Enthralled by her grandmother’s stories as a child, witchcraft has long been a fascination for Áliz Veronika Ács. In her latest series, WALPURG (named after Saint Walpurga, on whose feast night it is rumoured witches meet) the Hungarian artist explores the theme of witchcraft through a series of striking portraits, which contemplate the power and vulnerability of her female subjects. Selected for their unusual features and unconventional lifestyles, for Ács these women represent the modern-day witches who defy societal norms just as their predecessors did. ‘The genre of portraiture is the most exciting for me in photography. To find the beauty and the character in the face, and the soul too.’
Starkly lit against a white background, without clothes or cosmetics, the WALPURG models are entirely exposed to the camera lens. In spite of their vulnerability, the women pose with self-assurance; some confront the camera with their defiant gaze, whilst others look away serenely. Ács casts her subjects simultaneously as victims and heroines: ‘WALPURG is about female power, heroism and also about becoming a victim and losing identity.’ However, it is after the photograph is taken that Ács’ work really comes into its own.
AN EXPERIMENTAL PROCESS
In centuries past, the punishment for practicing witchcraft was violent bodily disfigurement. In WALPURG, Ács mimics these historic wounds by experimenting with materials and textures that physically distort the image. The artist begins by carefully considering the surface on which to print – thin plastic or old papers found at her grandparents’ house replicate the delicate texture of her models’ skin. Experiments with light, acid, tearing and stitching come next; spontaneous acts of destruction that result in works that are irreproducible and mimic the fragility and transience of the subjects’ bodies. For Ács, the materiality of each artwork is as important as the photographic image.
THE FUTURE OF WALPURG
Eight years of developing the project have resulted in a photobook and a solo exhibition. Ács is ready for a new chapter, although the theme of witchcraft continues to inspire her. ‘I feel that I have found a complex theme that breaks down, opens and closes chapters, but in itself the topic will accompany me, it can be continued forever.’
Text by Jenny Willcock, Unseen Platform