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Maneesha Bahuguna

Set in the chilly months of Central Europe, QCA Project Galleries’ latest exhibition Dérive encapsulates the travelling experience, with the diverse creative outcomes of Queensland College of Art staff and students’ three-week journey through the Czech Republic and Poland. Although diverse in nature, the works together layer and build upon the experience of the unfamiliar, using photography, film and visual artworks. The exhibition is also a part of the Queensland Festival of Photography 5, and a feature of the QFP5 Conference Photography & Fictions.

Katelyn-Jane Dunn interviews students Maneesha Bahuguna, Ally Burnham, Jess Collins and Elise Searson about the trip, resulting work and themes from the exhibition.

Can you tell me a bit about the work you produced from your time in the Czech Republic and Poland?
Maneesha: My time in the Czech Republic and Poland commenced my first experiences of Central Europe. Besides the seasonal exchange, I found many cultural, social, historical and environmental contrasts between them and Australia. As a person who travels quite frequently, the immediate medium of ‘the diary’ or ‘travel journal’ served as my primary source of documentation. Mediums of writing, drawing, photography and video also formed collaborations within my work.

Still from Girl with a DSLR, Ally Burnham 2013

Still from Girl with a DSLR, Ally Burnham 2013

Ally: I was only one of two film students on the trip, so I knew from the start I wanted to make a ‘documentary’ of sorts, but with most documentaries the story telling doesn’t really begin until you get into the editing suite – and in this case my final product is very different to what I thought I was making whilst over there. For example, I did a lot of interviews and recorded a lot of live music, but in the end decided to make a visual montage without sound at all, relying on the edit to find its own rhythm.

Jess: During my time in Prague I produced a photographic series based around the homeless, called Not Another Homeless Face. This series introduces you to five men who are or have been homeless for a big part of their life. They all work for a project called PRAGULIC, a Prague-based social enterprise, which is taking on the city’s homeless as tour guides through the underside of the Czech capital. Each man has a story and through text and images I attempt to share theirs with the viewer. My aim for the series aims to interconnect the mainstream society and the socially excluded groups, to fight stereotypes of socially disadvantaged people and to inspire a public discussion on the issues of homelessness and social exclusion. Meeting these men and hearing their stories was a real eye opener. It makes me so appreciative of my life and the opportunities I am fortunate to have.

Of Catching Ones Eye on the Charles Bridge in Prague, Elise Searson 2013

Of Catching Ones Eye on the Charles Bridge in Prague from In the Midst Elise Searson 2013

Elise: This trip was a combination of my passions; photography, travel and Europe, and it didn’t disappoint. These two countries put me in sensory overload, with the historical architecture, museums and a whole new environment to observe. I became obsessed over the decisive moments within it. For my project I looked beneath the surface of being a tourist to discover an alternative way of seeing the unfamiliar.

How did being a tourist, or outsider in an unfamiliar country, influence the work?
M: Diaspora, travel, the other and identity are reoccurring themes within my work; inherent solely from the many times I have been a ‘local’ and a ‘tourist’. Being in an unfamiliar country as an ‘outsider’ is familiar to me however I can say that every experience is different. To tackle the challenges of being in an unknown environment, I believe you can either sink or swim. Supporting the latter approach, I strived to embrace the opportunity of simply being an observer and a passenger, allowing the inevitable influence of positive and negative moments to influence my writing and photography.

E: I felt a stronger need to create spontaneous work driven by intuition rather than countless hours of research. It’s a feeling of movement through an environment I didn’t quite understand that influenced my work. It made me want to make the ordinary look extraordinary as I saw it in that moment.

All of your works seem to take on ideas of memory. Do you feel that photo-media is the most effective medium when it comes to the preservation of memory?

Petr from Homeless Jess Collins, 2013

Petr from Not Another Homeless Face, Jess Collins, 2013

J: I’m not sure if photo-media is the most effective medium when it comes to the preservation of memory, however living in a world that is already so full of photos, I definitely do see a place for it.

It allows us to capture these experiences, stories, and memories and keep them for reflection, never to be forgotten and open for many to view or to be kept private. It is a great tool.

A: Yes, and no. While an unaltered image is what it is and doesn’t lie, context of that image can be heavily distorted and given new meanings, therefore isn’t always a very reliable form of capturing memories. This is why I love editing. Two completely unrelated images context wise, but of the same content, say one captured in Poland and another in Czech can be edited side by side to give the impression they happened at the same time, one after the other, or are even of the same thing. It’s manipulation of the viewer, and as a storyteller, manipulating the audience – their emotions, ideas and anticipations, is what it’s all about.

I noticed that for some of you the trip marks a departure from previous visual aesthetics. Were these new explorations in response to the places you visited, or pre-determined?
A: I brought my DSLR over there always with the intention of capturing film. Exactly what the content would be and how I would cut it all together was still a mystery while I was over there. I’m happy simple ideas I had while over there managed to make it into the final cut. For example, I found myself after a few days capturing of a lot of small cut-away shots of lamp posts. Once I noticed myself doing it, I did it more and more on purpose, each unique lamp post I saw. Now in the edit, I have about 15 seconds of lamp posts all cut one after the other in a small little montage of their own. Little small things like that, but that was the environment shaping me project, rather than the other way around.

E: The only thing I pre determined was my willingness to respond authentically to the places we visited. I was shooting for hours on end almost everyday of the trip so in a natural progression my aesthetics changed a little however the way I see the world didn’t; it was just that my surrounds were different.

I can imagine that travelling so far from home and everyday routine would have impacted on your work process. Did you find the trip challenged your work process or encouraged new ways of working?

Untitled, Maneesha Bahuguna 2013

Constellations #1 (detail), Maneesha Bahuguna 2013

M: As a fine art student the trip proved challenging in terms of not having a printmaking, sculpture or painting studio to where one could retreat to when inspiration arose. However as photography is a favored medium of mine I found encouragement in working in perhaps a new and more transient way.

J: We were constantly moving from city to city within both the Czech Republic and Poland. We were only at each place for three to four days and some places even less. This did make it quite challenging to process work, especially when I’m use to having more time to produce a series. Even so, this did encourage me to be a lot more organized and to have nearly the whole project planned before we arrived. I feel this trip and working on this series has improved my process as a photographer and I look forward to my next study tour to New York later this year to see what else I will learn about myself and my practice.

Dérive officially opens tonight, Thursday 24th of April at Project Gallery, Queensland College of Art, 6pm, and will continue until 3rd of May.

For more information, please visit the event page.

The Queensland Festival of Photography 5 has started, and will run for the whole of April 2014. For more information on other participating exhibitions and the events taking place in conjunction with QFP5, please visit the festival website.

Katelyn-Jane Dunn is an emerging photographic artist and coordinator of the Queensland Festival of Photography 5.

Banner image: Constellations #2 (detail), Maneesha Bahuguna 2013.

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German 1964–
Lichtung / Clearing 2003
C-Print / Perspex
192.0 × 495.0 cm
Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery, Sprüth Magers Berlin London, Esther Schipper, Berlin, Matthew Marks Gallery
© Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / VISCOPY, Sydney


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