June, 1999
Andrew Mummery Gallery London

After Wars
By Chris Townsand
Ori Gersht’s images are complex palimpsests of content and meaning. Ostensibly these are pictures of apartment blocks in Sarajevo, taken after the Bosnian war. Knowing this we look at them for the signs of conflict, and, ever optimists, for the signs of regeneration. But at the same time these large C-prints are formalist exercises in shape and colour, dwelling upon modernity. Disfigured, bombed-out, burned-out, these ruins are nonetheless compelling, even beautiful.

the belief that is necessary to pull you through when living amongst ruins is perhaps Gersht’s real subject, and it’s also the unexpected point where documentation amid formalism meet. You need to see the chaos and carnage on which you try to reimpose sonic order as “beautiful.” The camera is an instrument which, in its artificial ordering, synthetic emphases, can impose far greater coherence than the citizens of Sarajevo currently see. Perhaps, and this is something that the stillness and emptiness of the photographs reinforces, Gersht’s images show us the future, imagined through the present, better than the Sarajevans ever can.

The walls of 60’s and 70’s apartment blocks are pocked by shrapnel and shell-fire. These buildings, monuments to sameness in the spurious egalitarianism of Tito’s Yugoslavia, are made individual by the fragmentation which the collapse of that political facade impelled. But the structures are not destroyed; they work around the wounds, regenerating, incorporating. Like Thomas Struth, Gersht also shows us the minutæ of the human, the detail that transforms sameness into difference. The buildings become syndoches for the individuals within them – survivors, individualists – and metonyms for the rebuilding society that those individuals compose. Architecture stands in for the body politic, and for the human bodies it sheltered.

AfterWars does not look back, to mourn the devastation of war, to commemorate the suffering that the scars tell of, but forward.
Gersht’s images seem to he asking “where do we go from here?’ This is work as much of travel photography as any other genre, but the journey it invites us to take is ethical and political, rather than merely spatial. But Gersht’s is also work intelligent enough to show that we never start with a clean slate, we always incorporate the past into the way we live now.