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We spoke with Argentina born Seba Kurtis about his most recent exhibition CHEMICAL REACTION which showcased at Village, Manchester. The body of work reflects conspiracy theories that feature nerve agents and biological weapons and is uniquely demonstrated through Seba’s abstract printing techniques.
Seba tells all about his thoughts on the relationship between social media and fake news, the inspiration behind CHEMICAL REACTION, and his favourite conspiracy theories to date.
Cult leader Shoko Asahara with his wife, children and followers (Seba Kurtis)
What was the main inspiration for CHEMICAL REACTION and what drew you to the topic of nerve agents and biological weapons?
The project was born during lockdown, I was working on an artist residence for Manchester University with my own archival negatives but looking for some context online… I realised the influence of social media, especially Facebook, on crazy conspiracy theories and how people got really serious about it… So I decided to explore the idea of conspiracy. The nerve agents got my attention out of its brutality and impunity!
Do you personally believe in many conspiracy theories and think that there are things out there that we don’t know the real answer to?
I used to love a good conspiracy!!! I think now some people are being so idiotic about it, that they took the beauty out of it… they won’t listen to facts and they think that they are enlightened and superior based on new non-factual knowledge that they find online… Some friends here in Europe have “invited me” to “wake up” to the system, but it’s all a lie, I think since I was born in South America, we learnt that the system is against us from birth! For example, to travel to Europe or the USA we have to prove to the officials that we have enough money, go through a painful process to acquire a visa, and then we still may not be accepted at the airports if they don’t like the look of us…Just because you’ve been locked in your house with your computer and things don’t go your way suddenly you are against the system, where the fuck have you been? This is not new! I’ll say to them just go and watch Adam Curtis films instead of mash up collage theory on YouTube please, or even better watch Adam Curtis films on YouTube.
After finding out that his brother, Kim Jong-nam, was working with the CIA, Kim-Jong-Un had him assassinated while traveling through an airport in Malaysia (Seba Kurtis)
Is there a popular conspiracy theory that you wish was true but don’t believe to be possible?
After Diego Maradona died (God in Argentina) they buried him underground without his heart, officials knew hardline hooligans would steal it after they killed the 3 guys at the funeral house that took selfies with him in his coffin…and his heart is currently at the Department of Pathological Anatomy of the Buenos Aires Police, guarded by strong security measures to avoid any chance of theft. The conspiracy theory that people are talking about is that his heart will travel with the National team to the next World Cup “That he travels with them, that he will be in the training camp, in a room, on the bus, in the locker room, on the pitch and if God and Diego want, seven games later, next to the long- awaited cup.”
Do you think social media is harmful for spreading fake news/conspiracy theories like wildfire, or do you believe that it’s good that we as a society aren’t trusting the media the way we used to?
I think social media is awesome and harmful at the same time. Love the fact that information is much more accessible now. Growing up conspiracies had another dimension, information wasn’t available like now, so we would speculate how corporations and governments worked behind the curtain. Now that we have a better idea of how they operate, for me, it’s more difficult to believe the romanticism of an amazing & well-calculated conspiracy as with all recent political events we can prove that most politicians are idiots. We know one thing for sure, they are fucking corrupt and I think that’s the main reason we don’t trust the media like before, different parties get along with different media outlets, again, all about money and fuck the people.
Smoke rises from shelled buildings in Douma, Syria (Seba Kurtis)
Is this the first time you have exhibited work that isn’t your original photography and what was your reason behind this?
I have showed archival material alongside my images a few times but never using manipulation on a printer. I think this time because of the lockdown I allowed myself more freedom to work with online images. When I saw the first print coming out I knew I had to show it. Most of the images were used from government and police forces, for example, the plane spraying agent orange in Vietnam was taken by the US army…. When the idea of photography being “poisoned” came alive as part of the project I thought it was necessary to use images already known by the public, as the alteration would take it to another unique representation.
US-MilitaryPlane-AgentOrange. Vietnam (Seba Kurtis)
CHEMICAL REACTION features photographs that have clearly been altered/manipulated. How did you achieve this effect?
The idea was to represent the chemical reaction, and how the poison works on the environment and within the human body. How the body rejects the external agent and tries to disperse it, fragmenting and damaging its host.
At first, I tried with external agents (poison, acid, etc) but I realised that to have a similar impact, it should be something that affects the printing process from the inside. I tried many different types of paper on the inkjet printer until I witnessed how polypropylene was “fighting” with the ink on the printing process, almost like the human body with the nerve agents. The result was damage to the image, some were more subtle than others depending on which consistency or colour of the paper. In some cases the image completely disappeared in front of my eyes in a matter of minutes.
This same relationship has been adopted in the printing process of the images, the paper rejects the ink and it creates a deteriorated effect that can never be restored, bringing an unintentional resemblance of a painting. As soon as they came out of the printer I placed them on a light box and took a picture of the print before it was too late.
Detectives in hazmat suits work in Salisbury, March 2018 (Seba Kurtis)
The outcome of this creates a chilling almost supernatural mood to the work and evokes a feeling of uneasiness in the viewer. Was this the objective?
I think the objective is always trying to create a sort of dialogue and I think it is really difficult to start a conversation when the pictures are “perfect”. When they make you feel uncomfortable is when you start to ask questions…My approach was always trying to avoid suffering or violence on my images, we have the news for that. So when you see the texture of the ink dripping and distorting the image I guess that’s my way to show violence…
At OffTheRails we truly celebrate being unapologetically authentic and going against the norms. Something we always ask is what is the most OffTheRails thing that you have done?
Being deported from Spain for doing crazy shit that I’m not allowed to say.
Look out for Seba’s new book FALSIFICATION published by The Gould Collection which will be introduced at Paris Photo Fair next month with a book signing at Christophe Guys Galerie