Date
17 August 2020
Reading Time
8 minute read
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How can photography unveil invisible systems of power in society? Kirsten Bosma explores

In a practice which overlaps with photojournalism, Kirsten’s work is thoughtful, investigative and downright fascinating.

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Date
17 August 2020
Reading Time
8 minute read

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Kirsten Bosma, a photography graduate from the Royal Academy of Arts, The Hague, landed herself firmly in this year’s Graduates for her aesthetically distinctive and conceptually fascinating practice – one that stopped us in our tracks. Her practice explores hidden or invisible structures of power; structures that are weaved into banal systems, geopolitical infrastructure and everyday human mass movement.

This topic, while complex, is made navigable through Kirsten’s practice and is something she has explored in several comprehensive projects to date. There’s Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear, for example, which looks at how we see, represent and try to understand the greatest forces shaping our current society, predominantly, the inherent difficulties and limitations of representing capitalism, a totality without a singular centre. While capitalism is often perceived as an abstract notion, through this series, Kirsten documents the physical infrastructure undergirding this seemingly invisible system.

GalleryKirsten Bosma: White Paper and a Black Box, 2019-20

GalleryKirsten Bosma: White Paper and a Black Box, 2019-20

In another work titled Mapping the Uncertainty of Warfare, produced in collaboration with Anastasija Kiake and commissioned by Stroom Den Haag through the Royal Academy of Art, she investigates The Hague’s relationship to contemporary warfare. “Warfare must be imagined beyond the sensational image of death and physical destruction that we witness from a distance,” she argues. “This project investigates the economic and political supply chains of warfare through the materiality of an entangled web of science research, technology and power.”

Then there’s White Paper and a Black Box, which is soon to be released as a publication and which Kirsten tells us about in more detail below, an in-depth investigation into the Northern Norwegian territory which has become the stage for an ongoing yet indirect form of conflict between the East and the West. Through this approach to exploring and upending the world we live in, Kirsten describes her work as “aesthetic journalism” – her photography is rooted in documentary techniques and journalistic methods of production while simultaneously reflecting on the medium of photography as an art form. Through her work, we can begin to understand the complexities of power and “to increase the ability to engage, which is key to our democracy,” she says.

Above

Kirsten Bosma: White Paper and a Black Box, 2019-20

“Creating a different language than the one spoken, through photography, about the specific issue, can open up reflections and create a space to start recognising elements of invisible structures of power.”

Kirsten Bosma

It’s Nice That: What's the most valuable lesson you learned during your time at university?

Kirsten Bosma: There are many unexpected and important lessons to be learned in art education. To me, the most valuable one is the ability to research topics or issues from several viewpoints. While I do believe truth exists, it does not mean that I can fully recognise, perceive and understand truth. Art education taught me to open up my mind and attempt to understand beyond the patterns that we’ve learned in our culture and previous educations.

Another very important lesson, which is rather basic, is to take good care of your health – both physically and mentally. It is only from a place of health that good creativity and productivity will flow. It is so easy to go beyond what our bodies and minds can bear. Of course, there are seasons which are more demanding than others, but as we’ve clearly seen in the past couple of months, our whole planet and all our ambitions can be altered within days. I’ve found that flexibility is a trait that will get you far and being flexible is so much easier once you are physically and mentally in a healthy place.

GalleryKirsten Bosma: White Paper and a Black Box, 2019-20

INT: Your practice explores hidden or invisible structures of power, why does this interest you and how does it manifest across your portfolio?

KB: I believe that hidden or invisible structures of powers need to be unveiled or at least there should be an attempt to do so. There are many things that go unseen, some deliberately and some unconscious. Yet, these structures of powers can have great effects on the political or social facets of our society. There is this quote by Rebecca Solnit which I have been thinking about a lot: “Democracy depends on public participation, which itself depends on visibility. On purely theoretical grounds, you can argue that invisibility is thereby undemocratic; practically, invisibility is violent.” This is a very interesting approach to invisibility and deals with the information we perceive. To me, the most fascinating element of such structures of power is that they require a large amount of research and reflection through organising all that is available. And I enjoy this a lot! Also, using the medium of photography, which at its core can only capture that what is physical, is an intriguing challenge. Creating a different language than the one spoken, through photography, about the specific issue, can open up reflections and create a space to start recognising elements of invisible structures of power.

I believe that the attempts to unveil don’t necessarily need to succeed but the engagement can already carry important influence. My photographic projects are an attempt to bring a specific element of some kind of power structure to the surface. In the past year, I have mostly been researching contemporary warfare as a structure of power which goes far beyond physical violence and destruction. Secrecy and invisibility are at the heart of contemporary warfare. It is veiled in banality, very complexly through various codes and data, it is layered in piles of bureaucracy and it is nourished through many supply chains. My work has so far been touching on small elements of this ever-changing and incomprehensible topic.

GalleryKirsten Bosma: White Paper and a Black Box, 2019-20

INT: In what ways does your practice overlap with photojournalism?

KB: That’s a very interesting question! I think the overlap is found in a similar aim: striving towards new ways of knowledge production of contemporary issues and using our medium as a tool to communicate recent events to the public. I believe that both photojournalism and artistic photography projects hold incredible importance in our democracy as they fuel the possibility to engage both socially and politically. While not every artist is committed to contemporary issues, I believe and desire that art is developing from the mere expression of the self towards a medium that articulates relevant affairs and informs beyond just the provision of information, but also acts as a space of reflection.

INT: Tell us about White Paper and a Black Box – what is it about? And what aesthetic or conceptual decisions did you make?

KB: White Paper and a Black Box is my graduation project and it is about how information is presented by information channels on a specific kind of conflict happening in northern Norway. Here, military pressure and symbolic violence have increased, transforming the arctic into the decor of shadow boxing between the East and the West. According to the US organisation Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation, “Norway can pass South Korea as the country most affected by deliberate jamming from the neighbour.” These violent attacks, alongside uninformed military testings and training close to Norwegian territory, has been heavily influencing world politics as well as local politics. However, the abstraction of this contemporary battlefield leaves room for mis- and disinformation and alternative truths. This space is really interesting to me.

There are two information channels reporting on this conflict: “white papers” (governmental reports) and the “black box” (media). These are quite literally translated in the aesthetics of this work. The white images show a clean and peaceful overview of a Norwegian landscape, reflecting the white papers. The black images are photographs of little hints or links to the East or the conflict itself. So for example, a Russian watchtower, a company that benefits a lot from trade with Russia, a radome etc. The black and the white present a paradox while in reality, it is one grey blur. Both information channels reveal information but also hide information as all of the information is curated. The common ground is thus the tension of overload and emptiness of information. This tension has been leading the conceptual decisions for this work.

The biggest challenge of this project is that the images do not show any conflict or violence because, for the biggest part, this cannot be photographed. Therefore, I allowed text to play a role in the dissemination of this project as well. Not in the sense of explanatory descriptions but by using the overload and emptiness of information coming to us about this conflict. All the quotes are trying to give a handle on this conflict, yet also clearly reveal the emptiness, as well as the lack of an ability to grasp the complexity of this fairly unknown conflict.

Above

Kirsten Bosma: Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear, 2019

INT: You also co-founded a publication call Baobab. What is it about? When and why did it begin? And what are your future plans with it?

KB: Baobab is a platform that desires to challenge the future of photography. It offers a range of activities and educational experiences that aim to strengthen the photographers’ capacities to reflect, create and craft a story. It started out in 2016 at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, out of the frustration that we hardly saw the works created by students from other years. We created a simple curated exhibition in the hallway of the school. We had some connections with graphic design students and decided to create a magazine from the works exhibited in this exhibition and this is how the first issue of Baobab magazine was developed!

We slowly started to understand more of the value that such an initiative can have on individuals’ professional careers. So far we have published three magazines. The third issue is fully developed by three guest editors that had the liberty to decide upon the content, form and picture-edit of the magazine. This challenges the traditional idea of the construction of a magazine and the idea of what a magazine is. Through this, individuals are offered handles to question, reflect and develop that which is considered “good” and important to them. These magazines have been the red thread and along this thread, we have organised several talks, exhibitions, installations and workshops. So far we have only worked with students from the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague but for the future, we aim to use work from more photography courses and other young makers. Also, we hope to do more workshops and installations to expand our reach even more.

Above

Kirsten Bosma: Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear, 2019

Above

Kirsten Bosma: Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear, 2019

The Graduates 2020 continued!

This year, we were so overwhelmed by the quality of work submitted by graduates,
we decided to showcase another 20 of the next generation’s top talent.

Click here to meet them!

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.

rbd@itsnicethat.com

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