Fort Institute of Photography

Images carry the notion of war – created through media and varying throughout history – from military paintings and photography through to modern technologies. The method of visualizing war had, and still has, political significance in the sense that it expresses the conviction we have about it, and shapes collective imaginations. A particular type of image of war are reenactments created as a kind of spectacle – best watched from a distance, as from a distance the view can be beautiful making it even more ambivalent.

This Means War is the result of the artist observing the phenomenon of historical reenactments in the context of recent social and (geo)political changes, and their shift from a marginal phenomenon to becoming a popular model of cultural behavior in relation to the current historical policy.

Agnieszka Rayss notices that the reenactor – the creators of these cliche images – consciously or otherwise participate in the process of shaping the identity of contemporary Poles and the ways we perceive our common history. As source material she uses popular war images, referring iconographically and aesthetically to the traditions of 19th century landscape and military paintings, as well as documentary photography and film production.

The idea of reenactment affects not only the practice of recreating the war as ethically ambivalent, but also the status of the painting itself. It becomes an aesthetic reenactment – a collage made from notions about classical painting, documentary photography and the pleasant experience of watching a movie. Just as doubts can arise regarding the idea of war as a heroic act created by images, the very images pose the question: “What is it that we are actually looking at?”.