Category Archives: Exhibitions

Some different ways of using an Archive – Photo Oxford, part 2

Val Williams On The Practice of Reconceptualising Photographic Archives

The afternoon was set out as a series of presentations on different ways in which the Archive has been utilised by curators/photographer, etc. First up was Val Williams, a writer, curator and academic. She showed a series which she had found on the internet, called the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow, which is wildly eccentric and very funny. It is a band, who write songs to accompany offbeat holiday slides from the 1970s which they project onto a wall while they are playing. Her point was that these songs and images embodied the idea of loss through the archive, while manipulating and making stories about what we see, with no direct link to the intentions of the original photographers. She also talked about the role of the archivist – to protect and collect – and how as time goes on the archive tends to take on some of the identity of the collector. With reference to how it can be used, she argued that one needed to use common sense and morality when making decisions about how the Archive is used, and in particular what is an acceptable appropriation and reinterpretation.

She finished by asking the audience to think about their own family archives, and what elements of family history they wanted to keep for posterity. Leaving stuff behind (after death) is a dangerous concept, as anyone could use the images for their own purposes. She also asked us to consider whether it matters if an archive is real or invented.

References she mentioned included:

In Conversation: Taco Hidde Bakker discusses Taking Off. Henry, My Neighbor with artist Mariken Wessels

This project was a collaboration between Wessels, the photographer and Bakkeras, the background researcher and marketer. Wessels explained that she had previously been an actress and used this ability to create a person onstage in her obsession with Henry; she used what was available but also made bits up herself if what she wanted was not there. The main part of the archive came as a pack of images and stories from a friend, who was next door neighbour to Henry and his wife Martha in the 1980s. the 5000+ images were taken by Henry of Martha in various states of undress, and the sheer number of them, his accompanying notes about her poses and the relatively short period of time they covered indicate that Henry was completely obsessed with his project. Wessels was interested in both this obsession, but also Martha’s ordinariness, and the record of what started as a bit of fun, but over time became a drag and then a loathed requirement of Martha’s marriage. Wessels makes up a story about Martha finally throwing all the photographs out of the window and running away, thus taking back control. There are many layers to consider in this work, including Henry as the neighbour you see but do know, the use of private material without explicit permission for a public exhibition (nobody knows where either Henry or Martha a re now to ask them) the suffocating nature of the installation experience, in which the images are crowded together on all the walls, and the difficulty in assessing what is real about the archive and what was fabricated. In fact, I have a niggling doubt about whether any of it was original, and whether the whole project was made up by Wessels.

In Conversation: Curators Tim Clark and Greg Hobson discuss the Russian Criminal Tattoo Archive with its owners, FUEL (Damon Murray and Stephen Sorrell)

This was a fascinating talk. Murray & Sorrell had first heard about the tattoos via drawings made by a prison guard in St. Petersburg prison. Then they came across another archive by a policeman and newspaper photographer Sergey Vasilev, who had encouraged prisoners to sit for him in exchange for a print, in the late 1980s. Quite apart from the aesthetics of the images, the tattoos themselves are a language, which Vasilev uncovered while trying to understand what motivated the prisoners to do them. He discovered that they were symbolic at a number of different levels. Some tattoos were mementos of stays in various prisons and some were gang related, but he also discovered that the more complex the tattoo, the higher the status of the inmate within the prison hierarchy, and its location on the body meant different things depending on where it was. They were applied (all illegally) as decoration, but also as punishment (a form of bodily abuse). Common themes included churches (the number of domes indicated the prisoner’s incarcerations), the Madonna and child and SS symbols, but the meanings were not the same was we think of them.  At the end of the communist movement, the concept faded out and so this archive is a piece of Russian alternative history as well as a series of typological portraits. The speakers also pointed ou that the tattoos and their language eclipsed both nudity (prisoners were happy to display their tattoos in private parts of their body) and also their individuality (the tattoos said more about who they were than how they fitted into the prison hierarchy than they did themselves.

AS a result of all this, I decided to find a proper definition of the archive and came across this explanation What Is An Archives? from the Society of American Archivists, which seems to provide a good explanation, but also asks us to consider how we might want to look at our own family archives as potentially interesting primary sources. Something to pursue in Digital Image and &Culture.

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A trip to Bristol

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Yesterday, another OCA student Kate Aston and I went to Bristol to see the Grayson Perry exhibition, The Most Popular Exhibition Ever! I hadn’t really considered Bristol as a hub for art exhibition before, but will definitely be going back. It is much easier and cheaper to get to for me than London, and there is plenty of high quality work on show there, with the Arnolfini, Spike Island, M-Shed, The Lime Tree Gallery showing modern work, alongside the traditional museums, such as the Royal West of England, and of course, Martin Parr’s forthcoming event space.

The last time I went to the Arnolfini was for the Richard Long exhibition, which I reviewed here. Long and Perry have in common their penchant for large scale pieces and the huge rooms of the Arnolfini were an ideal location, giving the works plenty of space to breathe. The exhibition covered all three floors of the building, and it was very well attended, especially for a winter’s midweek morning – Perry is obviously a very popular artist, as per the exhibition title. Having said that, the title is really a play on words, as the exhibition looks at current popular culture of the last few years, and is very rooted in the 2010s, examining subjects like Brexit, the world of the internet and gender fluidity. I do wonder how some of the works will be seen when they become historical, rather than being contemporary. They will certainly say more about what was bothering people than many of the current, more ‘artsy’ stuff.

As we all know Grayson Perry spreads his creativity across a wide variety of media, but most of the work on display here was ceramic pots, tapestries. Most of the works were big, some were huge (see below). The ceramic pots were dotted about the building, with space to view them from all angles, which was essential as every side of the pots were covered in complex layers of colour, texture and a mind-boggling array of ideas. Minimalism is not a concept that appeals to Perry; his work tends more towards the maxim ‘If in doubt, bung it in’.  Perhaps partly for this reason, and also his overt transvestitism, the everyday subject matter and obvious political enthusiasm, he has had difficulty in being accepted by the arts establishment over the years, despite his obvious talent. Looking closely at some of his ceramics, it is hard not to be awed by his facility with colour and glazing techniques, and his riotous use of different ones within the same piece of work. I was particularly struck by the subtle gold transfers which were applied to many of the pots on top of the more obvious layers, for example.

Much has been written about Grayson Perry, and his ideas and methods, so I will not say any more about them. What really fascinated me about the exhibition was the exuberance of the work, his breadth of subject matter and materials, and his playfulness. I cam away feeling that a door had opened to me, away from the straight, unadorned photographic image. Perry lets us know that it is OK to experiment, and the more extreme and wacky, the better. This degree is a journey for me, and I should not feel constrained by current standards of what is considered the ‘right’ way of making images. If I want to embellish, alter or use multi-media alongside and within my images, that is fine. The journey is about exploration and playing with concepts, as much as producing standard images. Providing there is a clear(ish) methodology and contextualisation, anything goes.

It was a breath of fresh air!

PS, while Kate and I were thumbing through some of the books Perry has used as inspiration, we came across one called Lands End, by Ruth Claxton. Claxton’s work includes torn paper and embroidered photographs and is something I need to keep a note of for future work.

Thomas Ruff – Size is everything

I visited the Thomas Ruff exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery yesterday, prior to going to listen to Annie Liebowitz’s talk at the Royal Festival Hall. It was a bit of a rush, but well worth the short space of time I spent there. Ruff likes experimenting with the materiality of the image, which is something that appeals to me as well, and my over-riding feeling was that I’d like to see a lot of more his work than was on display. It was a bit frustrating to be limited to a relatively few of his processes, and I will be looking at others in the future.

The exhibition was a retrospective, showcasing his work from 1979 to the present. It started with his university work, the Portraits, Interiors and buildings. These seemed of their time and place with a style reminiscent of the New Topographic group, which of course he was exposed to, being based in Dusseldorf at this time. However, from about 1991 his work veered away from the Brutal, very deadpan aesthetic and Ruff started the experimentation that has since become his hallmark. The exhibition included lithographs, chromogenic colour prints, granolithographs, collages and a host of other techniques. Later, as digital photography took off, he became interested in how the digital photograph is made up, and began to look at the concept of the pixel, the essential meaninglessness of an image when it is expanded past the point where the subject can be made out, while he also maintains a long term interest in astronomy. His images tend to be large, very large in fact (which is where the post title came from) and it is interesting to see how he contrasts the incredible detail of his Mars images with the highly pixelated opposite of the images of 9/11 and space rockets. He also played with photograms and scans as well as inverting negatives and other variations on analogue photography. More recently, he has been playing with digital images to experiment with what is possible by focusing on particular elements that form part of the make-up of the images.

Some of the parts that I did not like included the series Substrates, where he repeats and alters comic images until the meaning has completely disappeared, producing huge multi-coloured prints of nothingness. (My own experiments with reducing images to their colour palettes follows in a similar, but less extreme path, which retains elements of the structure of the original, albeit significantly altered). The zycles series, although visually arresting, did not make me want to know more about how he had achieved the patterns, and some of the phg images were abstract in a way that did not appeal, although others were fascinating. 

I found this exhibition quite inspiring, not because of anything Ruff ‘has to say’ particularly, but because of his interest in deconstructing the idea of photography and then playing with the elements he uncovers. Also, his way of appropriating images from newspapers, advertisements and other media to alter, so that they become something different is something I would like to explore. So many ideas to consider and to play with . I came home and tried out a very simple version of his 3D images of the craters of Mars, using simple techniques that I found on the internet, and surprisingly, the concept actually worked. See below.

 

Thomas Kellner – Fractured Architecture

Yesterday I met Kate 513284 at Lacock Abbey, for a catch up and to see Thomas Kellner’s exhibition called Fractured Architecture, Cubist Photographs, which is currently showing in the upstairs gallery. There is a short video here explaining his technique, but from a practical point of view, he re-images of well-known buildings by taking a series of images of the parts and putting them together. He does this by glueing his analogue negatives together to form a physical sequence, which he then make prints from. The whole process is initially like looking at the buildings through the reflection of a series of windows, but then you start to look closer and discover that the negatives are actually sequential, and so Kellner knew exactly the effect he wanted before he took a single shot.

At first glance, the images seem to fit into the genre of Cubist Decontstructivism, but Kellner has coined the phrase Radical Constructivism to describe his work, and he uses an artistic method he calls “visual analytical synthesis”. His aim is to take well-known viewpoints and reproduce them in a non-linear way – the way the eye flits around a view – rather than the basic two-dimensional view we are used to.

High res copies of most of the images we saw are shown in this Lenscratch article (2017) and a little more explanation of his technique is discussed here.

FL: You mention on your website that your work is all about playing with your viewers’ perceptions of what is real, landmarks that they consider to be constant and unchanging. Why is it that you think this is such an important message to spread?
“Kellner’s contact sheets give bodily form to our scattered, animated and animating act of viewing. In doing so, they reclaim the individual’s central position to the formation of image and building alike.” Pappas, Allison, MFA Houston in: Houston, we’ve had a problem! (The Hippo Collective, 2014)

One has to admire the precision and forethought that Killner uses to produce his work. It is startling and one inevitably gets drawn into thinking about how he made it. He says that initially he began nwith the idea of using a single 36 frame roll of film for each image, but that this has expanded now and he often uses two. For my own part, the image I liked best was one where he did not use the constraint of the rectangular format, but something a little looser in contruction.  IMG_3948v2

His work has echoes of that of Seung Hoon Park, David Hockney and Sarah Sense, both of whom I have reviewed before in Context & Narrative, but the techniques of deconstruction and reconstruction are all completely different. There’s plenty to think about in relation to my own work.

References

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock-abbey-fox-talbot-museum-and-village/features/fractured-architecture-cubist-photographs-by-thomas-kellner

http://lenscratch.com/2017/03/thomas-kellner/

http://www.mutantspace.com/thomas-kellner-photos-deconstructed-montages-iconic-structures/

https://www.thehippocollective.com/2014/10/20/thomas-kellner-interview/

https://susanspiritusgallery.com/artist/seung-hoon-park/

http://www.sarahsense.com/GalleryMain.asp?GalleryID=91121&AKey=L6DFM793

 

 

 

Crewdson and Campany

Yesterday, my trusty wingman William and I visited two exhibitions in London –  Gregory Crewdson’s Cathedral of the Pines at the Photographers Gallery and David Campany’s A Handful of Dust at the Whitechapel Gallery.

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From Gregory Crewdson’s Cathedral in the Pines

The Crewdson exhibition, Cathedral of the Pines is currently occupying three of the four exhibition floor at the Photographers Gallery. (The fourth has a fun interactive exhibition on photographing food, where we spent an additional happy 15 minutes.) All the Crewdson images were framed identically at double A1 size and were spread out through the exhibition space to give each one room to breathe. Each was labelled with a blindingly obvious caption, such as Woman at Window, which really did not tell us much at all. Together, all the images form a three stranded story, focusing on 1) a middle aged woman, 2) an older man and young girl, whose relationship remains opaque, and 3) some young people. They are caught in moments of stillness, which Crewdson likens to paintings, and the images themselves have a very painterly texture. Much has been written about the series elsewhere (see references below), so I will concentrate on our own impressions of the work.

There is a very strong sense of place in the series, a connectedness between the different images. One gets the impression of a story only part told – vignettes from a bigger tale that is just outside the viewer’s understanding, but which is somehow chilling.  Various props appear and reappear throughout the series, such as boxes, glasses of water, strange holes in the walls and floors, and prescription bottles. There is a strong sense of the male gaze – the women are often unclothed, while the men only occasionally and most of them have their faces turned away from the camera. It seems to be a series about women but by a man, and the effect of the male gaze is to make the women seem very vulnerable. Each person is caught in a moment of utter stillness, as in a freeze frame from a film, and in that stillness there is a sense of foreboding, loneliness and despair which pervades the whole production. We decided that the colour palette and cultural references were very reminiscent of Twin Peaks, which might have influenced this feeling. This stillness also encourages the viewer to form their own ideas about what the series means, rather than directing them.

“It’s a mystery, in the end, and I want it to remain so,” Crewdson adds. “That goes for everything: in life and art.” (Guardian, 2016)

We left feeling a little frustrated, and with the definite impression that we had been participating in a murder mystery play that we hadn’t solved. The pictures were technically very proficient, and the emotions they brought out were disconcerting, but curiously they seemed to lack “heart”.

After lunch, we went over to the Whitechapel Gallery in the pouring rain. I hadn’t visited this gallery before; my usual stomping ground includes the Tate Modern, Beetles & Huxley and the Photographers Gallery. It was much bigger that I had expected with an interesting range of exhibition spaces, and an excellent tearoom and bookshop. Our mission was to see A Handful of Dust, but we also took in ISelf Collection: Portrait as a Billygoat which was wonderfully “modern” in its craziness.

It had been suggested that I see A Handful of Dust by fellow students who have seen my project for the TVG exhibition on Time, and it was definitely worth going to. It is a curated exhibition by David Campany, working out from a single image of some dust on a piece of glass in Marcel Duchamp’s famously filthy studio, although it was later attributed in many different ways. A handful of Dust poster

Campany takes the idea of dust and works out in different directions, using a variety of historical images to make us consider the interplay between the dust under the bed at home right through to interstellar dust, with various diversions through the Hiroshima nuclear bombing, American dust storms, vandalism and fracking, amongst other subjects. It is difficult to pick out specific images that stood out, although I did like Louise Oates’ Notes on Hydraulic Fracking, the Desolate North East, and the film Hiroshima Mon Amour, Directed by Alain Resnais (1959). Campany’s decisions about what to include in the exhibition might seem somewhat random, but there is a clear thread underneath on the meaning of the photograph as document and as a record, but also of how everything is connected at a cosmic level. It was fascinating, so much so that I bought the exhibition catalogue. This turned out to be two books, one of the photographs and the other an extended essay by Campany which contextualises the works. I am looking forward to reading it over the next few days.

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Louise Oates’ Notes on Hydraulic Fracking, the Desolate North East

The presentation of the work was one area which I was not so enthused. The walls of the space are painted dark green, and text was printed onto it in black type which made it very difficult to read unless one was standing directly in front of it.

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Overall, we both preferred A Handful of Dust to Cathedral of the Pines, which was surprising, as I had expected the converse. And for future reference, the lady in the Whitechapel Gallery bookshop told me that the next big exhibition, when the Campany one is over will be Thomas Ruff, which will also be worth a visit.

References

http://www.bjp-online.com/2017/06/crewdson-cathedral/

http://aperture.org/shop/crewdson-cathedral-of-the-pines/

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/jun/08/a-handful-of-dust-whitechapel-photographers-show

http://aperture.org/blog/conversation-david-campany/

https://www.ft.com/content/70aec0e6-4583-11e7-8d27-59b4dd6296b8

 

 

 

Marlborough Open Studios – ideas aplenty

This last week, I spent five mornings doing a class in Qigong, (pronounced Chi-gong)which is a Chinese system of movements and breathing that promote good health and mindfulness. This is relevant to my studies as on Saturday, I set off on the first of what will be four days visiting artists’ studios to see the work they are exhibiting for the Marlborough Open Studios event. I have been feeling very disheartened about my photographic progress of late but suddenly my eyes seem to have opened again following the Qigong, and everywhere I go I see potential photographs. It is wonderfully inspiring, especially when coupled with seeing what artists from other disciplines are producing and how I might work with some of their ideas.

The majority of artists I have visited so far are not photographers, though I did meet and see the work of Richard Draper and Deborah Husk. Richard displayed some images from his series All Along the Watershed, a black and white landscape project, and I enjoyed talking to him about his influences, particularly Fay Godwin and our different impressions of the recent Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition. Deborah is a commercial photographer, but her art photography is about still life, mainly food and flowers. We had an excellent discussion about my project for the Thames Valley Forum on Time, and she showed me some wonderful 3D work using photographs and thread that she has done with Jane Corbett, an artists I met and blogged about recently. She also showed me a series in which she is aiming to produce something unique, as a means of removing the replicability of most photographs. In this case, she has photographed a set of objects, one of which has fallen from the picture and sits in reality at the bottom of the frame(link to examples here). I am not going to post a load of photos here, as I may decide to use them for an assignment, but there were some techniques and ideas I saw which I would like to incorporate into some of my work, and which I need to keep a note of.

  • Deborah’s images, which mix images and reality in the same frame – an idea I would like to explore, possibly with my Time project.
  • Her work with Jane Corbett, using photographs as 3D objects by cutting and threading, using millinary techniques.
  • Arran Miles’ collographs, which mixed screen printing with collage – so lovely I ended up buying one.
  • Rowan Whimster’s gorgeous pots, which look so fragile, but are in fact solid enough to hit with a padded hammer; each one produces a different sound, like a bell. Somehow, they manage to look both very modern and timeless.
  • Susie Whimster’s work which uses mark making as meaning. I must look into the concept of mark making, which is very much a part of the drawing/painting genre, but not so much used in photography.
  • Belinda Salmon Harding’s wonderful glasswork. Belinda did an MA with UCA, and we spent some time chatting about mutual interests. I took the photograph below of a piece of her work, which gives me much to think about in the idea of photography en abyme, something I also researched recently.

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  • Julie Smith’s lovely handmade books – I must have another go at these.
  • Mary Wilkinson’s minimalist paintings of Wiltshire and Devon, which resonated with some ideas I was trying out last week in Photoshop, using gradients and movement tools.

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I really want to try out some abstract work using this idea, but also tissue paper collage on top, and my recent purchase of a sample pack of Awagami washi photographic paper includes just the right sort of very thin paper. Am looking forward to some experimentation.

Next week, I plan to see several more artists in their studios as well. I am thoroughly enjoying seeing the work in media other than photography and the crossover points are legion.

American Pop Art review

Helen Frankenthaler Savage breeze

I attended this exhibition on the 16th June almost by mistake. My eldest son and I had intended to see the Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum but could not get tickets, so we saw this instead. It wasn’t a wasted trip. The exhibition is huge, covering 12 rooms, and some iconic images were on show including Andy Warhol’s Marilyn series, Hockney’s Swimming Pool and other familiar pieces. Not having done any preparatory research, I was unaware that the whole exhibition was really about printmaking, and how it progressed during the second half of the 20th century. The videos about the printmaking processes were very interesting, and the complexity of some of the techniques was astonishing.

What is Pop Art?

This delightful little video from the Tate Gallery explains Pop Art in simple terms. Essentially, it says that there were two types of Pop Art, that made in America, and that made in the UK about America. In its explanation of the genre, the Tate Gallery says:

It began as a revolt against the dominant approaches to art and culture and traditional views on what art should be. Young artists felt that what they were taught at art school and what they saw in museums did not have anything to do with their lives or the things they saw around them every day. Instead they turned to sources such as Hollywood movies, advertising, product packaging, pop music and comic books for their imagery.

From the point of view of a photographer, looking at work produced in a different media, the exhibition resonated in many ways. I was interested in Warhol’s use of different colours and techniques in his Electric Chair series because several of my fellow students are currently experimenting with alternative techniques and it is something I would also like to explore. Warhol said of the series that repetition reduces impact, which is something that could equally be applied to many areas of photography. Roy Lichtenstein’s dot prints were fabulous – complex and graphically expert in design, with a palette of bright primary colours. I liked Roy Rauschenberg’s mix of photography and printing often using nonstandard processes, and I need to follow up his Stoned Moon series.

There were so many artworks that it would be impossible to note them all, but the ones that I would like to research further include:

  • Jasper Johns screen prints with multiple layers and lithographs. He takes well known symbols and manipulates them to be something else – other. I like Target with Four Faces, Two Maps II and Color Numerals – lovely colours, and each one was totally different.
  • Jim Dine’s use of objects to represent himself  – dressing gown, paint brushes etc. Five paintbrushes –  an iterative series with changes and improvements at each version, including the materials he used for the prints.
  • Ed Rushka Hollywood. A copy of 26 gasoline station cover there. Big Dipper over desert 1982, Whiskers 1972, Sin 1970, Every building on the sunset strip, which is a concertina book.
  • David Hockney – Mist from the Weather series
  • A lot of handmade paper throughout the exhibition. I need to explore how to do this and how it can be used in photography. Ellsworth Kelly used handmade paper as a medium in itself.
  • Helen Frankenthaler Savage Breeze. Wonderfully minimalist.
  • Anni Albers – I like her work with triangles, reminiscent of patchwork
  • Craig McPherson Yankee Stadium at Night – almost black, but it actually has a lot of detail.
  • Richard Estes Urban Landscapes – bright posterised images from photographs
  • Eric Fischi Year of the Drowned Dog. A series of six interlocking etchings which are meant to be seen as a composite, but which have equal validity as stand-alone images.

As tends to be the case with these exhibitions, the overwhelming majority of works were by men. And as also tends to be the case, there was a section at the end devoted to

  1. Political art and dissent – this was very interesting and full of subversive ideas. I would have liked to see more of these overtly political images,
  2. Gender and feminism – I think there were two works in the main section by women, both mentioned above, but this area contained works by Jenny Holtzer, Dottie Attie, May Stephens, Lee Lozano and Kiki Smith. I particularly liked Lozano’s books.
  3. Race  – Willie Cole’s Stowage was fascinating and shocking in equal measures and is not easily forgotten, as were Kara Walker’s prints on the slave trade.

I enjoyed the exhibition more than I had expected, and came away with various points to mull over. One is the positioning of printmaking somewhere between the complete replicability of (digital) photography and the uniqueness of paintings. The processes for making the works were long and formed of multiple parts, meaning that each time a work was printed, the effect was slightly different, in the same way that analogue printing produced subtly different results each time a negative is printed. Another is the use of different materials for printing and how the material itself forms part of the work. In particular, Ed Ruschka’s 3D thick paper roadsigns spring to mind. Finally, I was intrigued by Fischi’s Drowned Dog series and Dine’s Five Paintbrushes, and how the final works have the effects of time built directly into them, meaning that the sum of their parts is greater than the individual works, and one can see how they revisualised them again and again.

References

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/p/pop-art

http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/unlock-art-alan-cumming-on-pop-art

http://advisor.museumsandheritage.com/american-dream-pop-present-qa-british-museum/