Justyna Badach’s work is engaging and layered. Her processes add context and tension to the content she explores. Two of her recent series, Epic Film Stills and Land of Epic Battles, are shown here. These bodies of work expose the ideals embedded in what seem like beautiful or heroic landscapes. The images are sublime and gripping. Through further decoding, we learn that these two series are distinct yet harmonious studies on themes of masculinity, power, and control.
In Epic Film Stills, Badach captures frames from mainstream American cinema, particularly patriotic films and westerns. Badach, who was born in the Soviet Union and emigrated to the United States, was first introduced to American culture through film and mass media. She always felt a sense of alienation with the films, and yet they were both vehicle and teacher; it was in part through them she learned our values and our language. As she photographs projections of the films, Badach carefully selects frames of landscapes that are void of figures. In doing this she not only mimics the processes of the film editor, she symbolically engages in the process of staking claim to land, and touches on the American ideology of manifest destiny. Badach's Epic Film Stills are curved and mounted behind plexiglass. They are visually seductive and encompassing – they come towards viewers. Images in the series are grouped by type: sunrise/sunset, mountain/valleys, and desert/plateau. These themes were selected by the artist with the intention to parallel found frames to motifs in 19th century luminous paintings.
A new and ongoing body of work, Land of Epic Battles, similarly pulls stills from sourced footage. Though less mainstream and far darker, the stills in Land of Epic Battles come from a widely available source: the internet. This series focuses on the hyper-masculine, violent world of ISIS recruitment videos, discovered through YouTube and private, encrypted Internet subscription channels. These videos are available on demand through any Internet portal, and exemplify the larger global proliferation of digital “info-war” visuals that negate traditional guides of legality, and question the morality of mass-media content. On the surface, what they depict is not so dis-similar to mainstream movie scenes or sequences. They often employ sophisticated tools and visual vocabulary of virtual video games, reality TV, or DIY videos, and carry catchy titles. Again, the presentation or means of the work is meaningful, and these prints are themselves charged. Badach discovered a way to use gunpowder as a pigment to create hand-made casein dichromate prints.
Together, Epic Film Stills and Land of Epic Battles use visual constructs against themselves. We are left reassessing our engagement with mass media, and urged to more fully decode what we find heroic or idyllic before we embrace it.