Curated by Valeria Schwarz within Parallel Events Manifesta 8
Laboratorio de Arte Joven, Murcia
For a long time, America has represented in the collective imaginary – as depicted by Franz Kafka in his posthumous novel, Amerika – change, the promise of freedom and happiness, the spiritual banishment of a person in his search for Truth, a truth that becomes entangled with monetary value and power structures.
Under the title Amerika, Laboratorio de Arte Joven de Murcia proudly presents inside the frame of Parallel Events of Manifesta 8 the photographic work of Ulrich Gebert. Amerika was produced in 2007 in Valencia under the International Photography Research Network EU Culture 2000 program.
Divided in three parts, the project depicts the work system of African immigrant day laborers that harvest oranges in Valencia. From a low-angle shot that denotes a certain authority, the photographer captures in the first part the moments prior to work, in which the day laborers gather to be picked up by numerous vans in order to be driven to the plantations. Amerika II concentrates on the work object – the orange trees- and on the labor itself. Men’s hands appear out of the beauty of nature making clear that there is nothing such as untouched environment. The third part of the series occurs outdoors in an ambiguous space. It is night and the day laborers are shown gathered under what appear to be stadium lights. The sequence finishes with one of these lights, bright white against a pitch black sky.
This work portraits an order, a system – in this case the harvesting of oranges- and evidences the profuse paradoxes that cross our society. As in previous works, Gebert uses nature, or more precisely the interaction of man with nature, as a platform to confront us with the relationship of power, exploitation and rationalization in which we are immersed. It is not singularly about the control of nature by man, but also about a certain group of people, in a foreign land, in search of change, who ultimately assimilate into a structure reliant on their oppression and the control of their illusions.
While there is no spectacle, direct violence or humiliation in Gebert’s images, like an iceberg, the unseen is what really troubles the pictures, those things that the viewer implicitly knows. The camera keeps a politically correct distance to the photographed subject, avoiding any kind of demagogy. The size of the pictures, however, obliges the visitor to get closer, to take sides. One’s gaze must reach towards the person in the image and identify him from the mass. The viewer has then to determine to what degree this exploitation is legitimate in order to maintain a system. The subjects of the pictures are at the complex crossing between basic personal needs and market demands, between survival and abuse. In light of all of this maybe what perturbs in Amerika is the lack of solutions.
Installation views by Ulrich Gebert.