Georg Gatsas (*1978 in Grabs, Switzerland) is of Greek-Swiss extraction and grew up in the canton of St.Gallen, where he completed his qualifying examination for university in 2000. Having taught himself photography, he began taking pictures in New York during an extended stay there in 2002, photographing the city’s underground music scene. These series of images led to his first national and international solo exhibitions at the Kunsthalle St.Gallen (The Process, 2003), the Binz39 Foundation in Zurich (The Process IV, 2006), and the Swiss Institute in New York (The Process VI, 2007). Since 2004, Gatsas has received a number of grants and awards, including studio residencies in New York (2009), London (2012 and 2014) and Johannesburg (2016 / 2017). In 2007, he won the Swiss Federal Prize for Art. In 2017, he was awarded the Manor Art Prize St.Gallen, which included a solo exhibition at the Kunstmuseum St.Gallen and a monographic publication. Between 2018 and 2020, he completed a master’s in fine arts at the FHNW Academy of Art and Design (IAGN Institute Art Gender Nature).
Gatsas’s photographs—which typically portray key figures in contemporary club culture and depict venues for experimental and global pop music—get right to the nub of what’s happening. Whether in the metropolitan centres of New York, London, Johannesburg, or Athens, he always surrounds himself with people directly and immerses himself in their different identities. He focuses on complex socio-cultural processes (The Process, 2003 – 2008) and comes into contact both with visions of society—embracing freedom, diversity and solidarity—and with individual takes on life. As he looks through the camera lens, his way of seeing does not create a sense of distance from the people he portrays but serves rather as an instrument of communication and, no less importantly, of research.
Gatsas’s feeling for the different forms and variants of urban life and of intercultural pop and club music is predicated on his earlier involvement with the music scene. Early on in his artistic career, as he travelled around, his contacts with global musical networks gave him direct access to places where local communities meet and exchange ideas. Gatsas likes to seek out moments of collective experience and absorption, often venturing out on the street at night and going to different clubs (H.O.M.E., 2013) and dance spots, in south and east London for example, where he captures in an instant the effect that dubstep—an extremely bassy and physical sound—has on the bodies of people dancing. Even though there is no audio track to listen to, the extensive series Signal the Future (2008 – 2017) brings out the rhythm and energy of the scene.
His thematic focus extends beyond the immediate context of music and tackles identities shaped by migration and global networking. This is evident, for example, in the series Are You… Can You… Were You? (2005 – 2017), which takes the portraits Gatsas has shot in various places in Switzerland and the wide range of encounters he has had there and juxtaposes them with the pictures he has taken in metropolises around the world: this provides a record of his impressions as a traveller, while also conveying the condition of being in-between worlds—a state associated with travel—in which elements that are familiar bump up against what is unknown and new. The portraits of the people he meets thus mutate into a self-portrait: Gatsas does not see himself as a distanced observer but rather as part of a process of intercultural dialogue. His pictures ask questions about our modern-day human condition and probe the new forms of (self)representation that have become virulent in a time when self-enactment in social networks has become ubiquitous.
Alice Wilke for Sikart, 2019
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This online archive has been kindly supported by the Kulturförderung St.Gallen, Kulturförderung Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Bertold-Suhner-Stiftung Herisau and the Arnold Billwiller Stiftung St.Gallen. Design and Programming by Dorothee Dähler & Kaj Lehmann.