Robert Frank, Drive in Movie, Detroit (The Americans)
Robert Frank, US285, New Mexico (The Americans)
An interesting contemporary riff on Frank's book was recently done by Mishka Henner; in Less Americains he has removed much of the content from the photographs to produce "less"... Perhaps a little to extreme for my taste, but a truly interesting concept and body of work.
Stephen Shore will perhaps be primarily known for being one of the colour innovators. He once said that America was "made for long trips", and I guess that means it's a big old place. England isn't made for long trips, well, not very long ones anyway. For me, Shore's use of colour (along with a couple of others) is something that now represents America in the 70s, although I never saw it first hand the period has a certain 'feel' to it, the light has a certain quality. Shore also tends to capture something of the distance and openness in his photographs that I like and seek for myself. An early project, Uncommon Places, features about 700 photographs shot over 11 years, which were edited down to 49 (often but not exclusively intersections and roadsides) for the exhibition in 1982.
Stephen Shore, Sutter Street and Crestline Road, Fort Worth, Texas, June 3, 1976 (Uncommon Places)
Stephen Shore, US2, Ironwood, Michigan, July 9, 1973 (Uncommon Places)
There is something I really like in Todd Hido's A Road Divided. They're incredibly poetic for a start, bringing to mind many experiences of being in a car, the windscreen covered in condensation. Other than the condensation, they're ostensibly of "nothing", that thing that I like to photograph myself, nothing except a nondescript piece of road, a hint of a tree or some road furniture. It's minimal, muted and above all it captures that sort of soft light that seems to be Hido's "thing". This is all about the space between the gasoline stations, the motels and all of the other things that appear to be the subject of the other photographers that work the road trip.
Todd Hido, A Road Divided
Todd Hido, #7557 (A Road Divided)
Other photographs of the American road trip include:
Alec Soth, Cadillac Motel, 2006 (From here to there: Alec Soth's America)
Alec Soth, Harper's Ferry, 2002 (L) Cemetery, Fountain Way, Wisconsin, 2002 (R) (From here to there: Alec Soth's America)
Alec Soth, Thirty-Three theatres and a Funeral Home, 2006 (From here to there: Alec Soth's America)
Lee Friedlander, America by Car
Lee Friedlander, untitled (America by Car)
Joel Sternfeld, After a flash flood, Rancho Mirage, California, July 1979 (The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip)
Christian Patterson, Untitled (Redheaded Peckerwood)
Christian Patterson, Untitled (Redheaded Peckerwood)
Shinya Fujiwara, Untitled (The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip)
One of my favourite road trip books actually comes from Japan; Yutaka Takahashi's Toshi-e (Towards the City).
Yutaka Takanashi, Toshi-e (Towards the City)
Yutaka Takanashi, Untitled (Toshi-e)
In England, there's shorter versions - Paul Graham's The Great North Road, or Simon Roberts' We English for example. I'll maybe add something about these at a later date.
Campany, D (2014) The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip. New York. Aperture Foundation.
Frank, R (2008) The Americans. Göttingen. Steidl.
Friedlander, L (2010) America by Car. New York. Distributed Art Publishers, Inc.
Hido, T (2010) A Road Divided. Portland. Nazraeli Press LLC.
Patterson, C (2011) Redheaded Peckerwood. London. Mack
Shore, S (2004) Uncommon Places: The complete works. 2008 edition. London. Thames & Hudson Ltd.
Soth, A (2010) From here to there: Alec Soth's America. Minneapolis. Walker Art Center.
Takanashi, Y (2010) Toshi-e (Towards the City). New York. Errata Editions
Mishka Henner - http://www.mishkahenner.com
Bob's Service, Los Angeles, California [Sep 2014]
Whiting Bros, near Ludlow, California [Jul 2012]
This leads me to wonder whether light boxes would be the way to go (or is it a fire hazard, bearing in mind they’re soaked in diesel!)? And do they stand up in isolation and therefore not need the local works in juxtaposition? Something to discuss over the next few weeks in the group crit and tutorial, see what others see in there.
The above is just a 15x10cm print, so I’ve done some a little larger (limited by size of my diesel tray) and will see how we get on after a week – time is running out I guess, so if I can squeeze the soaking time, it would help.
ASX: Gasoline and the American Temple
The book’s not arrived yet, but it should be good…
Edward Hopper: Gas 1942
(located at http://www.wikiart.org/en/edward-hopper/gas accessed 17/3/2015)
Drifting back to my own medium and photography, Robert Adams is a photographer I've long appreciated. Working in Colorado and the south-west, there is a similar feel to Ruscha's photographs - lots of space, but also civilisation. His book The New West points to the decline of the "wild west" and the encroachment of man into those natural spaces, a recurring theme for Adams the conservationist. In this collection there are 5 gas stations; Along Interstate 25 (p19), Sheridan Blvd (p69), Federal Blvd (p77), Golden (p93) and Pikes Peak (p105)
Alec Soth crossed America in From Here to There and to be honest there are surprisingly few gas stations included, but they do feature. Cemetery, Fountain City, Wisconsin 2002 is typical of the contemporary approach. A record of what was there, but filled with a sense of melancholy and detachment. I'll likely be talking some more about Soth in a future post on the road trip I plan to write.
Alec Soth - spread from The Open Road (Cemetery, Fountain City, Wisconsin 2002 on right)
Stephen Shore is another, Beverly Boulevard is classic Shore style. Cars, motel interiors and food are what normally come to mind when I think of his work. The road trip and what he eats on his trip. The petrol station is inexorably linked to the road trip, you really can't have one without the other... There are two photographs he took at the corner of Beverly Blvd and La Brea Ave in June 1975 (on different days, for some reason - maybe it just wasn't "so"). From these two we can see Chevron, Texaco, Gulf and Exxon, one on each corner. A reason that the petrol station is such an enduring topic perhaps? Or is it just because of the road trip?
Stephen Shore: Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, California, June 21, 1975
(located at http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/collection/artwork/107285 accessed 17/3/2015)
It's not just the Americans either, Robert Frank has photographed them in The Americans. And Iñaki BergeraIt has too, he's a Spanish architect and photographer who I've found whilst researching this Ruscha based project (his website is here). "Foreigners", but still they photograph American gasoline station though.
One of the more contemporary photographers I've seen photographing petrol stations (albeit in passing) is Kyler Zeleny. His Out West is perhaps more of a documentary on small town America than anything purporting to be about the road, but they're still featuring.
There's numerous others too, as you can see if you just Google the subject. True, not everything that comes to light that way is from an "artist" photographer, there's plenty that are just on Tumblr, Flickr and the other social media image sharing sites. But there's plenty to get to grips with going forward. Plenty to contextualise with. And probably most importantly, plenty of proof that this is a viable subject, that interests people and can go the distance for me.
Marc Feustel talking at the Open Eye Gallery, 25/2/15
Marc is clearly a knowledgable chap on the subject, and he spoke of the radical change in the country, socially, economically and photographically, as they transitioned from Pictorialism through Surrealism in the pre-war period to a more documentary approach of social realism (Ken Domon's "unstated snapshot"). Damon's vision was for a very pure documentary aesthetic - nothing to artful, but rather providing a direct window into difficult situations and subjects (homelessness and beggars for example, but not in the same way as the "beggar photography" that swept America).
After Domon, there was a shift towards more of a French Humanist approach with Hamaya and Kimura, featuring more of HCB's "decisive moment" and generally with a more positive outlook - a different way of working, with a greater scope although remaining documentary in nature. Subject matter tended towards questions of "what is Japan?", covering the folklore and rural areas that were not so devastated by the war (these areas had always known hardship, and had avoided the bombing as they were not of military significance).
From 1956, there was a wave of newer photographers who had not been active during the war (Ishimoto for example). These photographers sought to break away from the past - the "old ways" were no longer really applicable as things had changed so much. Again, there was an increasing influence from outside of Japan, Ishimoto for example studied with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind in America at what was considered to be the "new Bauhaus" school (Chicago Institute of Design). The compositions were becoming very meticulous, and a long way from Domon's approach.
Eikoh Hosoe produced what might be considered his signature work in the 1960s, with Barakei, Kamaitachi and Man and Woman. The work can still be considered as documentary, although not in the traditional sense as he is documenting a collaboration with other creatives - he's documenting ideas or movements rather than the day to day. (This work is particularly stunning...)
Also in the 60s, the photography began to take on an unsettled air and a darker edge, as can be seen in the photographs of Shomei Tomatsu and Kikuji Kawada, who both revisited the scenes of the bomb, Kawada in Hiroshima and Tomatsu in Nagasaki. Kawada's Chizu (one of the ultimate photobooks as objects) provided a collective memory in order to try and comprehend the incomprehensible, with the well known image of the trampled flag representing the state of the nation in the aftermath of the war. Tomatsu was more symbolic as he photographed items from the peace museum, such as the watch that was forever stopped at 11:02, the time of the bombing and also the title of his book on the subject.
The photographic style was also becoming more visually chaotic, leaving the idea that documentary needed distance, poise and neutrality. Instead of blending into the background and being "invisible", he was coming more to the fore, putting himself within the scene, even if not directly within the frame. The photographer is becoming part of the world. From here. the path to Provoke is clear...
Whilst much of this is something I was aware of from my own interest in the subject and writing the essay as part of the degree, it was really good to hear someone talking about it, reconfirming my own ideas and actually adding extra bits of detail from his own research, talking to the photographers themselves and his own interpretation of the subject. It was also interesting to hear his view (albeit briefly) on the contemporary scene. Yes, he mentioned the well known names (Kawauchi, Homma, Araki, etc.) but also others that were beginning to make their mark - Daisuke Yokota, Go Itami, Nagoya Hatakeyama and Lieko Shiga. Yes, I know the first two (I have books by both), but the latter are potentially new to me (I may have seen them in passing, but not registered their names).
There's the labels and captions, panels and catalogues (all subject of the asynchronous discussions at the moment), aiming to provide knowledge about the art on show. As a personal preference, I'd opt for a panel and then, if necessary, a minimal label. A label providing the artists name might be construed as elevating the artist above the art, commodifying the creator rather than what has been created. Seems wrong to me, but then that name will also provide a degree of context as we would look at the art within the artists wider cannon... Maybe it is appropriate after all, or maybe this information should be on the panel? Context needs to be considered, just don't make it too prescriptive and/or reductive. Another aspect of the signage and leaflets is that which guides the viewer around, herding them to the highlights during a snatched lunchtime visit or whatever. It all seems quite obvious really, but then I'm not sure about it, about the discourse analysis and the research... Maybe I just need to discover that little spark that will make it all make sense. I feel like I’m losing my way a little.
Line (Tate Modern)
Rose, G (2012) Visual Methodologies. 3rd Edition. London. Sage Publications Ltd.
Jan van Eyck, The Arnolfini Wedding Portrait, 1434
(source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnolfini_Portrait#mediaviewer/File:Van_Eyck_-_Arnolfini_Portrait.jpg, accessed 21/2/15)
Another example comes with the series of images of prostitutes in the East End of London, part of the residuum Rose keeps on referring to throughout the section on Discourse Analysis I. The fact they are prostitutes is not immediately apparent to me - the first image is from The Bridge of Sighs, 1878 (Gustave Dore) and shows a woman being pulled from a river by three men, another has a body of a woman being looked at by two policemen (W Gray's Found, c1870), or a woman standing on a river's edge (Hablot K Browne's The River) or simply alone and dead on the bank (George Frederick Watts' Found Drowned, 1848-50). Only one image shows a woman that is more easily identified as a prostitute to me (perhaps I'm naive), that's Lost which is presumably the precursor to Gray's Found, and shows a woman in heeled boots and showing her petticoat outside a licenced premises whilst being observed by policemen in the shadows... At least, it's an easier but still bold assumption to make - if we were to look for provocative actions such as showing one's underskirt as being a sign of prostitution in a contemporary town or city on a Friday evening, then pretty much all women could be deemed prostitutes! (Dougie Wallace and Mariej Dakowicz are worth looking at here). The series of images apparently drives home the fact that prostitutes from the "residuum" all ended up dead in the Thames after having committed suicide. Having been told this, how is it then possible to "read them and look at the with fresh eyes" (p210)? An interpretation has been presented to me and it's logical, so why expend energy and effort coming up with something different? OK, there was a "ripper" prowling the East End in those times, preying on women. Were these his victims? Oh, but they were prostitutes too, so were all women in the region prostitutes...? Obviously not (as is the contemporary case presented by Wallace and Dakowicz, just before anyone thinks that I think that way), and I guess that's where some of the research comes in. And also the ability to detach oneself for the contemporary and apply the natural, conventional and symbolic codes of the time and the region to what is being looked at.
The other thing this mini-set of images brings to the fore is the intertextuality element. Ignore the iconography for a moment (if that's actually possible), but by displaying 5 images in which one is perhaps more clearly a prostitute, then the series is about prostitutes. And the fact that in three the women are dead at the side of the river, under a bridge then it's fair to assume that the woman standing at the riverside, watched by two men in the background, is about to stride out into the waters to her death as she is ashamed of her actions... Together, a narrative forms that might not be the same if viewed in isolation, or at least without viewing the others with them - as Foucault discusses, we bring the weight of all the other images we have seen to bear when we look at the current one. And what would be the assumption if there was an image of a "royal carriage" included instead of one of the others? Adding more and more images can muddy the waters if not controlled, and it has to be acknowledged that when performing a Foucauldian analysis that his other works include What is an author?, something I need to return to before long. Therein lies the theory I have in a way been demonstrating, that it is not the author (or painter, or maker) that decides what things mean, but the reader (or viewer). True, a point of view can be presented and strengthened by the way that it hangs together, but cover too much ground and it all becomes too much and what might once have been more concise suddenly grows a "sore thumb" that piques at the reader and sends them off on their own tangent. Horses, water and drink.
Rose, G (2012) Visual Methodologies. 3rd Edition. London. Sage Publications Ltd.
Anyone that knows me and my ‘likes’ as far as photography goes will know that Japanese photography ranks high on the scale of things that get me buzzing, so it was a certain amount of excitement that I headed off to Liverpool last Wednesday for opening night, even if my “thing” is more centred around the (admittedly more predictable) Provoke era, the exhibition includes the work of some of those that went on to form the short-lived Vivo collective (after Fukushima’s Junin-no-Me, or Eyes of Ten exhibition in 1957). I do tend to like most of the stuff that’s come out of Japan though, from the really early to the contemporary. Something to do with their way of seeing I suppose. It’s not necessarily tied to the Western art practice, although it does feature from time to time (I’me thinking Yasumasa Morimura here).
Looking around the exhibition, there’s a good mix of work there; 11 different photographers according to the little catalogue, from Ken Domon to Yasuhiro Ishimoto, through Eikoh Hosoe and Shomei Tomatsu, amongst others. Much of the work can be considered to be in a social documentary vein, and that’s exactly what it is. However, whilst the work is effectively documenting the tumultuous post-war years from the A-bomb and occupation to becoming an economical power-house, it also represents a shift from a realism movement (Domon) to a more humanist style of photography, inspired by HCB and Doisneau…
There is much to enjoy, but a particular pleasure was seeing a wall of Eikoh Hosoe’s photographs, from Man and Woman, Kamaitachi and Barakei. These are much more ‘artistic’ than many of the others, in Kamaitachi, Hosoe photographed Tatsumi Hijikata performing the role of the titular “weasel-demon” in a butoh dance, so is deviating from the mantra of Domon and the “absolutely unstaged snapshot” (Vartanian et al, p21). I’m really captivated by the depth of the blacks in the image from Barakei (leftmost in the image above), it drew me into it. I have Kamaitachi in book form, together with others in a compilation, and whilst the book form is really nice, the “problem” when compared to the gallery print is that the image is rotated and spread across two pages. The gallery print is also much better quality, although it has to be said my copy is a reprint and I can’t comment on the original, those original artists books are something to behold.
There were also some prints from Kikuji Kawada’s Chizu (The Map), a photobook of considerable reputation; it’s regard it as the “ultimate photobook-as-object” (Parr and Badger, p286 ). Here, Kawada looks at the aftermath of the war, the bombs and the American occupation. He uses the camera and the contrast in the black and white printing to introduce a level of abstraction in the documentary – it’s really effective at what it does.
An excellent collection of images – I’ll be going back to the exhibition at least once before it’s ended, I’ve booked into a talk by Marc Feustel and I’m thinking about the book-binding course as well…
Parr, M and Badger, G (2004) The Photobook: A History volume I. 2010 reprint. London. Phaidon Press Limited.
Vartanian, I, Hatanaka A and Kambayashi, Y (2006) Setting Sun: writings by Japanese photographers. New York. Aperture Foundation Books.
What are we looking at?
Sometimes, it feels like looking at postmodern art (and the theory behind it) is something like looking at the world through the code of the Matrix. It doesn’t make sense until you start to pick up the patterns. I still feel like a novice at this, even though I’ve been reading around the subject for a little while now. Gerald Deslandes third lecture was a quick dip into the world of postmodernism, and of globalisation. Again, it was quick and quite superficial because of the time constraints (90 minutes again, or thereabouts), but despite this it was still interesting.
In the 80’s and 90’s, art became “cool”, travel became easier and media was rammed down our throats. And then there’s digitisation and computers. Postmodernism seemed maybe like a logical way to go after two world wars and two atomic bombs… Something a little more playful. Something confusing. Something made up.
Looking at the first 40-ish slides on postmodernism, there were some artists I didn’t know and there were some I did. The Dusseldorf school (The Bechers, Gursky and Struth) got a mention – I’d not actually considered them to be postmodernists, but on reflection I can see the case for Gursky and Struth, a little less for the Bechers. Are their trademark typographies playful? Are they signs referring to other signs? No, but there is an element of “the end of the machine”. I’d not identified this as being part of postmodernism, but sure enough, a quick Google and you find “Postmodernists rue the unfulfilled promises of science, technology, government, and religion” ( allaboutphilosophy.org) – these buildings are the remains of a bygone technology…
The work of John Kippin may be worth a more detailed look. I’d not heard of Kippin, but both images appealed to some degree.
Other key ideas highlighted were detournement and appropriation (Sherrie Levine and Richard Prince), Gerhardt Richter’s paintings, especially that of Gudrun Ensslin of the Red Army Faction (called Ulrike Meinhof in the presentation).
With the globalisation presentation, artwork from beyond the West was introduced. Ai Weiwei was there obviously, with his sesame seeds (mass produced like things are in China, but will cultural implications as they’re made from ceramics, and of course it is representing food and abundance…) Other artists mimic “native” or “tribal” artefacts and iconography, with some exhibitions displaying the two side by side (“what are we looking at?” comes to mind again), and also non-Westerners realign their practice to gain advantage from globalisation – the example was given of Cyprien Tokoudagba, a shaman from Benin who made work to help people becoming an artist and selling the same works as art.
Certainly food for thought, and a great foil for the postmodern theory I’d been reading of late – good to see some of it actually appear as artwork of one kind or another.
Douglas Gordon was mentioned, and I highlighted his name for further investigation (which I’ve not done yet). What peaked my interest was his appropriation of film by stretching them out to a 24h duration, the slow motion changes them to something meaningless, defined only by what we take from it. Something perhaps worth exploring with the work I’ve been doing? Yes, certainly someone to take a further look at when the opportunity comes.
Lots of other stuff reinforced what I’d previously covered; Barthes Panzani advert and “Italianicity” and the connotations it brings of freshness, abundance and yes, Italianicity through the red, white and green colours matching the Italian flag (even though Panzani is a French company).
(from http://pages.ucsd.edu/~bgoldfarb/cocu108/data/images/Week2/album/panzani.jpg accessed 17/1/15)
There was talk about consumerism (Manet) and availability (Koons), and how Pop Art was very astute about the nature of images, how they become empty of meaning after constant reproduction, or at least they start to take on other meanings and empty of their original meaning. There was mention about how meanings change with the time, or at least how aspirations change, from “get married” to “got a girl”…
All in all, a lot to take in, not a lot of time to take it in in, but interesting nonetheless…
Gustave Courbet, The Stonebreakers, 1849
from VL 4
Paul Cezanne, Grounds of the Chateau Noir, 1900-04
from VL 4
Later however, Avant-Garde began to mean "modern", epitomised by unconventional techniques rather than any social sense as was once the case (as with Cezanne and The Grounds of Chateau Noir). Between the wars these radical methods accrued a political slant as might be epitomised by movements such as Dada, and the anti-war collage being created at the time. Also in the inter-war period, there was Surrealism which further questioned conventions of form and the controlling systems. Works such as Dali's Rainy Day Taxi can be seen as precursors to contemporary installation art.
Salvador Dali, Rainy Taxi, 1938
from VL 4
That's the Avant-Garde, but what of the "Neo" bit? It is thought the term was first coined retrospectively in the 70s to describe work where the subject dominates (as opposed to the concepts of Modernism) and has some political reason, such as being critical of the institutions, etc. The Neo Avant-Garde rallies against Greenberg's thinkings that paintings are paintings, and sculptures are sculptures, and that these high art objects are for the gallery.
Mark Rothko, Black and Maroon, 1958
from VL 4
I looked at Fluxus briefly whilst studying for my photography degree (part of a module on visual culture), specifically Mieko Shiomi's Disappearing Music for Face featuring Yoko Ono. Other "happenings", such as Shigeko Kubota's feminist performances are a pastiche of Jackson Pollock, whose work was deemed to be very masculine. This pastiche element is something that recurs, with other artists also parodying the modus operandi of the conventional (Modernist) arts, such as Nam June Paik’s Zen for Head, Piero Marzoni's eggs with thumb prints as signature, or Bruce McLean's transitory sculpture.
Nam June Paik, Zen for Head, 1962
from VL 4
Bruce McClean, Pose for Plinths 3, 1971
from VL 4
Film and video is another medium that is utilised, not like the Avant-Garde films I mentioned earlier, but in very much an anti-Hollywood vein, with artists such as Martha Rosler producing the fixed camera position video that works against the conventions and aesthetics of film making and providing a comment against the traditional view of a woman's place within the home in Semiotics of the Kitchen
Another theme that appears repeatedly within the Neo Avant-Garde is destruction. However, does this really adhere to the intentions of pushing the boundaries and challenging the system? Yes, it is shocking, but then we become more used to being shocked with the proliferation of media of varying types; the shocking nature of the work becomes accepted as being part of the establishment and therefore in order to push the boundaries and be a challenge, the work needs to be be more shocking, more destructive. Whilst Yoko Ono's Cut Piece might once have been really quite something to behold, today in order to be "shocking" it's not clothes that are cut, but the body itself as was seen with the work of Franko B in the previous Video Lecture.
The political leanings of the movement seem very left wing/communist in nature, with the language of the Fluxus manifesto making statements like "Purge the world of bourgeois sickness... Promote a revolutionary flood and tide in art... Fuse the cadre of cultural, social & political revolutionaries into united front & action." This in many ways reflects the times, with the anti-(Vietnam) war movement, the marches in London, riots in France and the shooting of the likes of Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Martha Rosler received a second mention in the lecture, this time with the anti-war collages of Bringing the War Home, in many ways a return to the Dada principles with collage and political commentary as she juxtaposed the weekly images of war from Life magazine with lifestyle and luxury.
Martha Rosler, Cleaning the Drapes, 1967-72 [photomontage]
Whitham calls on the writings of Peter Burger and his book The Theory of the Avant-Garde to propose that the Neo Avant-Garde may be thought of as having failed as they perpetuated and repeated what they were trying to challenge and their critique of the political and cultural elites. If Neo Avant-Garde is to be thought of as being "anti-establishment", then what of Yves Klein's Anthropometries? The work was made as a "happening", a (high art style?) performance in front of an exclusive audience and featured the painting of naked models with Klein's trademark blue paint before being directed to the canvas. These works, if the video below is to be believed, were then sold for 40000 French francs to collectors, and have been exhibited in museums. Hardly pushing against the art establishment, rather perpetuating them as Burger suggested.
Returning to Rosler, her Bringing the War Home series was originally conceived as agitational works and distributed via the underground press. However, as described in an essay by Susan Stoops (Martha Rosler: Bringing the War Home (1967-2004)) contained within David Evans' book Appropriation, the images entered the art world in the 1990s, when Rosler noted that if they were to enter art history, they would have to be "somehow normalised", thus bringing them "fully into the postmodern discourse Rosler's practice had helped shape" (Evans, p59). Whilst in this case the work was not intended to be sold and exhibited, 20 years after they were created, this was indeed what has happened. Is this, and other similar cases, symptomatic of "selling out" to the establishment in some way?
Is it still selling out if artists sell their "work" as a comment on the art system? The example given in the lecture is Marzoni's Artist Shit - canned excrement sold at the same price, pound for pound, as gold. And is it art? Well, anyone can be an artist, and anything the artist "produces" can be thought of as art if that is the artist's intention. Who am I to argue, but I know I wouldn't be even remotely interested in seeing the "work", never mind buying it. Something like this does indeed challenge the theory that art is a pursuit of aesthetic harmony though, and I suppose in that respect it is successful.
There was some further mention of the feminist practice within the Neo Avant-Garde, with Hannah Wilke's Through the Large Glass, a performance and video piece featuring Duchamp's work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Harrison, Kelly and Hunt's sociological study of women in the workplace (lower wages in the workplace and then more work for free when at home). There was also Jo Spence and the Hackney Flashers, similarly focussing on women's contribution to the economy.
The final section of the lecture covered the Artist's Placement Group that sought to put artists into industry, a form of residency, whereby the artist would be paid as a member of the workforce but rather than do the work, they would produce some artwork relevant to the residency. Stuart Brisley produced a somewhat Modernist sculpture from the frames of chairs, but Ian Breakwell's video was cited as being the one that pushed the establishment in the most useful way; the video and accompanying report drove change at the Rampton Institute for the Criminally Insane. A return to the social meaning of the first Avant-Garde.
Ian Breakwell, The Institution, 1978
from VL 4
In some respects, the Neo Avant-Garde has opened the gateway for some of the more controversial work of those that came after the movement ended in the 70s. I can't help but wonder what the YBA would have been like without the Neo Avant-Grade having gone first - in many respects, they are standing on the shoulders of those who went before. It's the same with previous movements though, with everything building on or reacting to earlier histories in some way. Would Casey Jenkins have done her 28 day knitting performance Casting Off My Womb without some of the earlier mentioned works, such as Kubota's painting having passed first? And where does the K-foundation's burning of £1m figure?
Gustave Courbet, The Stonebreakers, 1849 (from VL 4)
Paul Cézanne, The Grounds of Chateau Noir, 1900-04 (from VL 4)
Salvador Dali, Rainy Taxi, 1938 (from VL 4)
Mark Rothko, Black and Maroon, 1958 (from VL 4)
Naim June Paik, Zen for Head, 1962 (from VL 4)
Bruce McClean, Pose for Plinths 3, 1971 (from VL 4)
Martha Rosler, Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975
Yoko Ono, Cut Piece, 1965
Martha Rosler, Cleaning the Drapes, 1967-72
Yves Klein, Anthropemetries, 1962
Ian Breakwell, The Institution, 1978 (from VL 4)
The Neo Avant-Garde - the 1960s and Beyond, Video Lecture 4. Unknown. [Video Streaming] Graham Whitham. Open College of the Arts
Evans, D (ed) 2009. Appropriation. Whitechapel Gallery. London
Robert Heineken, Lessons in Posing subjects
As a photographer, I suppose I had a certain expectation these Polaroid images were from commercial shoots, that he had models posing for him in certain ways for each of the images, models responding to the directions to illustrate the points he detailed in the captions ("Removing one fist from the hip and placing it in contact with another part of the body" - from "Fist Errors"), but no. Heinecken isn't a photographer (he called himself a "paraphotographer") and he hasn't. Instead he has used his Polaroid SX-70 camera to re-frame and re-photograph magazine images to decontextualise them from their original consumer purpose to his own, sarcastic and subversive ends.
The work dates from the early 80s, and you can tell. The style of the photographs that have been rephotographed, the clothes being worn, the make-up (where there is a head actually visible), and the theatricality of the poses (some of them at least). Whilst I would have been young at this point, I can still imagine the original works (I have three older sisters too...), the types of magazines they were from, and the version of "America" they would represent. It's all about power-dressing American consumerism, at least that is the major thing I get from them. They correspond to an America I experienced through Hollywood films and the early days of VHS, or maybe that was actually a bit later in the decade but it all blurs now.
At the time they were produced, there was probably something of a feminist backlash too, although maybe this has tempered over time (or maybe not - it's a shame I'll be missing the lecture on feminism, it's something I'm weak on). There's a certain objectification of women on show, although as this is a re-contextualised objectification, there may also be an objection to the original use of the photographs, a form of appellation to the woman reader to look good for her man... Would the fact that Heinecken is parodying this carry any weight with the feminists? Does the fact that he is highlighting the exploitation of women mean he is working in this sphere, or does his overarching style and frequent use of pornographic material in his other work mean that he remains on the "outside"? How does this compare with the work of Sarah Lucas?
In the second room and upstairs is more of his work, now getting more... shall we say “risqué”? Some involves images from "girlie" magazines, fashion magazines and similar, but not in quite the same vein as the "Posing" series, although still as a comment on consumerism. There's collage on show, subverting the main image from lingerie adverts with the inclusion of others from the likes of Hustler to prove a point that "sex sells".
Upstairs, the work returns to Polaroids, but this time I believe they are of "real people" rather than of magazines, he has returned to a more traditional use of the camera... The images are again juxtaposed with text, and through their content they are highly sexualised. There was a video on show too, an interesting insight into the artist and whilst “Lessons” was the main reason for coming, it all added up to an enjoyable and thought inducing visit, and what I would imagine will be a springboard into a deeper look into his work.
After Heinecken, I also went briefly to DaDaFest, but I didn't really connect with what I was seeing. I can't actually remember very much either, so I won't say anything more.
Andy Warhol. Electric Chair, 1971 [screen print on paper]
As might be expected, there was a series of these images too, the same but in different colours. The repetition of the images might be thought of as desensitising the viewer to the subject matter, much as the constant flood of media in general can do, and the colours, do they serve to mask the subject matter? (an instrument of death at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York State) Perhaps the purple version above is still quite dark, but the yellow? I’m undecided on this, but it did resonate with me in terms of some of my own work on the war films, the colours they have are, in some instances, quite ‘pleasing” which can work in contrast to the subject matter.
Other work triggered thoughts. A pair of images of snub-nosed revolvers (Gun, 1981) also triggered (groan) thoughts of my own work, with the images overlapping / out of register being visually similar in some ways to the movement blur I’ve been capturing. Am I moving towards Pop Art with this current project? Maybe I am, I’ve bought a book about the subject from the gallery shop…
The next room was noisy, too many people, all chatting and I couldn’t hear the various videos and whatnot. Off to the other annex of the exhibition and an artist I hadn’t actually heard of but I did know some of her work; Gretchen Bender worked with video, some of which as I say, I knew (REM for a start). There wasn’t a lot here, but it was definitely worth the look, and in many respects brought me back to the video I watched on Sonic Outlaws
After sitting and watching the multi screen presentation (above), I moved back in to Warhol, and his large video room and The Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Now this I really liked – wrap around video, music from Velvet Underground and really quite immersive. The video from YouTube doesn’t come across as the same thing – the audio is shocking (it wasn’t at the Tate), an you really don’t get the same feeling of being in the middle. No-one was dancing at the Tate either.
This was worth the admission on its own.
Bookness (From Les' slides)
This sounds fairly straightforward, there's hardbacks, paperbacks and even e-books... made of paper pages or similar, bound together in some way so that they are read sequentially. Actually, bookness doesn't really have much to do with that, well, it does as an absolute starting point, but it keeps on going beyond the logical and into the... realms of fantasy? The roof of a house has "bookness" in that the shape looks like the cover of a half open book
Roof (from Les' slides)
If the roof is the book cover, then the walls, the bricks, the rooms are the pages, and yes, all will tell a story of some sort. Calling this "fantasy" is a bit harsh, there is some form of fantastical logic about his train of thought though, with ploughed fields displaying bookness (the furrows being like the pages of the book), or anything displaying text being akin to a book, or... or... or...... There were times when this was reigned in though, when comparing a sculpture to a book, he was told by it's creator it was a sculpture, not a book. You can't win them all...
Personally, this sort of thing isn't for me, although I do understand the nature of interconnectedness and relationships, etc. Of how one thing can lead to another. Having said that (and I do believe I'm too logical for it), I do like surrealism - am I actually to logical for that too? Whatever. I'm afraid I haven't taken a great deal from this one as for as bookness goes, although maybe the research section might prove to be of use once I get around to working through some of his questions to ask ourselves.
The essay Shashin can be found here.
And now I also feel the need to revisit the map I produced and do something better, if I can find the time…
Instead of this, and I might be going off on one here, I’ve done a caricature of the world, with bits that mean more to me bigger in size, and a few photographers and artists listed on there. Obviously, I like my Japanese photography, so that features larger. I like Surrealism, both in terms of painting and photography, so that’s there. Dusseldorf school – check. And American colour photography… Yep, present and correct. Nothing from Italy? Not really, although of course there will be things that resonate with me from that neck of the woods. China? Nobody jumped out at me…
Now, in terms of putting names in places, I know there are a couple of anomalies, but this is where there work is made, or at least what they’re better known for… i know it’s not great, but it’s something we can maybe launch a discussion from and I might update it later.
Elkins, J (2002) Stories of Art. New York. Routledge (MA1)
Screen grab from Bart Michiels website (Source: http://www.bartmichiels.com/Projects/the-course-of-history)
John Constable. The Hay Wain. 1821. Oil on canvas. 130.2 x 185.4cm (Source: Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hay_Wain#mediaviewer/File:John_Constable_The_Hay_Wain.jpg)
Thomas Monnington. Southern England, 1944 – Spitfires Attacking Flying Bombs. 1944. Oil on canvas. 105.4 x 143.3cm. (Source: IWM http://www.iwmprints.org.uk/image/726995/monnington-walter-thomas-sir-pra-southern-england-1944-spitfires-attacking-flying-bombs)
Peter Kennard. Haywain with Cruise Missiles. 1980. Chromolithograph on paper and photographs on paper. 26 x 37.5cm (Source: The Tate – http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T12484)
Wells, L. (2011) Land Matters: landscape photography, culture and identity. London. IB Tauris & Co Ltd.
William Eggleston, Untitled, Memphis, 1970; dye transfer print, 12 1/8 in. x 17 1/4 in. (30.8 cm x 43.82 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Laurence A. Short; © Eggleston Artistic Trust (Source: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art - http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/collection/artwork/11384#ixzz3HncJ4rn4)
In deciding which online resource I'd use for the upcoming hangout, I came across the Tate Shots video (bottom) and in watching I was confused about something, there was a lamp isolated against a blue ceiling. So what? Well, the ceiling is normally red. I'd become aware some time ago of some 'anomalies' in the printing of Eggleston's work when I realised that the cover of my Guide differed from the images used in an article about the sale of some of his work (Googling "Eggleston Memphis Tricycle highlights this) but from red to blue? A step to far, surely?
Google search results - "Eggleston Memphis Tricycle"
William Eggleston, details unknown Screen grab from Tate Shots video
Well, it would appear that as well as being incredibly eccentric, Eggleston also has something of a sense of humour. He's famed for only taking a single shot of everything he photographs, but that doesn't stop him taking the "same" photograph in different locations...
William Eggleston, Untitled, Greenwood, Mississippi, 1973; dye transfer print, 12 5/16 in. x 18 1/2 in. (31.27 cm x 46.99 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of a friend of the Museum; © Eggleston Artistic Trust (Source: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art - http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/collection/artwork/15320#ixzz3HnaspCtM)
Anyway, here's the video...
(I guess the copyright rests with Negativeland, but possibly a bit contentious)
The cover could cause confusion and financial loss as it could lead to people buying that instead of the new U2 album that was due for release around the same time. In a story filled with amusing turns, the band took advantage that the news machine does exactly as they did and re-reported a bogus press release (without checking any facts) that the band were somehow connected to an axe murder that occurred, supposedly, following a row over one of their records. This went from fanzine to music press to mainstream news to the point the story had to be retracted. A story that was appropriated without question – as one of the members of Negativeland mentioned – reprinting, cannibalising and copying is so routine, it’s frightening!
Much of the discussion centred around the nature of the arts and a history of appropriation and copying, be it a tune that is reused for something else, or how paintings inform painters, how something will sbde incorporated in the art of another and presented to the viewing public as something new: “In the visual arts there is a long-standing tradition of found image collage, from [Kurt] Schwitters and [Bazon? Not sure who is being referred to here] Brock, and [Robert] Rauschenberg and [Andy] Warhol. In modern terms, appropriation is often about culture jamming, capturing the corporately controlled subjects of the one way media barrage, reorganising them to be a comment upon themselves and spitting them back into the barrage for cultural consideration.” (circa 35min into the film)
All this ties in with the idea of visual culture, of these representations (TV, music/muzak, high art, speech, dreams and ultimately society) and how it structures the way people behave (loosely from Visual Methodologies). At the start of that book, there is also an introduction to occularcentrism, and the centrality of the visual to Western society – something the postmodernists, SI, Debord and Baudrillard spoke of, and something I will inevitably come back to later during the MA.
Another ironic turn of events was with the ZooTV tour when U2 appropriated TV images and redistributed them as part of the show. Surely this is exactly the same as what they sued Negativeland for, although as they are “bigger” they got away with it, with many of the media providers probably happy to be appropriated by U2 in this way…
There was also some discussion on the copyright laws (of America) and fair use in terms of parody. Now, I’d always considered a more traditional use of the word:
1. An imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect:
the film is a parody of the horror genre (from oxforddictionaries.com)
however, there is another definition too:
Although a parody can be considered a derivative work under United States Copyright Law, it can be protected from claims by the copyright owner of the original work under the fair use doctrine, which is codified in 17 U.S.C. § 107. The Supreme Court of the United States stated that parody “is the use of some elements of a prior author’s composition to create a new one that, at least in part, comments on that author’s works”. That commentary function provides some justification for use of the older work. See Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. (from wikipedia.com)
The UK laws are different but changing, so will see on that one.
Lots to think about and something of small level of reassurance that Some Unholy War / Victory are not going to get me into too much trouble…
Rose, G (2014)Visual Methodologies. 3rd Edition. London. Sage Publications Ltd
Looking at his website, again the work isn’t really large enough to get a really good look, although the impression is clear enough. Whilst this is sculpture, there’s an obvious relationship with some of the work I’ve been pulling together for Some Unholy War with the blurring effect. Is this something to look into more? Adding more blur? It would be difficult as the background also blurs and everything becomes too “unclear”. Perhaps some could work, and thinking about it, some are already more in this vein. I suppose it’s time to put something of SUW on here, rather than the brief glimpses that there has been so far.
The interview with Barbara Kruger takes up the first 50% or so of the broadcast, together with Laurie Penny. There much said about feminism, they both work with this so it would be expected. From a point of view of Kruger’s work, it’s interesting that she denounces the claim that her work is subversive, but rather that she likes to work with doubt, asking questions and resistance. In terms of the doubt, it was also interesting but maybe not really surprising that she was very cognisant of the fact that others will their own meanings to her work, that some will be successful and others won’t, depending on the person looking at the image and reading the text. Of course, there is something of herself in there too, it would be an impossible claim to say that there isn’t - nobody can be that objective.
Free Thinking. 2014 [Radio Broadcast] Georgia Catt. British Broadcasting Corporation
located at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b047bs61 (accessed 04/10/2014 )
McCullin. 2012 [Blu-Ray] Jacqui Morris and David Morris. British Film Company
Roger Fenton, Valley of the Shadow of Death (1855) - from The Getty website
Paul Nash, Wire (1918-1919) - from the Tate website.
Both images depict the aftermath of the battle, both images are devoid of people and both images give an indication of the trauma that will have been experienced there, Nash’s piece more so, perhaps due to the duration and the nature of the battle, perhaps because of the more figurative and interpretive nature of the media. Nash’s work bores deeper into the realms of nightmare in his representation of the wounded land, there are hints of the future Surrealism, whereas Fenton is much straighter, it’s documentary (although Errol Morris has something to say about his methods).
This work relates in many ways to my current thoughts on projects. True to say they’re not really progressing at the moment, but I see parallels in my mind’s eye; Some Unholy War ties itself to the surreal and nightmarish in some ways, while the landscape is something I intend to be returning to for a later project, for year 2 in all probability as it will take time to achieve it as I intend to be travelling all over the country to achieve it.
So, the documentary may not have told me everything there is to know about Nash, but it proved interesting and relevant. It was also a springboard into some other research that will likely follow as I work my way through the MA. There’s another couple in the series too, so who knows what they might inspire.
Paul Nash:The Ghosts of War. 2014 [Video Streaming] Patrick Dickinson. Danny Katz Productions.
located at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04j2ywv/british-art-at-war-bomberg-sickert-and-nash-1-paul-nash-the-ghosts-of-war (accessed 20/09/2014)
Whilst I was there predominantly to see Roberts’ work Pierdom, the ground floor was taken over by Phillipson, so the entrance into her exhibition beckoned and seemed to be the logical place to start. Prior to the exhibition, I knew nothing about Phillipson. I still know little, other than she can be a bit risqué and works with video installations that are more welcoming than others I have seen. Now, in the past, video has been weak for me. As the art form itself, it has not been particularly captivating, and many have been what I would consider highly pretentious or just plain dull as yesterday’s dishwater. Here though, after being rebirthed from the dark and into the light of an odd new world, there is something that I found interesting. They weren’t slow and ponderous, if anything they were quite surreal which will always pique my interest a touch. And watching a video from the back seat of an old Peugeot or a speedboat on bottles of water is not something you do everyday.
It was A is to D what E is to H that I found most compelling, viewing the video projected on to the screen of the aforementioned car. Seemingly random images flowing together, narrated by a woman (I assume this to be the artist). I really don’t know why I liked this. Yes, it was different. No, I don’t know what it means or why... Well, just why in general I think. It’s left me confused but wanting more. The delivery of the audio is still in my head.
So, back into the real world and upstairs to Simon Roberts’ photographs of piers... an odd transition, but somehow also a strangely appropriate coupling - can a pier really have phallic connotations, or is that something that only comes to mind when married with Phillipson’s work? Will this be something that occurred to Roberts as he carried out his survey of Britain’s Victorian piers, recording them before they deteriorated into nothing but memory - I recall that on the day of the intended talk, Eastbourne pier was badly damaged by fire.
Physically, the 4 main prints were large and impressive. They’re packed with detail and clearly not taken with an iPhone on a family trip to the seaside - no, they’re slow, deliberate and considered. They’re also very “matter of fact”, objective; not hiding the fact that they’re deteriorating, not hiding the fact that there’s a certain unsavoury underbelly in the surroundings that may actually be lost on those that were not born in a seaside town. Maybe, as a “Blackpudlian”, I have a certain view on living in a seaside time for much of my life, a view that is not particularly favourable (can anyone look favourably on a town that was reported as heading upwards by a local councillor because a Nando’s was opening?). I see beyond the dazzle of a theme park, which I suppose I liken to put glitter on a skin cancer. But the theme park is also a subject in one of the photographs, representing an escape from reality that seaside towns can be to those that visit and leave before the gloss has had time to tarnish.
Is the theme park otherwise relevant to these images? I mention it because with it it became obvious that Roberts is not searching to show everything in the scene. Yes, the pier is there, but whilst it juts out into the sea, it’s also connected to its surroundings, and these surroundings go beyond the edge of the frame. We are allowed to explore the pier, but we are stopped from going too far from it. I guess it should be obvious that there needs to be an edge to the frame, but some might want to neatly encapsulate things - perhaps that would be the sign of a vernacular image? What I have done though is leave that frame and bring a lifetime of experience of seaside life to them, seeing beyond them. It’s a clear embodiment of Barthes’ theories that the images are different to us all because of who we are. I’ve never been to Weston-Super-Mare or Southend-on-Sea but still feel I know more through a shared experience. I may be well off the mark, but the photographs stir up feelings. I’m fairly sure these aren’t what Roberts was expecting, I suspect he would rather recall happy times, playing on the sands near the shadow of the pier or visiting the “amusements”, but there we go...
Despite what might come across as negativity for these images, I actually found them really interesting. They’re very relevant to my own approach to landscape, of how I am planning to approach my next significant project exploring what might be forgotten histories of conflict. They illustrate how a measured approach to the subject does not have to become a tightly controlled Becher-esque typology, although typology is clearly what this is.
Perhaps a “complaint” that I might raise about the exhibition is that it’s small; there are only 4 large photographs and 2 smaller ones. However, this weakness might also be considered a strength, the exhibitions USP. You see, it’s not just in Blackpool, but also in a range of other seaside towns at the same time. It’s not for people in the big cities with the fancy galleries, but it’s back with the places that it came from. It’s odd, but whilst it takes something away, I also think it’s given back something else and it’s strangely stronger for it.
Saturday’s visit to ACE in Nelson didn’t start well. Study visits have usually been organised via e-mail, detailing start times and what have you, this time though... Perhaps I just misunderstood - there was indeed an e-mail that said a talk started at 1pm, and had a hyperlink to a Pendle Art Gallery. I assumed that there would be a gathering beforehand to look around the work, then the talk would be given. My mistake, but to be fair this wasn’t necessary due to the size of the show and the way the talk was organised (previously, talks have been away from the art, not in front of it). It very nearly didn’t happen though, as I didn’t find ACE. The weblink was to a different location, not the ACE and I hadn’t realised this when I grabbed the postcode for my GPS. Still, I got there in the end and I’m glad I did as it was a really interesting talk and very relevant to where I see myself going in the coming years.
Jamie Simonds was first up with a series of photographs of American troops.
Apparently taken when he was en route to his honeymoon whilst delayed in Atlanta, these photographs show the soldiers waiting, delayed whilst heading off to serve another tour in either Iraq or Afghanistan. The soldiers looked just as bored as any other traveller stuck in an airport lounge, with very little sign of what they may be heading off towards showing on their faces. What was interesting here is the method of presentation, shown printed to what was probably 6x4, framed in cheap white IKEA frames such as might be found on any mantlepiece. Whilst this uniformity has sometimes been eschewed for an approach that might reflect actual prints on mantlepieces (potential memento mori?), i.e. a completely random one in terms of framing, here it served a few purposes. Firstly, it means that the images appear less kitsch, less gimmicky and would sit well together on a gallery wall (here they were actually displayed on boxes). Secondly, it matches the uniformity of the military dress - yes, I know that some of the soldiers are wearing a different pattern of DPM, but in general terms, I see a connection - uniformity and the military.
Olivia Robinson’s appearance in the exhibition comes by way of a book of photographs depicting levels of domesticity in a war zone. Olivia’s husband is a serving member of the armed forces, and went to the Middle East with a camera and a set of instructions of what to photograph. It could be argued therefore that Olivia is not the artist, that her husband should be credited (and I’m sure he will have been somewhere within the text of the book), however it was Olivia who directed the image making process (perhaps not quite like Gregory Crewdson, but still...), curated the images and, if I’ve understood correctly, responded to the images with some of her own. The result is something that feels extremely domestic and extremely personal whilst not really showing any people (one of the back of a man’s head is all I can recall). Due to the domesticity of the photographs, some are a little harder to place - are they home, or is war really like that now, behind the scenes at least? I didn’t spend enough time looking at the book, and the link I have for her website is dead, so this was quite a superficial reflection, which is a shame.
Another book was on show with Christopher Down’s Visions from Arcadia, a thought provoking collection of images that blended the rural idyll with men in combat gear. The landscape images are not “chocolate box” images of that idyll, but I suppose they might be termed as being quite contemporary; not “beautiful” by layman standards, but definitely pleasing in a certain way. I suppose some of the images are not so dissimilar to some of those I took for A Forest, slightly matter-of-fact and a record of what was there rather than anything overly saccharin and romanticised. Juxtaposing these with soldiers at rest gives them a very different feeling, rather than being a rural idyll, maybe there’s a calm before a storm. Soldiers in woodlands can bring many things to mind, but here they are at rest. Whilst this was presented as a book, it was a limited edition artists book; there is however a possibility that it will be published and if that is indeed the case, it will be one to look out for.
from Christopher Down’s website - ©Christopher Down
Richard Monje was next in the path through the exhibition, facing the work of Les Monaghan in a corridor. Monje’s photographs were of misshaped pieces of metal, what at first I had assumed was shrapnel but it transpired that they were all bullets, fired at something, hitting something that generally resulted in a level of deformation that is quite surprising. Seen as they are, without knowledge of what has happened to produce them, they are presented as quite beautiful objects, reminiscent in some respects of Weston’s Pepper. Why should they be shown in this way? Is it a glorification of their purpose? A romanticisation of their creation and the demise of their target? Or does the juxtaposition/conflict created between the beauty of presentation and the object itself raise rather more difficult questions for the viewer, with the moral objections they might have with admiring weapons of destruction? Personally, they also tempted me towards a forensic approach - one round was still formed, was it armour-piercing, or had it just not met with something hard? Questions...
Les’ work (From the Forest) focusses on the subject of pilot survival training, and in terms of content is perhaps closest to that of Christopher Down, in that they both feature servicemen in forest locations. Les’ work is much darker though, this darkness/bleakness perhaps intending to impart the images with a greater feeling of hardship, especially those on the website of the winter survival, thus echoing the experience of the pilots. It’s also much more within a documentary vein, he has not been allowed to even talk to the subjects, let alone direct or collude with them - doing so would be a fail in their survival training. I found a strange connection with these photographs, they connected in my mind with those I took of the forests for my own project. They’re familiar yet not. A forest is a forest you would think, but speaking as someone who has ventured into a few, there are huge differences. Would these differences mean anything to a pilot trying to survive after an aircraft has come down? Not in Europe, the courses are teaching them how to forage, how to adapt to the landscape. Maybe those operating in different climates have different training, maybe this training will become a thing of the past with the growing use of UAVs?
The final two images were large format black and white prints of fortifications by Matthew Andrew, reminiscent of the type of conflict photography images produced many years ago by Roger Fenton (those from the Crimean in the 1850s). Perhaps these images are the odd ones out though in that they are not of actual conflict or real soldiers, but have been informed by such so that they can be used for the leisure activities spawned by conflict - laser tag and military re-enaction/simulation for enthusiasts from within the general public. Being large format, they’re crammed with detail, but I can’t help but feel that they stood apart, a feeling enhanced by their location at the end of the exhibition.
On the whole, an enjoyable visit, enhanced greatly by having Les on hand to discuss the work, adding snippets of information about the exhibition as a whole.
Exhibiting artists websites, as provided (2 website URLs are unavailable to me, these have been omitted)
Yesterday, the recommended pre-reading list arrived by e-mail containing 4 books from the “A Very Short Introduction” range. I already had the one on Contemporary Art, and the others (Modern Art, Art Theory and Art History) have been ordered from Amazon.
I’ve started reading Contemporary Art and have had to pause for thought already at page 2 because of the following:
“Art appears to stand outside this realm of rigid instrumentality, bureaucratized life, and its complementary mass culture. That it can do so is due to art’s peculiar economy, based on the manufacture of unique or rare artefacts, and its spurning of mechanical reproduction. Artists and dealers even artificially constrain the production of works made in reproducible media, with limited-edition books, photographs, videos or CDs.” (Stallabrass, p2).
Now, I might be being over-sensitive to this but it feels like, straight away, photography is being devalued as an art form. Photography has long been marginalised as an art form, considered a purely reproductive craft for most of its relatively short history and this statement seems, to me at least, further that argument. It’s not talking about process, aesthetics or indeed anything vaguely visual but purely the object as a commodity. It’s true to say that a painting can fetch far more at auction than a photograph can - facts and figures back this up: Cézanne’s The Card Players was sold for a reported $259+ million in 2011, whereas Gursky’s Rhein II was sold for a paltry $4.4 million in the same year. This difference in price doesn’t overly concern me, rather the notion that a photograph cannot be considered as “art” unless the edition is limited.
(both images sourced from wikipedia)
Perhaps the text goes on to say more, perhaps I have to re-read something about commodification from a few years ago (Marx’s The fetishism of commodity), perhaps I need to re-assess my own preconception of what is meant by the rather woolly term “art”, in that it is perhaps more about the commodity rather than the communication. I guess there will be a lot of thinking going on in the coming years as the MA takes me from being a photographer with a goal of being considered an artist, into being an artist whose chosen media happens to be photography.
Now, back to Stallabrass - it’s going to be a long read if I stop to blog something every couple of pages.
Stallabrass, J (2006) Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford. Oxford University Press