Tag Archives: Exhibitions

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.



A possible collaboration opportunity

A couple of days ago, I visited an Open Studio showcasing the work of Hannah Dosanjh. Hannah is a Naïve painter who originally qualified as an Illustrator and I really enjoyed the visit for two reasons. Firstly, her work is very good, but what particularly attracts me to it are the little descriptions she attached to each one, which indicate her thoughts about why she made the picture and whimsical details about her life. See below for an example. They seem very much in alignment with the work I am currently doing on linking images and text. Secondly, Hannah lives and works in my village and her images are about everyday life here – the cake competition, the pub, etc. and I see that they complement some of my own work on village life. A few are shown below, as Hannah kindly asked me to photograph them for her to put on Facebook.

As it happened, when I turned up, another person I know was there, Talis Kimberley-Fairbourn. Talis is a musician and composer (our village is full of talent) and all three of us are Parish Councillors! It struck me that we could do some work together, and I have just the right opportunity for a group show coming up. Our local library will be shutting for six months from December and will re-open in July (long story about the Borough Council refusing to pay for our library service any more, and it being taken over by a library trust, of which I am a member), with an opening ceremony and party. The perfect event for a group exhibition and concert featuring local people who produce work on the local environment. I am looking forward to making this happen. If it comes off, it will also be an opportunity for me to learn how to put on an exhibition, and about curation, as we will almost certainly have more people anting to show work than space available, so some boundaries will need to be put round what is accepted.

Wolfgang Tillmans at the Tate Modern

I attended the study visit on Saturday, which was led by Jayne Taylor, the tutor who regularly attends the Thames Valley Forum meetings. It was a popular visit, with a large group of students, mostly somewhere in the middle of their course. During the exhibition and the subsequent discussion, I wrote copious notes, but a couple of days later, I am still trying to work out how to interpret Tillman’s work. The best way I can think of to describe how his work appears to me is as one of those neural network images, with thousands of strands joining at random nodes, like the one below.

neuron-network-in-the-human-brain-computer-artwork-E7TP8AI have read the suggested reviews of the work, and watched some of the YouTube clips, but the explanation that accords with my own thoughts best is the post by fellow student, Kate, linked here.

Tillmans says that he sees linkages everywhere between seemingly unrelated subjects. The exhibition is set out in a series of 14 rooms, each with a general theme, and some of these are more easy to comprehend than others. He photographs everything from the mundane to the very exotic, and the print size varies from tiny 6×4″ ones to room length. They are all presented together in what appears to be a chaotic manner, but in reality Tillmans has put considerable thought into their placing and colocation with each other. One of the videos shows that he is a big fan of scale models and sets his exhibitions out with absolute precision, according to a system which is opaque to all but himself.

He says his aim is to look at everything, new or familiar, with a fresh eye – not particularly unusual in its own right, but the subjects that attract him tend to be different from other people – weeds, excess, decay, transition. These are mixed with his clear activist ideals into jumbles of loosely related images and a lot of papers and books as well. Subjects that interest him include different understandings of “truth” and the backfire effect, whereby we categorise any proof that does not accord with our understanding of a subject as ill-informed and wrong; fake news as it were.

I could go on for several more paragraphs about the different media he works in, including video, music and sculpture, but the exhibition is so vast and complex that it is impossible on a single visit to appreciate everything fully. I therefore want to mention two aspects that struck me particularly as I moved around the rooms. Firstly, Tillmans homosexuality is referenced throughout, and I was very touched at the affectionate and tender way he portrays his friends and lovers. A host of images feature them, either in portrait form, or as snippets of their bodies which caught his attention, such as the nape of a neck, or a sliver of skin between jeans and t-shirt.

The second area that attracted me was his experiments with the process of making photographs. Not so much the folder single colour prints, but the large scale images he has drawn from dirty printers and his use of non-standard print processes which look at colour grading. These include several images taken from the windows of planes (a subject very close to my own heart), and which produced beautiful modernist abstracts.

Finally, and just for fun, I took a series of several photos in his installation Instrument 2015, where he juxtaposes two video loops, one of himself from behind, dressed only in underpants and dancing while facing the wall, and other which might just be another version of the same, but which is really his shadow on the wall at a totally separate place and time. These rather mundane but mesmerising loops are accompanied by a weird electronic sound, which is apparently synthesised from the noise his feet made while he was filming. The total effect is bizarrely addictive, and the point he is making is that we want the two films to be of the same thing, even when they are not. In any case, my high speed shots of what I was seeing revealed bizarre coloration changes, which I enjoyed making. Jayne said it was something to do with my camera’s rendering of the work.  So here, below, I have shown what the eye saw, along with a few of my camera’s interpretations of the same.


Finally, it needs to be reiterated that this exhibition cannot possibly be fully appreciated in one viewing. There is just too much to take in, and Tillman’s thinking is too opaque. It is abundantly clear that he is an excellent photographer and that it all means something, but divining what that meaning might be is a substantial undertaking. As Jayne, said during our discussion after the show, “There’s only room in art photography for one Wolfgang Tillmans.”