Ilari Laamanen

Curator's foreword


Trance states can include altered dispositions, emotions and moods that humans experience. The phenomenon often results from the behaviour of intense focusing of attention and can be understood as a way for the mind to change how it filters information in order to provide more efficient use of its underused resources. 

Trance may be accessed or induced by various modalities, entered voluntarily or involuntarily and be experienced both individually and collectively. It should be discussed in plural, as there are more than one altered state of consciousness significantly different from the so-called everyday consciousness. 

In the context of Trance, the main exhibition of the seventh Tallinn Photomonth contemporary art biennial, the trance relates to a heightened state of watching: the kind that borders on addictive. Nowadays, this watching is most often mediated through screens. The presence of these objects and their attractive glow is so mundane and pervasive, even to the point that not having one could give an individual the feeling of isolation from the social context altogether.

Exhibition as a medium 

Trance looks into the charm and allure of being engaged with technology on the one hand, and the darker side of these rapid developments on the other. The transition from photographic images to interactive screens, as well the intimately intertwined relationship between the two, marks as one of the most significant and destabilising changes in the ways for humans to perceive reality. 

The all-pervading media reality shares a distinct kinship with contemporary art. So many artists draw a lot for their work not only from the information, rhetorics and aesthetics circulating in the media, but also from its behind-the-scenes mechanisms. In its dynamism, openness and multidisciplinary nature, contemporary art can be a fertile ground for media philosophical speculations. The theoretical questions of both traditions are closely connected not only to the present, but also to the study of time in flexible and fluid ways. 

Here, an art exhibition can be considered as a medium, i.e., a platform that enables alternative ways to interact and convey information. Approached this way, the format of an exhibition may sound mechanical, but this is a typical problem when defining media. It’s often thought of as a machine or tool, such as a computer, television or radio. However, media can be understood much more broadly. Exhibition as a medium is not merely an intellectual act, but also emphasises a broad spectrum of emotional and visceral intelligence. The brain is not the only control centre in the human body.

This kind of media philosophical thinking is not confined within categories, but sprouts on the borders of and in between them. It does not remain as an individual pursuit or an expression of the self but thrives on the edges, constantly questioning not only chosen areas of interest and concern, but even the functioning of thinking as an intellectual act. Thus, media philosophical thinking is more of a crisscross or zigzag in between traditions, disciplines and forms of thought. 

The potential of glitch

The artists in the exhibition absorb, hack and reformat conventional means of (audio)visual presentation. They present idiosyncratic encounters between bodies and technologies and utilise glitch as a conceptual tool. It’s a split in time, a gesture that by design requires a moment of remediation and reflection. Not simply a jerky aesthetical anomaly, glitch is treated as an opportunity to benefit from a moment of disruption. 

Glitch emphasises incompleteness. It’s placed within and in between the flow of data, even interrupting it. Glitch is a technical error or malfunction that can’t be foreseen. For a typical user of technology, a glitch causes a headache, but it can also be approached as an experience of difference and a moment that can produce a new kind of thinking. Glitch forces a user or a spectator to stop and rethink the situation. 

In this exhibition glitch can be understood as a tool that enables a break from the technological trance. It is a means of stepping back, sharpening the gaze, considering alternative viewing positions. It is an invitation to feel and be with art and images, to contemplate on their potential meanings and significance. No matter how complex, puzzling and ephemeral they might be. 

Moving from ideals of collective behavioural patterns to phantasmagoria, the artworks can be experienced as critical parallels to the everyday feeds of information. They open up possibilities for reflection by reviewing one’s relationship with watching, with a wide spectrum of emotional, visceral and intellectual entanglements.