond contemplation, the image is presented as a cognitive trigger, it establishes a new field of action.
“In photography, exhibition value begins to displace cult value… Although the cult value does not give in without resistance; it accomodates in a final reduction: the human face. It is no accident that the portrait was the focal point of the beginning of photography. The cult of remembrance of loved ones, absent or dead, offers a last refuge for the cult value of the image. For the last time the aura emanates from the first photograhs in the fleeting expression of a human face. This is what constitutes their melancholy and beauty. But to the extent that men move away from the photographic image, for the first time its display value shows its superiority over its value as a ritual. The realization of this new stage constitutes the incomparable significance of Atget, who around 1900 took photos of deserted streets of Paris. It has been rightly said that he photographed them like crime scenes. The scene of a crime is also deserted; it is photographed with the purpose of establishing evidence. With Atget, photographs become basic evidence of historical incidents, and acquire a hidden political significance. They require a specific type of approach; free contemplation is not appropriate. They disturb the viewer; he feels challenged by the images in a way that had never happened before…”
Among the five artists from different geographic and creative areas, a platform for interdisciplinary and transnational dialogue is structured; it proposes to start where Esko had finished. From Malmö to Montevideo, Journal of a Portrait assumes the character of a project in progress that, starting with the appropriation of all the material and conceptual content developed by another artist, intends to open and broaden the debate about the role of photography in the history of portraiture, and viceversa. In the frame of the third edition of Fotograma, we propose a photographic exhibition that does not include printed photos; an exhibition as the axis of a discourse with the purpose of going into these places and shifts: between the historical document, the cult, possessing all its authentic aura, and its digitalization, between the practice of photographing images instead of photographing real subjects, between the portrait as an intimate and subjective relationship established in the shared space and created by the confrontation of two people, the observer and the observed, and the process, the integration of the temporal element – the day-to-day – as a field of fotographic research: a portrait in continuous progress, in addition to being a portrait without a subject. We look for the original portraitist, but we do not find Esko. The search for the portraitist, however, led us to the memory of the portrayed, which ends up in the display of an inexhaustible horizontal amplitud.
The portrait as landscape
Esko remains an enigma. For us. However, his suitcase is here. Welcome to Journal of a Portrait.
 Walter Benjamin. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. 1936