The German term nihilartikel is used to describe the little known practice of inserting intentional errors, falsities or fictitious entries into reference texts – academic works, dictionaries, encyclopedias, maps, directories – for the purpose of later identifying plagiaries, copies or other infringements to intellectual copyright. Taking this somewhat elusive practice as its subtext, Izabela Pluta’s major new book approaches photography and its central quandaries of authenticity and representation from a series of unsettled and dynamic vantages.
Here, the Polish-born, Australian-based artist forges a syntax using photographs gleaned from aerial drone footage and moving-image stills filmed underwater in Malta and Japan, and traditional darkroom prints made with out-of-print and otherwise obscure oceanic maps. Ancient surfaces and architectures ripple with evidence of their deep time; boulders emerge, stealth-like, from the blue depths; cartography collapses in on itself; all in a sequence punctuated by vibrant interplays of colour, layer, texture and form.
Working in fluid collaboration with designers Paul Mylecharane and Kim Mumm Hansen, Pluta depicts the ocean and its surrounding landscapes as a fallible and contested space. Official accounts are called into question, and expanded photographic materialities, juxtapositions and graphic formalism work to fragment established systems of knowledge. Pluta’s conceptual pith lies in the exploration, repetitions, red herrings and residues. Nihilartikel – which follows the artist’s 2019 book for Perimeter Editions, Figures of slippage and oscillation – echoes the volatility and relationality of our experience of the ocean itself, posing the question of how we can work to unravel the dogmas of conventional modes of looking, making and reading photographs. Here, Pluta dares us to lose ourselves in the undertow.