‘Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling,
And I want the one's longevity and the other's daring.’
Sylvia Plath, I am Vertical
Despite our insistence on celebrating birthdays and counting down the hours, time does not move as a succession of discrete, measurable moments but rather, according to philosopher Henri Bergson, time is duration: ineffable, incomplete, mobile, with past and present coexisting. Anastasia Mina’s I am Vertical elaborates this temporal distinction between time, as moment, and duration through the cropping, enlarging, mark-making and screen-printing over reproductions of her family’s photographic archive.
The fast mechanisms of a camera, the speed of light enhanced by digital pixelation deceive us into believing a particular time has been captured, immobilised, and made immutable throughout duration. However, Anastasia is more concerned with process, the duration, rather than the finished work. I am Vertical has been a project in the making since 2020 where Anastasia’s time-consuming mark-making in But I rather be horizontal literally marks the duration of those years, their personal and socio-political events, and her changing concerns and understanding of the archive.
Over this duration, Anastasia has developed a critical intimacy with the photographs, intensified by their enlarged reproduction, as in Familial fields, and how close, literally centimetres away, her face is to the work when mark-making. While this intimacy facilitates an emotional relationship to the photographs’ referents, they are ultimately lost by how close Anastasia and the composition are to them. This obfuscation allows Anastasia to position herself to that photographic time and its referents who are no longer specific albeit unrecognised faces, immobilised and immutable. The photograph is instead extended through layers of screen-printing and digital manipulation into a duration, which as a lived experience, flows in temporal coexistence from its photographic past into Anastasia’s present.
The monochromatic sheerness of these two works does not immediately invite the viewer, but for those who durationally stay with them, they are rewarded with the subtle movements of tones and texture. Our reception therefore requires a similar critical intimacy to that achieved by Anastasia, both through duration with, and being physically close to the work, literally centimetres away. Accumulation of every single grapheme and meaning to achieve a complete understanding, as promised by photographic time, is impossible here, rather these works insist that control must be relinquished to experience their duration flow of tone and texture.
Promise, the third work in the exhibition, most explicitly references temporality; promise as an action directed towards the future. While its polychrome surface and size distinguishes it from the other works to suggest a glimmer of hopeful futurity, Anastasia refuses such a flat reading by layering patterns taken from the tissue paper wrapped around the initial photograph. Incorporating her family’s durational care of the photograph as object, intended to prolong the future of the photograph, into the photographic time of the referent, extends and fragments the latter. By requiring the viewer’s sight to flow between the fragments of coexisting temporalities, it alludes to the interpenetration and coexistence of past, present, and in extension of Bergson, future, within time as duration where memories are protected, revived, and lost.
I am Vertical is not a timeline from past to present and future, from beginning to end, in which the viewer is situated as a Janus figure. Instead we look, turn around, look behind, turn to the side, and look ahead again in different iterations to glance at temporal fragments. These works never reveal a complete understanding of durational time, but allow a different form of intimacy. We experience their flow of time, its elapse, and relentless change where we, and the photographs, find ourselves inescapably within. Like the gradual addition of detail that Anastasia’s grandmother would add to her stories, as Anastasia grew up, I am Vertical reminds us that an archival preciousness of the past often precludes any en-during relationship after the photograph has been taken.
by George Reiner