„Dark Data“ explores the space between the illuminating moment when an image is produced, and the knowledge concealed within it. The term describes information that can’t be used because the current methods of harvesting data can’t process it. It weighs the systems down.
Tobias Zielony’s work deals with the inability of full translation between visual phenomena and the information retained from these stimuli. Darkness and light take on several meanings that constantly oscillate between private and public, obscure and obvious, hidden and revealed.
Shot through a telescope and repeatedly dissolving into digital noise, the images in the video work „Hurd’s Bank“ (2020) form the backdrop to a speculative investigation into the links between the murder of a female journalist and oil-smuggling off the coast of Malta. The dark, grainy images resonate with the story. They’re as unclear as the events that are recounted. The video exposes an instability in the relationship between text and image: the latter seems to serve as proof of the former, yet simultaneously undermines it by dint of its grainy structure.
In his work „Maskirovka“ (2017), Zielony portrayed the LGBTQ and techno scene in Kyiv. Seen today, the seemingly innocent images carry the burden of war. The title refers to a strategy of deception employed by the Russian military during the invasion of Donbas and Crimea. The soldiers that seized these territories were dressed in unmarked army uniforms, even though their affiliation was obvious to every observer of the conflict. Zielony’s photographs of young people shot during party nights thus establish a link between the currents of rave culture in Kyiv and the ever-looming threat of war. This was also addressed in accompanying interviews with the people portrayed and expressed in the video that’s part of „Maskirovka“. Scenes showing the protagonists getting ready and going out are interspersed with TV images reporting on the war. A flickering, constant oscillation between the two types of images suggests that they are two sides of a complex phenomenon. While the bonds remain hidden and only suggested, the somatic effect of the flicker has a similar effect to the vague image in „Hurd’s Bank“.
Meanwhile, „Wolfen“ (2022) is based on research into the East German film factory ORWO. Light and darkness are used to represent the technical conditions of photography and film production, yet also metaphorically to convey the working conditions and global economic links. The two-channel video work focuses on the conditions of female labor and gives voice to the factory workers. Just like in „Maskirovka“, interviews were an important part of the research process. They present the factory as part of a geopolitical network extending into a more complex world than might be expected from the simple division during the Cold War. They expose the factory’s involvement in an international network of raw materials. Moreover, „Wolfen“ stages unseen and undocumented labor. In the installation, statements from the interviews combined with the artist’s own thoughts on one screen are shown alongside a fictional archive of the factory on the other featuring images of the site and former factory workers restaging workflows. The silence of the slideshow clearly denotes the fact that these stories were never part of the official history. However, rather than shedding light on a repressed past, „Wolfen“ explores a more fundamental obscurity: “This is a story for the future. For the aliens, for the replicants, for the survivors of the coming crises. It’s about the past. About the present and its past. Both will be gone by then.” This first slide in the text projection declares that the stakes are in the future. The one company still remaining in Wolfen that emerged from ORWO now produces film stock for archives that’s supposed to last up to a thousand years. Even if the images we see reenact the past, their purpose lies in the future.
„Watching TV in Narva“ (2022) observes a group of young people in front of a television in the Estonian city of Narva located right at the Russian border. A majority of the population there speaks Russian, and many residents have undefined citizenship. Shortly after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Estonia switched off several major Russian television channels. The protagonists‘ conversation is about television, the meaning of language and identity. The colors of the screen are reflected on their faces, and while a Russian channel is on, one of the group says: „The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.“ The opening line from William Gibson’s 1984 novel „Neuromancer“ is strangely both apt and out of place. Is this 2035 as imagined in this cyberpunk classic? Clearly not. The analog grain of the dead channel is replaced by digitally generated color that could indeed be the color of the sky. But it doesn’t make our future any less dystopian. The work resonates with „Maskirovka“ and the suggested link between the social atmosphere emanating from media outlets and people’s private lives. These broadcasts spill outside and are absorbed, affecting not just the viewers’ knowledge but also their somatic responses. Why else would one of the viewers recount a situation in which he lost his sight for twenty minutes? He speaks of the horror it caused him. Watching the news while being observed by a camera raises awareness of the act of seeing itself.
About the author
Daniel Muzyczuk is the co-curator of „Tobias Zielony – Dark Data“ (12.11.2022 – 16.04.2023) and is particularly responsible for the accompanying program. He is the head of the modern art department at the Sztuki Museum in Lodz. The themes of his work are Eastern European sound cultures, the history of unofficial cultures and modernist exhibition spaces. He curated exhibitions such as „Gone to Croatan“ (with Robert Rumas), „The Melancholy of Resistance“ (with Agnieszka Pindera), „Sounding the Body Electric: Experiments in Art and Music in Eastern Europe 1957 – 1984“ (with David Crowley), „Notes from the Underground: Art and Alternative Music in Eastern Europe 1968-1994“ (with David Crowley), „The Museum of Rhythm“ (with Natasha Ginwala), „Through The Soundproof Curtain: The Polish Radio Experimental“ (with Michał Mendyk), „Work, work, work (work). Céline Condorelli and Wendelien van Oldenborgh” (with Joanna Sokołowska). In 2019, he was co-curator of the Polish Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale. In 2011, he won the Igor Zabel Prize for Culture and Theory and is a member of Grupa Budapeszt (Experimental Music). In 2023, his forthcoming book „Twilight of the Magicians“ will be published by Spector Books.