“From never to (now)here” is the series of computer-synthesized landscapes. The central objects are the roads, great, wide roads that intersect the cities. The roads with the alternative exit(s). Or entrance(s). Those roads are empty; you cannot see people on the streets. Empty roads captured from a bird’s eye perspective with a strong spatial depth emphasize the time passing by. The atmosphere is perplex, ambiguous, recall a calm before the storm. Apparently steady, still, and yet anxious and tense. It is unknown whether the city is abandoned or it will be in the next moment.
The images look like the regular photos at first glance, but after careful observation we perceive the simulated reality. This simulated reality, otherwise, is a realistic presentation of the existing situation.
Andrej Mircev: Mapping the uninhabitable
In her latest work entitled From never to (now)here, Karolina Pernar confronts the viewer with a rather disturbing scene. At first instance, everything seems to be in place. The architecture, the city, the infrastructure. Foregrounding the shape of the urban landscape from a bird’s eye perspective, the black and white images focus on lines and grids, which delineate different cities. However, if we take a closer look, we will find out that there are no signs of human life. The roads and highways are empty. People are not to be found on the parking lofts nor in front of their houses. Without living souls or traces of existential activity such as walking, eating, talking etc. Just the bare architecture of the postmodern city with its tyranny of endless concrete blocks, unfolding in unknown directions. An assemblage of routes and trajectories. The uncanny scene brings forth many questions. Is it a prediction of the world after the catastrophe? Or the moment before? The stillness of time and an already absent life that will be thrown into oblivion with the next second? Where are the people and why did they disappear?
The answers are not given, nor indicated with the images themselves. They have to be projected onto them, as they are semantically empty landscapes, which have to be invested with one´s own fantasy and desire. In other words, the emptiness invites the viewer to fill in the blank spots, choosing the (interpretative) route and journey s/he will take.
The point of view from which one encounters the scenes is from above and away from the objects. It simulates the distant, one could almost say, god´s perspective. Reflecting on this optical disposition in the context of power technologies, it could be asserted that it signifies the permanent state of surveillance, which in its current development is that of omnipresence of security cameras and drones. However, if technologies of control target the human subject, in case of Karolina´s work, this basic premise is subverted, since there are no bodies that the optical power can hold on to.
On the other hand, the perspective suggested by the artist might also evoke the point of view of airplanes. Particularly those airplanes that carry bombs and had had destroyed cities such as Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, Belgrade, Berlin, Coventry etc. Recalling here the French philosopher Paulo Virilio, who ponders on the relation between images and war, it can be noted: “Aerial observation had in fact stopped being episodic from the beginning of the war; it was not a matter of images now, but of an uninterrupted stream of images, millions of negatives madly trying to embrace on a daily basis the statistical trends of the first great military-industrial conflict” (P. Virilio, The Vision Machine, p. 47)
Although the images show no ruins as such, the atmosphere of the pictures resembles that of an archaeological site. Big deserted cityscapes, similar to the lost urban structures of the ancient world. Or a dreamlike scenography, from which we awake terrified that there are no more people around and that we are left alone in the world. The mysterious absence of life haunting us through the images mirrors the degree of contemporary alienation, particularly in megalopolises, where the individual has lost the sense of belonging. This kind of spatiality, which can be seen as a result of absolute visibility, reflects the homogenization of space that came about through the blending of military technologies with media such as photography and film. “Space was at last homogenized” writes Virilio: “absolute war had become a reality, and the monolith was its monument.” (P. Virilio, Bunker Archeology, p. 40)
What, thus, the work From never to (now)here offers in its first reading, is this experience of the homogenous, globalized city stripped of life. The city seen from above, from the point of view of destruction and surveillance. The city forgotten and left on its own. Yet, due to this absolute void, it might be also interpreted as the city of pure potentiality, open for the unexpected. Since the roads and directions are not predefined by any motion, they are exposed in their undecidedness. The usual crowded image of highways seen in rush hours becomes contrasted with an almost meditative landscape, uninhabited by cars or people who, usually, aimlessly drift without really knowing where the roads lead.
Highlighting the structure of the paths and highways, Karolina turns our attention to the idea of the roads that enable fast communication between different part of the city, as well as between the city and its surroundings. As a decisive symbol of modernity, the highway represents the striving for a connected and integrated society (but also centralized and controlled society). At the same time, as it could be seen in the writings of the French anthropologist and philosopher Marc Augé, the modern and postmodern highway generates a sense of living in the condition of constant passing and moving, which results in them being the ultimate manifestation of non-places, sites that lack to possibility of identification and creating a sense of belonging. For Augé, the: “Frequentation of non-places today provides an experience – without real historical precedent – of solitary individuality combined with non-human mediation.” (M. Augé, Non-Places. Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, p. 118.)
The ambiguous and dystopian scenario, however is yet undecided. Just as the roads are open and we can head any direction. Mapping the uninhabitable landscapes of tomorrow and offering the viewer the opportunity to speculate about the future of the urban apocalypse, From never to (now)here is a precise visual diagnoses of our endangered existence in the postmodern city. Evicted from traces of live and with a striking beauty of the negative, the images confront us with failed dwelling in the reified monoliths of our everyday environments. Paraphrasing here the words of the poet Georges Perec, let us conclude: There is nothing inhuman in our cities, except our own humanity.