Category Archives: Research & Reflection

John Akomfrah wins the Artes Mundi 7 prize.

Photography and film making win the biggest art prize in the UK!

In November, when I saw the Arts Mundi 7 exhibition on an OCA study day, I had very little time to watch Akomfrah’s exhibit.  We had spent more time than we should have at the previous 4 exhibits so we had to rush to get to the last one.  There was something drawing me to this but I just put it down to my interest in the subject rather than to the rationale behind it.  My review of it was, therefore, rather dismissive.  Two of us decided that we were going to come back to Cardiff, to the conference to hear the artists speaking about their work, which we did on 25th January, 2017.

Every single presentation surprised me.  Some because of their delivery, others because of their content.  The lecture hall was in darkness so I had to guess what I was scribbling and consequently, some of the notes were totally undecipherable.

First up was frenetic Neïl Beloufa who could not get his laptop to connect with the technology in the theatre.  Was this, being so true to his MO, part of his performance?  I asked him as we were waiting in the queue for coffee afterwards and he said it wasn’t – but it was a good idea and something to keep up his sleeve for the next time it happens, being the opportunist that he is!

His presentation started with a little cartoon about a social gathering in a sharks restaurant in which one of the shark diners states that he won’t have crab because he is vegetarian.  There is a sharp intake of breath from the other sharks as the power struggle starts.

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In his presentation, he gave us some ideas of how he challenges authority; how he makes the people he works with feel that they have some control over how the project is developing.  Basic to his artwork is his desire to break down authority and power relationships.

His presentation was in keeping with his art work.

He comes across as a self-professed opportunist, boyish anarchist & it’s a persona he cultivates carefully.  In the coffee queue, I asked him if he would ever consider collaborating with Nastio Mosquito whose anti-authority presentation we had just seen, and his response was an immediate and unequivocal “NO!”   The potential power struggle was very evident in the explosive reply.

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Neïl Beloufa’s ‘World domination’ (2012)

Next up was Amy Franceschini representing “Future Farmers”.  The project is a socially engaged one taking us back to re-forming communities via seed exchanges & story telling & festivals which eschew the acceptance of standardised, modified seeds sold internationally by multi-nationals in preference for locally grown seeds.

In November I thought that this was a multi-stranded, well exposed exhibition in which the artistic element was very strong.  At the conference, what came out very strongly was the social element of their project which shifted the weight of the exhibit away from art.  Future Farmers are to be applauded for using this platform for raising awareness of what they are doing which, in my opinion, needs to be done.  Amy stressed that the main message is that they do not want the seeds to be stored in museums or laboratories, they want them planted and used.

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Future farmers: The seeds of time.

Nástio Mosquito was on a blacked-out stage, indistinguishable from the curtains.   He waited for silence then started to speak about meeting Noah with some friends, like a herd of animals, which made no sense to me at the time or afterwards.  Then he started singing a song which sounded like a Negro Spiritual song and had the refrain: ” You speak about power like you know what it is.”   At the end of the song there was dead silence.  The performance lasted for about 10 minutes and was like an extension of the exhibition.   The artist sat down & eventually the auditorium lights came on.  Unlike previous presentations, the audience was not asked if they had questions for the artist.  This was a pity but we had to accept it.

As the performance was in addition to the exhibition rather than an exposition of its rationale, I did not feel that I had understood his work better.

Lamia Joreige was the only artist to give an academic lecture which gave us insights into what she was trying to achieve.

In the project Objects of War (1999 – ongoing), she is trying to re-access the history of  Lebanon through objects and people’s links to those objects and recollection of events in order to expose a personal history.   Through this she uncovered fragments of history which bordered on fiction and discovered that there is no hierarchy in objects of war.  She came to ask if history can be captured by a fragmented image – the exercise seemed at times to be a crime scene reconstruction.

Her phrases “Un ailleur inaccessible; un bonheur endormi”  = ” an inaccessible elsewhere; a happiness fast asleep” for me caught the essence of her work and the nostalgic tone of her presentation.  The idea of elsewhere was picked up again by John Akomfrah in his presentation.

Her “Objects missing” section told of the inaccessibility of pertinent information which had been ‘lost’; an archive which may or may not have existed.  The book which lists the missing objects is itself inaccessible – behind a glass case never to be opened.

In diagnosing the present, Lamia presents us with a fragmented, subjective and, to date, incomplete image of the past.  Photographic images, drawings, paintings, archives, sculptures and film recordings all rooted in memory, make hers a very rich exhibition which viewers can access in many ways.

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Lamia Joreige: River drawing detail

Bedwyr Williams‘ presentation was a performance in the character of a vicar / minister / priest in which he lampooned various stereotypes.  His humour was engaging and original.  The 4 minutes of church music and choral singing (probably in Welsh) which introduced his presentation, although superb in their genre, told me very little about the artist or his work in the exhibition.

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Bedwr Williams: The image, with alternate eye open, on a film which illustrated the performance.

John Akomfrah’s was for me the pinnacle of the artists’ presentations.  His talk opened my eyes as to what I had been looking at so briefly in November.  He spoke about images being a repository of a haunting, the uncanny, the strange, the eerie.  He sees images as a ‘contest of sight’.   Through films and stills from those films, John spoke about an ‘elsewhere’ evident in an image: in the following still from the film ‘Shoah’, John spoke about the haunting element of the image: the subject is both with you and elsewhere at the same time.  “the promise of the image is that the viewer will see the the image at some point in the future, but you won’t because it will always be elsewhere.” He describes that ‘elsewhere as ‘ the incantatory logic of story telling’.

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John Akomfrah: that incantatory ‘elsewhere’.

In looking at images, John tries to find the elsewhere in banalities too, and illustrated this through the film recorded in 1964 in Bethel Baptist Church, Houndsworth.   In it someone says: “We are going to perform normality for you” … “You will see us not being niggers, being normal.”

In analysing archived images, John asks “What is this image trying to say to me?  That image only exists so that, in that moment you have a bond with it.”  He sees that as the underscore of every image.

In putting work together, John asks himself if, after all his research, he is doing his work justice. Is he being true to the work?

He sees the archive as constructed material / language and asks how the image evokes that material.  He sees a shift in the meaning of the archive depending on where it resides.  Everything about an image is haunted by the past.  Finally, he said”We need to widen the meaning of the archive.”

What was so striking about this presentation was the artist’s integrity and humility vis a vis images and humanity.  His presentation spoke of his work to which he is evidently deeply committed and which is so desperately relevant with the mass migrations of people today.  He brought ‘hauntology’ home to me and made me realise that it is evident in all images: it is a composition of past, present and future and I am certain that it will affect, consciously or subconsciously, how  I will see and make images from now on.

At the panel discussions after the presentations, it was evident that some artists were more prepared to speak than others.  Bedwyr looked very uncomfortable and said, after one of the questions that he was very tired and felt that he could not answer.  Lamia spoke very little while, the others all took it in turns to answer.

I asked one of the selectors, Alistair Hudson – Director of the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art -, if it was a coincidence that all the exhibits were mediated through language, either spoken or written or both, and if this was a conscious criterion on the part of the selectors.  He had not considered it & said that it was not one of the criteria for selection.

As a language teacher, I wondered how language worked at a subliminal level in the selection process & found this cross-over very significant: six art works have been selected in an international competition from a submission of over 800 and they all have language as an integral and essential part of their installation to deliver their message.  That language emerged in film scripts as sub-titles; film narratives; spoken and subtitled translations in films; folk tales; archive materials … the list could go on.

When you have so many art works to consider, you need all the help you can get to understand what the message is so, is it logical to accept that selectors are going to go for the art work ‘explicated’ via language ?

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Recent exhibitions in Plymouth

We had a meeting of the SW new initiative on Saturday 21st January in Plymouth.  After over two hours of looking at one another’s work, we set off to the Theatre Royal to see the exhibition of the 21 Group, set up and curated by them.

The group comprises mixed media artists in the South West. A production of Mama Mia was on so there were thousands of people waiting to find their seats but, when they had all been seated, we had time and space to see the exhibition. Compared to their normal shows, it lacked substance for me. Perhaps it was because the paintings and prints were arranged on a convex wall the full width of the corridor so you had no sense of the ‘collection’ as such.  My favourite was a print by Val Jones from Totnes:

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We then went to the Royal William Yard, Stonehouse, where we saw an exhibition of “Earth and air: the episodic memory of place” by Julie Ellis.

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Julie Ellis’s press release.

The long hall made the similarity of approach, technique and subject stand out, which we found was a negative aspect of the exhibition. We all admired the work very much. My favourite was given pride of place at the far wall & that seemed to draw us in:

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I particularly liked the textures which were at odds with the silky-smooth finish of the other paintings:IMG_4307.JPG

 

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The vitrines have a collection of artefacts and sketchbooks:

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Two paintings which are used in the publicity cards:Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 16.59.31.png

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Super day out with fellow students.

Summary of a 15 minute interview with Erik Kessels

Summary of a 15 minute telephone interview with Erik Kessels conducted on 26th October, 2016.

For Assignment 3, “We are all photographers now” my essay led me to an analysis of the language used in the 2011 Arles Manifesto “From Here On” drawn up by Erik Kessels, but I had some questions for which I needed specific answers. I wrote to Erik Kessels about 3 weeks before I had to submit my assignment but the answer did not arrive in time.   Instead his PA asked me to phone him. Although I had permission to record the interview, I was not allowed to use it as such for any other purposes. What follows is a summary of the points discussed.

My contention was that the language used in the manifesto was very similar to that used in the Futurist Manifesto drawn up by Marinetti in 1909 and published in Le Figaro in France. I asked if this had in fact been the inspiration for it and was very surprised to hear from a very surprised curator that it was not and that it was very much a collaborative effort among the 5 male curators: Clément Chéroux, Joan Fontcuberta, Erik Kessels, Martin Parr & Joachim Schmid.

In the manifesto it was apparent that the 5 curators at the Arles photo festival were trying to make a break with the past – ‘yes it was a niche idea at the time’.  ( Marinetti may have said the same thing had he been interviewed about his Futurist Manifesto.) The internet imagery was a starting point for the exhibition.

I asked about the composition of the curating team: could there have been a woman included in the team? Joan Fontcuberta had brought the team together and Kessels said that one of the main criticisms of the exhibition was that it was quite male orientated.   He subsequently and very kindly sent me more information and material about the exhibition.  Gosh!  Male is the key there!  He said that he would not like to be a full time curator because as a photographer he would find that boring. He did not have any other explanation for having had an all-male curating team.

He spoke quite colourfully about the experiences the curators had in deciding which images went in and which not.

It was a very interesting experience for me &, although I did not feel nervous at the time, the recording makes me sound very nervous. I will have to practise more of this, it would seem!

RWA exhibition review

Exhibition review

164th Annual Open Exhibition at the Royal West of England Academy. (Joint mixed media exhibition.)

With OCA students led by Michele Whiting

RWA, Bristol

 

23rd November, 2016.

Curators: Gallery Director, Alison Bevan et al.

Location, setting & atmosphere.

This was an enormous exhibition, enough to bamboozle any visitor through its numbers of exhibits in every possible medium.

Again, the images had reflective glass so you can’t see the contents clearly. They were arranged in salon format so I could barely see some of them let alone see who they were by or their titles.

We were asked to see if there were works which shared a subject matter: landscape: from (what interested me since I have been exploring the medium) landscapes on tracing paper in small frames

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to Susan Derges’ monumental photos. (Derges was one of the selectors)

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We were also asked which mediums we found particularly interesting & mine had to be the use of tracing paper. There was an example which was literally and figuratively multi-layered:

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This was “Hong Kong Ding Ding by Valerie Treasure. It used collage, mixed media and stitching to achieve its final form. It is intriguing because the viewer has to analyse what is being said through the use of the different media although the language itself has a limited readership.

Also on the subject of media, we were asked to consider if we would apply any of them to our work. As I am interested in texture in photographs, I found the following work particularly inspirational: the first is by Zara McQueen & titled: At the Chapel: charcoal, pastel and collage.

 

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And the following charcoal on tissue paper by Paula Havard “Jenny Dreaming”:

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The next question asked if there was any exhibit which spoke to me through either its technical or conceptual merit:

I appreciated this oil painting for its technical merit:IMG_4038.JPG

For its conceptual merit, I chose “Tea and Toast” by Ben Hughes with its references to Charles Ingram. The eyes engage the viewer while the open aspect of the painting pulls the viewer in:

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You can’t separate the concept from the technical novelty experienced in the “Sheep at Sheepsgate” collaborations because they have used GPS to plot the movements of various sheep and used other mixed media to produce a very novel form of imaging.

 

 

I also appreciated John House’s Study in Colour and Light no 5: photography triptych (giclee print):

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and Daniel McGirr’s “The Void” – ink and gesso on MDF:

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We were  asked to consider the framing. I found it all very traditional and you could argue for or against various applications but it comes down to taste, in my opinion.

Finally we were asked how radical the supports (what the work is painted/printed on) and if we thought the supports detracted from the work.

Radical for exhibitions in my experience was the tracing paper. It was used in various applications. This I thought was experimenting with technique:IMG_3974.JPG

 

 

The last question on the sheet was :Can you think about a work of your own that might sit alongside the works on show?” Not now.

 Highlights for me: Seeing the use of tracing paper being accepted for the show.

What I took away with me about the exhibits:

The huge range of genres gives hope for different work.

About me and my work:

I am pleased I am not afraid to experiment with different media for photography.

Next steps:

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Artes Mundi 7 : international art exhibition review.

Saturday 12th November, 2016, was an OCA study day lead by Helen Warburton and held at the National Museum, Cardiff.

It was a joint exhibition by the shortlisted 6 artists chosen for the Arts Mundi exhibition which has as its theme “The Human Condition”.  Although this theme encompasses every conceivable facet of human endeavour, there were interesting threads running through them all, the most unexpected for me was that of language.  This was possibly because all the exhibitions I have attended so far have been with images rather than the wider meaning of ‘art’.

The curator of the exhibition  is Karen MacKinnon who is also the director of Artes Mundi.

There were five students from different disciplines – photography, print making, textiles and drawing.

The location, setting and atmosphere:

The setting and location were simultaneously unusual and unsettling: the exhibition was split over 2 sites and the reason for this was only apparent to me when we got to the second site.   The first site is the National Museum, Cardiff.  Traditionally, you cannot touch exhibits in a museum so when this happens, you are immediately wrong-footted.  You are allowed to take photos, you are allowed to lounge on bean bags to watch and listen to a story about urbanisation of the countryside, you are allowed to move the furniture.  Very unsettling.  I did not have time to see the rest of the museum but, from what little I did see, it was pretty run-of-the-mill museum: bright lights and dinosaurs.

The second site, called Chapter, is a former boarding school, now exhibition space.  You are not aware of it at first, but the piece on the outside of the building, looking like an over-sized billboard, is actually one of the exhibits and therefore part of the exhibition.  When you look at it in that light, you understand more about what it is perhaps trying to say.

I wish I had read the exhibition catalogue before the visit.

Examples of the work:

The first exhibition was of Lamia Joreige in which she takes us through an anthropological investigation of post war Lebanon: ” Beirut Forever – Suspended Space in Suspended Time.” A refreshingly open view of the artist’s perception of post-war Beirut in which she started looking, imaginatively, through a hole left by a bullet in the wall of the museum.

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The triptych of the hole hole in the museum wall which the artist used to make her sculpture (see below) and from which she imaginatively shot the photos of the neighbourhood.
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The sculpture derived from the bullet hole in the wall.

The bullet hole sculpture for me symbolised part of the rebirth which the artist is depicting in her film of the concrete river bed.  Its symbolism is in the fact that it looks like a cross-section of an umbilical chord which the images of the river also seem to reference.

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Images of the river with refugee and immigrant settlements on its banks.

Details of the ‘settlements’ on the river banks signifying an organic

rebirth of the city.

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The film with narration by the artist, takes us on a psycho-geographical and potential gentrification tour through the city via The River .

I found this a wonderful interpretation of the artist’s investigation of the state of what had been her communities.  I loved the river representations and the pinhole camera , continuing to shoot through the bullet hole idea;

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The facets I enjoyed the most were the pinhole camera images and the organic rebirth of the city drawings.

The second exhibition was a CGI by Welsh artist Bedwyr Williams who narrates a fictitious story of a huge urban landscape rising out of a Welsh landscape.  The CGI was complex with changing light and moving clouds and water surfaces.  Sadly the acoustics in the huge room were such that I could catch the occasional sentence but I could not piece the whole story together so I could not catch the humour or the shades of meaning of his narrative.  There were huge beanbags on the floor from which people could watch the changing scene.

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Bedwyr Williams: Big Towers (2016) in the Idris’ Chair region in Wales.

 

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The changing scene.

The Power Politics in Neil Beloufa’sWorld Domination” are portrayed through language and through imagery which reflects how old the power tactics used today are.  He records interviews of people trying to articulate their ideas and solutions to national problems in languages not their own.  The 3D model is of a dinosaur onto which the interviews are projected.  It is a very unsettling piece which makes you think about how political hierarchies are manipulated based on dominant languages.

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Fictitious interviews with fictitious heads of state speaking in a language not their own so coming across as less than articulate.

Amy Franceschini: “We don’t need a museum to preserve varieties. What we want is to plant them in the soil.”

This brings together traditional and current farming practices; traditional community sharing and growing; people going on a journey to deliver their message of preserving old seed stock.  The grains or seeds, represent the shared knowledge and experience, monocultures and diversity.  The current exhibition started in Oslo & will finish in Istanbul where the community will plant the seeds in a walled garden.  The flat bread made by communities brought people together to share and learn .  The charcoal which was left behind after the ovens had cooked the bread were used to present a message in morse code:

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The art work was telling the story of the ‘futurefarmers’ project of which Franceschini is a member and leader.

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We were lucky in that, at 12 noon, an actor came in and took the vinyl records out of their brown paper sleeve and played them.  In a normal museum setting, this would not be allowed.

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The actor read the stories told on the records in English and in Welsh.

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Throughout the exhibition and the performance, you were aware of the relevance of past time.

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The boat model actually holds the seeds as they are transported on the journey from Oslo to Istanbul.  OCA members listening to the story telling.

The actor let us handle what looked like a bit of drift wood but which resembled a bird which was at the centre of both old and new stories narrated.

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This was by far the most complex project involving and benefiting a great many people.  The artist gives the following reasoning for her project:

“Through farming, I saw the connection of politics and power. I saw how the politics of marketing and trade and commodities all tied in. But I also started to see about the environment. I saw how the chemical water that went into the creeks started making the frogs become deformed and Silent Spring [a book by Rachel Carson, published in 1962, that warned of the dangers of pesticides to the environment] was written, which was a big eye-opener to a lot of people. It’s kind of simple: I want to be alive and I want to breathe.”(1)

The diptych filming of Auto da Fe by British artist John Akomfrah explores the global diaspora started hundreds of years ago.  Through it we are conscious of history, colonialism and migration as a consequence of persecution all over the world.  Of course it has resonance with what is happening today through wars and famine particularly in Africa and the middle east.  Fabulous use of photographic images, period costumes and filming to deliver a very strong massage.  migration-today

For our final exhibition, we had to trek (willingly!) across Cardiff to Chapter where we were met, outside the building, with the first part of the exhibition by Nastio Mosquito:

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The ‘artist’ does not believe in categorising people so he does not call himself an artist.  We discussed if and to what extent the billboard was offensive particularly as this was a family centre.  The clichéd angry artist, I concluded, chose his what is now banal expression, as his vehicle.   The writing was, quite literally, on the walls in the second room – the first room being blank, partially filled by us, presumably used as exhibits – not all of us oil paintings!  Were we supposed to be facing a new blank canvas on which Mosquito would paint his version of life / his message?  Were we to objectify ourselves as living art objects?  Were we to utter profanities at being taken in to a void passing as art vessel?

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Entrance to the second exhibition room.

We did not hesitate in going through the ‘crossed’ entrance –  it is put there, I suspect, to make people feel that they are transgressing & as, such, another angry expression.  It is interesting how the size of the text and colours used in this room were, in my opinion, to make the viewers cower under the weight of the messages which also appeared to be shouted at them.  This was the only text in which there were no expletives showing.  We hear the swearing around us every day so it lost its impact for me – I was, if anything, surprised at its use, so banal both in the spoken and the written form.  The language here echoed that shouted in the last room of this exhibition where an old TV was placed in a room made to look shabby with plastic stacking chairs.

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The suppositories room invited us to reflect on the aid that is forced on people particularly in the developing world – and we could help ourselves to the suppositories if we wanted to.

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I appreciated the boldness of the work and approach.  I was certainly not shocked by it.

Highlights:

  • the collaboration and understated simplicity in Franceschini’s project.
  • the original concept of Lamia Joreige to look at her war-ravaged home town through the hole made by a bullet.
  • the importance in the use of language to help transmit messages in an art project.

What I took away with me

About art:  The relevance of history in contextualising the art was very apparent.

The use of language in various forms helps to convey messages more strongly.

Although art does not have to ‘do’ anything in order to justify its existence, in this case each exhibition had a function: to inform, to educate, to raise awareness through various  tactics.

All the artists used a multi-media approach to convey their idea of the human condition.  Can you convey it using just one?  Probably, but this is an international art competition so in order to make an impact, I suspect the artists felt they had to.  It would be  interesting to see if any of the 800 artists who submitted work to be considered for the prize used only one artistic medium.

About me: The use of film struck me as being very powerful.

Notes:

I shall look forward to hearing the 6 shortlisted artists  present their work at the Museum on the January 25th 2017.

References:

  1.  http://www.studiointernational.com/index.php/amy-franceschini-interview-futurefarmers-seed-journey.
  2. Artes Mundi exhibition catalogue.

Another weekend, another photo festival!

As if one weekend of photos wasn’t enough, this weekend, Unveil’d saw me signed up for another one but this time, I was treated to photographers talking to me and many others in the auditorium at The Exeter Phoenix.  And by that, I mean communicating on so many different levels!  Six of them presented papers and less formal presentations, most of them graduates of universities in the UK, and with  diverse but  very personal projects that I felt I had been with them on a world tour.

The first to speak was Jack Latham talking about his fascinating project “Sugar paper theories” about a criminal case in 1974 in Iceland in which six people were found guilty in 2 murder cases despite the facts that no bodies were found and that nobody could prove that murders had been committed.  His concept is based on the theme of tainted memories which arise out of forceful interrogation techniques and dodgy practices by police and government officials.  Do we question what we see or are our conceptions, on seeing certain photographs, tainted by narrative and dubious discourse/ questionable evidence?  A truly fascinating project involving several conspiracy theories which had me on the edge of my seat to see if the photographer was going to get implicated if the case opens up again next month.  I asked him if he was afraid of such a thing happening &, in a lengthy and credible response he said he wouldn’t.  He is exhibiting his project in a garage in BRIGHTON this coming weekend! GRRR!  I shall try to convince him to have it here too given that he has so many converts after his talk.

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Sugar paper theories by Jack Latham.

The second was Dutch photographer  Maurice van Es who had us in stitches about his work!  So much so that photography professor Jem Southam asked him, in all seriousness, if he had considered a career as a stand up comedian using photography as his m.o.  Van Es has exhibited at Arles – what more do you need to know?!

When he stood up to talk after Jack Latham, I thought that things for him were going to go horribly wrong – HOW could you follow on after Latham’s intrigue, exhaustive global research, his art & superb photography straddling genres: historic b&w, contemporary clean, & getting you involved to see how much you were being lead to your conclusions by the text.   It only took a few minutes and he had switched us from fearful to giggling & then laughing spontaneously.  He takes details from his own house – his poor mother had quite a ribbing with her ocd house keeping practices.  he said “My mother makes installations.  Artis something which does not want to be art & it’s something my mother makes – she piles everything up.”  He photographed his grandfather taking off his pullover & set it up as a triptych;  his girlfriend caught unexpectedly on camera, although judging by the number of back shots, she should be aware by now of what he’s doing when she can’t see him.  He photographed his father’s car – his father would always go and fetch him when he called – so he made a series of it.  He is quite poetic too: he maintains that poetry starts with two lines separated by a space in which the reader fills the space & it’s the same with his books: the viewer fills the space between one book in his series and the next.  His poetic inspiration came from the poetry of Wistava Szymborska who could make poems about very ordinary, simple things.

His project: Now in Milan translated into 40 meters of 40 images taken of his 10 days in Milan – then he deleted them from his memory card.

How inspiring and disarmingly simple in concept his images and banter were!

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Maurice van Es: details of his house.

I had seen Felicity McCabe’s work while I was researching an essay in my documentary unit last year so I recognised some of her images and was quite excited to hear the presentation.  The monotone delivery was very off-putting and her justifications for how she had shot her images repetitive.  I am glad for her that she is doing so well with her photography and that she is getting so many awards.

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Felicity McCabe: diptych

And so, after lunch I was very excited to hear Feiyi Wen who is also a multi-award winning photographer and who is now doing a practice based PhD.  Unsure of her English, she read most of her paper which lost me at times, probably due to my own ignorance.  Her work crossed geographic boundaries and she sought her photographic peace and pieces in nature: plant life and water mainly.  She spoke about how self-conscious she was at school and how photography and her curiosity about everyday objects was her way out of this feeling.  She saw in the banal a kaleidoscope of possibilities.  She is fascinated by considering reality against illusion and sees photography as a mirror with a memory which captures ambiguities.  Poetry has moved her photography and sees that the meaning is sometimes outside the photographic space.  I asked her if she ever wanted to collaborate with other photographers and, when she said yes, I asked her which one, living or dead, but she said she would have to consider the question & I never got a reply.

Norwegian Erik Lovold, a recent graduate from a London university, followed this with a similar feeling of being between cultures.  His work “Solitary flight” (2013-15) spoke of his notion of home through landscape.  He shared his very personal relationship with his Norwegian girlfriend with us through reading the text he wrote for his book which was too personal and private for my comfort.  He had hoped to let go of his past when he left Norway to start reading for a degree in London but he discovered that he couldn’t.  I particularly liked one of his images in which the people are very small in a vast and indistinct landscape:

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He was dismissive of his photography but I really enjoyed it.  Part of his inspiration was the work of Jem Southam who was in the auditorium but whom he had evidently not met.  Jem was very complimentary about his work.

The final speaker was another multi-award winner  Sara Sandri  who must have been exhausted after having waited all day to do her presentation, but she did not show it.

She presented her degree work (LCC) entitled Su di lei about her relationship with her mother who was born in Bolzano, Italy, but who has lived for the last 26 years in Portugal. She spoke about how she felt displaced and so wanted to reconnect with her mother’s origins in Italy.  During her degree years she also did some ceramics & sculptures using sea sponges and made them part of her degree installation.  She shared her insights on photography and I noted the Roland Barthes quote from Camera Lucida: Photography is what cannot be repeated existentially.  She shared the names and work of those who had inspired her work: Esther teichman, Ana Mendieta and sculptor Simon Fujiuara.  Recognising her quest to find her roots, I asked Sara if, after her research she had found herself & she said she didn’t know who she was – much like my conclusion after my reading of Nikki S. Lee’s work Projects.  Her degree show installations had 2 videos – one with sound ( a whispered conversation in the dark with her mother about Portuguese accents) and one, about coastal landscapes without sound.   Her project speaks of displacement, communication and layers of meaning.

All three of the last speakers were artists who have been working outside their native homeland and all three reverted to photographing natural forms and subjects to communicate their ideas and sentiments to the world.

What a great day!  So much inspiration for assignment 4 – once I have read all the required bits, some of which are not on the student website !

Brighton photo biennial review

Within half an hour of my arrival at my friends’ house where I was to spend the next two nights, dear Dermot had an epileptic fit – the first in his 66 year old life.  After what seemed to be an age while I tried to make him start breathing & stop looking so blue,  the ambulance arrived, the paramedics took all the readings they needed and whisked him off to hospital.   I desperately wanted  to take photos of him but my ‘ethical’ demons, my fear of invading his privacy, would not let me.  As it turned out, I was told by a doctor that, next time, I should take photos so that the examining physician would have a more accurate record of what had actually happened.  How close was I to the ‘personal and projected image’ theme of the biennial? Alas mine was certainly not influenced by concerns of style and fashion.

We went to several of the exhibitions  as a group & then Johnathan and I went to the one in King’s House, sodden after having been blown & drenched along the esplanade by the hurricane, and with a sense of adventure and the remains of an umbrella!  It was miles from where we started, dry and eager, on Saturday morning…

We were asked to consider several questions as we went through this and other exhibitions:

  1. How does photography reenforce or question cultural stereotypes?
  2. What are the effects of building a collection of types?
  3. Could the collections inform your practice?
  4. How does the approach taken here shape your understanding?

A. Reimagine:

I walked through the exhibition twice but did not go into the final film part.  My first reaction was to question why Olivia Arthur’s images of Mumbai subjects was placed first.  Was it the ‘exotic’ which was thought to have appealed to the viewers more readily and which would therefore engage them more quickly?  I know that I would also have questioned it had Bharat Sikka’s Brighton subjects been placed first.  If there are two parallel , equally long sides to the gallery, why were the images not placed opposite one another?  After all, regardless of whether or not it was intended, we were invited to compare the outcomes since the approaches to the subjects were the same.

The work of both artists was taken on large format film; they researched and developed the work together ; the work “revolves around individuals who identify themselves as being part of the LGBTQ+ community and importantly, a community that represents contemporary diversity in relation to sexuality and gender.” (Taken from the publicity leaflet for the Brighton Photo Biennial 2016).  A piece which stuck me most in Arthur’s work was ‘Simon’ because he takes on an unusual stance and because the light falls predominantly on his knee.  He is not looking at the camera, his right arm is open but the rest of him is turned away and to the side.  In the vitrine which accompanied this exhibition were two other images taken of Simon but they were not as striking as the one chosen.

The image which struck me the most in Sikka’s collection was that of the empty stage which was at an angle opposite a grid of images which had an empty window and a ‘proscenium arch’ architectural detail in it.img_3600

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Both these elements were important, in my opinion, because they represent windows into the lives of the people represented in the exhibition.

I found the signage really frustrating because there was no consistency in it and it was difficult at times to see what the labels referred to.

In answer to the questions, I felt that the images reenforced the stereotypes in that they did not present members of the LBGTQ+ communities any differently from how they have been represented in the press and other publications.  In my opinion, the exhibition strengthened the separation of ‘us and them’.   I did not feel that my understanding or perceptions were challenged in any way except, perhaps with Simon: he was an older person and we normally associate LBGTQ+ communities with young people.

B.  The Dandy Lion Project, curated by American Shantrelle P.Lewis,  questions black male identity in cityscapes.  This was a mixture of African and western portrait practices.  I felt that there were too many images saying the same thing.  I never looked at the digital element featuring vintage family archive images. I also found the inclusion of women dandies, in men’s dress very intriguing.

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Rose Callahan: Barima Owusu-Nyantekyi
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Sara Shamsavari: Terrence Lathan, London 2013.
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Osborne Machara: Mrs Kamau Njuguna – former governor Central Bank of Kenya. 2016.

C.  The Brett Rodgers talk started off as a biographical walk down memory lane as the director of The Photographers’ Gallery, London, presented images which reflected a personal relationship she had had with the photographers such as Fay Godwin.  The reminiscing soon changed into a lecture on photography history.  Sitting in the front, I was glad I could hear what was said very clearly.

Of the images presented, I appreciated the David Goldblatt probably because I know and admire his work more than that of any of the others who were featured.

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Brett Rodgers OBE, talking about the image by David Goldblatt.

D.  Kick over the statues

This enormous exhibition of Ewen Spencer’s work on youth tribes and music culture is a very powerful expression of the artist’s vision AND the exhibition organisers.  The lighting at the venue enhanced the work , in my opinion.   If, for example,  I look at the photo I took and compare it to what is in the advertising brochure, the effect is quite different because the lighting is very different and accentuates elements in the images not accentuated in the originals:

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My image .
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Brochure image.
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The lighting of the smoke/steam imposed at the exhibition of this image gives it a 3D effect which is not evident in its original state.

I really liked the music element presented with the images.  Somehow, youth culture seems easy to predate, like the homeless, the infirm … as if we know nothing about poverty, infirmity, alienation … What about middle-age cultures and sub-cultures?   Is it because the buying public is not interested in that? Or is it because that sub-group is more likely to tell you to cheese off?

E.  Fashion shows.  A side show on the same floor as the Dandy Lion show.

I am not sure why Nigel Sharon is named as the editor, and Michael Marriott the designer rather than the curators of the exhibition?

This show has an eclectic mix of images, origami, bottles – plastic and glass -and plant life – dead and living.  The blurb tells us it is all to do with the fashion industry and it certainly was captivating.  The wall of images of mostly model head and shoulder shots had some androgynous specimens making you wonder about the direction fashion is going.img_3609

I was left guessing about the origami – why is it relevant?  The lightbulb moment came when I thought : what else you can do with fashion magazines ? Perhaps that was the wrong conclusion.

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A super way of exhibiting the relationship between plant life and the fashion industry:

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Other images which caught my imagination & best represent the confusion of fashion advertising and the troublesome ‘male gaze’:

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F.  The Fringe:

Three shows:

  1.  DIY Dreams: The Regency Town House

The best part of this for me was the ground floor images in both the rooms: the modernist architecture and the props photographed during the restoration process:

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Artefacts recovered during restoration.
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A hole in the wall accentuated for interest.
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A fabulous arrangement and novel hanging.
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Another fabulous & novel hanging.

On the top available floor was the low contrast, “Slow time” work of Sam Laughlin.  Parts of this exhibition appealed to me:

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The bird nests, although not part of the Slow Time exhibition, were more exciting to me:

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Bird nest architecture.
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Who will forget how wet we got getting to the Regency House only to be told not to get our wet clothes too close to the images!

Assembly: Martin Seeds.

Perhaps I was too wet and tired but this political allegory of the fragile, Irish political landscape was too remote for me.

2.  King’s House: Crossing boundaries.

Johnathan and I decided to breeze-dry our clothes en route to the King’s House as our final immersion for the day.  It was arguably the most exciting part of the day for me.  I saw daring political exposés, natural photo explorations, sound in photos explorations and mechanicals in photography.

Of foremost interest for me was the photosynthesis and glass slide experiments which I had seen somewhere two days before the exhibition but did not have the time to investigate:

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Leaf and slide experiment.

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Another experiment with photo paper and chemicals probably alluding to the post-analogue nostalgia of the lecturers!:

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I also enjoyed the ‘schizophrenic madness’ of the Fotokub Fotopub Festival artistic expression of post-digital frenzy  – just up my liberated street!  An example of it is this Reinis Lismanis:

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The bicycle goggle box was an energisingly imagined mish-mash of retro-viewing experience:

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The Lostness Cycles by Lucy Carolan and Richard Glynn.

The Soft Collective had a wonderful record of images ‘capturing the human condition.’ another expression covering the meaning of nothing and everything.  It just records what evidence people leave of having been somewhere – but beautifully, imo:Screen Shot 2016-10-19 at 10.57.30.png

In the re-listening part of the exhibition, Helen Cammock’s “There’s a hole in the sky part 1” presents a disjunct between what is seen and what is heard which makes for challenging viewing.  But the references to cross-cultural exchanges are clear in the exploration of what is worth while in culture and humans.  Great viewing and listening.

Back to mainstream & the last exhibition visited:

Brighton Phoenix Centre: Dana Ariel’s ‘Encountering Perforated Ground’: 

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fabulous landscapes, meticulously printed by the artist.  Her statements on the publication are here:

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The reverence with which viewers are handling the material:

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A great experience and a stimulating time.

What I shall be experimenting with is printing on leaves; trying low contrast imaging and letting loose with digital mixed with physical collage.

My poetry progress so far

Recently, I  signed up to do a 6 week poetry workshop through Coursera because I want to sharpen my ways of expressing myself.  I know that this is a photography blog but I feel that the succinct ways of expressing images are very similar in the 2 forms of expression – it depends on the tools that you use to achieve your aim.

So far:

  1.  Make a still life, a portrait of something using literal images only: the image of abstraction in which the title is the catalyst for the poem

My title: Sucked out: the green bottle of love.

You’re full, full of air

bubbles that enlighten, air

bubbles that fizz and ting, air

bubbles that vanish before the

last trace of water;

bubbles of love

that enlightens, love

that vanishes as the last

touch is crushed, love

sucked out and the stopper

is in place – love’s

hope exhausted, love’s

holder expired.

2.  Write a poem where you limit all your figures of speech.  Refer to a general thematic unity e.g. a single set of ideas

This poem is animal-related.

You 
Shiny like a snail trail you slug through life;

Sharp as an eagle you target your prey;

Sure as a dung beetle you shape your treasure;

Slinky as a sloth you reach the tree tops;

Sheer as 15 deniers your scales cover the snake.

3.  Develop a conceit = much stronger than a metaphor: find two things that are wildly and radically different and make a poem which argues their similarity.

My conceit is the difference and similarity of the phone and the guillotine:

The phone.

You sit there, resolute in your cradle

Mutely shouting at me:

“Nobody calls, you

sit there tapping at your keys,

trying to make contact,

printing out useless interviews,

priceless concepts

unrealized.

Your mute existence and mine

A seamless

Voiceless

Cacophony

Sheared by a guillotine

Of hatred, oiled by

Years of odious put-downs

unspoken but felt:

sharp-tongued, blunt and

acerbic sarcasm

lost on a dull wit

unable to respond or

reverse the call.”

4.  The lipogram:

Pick a vowel and write your own lipogram:

My selection = i/y

Hi five, my kite:

will’s site, kind spite.

Still filled, inky sprites

unite fire’s ice

in life’s trite I,

mindful, blind,

spin my wish into

his digital identity.

 

There is one more week to go.

 

Feminist avant garde exhibition:TPG, London

I was not going to go to this exhibition because I am really tired of revisiting the photographs of the 1970’s and 1980’s but  I went because I was in London & more specifically Oxford Street for totally non-photo-related reasons.  I also remembered having read the email from TPG which had stated that a key concern of the project was  the question: “How do you visualise a woman in the 21st Century?” and the response which intrigued me was that of Nina Power:

“If the photograph changed the way we see, the internet has changed the way we read. ‘Visualisation’ is another language game, and ‘woman’ a particularly contested term, yet subject to exactly the same kinds of fort-da promotion and erasure as women’s bodies always have been.”

The psychoanalytic ludic qualities implicit in the fort-da reference concisely express Power’s views on the visualisation of women.

I found a leaflet printed and distributed by TPG which was promoting Sebastian Schmieg’s project  (running from 7/10 – 15/01/17) in which an image of Lena Söderberg, shot for a Playboy magazine centrefold in 1972, was adopted by programmers to test software algorithms.  I wonder if the organisers of the 1970’s feminist avant garde exhibition are aware of this irony?

Date: 7th October, 2016

Curators: co-curated by Gabriele Schor, VERBUND COLLECTIONand Anna Dannemann, The Photographers’ Gallery.

Location setting:  Split over 2 floors with an oversized exhibition by Simon Fujiwara: Joanne on the 5th floor, trying to get into the limelight, in my opinion, of the feminist exhibition.

Example of work:

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Ana Mendieta: Untitled (Glass on body imprints-face) 1972.  Suite of 13 lifetime black and white photographs.

Highlights:

The exhibition was vast with references to many known photographers and theorists like Martha Rosler and Cindy Sherman.  What I saw encouraged me to want to read up on some of the photographers I did not know like Orlan and particularly about her work: Strip-tease occasionnel avec les draps du trousseau (1974-75).

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Oral: Part of  “Strip-tease occasionnel avec les draps du trousseau.

Another highlight was seeing the work of Francesca Woodman which I feel is refreshingly different from the rest of the feminist photography canon.  Although she did not make images which sided with feminism, her work has a different take on female self-representation in the 1970’s.  Hers is quite an extraordinarily short life in which she produced such original work.

What I took away with me:

About the work:

It was more vast than I had anticipated.  I found the explicitly sexual images disturbing because I don’t think that in order to raise feminist awareness you must demean masculinity which some of the artists did like Judith Bernstein or Penny Slinger.

About me:

I would like to use ideas from Alexis Hunter to develop a body of work about how women are photographed in the 21st C.  I went past a news kiosk opposite Liberty department store and took a snapshot of magazine covers:

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Notes:

I would like to take more snapshots of kiosk covers and compare the coverage in Paignton with those in London or Bristol or Exeter because we are exposed to very different media in those different cities and towns.

Next steps:

Explore ideas of Alexis Hunter.

Photograph magazine stands.

Star rating of the exhibition: 4*

The Simon Fujiwara exhibition comprising a film and about half a dozen images was rather poor in terms of content compared to the feminist one & what he had to say through Joanne was rather simplistic; she wants to be seen in her different roles rather than as a stereotyped model.  The images were exceptionally large: it reminded me of films which rely on sound and visual effects to cover up the lack of content.

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A frame from the film ‘Joanne’, presumably part of her life journey.

Star rating: 2*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ove Arup exhibition review

Ove Arup

V & A museum, London.

6th October, 2016

I have always been aware of the importance Ove Arup’s philosophy was in construction:  a team construction from the beginning.  In this multi-media exhibition, what was very prominent in all the exhibition spaces was the sketchbook documentation left behind by engineers and architects alike.  The sketches were not all neat and tidy – they were working notebooks not intended as exhibition material yet their importance as idea containers and calculation repositories was beyond doubt.  Most of the space was dedicated to the Sydney Opera House:

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Jørn Utson, the original architect whose charcoal drawing  won him the commission.
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Photos of the drawings on chalkboards also remain as evidence of the importance of sketching by both engineers and architects.
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From chalkboards to computer aided design practice developed to help engineers develop a working model for the structures.
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The computers devised to solve the calculation problems for the SOH
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Maquette of the interior.
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Maquette of the exterior.
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Photo of the construction process.

Taken from one of the display labels:

“Ove’s doodles, about 1950 -80: Ove’s witty persona and artistic nature translated into a compulsion for doodling.  Appearing on notebook pages, agenda documents and accompanying his own doggerel, Ove’s spontaneous and playful sketches express the workings of his mind and his lively imagination.”

 

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To transition from doodle to computer design blueprints:

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One of the construction bits for the Pompidou Centre, Paris.

One of the most unexpected items in the exhibition was the solar leaf algae façade prototype panels which are photobioreactors. They cultivate live microalgae which create heat and biomass used in buildings.  The algae are harvested every day.  At the exhibition they formed the only living exhibit.

 

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The water, air bubbles  and nutrients constitute the environment for growing algae which, when photosynthesis takes place, produce heat and more micro organisms.

I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition particularly from the sketchbook perspective.