If we avail ourselves of Susan Sontag’s definitions, photography, compared to other artistic media, has the most stable connection to the past. It is always one step behind. A photographic image may not represent objective evidence, but it is a record of a past scene, which makes the photographer a contemporary, through whose eyes and camera the present becomes the past. Photography also proved to be suitable for recording injuries. It developed an affinity for the rejected, the insignificant and the uninteresting. It revealed beauty in the dilapidated remains and ruins of reality. The link between photography and death accompanies not only photos of people but also their objects. Denis Butorac’s photographic approach, however, does not imply documentary conservation of the past or the authoritativeness of the artistic concept, his photographs in fact point to the futility of understanding the world (uniformly). Something else has prevailed – the proposal to collect it.

Denis Butorac’s previous photographic series conveyed the complex nature of identity maturation conditioned by the geopolitical and cultural milieu. By entwining the documentary and the conceptual approach in the semantically layered photographic series, the artist examines a wide range of themes: from the search for identity that arises from spatial, social and personal memory, familial and traditional narratives, through the question of the functioning of society, its influence on the individual and the problems of formation of various gender and other stereotypes.

The subjects of photographs from the recent series titled At Night It’s Colder than Outside are melancholy objects – objects with a patina, rotten or cracked things, memories, still warm from human touch – which expose the depreciation of their value. Articles of consumption become metaphors of lived moments, traumas and important life events, which the artist breaks into unusual fragments. By using code, he redirects attention from the object to the photographic approach, whereby the establishment of a specific ambience and atmosphere becomes the final goal, while he keeps the driving narrative to himself. Since the objects’ connection to reality grows weaker with the passage of time, their values and meanings likewise fade, and from the very beginning the artist does not burden them with a definitive conceptual framework, on the contrary, he opens them up to any and all types of interpretation. The content of the photographs thus becomes an affirmation of the object’s presence and the properties that make it unique to the artist, to the detriment of their oblivion.

Although the exhibited still lifes display the self-referential aesthetics, and all motifs are firmly rooted in his own artistic and human case, Denis Butorac also incorporates a “self-portrait” into the visual whole, thus creating a striking effect. Its purpose, as a separate and literal fragment, becomes an underlining of existence, an even stronger interpenetration of the artist and his work. I, for Denis Butorac, is the most legitimate and intimate subject, especially the dark corners of his microcosm.

Staged photography, a form of photography that captures staged or artificially constructed scenes, is not new in the artist’s work. In recent photographs, the scene is sufficiently stylised to function as an allegory, to make us suspect the intention of establishing an atmosphere on the border between reality and dream. The recognisable soft and pastel hues of photographs from the previous series, which deliberately contradicted the described unpleasant experiences, are in this case replaced by darkness. Despite the time that separates them, as well as the circumstances and the medium, the compositional solutions, light, meticulously selected textures (drapery, glass, soil), pathos that tries to win the observer’s sympathy and the process of staging the scene, are all similar to those of Baroque painting. Moreover, large dimensions of photographs also contribute to similarities with painting. In the series At Night It’s Colder than Outside, the artist deals with another art historical commonplace, the theme of still life, one of the favourite subjects of painting, which has undergone numerous redefinitions throughout history. This time, the objects draw us into the process of searching for hidden contexts, they spark curiosity and convince us they hide personal motifs. Numerous dichotomies provide an additional layer of meaning, which touches on universal themes, represented throughout history of art all the way to the present moment – eternity and transience, life and death, reality and dream. The theatre of the absurd, inferred by the title of the exhibition, takes place in the settings created from waste materials in which plastic flowers, instead of replacing, negate nature, while David’s ideally proportioned face is distorted in a grimace in the reflection. Absurdity is the thread that runs through the series, connecting the scenes into a whole, dictating the tone of the exhibition and pointing to what exists around us.

Ultimately, in his still lifes the artist reactivates the positions of objects engulfed in a complete social entropy of oblivion and silence. He witnesses their former status, only to see their reputation disappear, while they become, within the newly created contexts, objects of questionable functionality or aesthetics, unwanted and discarded. The artist himself is aware that we cannot stay here for long, in the place where we are now. Everything is made for in advance, both what was and what will be. In art, at least, an occasional journey to the past and back is possible.

Ana Čukušić

Denis Butorac (1992) obtained an MFA degree in Photography from the Academy of Dramatic Art in Zagreb. In addition to the Dean’s and two Rector’s Awards, he is the recipient of several other awards, including the Marina Viculin Award, given as recognition to Croatian artists for their outstanding achievement in the field of photography, and the award of the Museum of Fine Arts in Split at the 2020 Youth Salon. He has shown his work at several solo and group exhibitions in Croatia and abroad. The Homesick exhibition, held as part of the 10th edition of the Organ Vida International Photography Festival in 2018, stands out among his solo exhibitions, then the Epistle exhibition at the Gallery f8 in Zagreb in 2019 and at the Salon Galić Gallery in Split in 2021, as well as the exhibition 15 till 19 at the Galženica Gallery in Velika Gorica, also in 2021. He has participated in several group exhibitions, most notably the Biennale of Young Croatian Photography in 2018 and 2019, the exhibition of winners of the HT – Croatian Contemporary Art Award at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb in 2019, the exhibition Endémico vs. Global at the C3 Science Complexity Centre in Mexico in 2019, the exhibition of RPD2019 finalists at the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Zagreb in 2019 and the exhibition at the Slavonian Biennale in the Museum of Fine Arts in Osijek in 2020. In his artistic work, he uses photography as a medium for exploration of topics such as identity, family and tradition, thus building his own narrative series that combine documentary and conceptual work. He lives and works in Zagreb.

The exhibition is the result of the Museum of Fine Arts Award at the 35th Youth Salon.