Poppy, an epic compilation of images, documents and impressions that are in constant dialogue and interact on a cross-referential basis could be pure fiction. Yet the story told by Knoth and de Jong is the fruit of serious and dedicated documentary – and photojournalism. As indicated in the title, it all starts with the poppy field – an image of great beauty that says nothing about the sad and morbid truth that lies beneath. The somniferous poppies (Papaver somniferum) on display, which are cultivated purely for the heroin trade, lie at the very heart of illegal drug trafficking, which begins its journey in Afghanistan. Poppy meticulously documents the various stages of that journey: the processing of the poppies, the manufacturing of the synthetic opiate known as heroin and the mechanisms of drug trafficking.
The installation traces the international supply chain that connects the flower fields of Afghanistan to London’s concrete jungle with stops in twelve countries, all the while revealing and condemning its ties to international terrorism and organized crime.
The order of this travel journal is neither linear nor chronological however, and while some of its sections feel more descriptive or more realistic than others, the end product is teeming with sentimental and metaphorical images. The staggering scale of the photographic and editorial evidence, steeped in reality, which Robert Knoth and Antoinette de Jong (both known for their work in conflict zones) gathered over many years, is intertwined with more artistic, more abstract or even fictional images. An all-encompassing, panoramic view of their findings is projected onto four screens and virtually immerses audiences in a kaleidoscopic universe, forcing them to consider a full range of viewpoints and a variety of representational dimensions that underlie what is now one of our globalized world’s main social and political ills.
Highlighting the dark and complex side of globalization, the photographs, moving images, texts, voices, archive material and YouTube snippets that make up the installation uncover appalling details about the context of drug trafficking along the East-West poppy trail and about the consequences of said trade on those that depend on it. It is a journey through countries defined by conflict, disease, crime and extreme poverty.
Poppy, a multimedia installation, fascinates with a combination of critical and revealing images and a set-up that urges visitors to rethink the evolution of photography as it leaves its two-dimensional nature behind to become a truly multidimensional medium.