Category Archives: Exhibitions

The ‘isms’ – 4 Exhibitions

27/11/17

I was recently in Newcastle and went to four exhibitions on broadly similar themes – the issues of racism, sexism and civil rights.

Starless Midnight and Until, Until, Until …. 2016

The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.

Starless Midnight is in homage to the work of Martin Luther King in his role as promoter of the Civil Rights movement and points up how, although there has been much progress, there is still so much more to do.  Nine artists are featured, all with their personal take on the ongoing issues, and is co-curated by Edgar Arceneaux. His video installation ‘Until, Until, Until …. 2016’ is also shown in the Baltic at present. This installation is a large-scale video presentation on a transparent screen though which you can see another screen showing a fractured vision of the original work. the gallery describes it as:

untitled

The scale of the installation – larger than life-size – and the interesting back story make a piece that is difficult to watch without an emotional reaction.

Two parts of the exhibition that I found particularly poignant were the works of Hinkle and the Gallery Tally.

Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle shows a number of drawing from an ongoing series – ‘The Evanesced’ which looks at the multiplicity of Black women who have been erased from history, for instance by trafficking or murder.

untitled-2

© Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle – The Evanesced: Uproot

These images are shown along a wall, en masse, described as ‘un-portraits’. Unless you examine them carefully all the women look similar. It is easy to miss the fine detail that turn them to individual people. It was easy to miss the individual disappearances too.

untitled-9

© Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle – The Evanesced

Michol Hebron presents the work from a collaborative project, Gallery Tally, where data is collected in the form of posters to show the representation of women in art galleries and museums. The posters are widely varied, and talk not only about the paucity of women artists on show, but also about the lack of work by other marginalised communities. The work by women photographers has been widely discussed recently for example in ‘Girl on Girl’ (Jansen, 2017) and the ‘Photoworks Annual 22 – Women’ – but it is shocking to realise that there is such a wide-ranging lack of equality ongoing in the wider art field. I only saw one (top right) where there were more females represented than males.

Posters from the Gallery Tally Project – attributions unavailable.

Gordon Parks – A Choice of Weapons and Syd Shelton – Rock Against Racism.

Side Gallery – Newcastle.

Gordon Parks (1912 – 2006) was an African-American photographer who said, ‘I chose my camera as a weapon against all the things I dislike about America – poverty, racism, discrimination’ (quoted in the exhibition information at the Side Gallery – Amber, 2017).  He initially worked for the Farm Security Administration and then went on to become a freelance photographer and film-maker, documenting the difficulties black people faced in the USA. This exhibition shows a selection of his work both in colour and black and white, together with the film on the Fonetenelle family, from Harlem, who lived in extreme poverty. The images are detailed, dark and claustrophobic, leaving nothing to the imagination, even brutal at times. The story is shocking, but similar scenes could be found today.

The coloured images are from a photo-essay published in Life entitled “The Restraints: Open and Hidden” and point up how the lives of black people were segregated from the those of the white Americans. They appear softer, even ‘charming’ until you look closely and read the signs. This is an interesting use of colour photography in an era when most images were still in monochrome. Colour images were only widely used from the 70’s when promoted by photographers such as William Eggleston and Joel Meyerowitz.

Syd Shelton (born 1947) was one of the prime photographers of the movement Rock Against Racism (RAR), which was developed by a collective of musicians, artists and activists to fight fascism and racism through music. There was a large exhibition shown in London at Autograph APB in 2015 and a small number of the images are shown in the Side Gallery. They are taken two decades on from the images of Gordon Parks but talk about the same issues of black versus white culture and perceived rights, this time in Britain rather than the USA. Shelton used his photography for a similar purpose ‘as a graphic argument …. a subjective witness’ (quoted in the exhibition information at the Side Gallery – Amber, 2017).

Although both the present exhibitions at the Side Gallery talk about the same issues, civil rights, racism and the abuse of power they come from a very different stance. Shelton was born in the UK and studied art at university before going on to become a photographer, working as a photojournalist. His images are from the outside, looking in, mainly of angry young people protesting on behalf of injustice in racism. Gordon Parks came from a poor farming family in the USA, he eventually ended up on the streets and taught himself photography, eventually working with the FSA, before becoming a photojournalist.  His images are from the inside, looking out, of the people themselves, and what they were going though at the time.

While both sets of images have a powerful impact Parks’s have a greater degree of empathy and emotion, less factual but more revealing.

References

Amber. (2017). Side Gallery – Amber. [online] Available at: http://www.amber-online.com/side-gallery/ [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].

Jansen, C. (2017). Girl on girl : art and photography in the age of the female gaze. London: Laurence King.

Mill, B. (2017). Edgar Arceneaux :: BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.. [online] Balticmill.com. Available at: http://www.balticmill.com/whats-on/edgar-arceneaux [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].

Mill, B. (2017). Starless Midnight :: BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.. [online] Balticmill.com. Available at: http://www.balticmill.com/whats-on/starless-midnight [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].

Photoworks Team (2017). Photoworks Annual 22.

 

 

The Coal Coast

06/1/17

Title image copyright Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen

The Coal Coast is a body of work by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen about the effect of the coal industry on the beaches of Durham. It was initially shown at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in 2003, and developed further along with a film and shown again this year at the Side Gallery in Newcastle.

Images from that collection are available at:

http://www.amber-online.com/collection/the-coal-coast/

and there is a talk that was given at the opening of the Side exhibition available at:

http://www.amber-online.com/collection/coal-coast-talk/

Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen is a Finnish photographer who has worked in Britain since the 1960s. Her earlier work was all in black and white, mainly on the lives of people in the Newcastle area, however, she branched into colour for this series, using a medium format camera with colour negative film.

The Coal Coast describes the effect the coal mining industry has had on the environment. All the waste from it was simply dumped on the beaches, together with the ballast from the ships and the ash from the coal that had been burnt to provide energy for the operation. This effectively raised the levels of the beaches by several feet. Since the coal mining has stopped there has been an attempt to clean up the beaches, and the effect of removing some of the debris and letting the sea have more access has further removed some of it. Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen says ‘a redeeming thing is that the sea is taking back the man-made intrusion …. Maybe environmentally it will return’ and also describes how these sea changes impacted on her work, in that there were constant changes to the beach, how she would look for the time of day, light and tide combination that would show what she was interested in only, on some occasions, to return, and discover that the items had been washed away.

The images are often bleak: a dead bird, mine rubbish, a shoe half buried in the sand, but full of the most surprising colours, rust red, copper green with the intense blue of the sky. It is clear why she chose to use colour rather than monochrome to show this area. The series acts as a comment on the destructive powers of industry on nature, but also on the regeneration possible. The images themselves are sparse, definitely less is more, and benefit from repeated viewing. Some are reminiscent of the images of famous tourist areas, sea, sand and rock formations, so knowing the background to the images is crucial to understanding them.

The recent exhibition was accompanied by a film made by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen and the Amber Collective, which is accompanied by music from the New York group So Percussion. It tells the story of a young miner, Billy, who died in the pits and the struggle to get his body out, interspersed with the images from the Coal Coast series and scenes of the moving waves, with sounds of the sea on the beach. It is both heart breaking and beautiful. The story is narrated by a former colleague of Billy, and even at this distance in time, the emotion in his voice is clear. The repeating and echoing music weaves in and out of the rushing of the waves. Overall a cathartic experience.

 References:

Konttinen, S. (2003). The Coal Coast. Newcastle upon Tyne: AmberSide.

Song for Billy. (2017). [HD video] Newcastle: Sitka-Luisa Konttinen.

 

St Andrews Photography Festival

This

27/01/17

I had the opportunity of visiting the St Andrew’s Photography Festival at the end of September. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to attend any of the workshops, as I would have liked to go to either (or both) of the collodion workshops or the one on tintypes. I did, however, manage to walk around the outdoor displays and also visit some of the exhibitions. The exhibition was overlooked by a ‘small’ scale copy of the sculptures of the Falkirk kelpies, only small relative to the original kelpies, even these towered over me.

There were several displays of large posters of photographs shown on the railings both along the sea-front (The Scores) and also in front of one of the churches in town. These were interesting displays, partly for the images themselves, but also because of the reactions of the people in St. Andrews on the day I was there. I assume they were mostly tourists, there to look at the castle, cathedral ruins or play golf. Many were travelling in large groups with leaders discussing the sites. Very few were looking at the images displayed, rather leaning over them to look at the scenery. If I had thought more about this at the time it would have been interesting to have asked them if anyone was aware of the posters and what they thought of them (hindsight is a wonderful thing).

The poster exhibition that caught my eye was ‘In This Place’ by Margaret Mitchell, which has now been widely exhibited and won several awards including for the RPS and Lensculture. The work looks at images of her family set against the background of housing estate life in parts of Stirling that are waiting for regeneration.

These images of urban family life in a desolate area that might have been anywhere in Europe contrasted strongly with both some of the other, more traditionally beautiful images on show and the stunning coastal backdrop.

untitled-2

A further series of posters were of the various exhibitions that have been put on by Stills Gallery in Edinburgh over the last 40 Years. It is their 40th Anniversary this year. This showed the wide range of types of exhibitions that have been around in Scotland, but also possibly the general Scottish lack of reverence for the more cultural aspects of life, along with the need for fast food.

There were also many indoor exhibitions, not all of which I managed to see. Two that stood out for me were Heidi Blanksma and Hannah Laycock. Heidi won the photography competition with the image ‘Feel the Rain’, described as having a ‘Julia Margaret Cameron sort of feel‘ (Standrewsphotograpghyfestival.com, 2017).

Hannah Laycock produced a fascinating piece of work ‘Awakenings’ in which she describes photographically her feelings about her own struggle with MS. I found this especially interesting as it links into my own project on showing the feelings of people with autism in images. This also reminds me of some of the images in ‘The Final Project‘ by Jo Spence, although her images were overlaid using actual transparencies rather that what I presume is Photoshop here.  I assume the reference is deliberate – although the idea of disappearing and melding into nature is clearly evocative of losing yourself physically.

Awakenings

© Hannah Laycock , image courtesy of Hannah Laycock

Overall the festival (what I managed to see of it) was interesting with a wide range of photographic styles on show, and several potentially valuable workshops , which I will try to attend next year if available. I am not sure about the use of the outdoor presentations – I assume the idea is to bring photography and the festival to the attention of the multiplicity of people who visit St Andrews in the summer – but I wonder how successful that was, although if it only engaged the minds of a few who had never thought of photography as an art form, rather than a quick family snapshot or something for social media, it will have been a useful exercise.

References:

Hannah Laycock. (2017). Awakenings – Hannah Laycock. [online] Available at: https://hannahlaycock.com/awakenings/ [Accessed 27 Oct. 2017].

Margaret Mitchell Photography. (2017). In This Place – Margaret Mitchell Photography. [online] Available at: http://margaretmitchell.co.uk/projects/in-this-place/ [Accessed 27 Oct. 2017].

Photographer in Aberdeenshire | Stonehaven | Blankcanvas Photography. (2017). Photographer in Aberdeenshire | Stonehaven | Blankcanvas Photography. [online] Available at: https://www.blankcanvasphotography.co.uk/about-contact [Accessed 27 Oct. 2017].

Spence, J. and Lee, L. (2013). Jo Spence: The Final Project. London: Ridinghouse.

Standrewsphotographyfestival.com. (2017). St Andrews Photography Festival. [online] Available at: http://standrewsphotographyfestival.com/ [Accessed 27 Oct. 2017].

Edinburgh Exhibitions

09/10/17

Edinburgh Galleries have just had two exhibitions of old photographs.

The National Portrait Gallery is showing ‘A Perfect Chemistry’, the works of Hill and Adamson

https://www.nationalgalleries.org/exhibition/perfect-chemistry-photographs-hill-and-adamson

while the Queens Gallery has ‘Shadows of War’ on Roger Fenton and his Crimea images.

https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/themes/exhibitions/shadows-of-war/the-queens-gallery-palace-of-holyroodhouse

A Perfect Chemistry.

David Octavius Hill (1802 – 1870) and Robert Adamson (1821 – 1848) are one of the most famous couples in photographic history. It all started, as it often does in Scotland, with an argument. In this case an argument within the church. In May 1843 there was a massive schism in the Church of Scotland where 400 ministers broke away to form the Free Church of Scotland, where they could choose their own path and the people had more say. There was a dramatic walk out from the General Assembly and a march though the New Town of Edinburgh which ended with the signing of the Deed of Demission several days later. Hill, who was at that point primarily a landscape painter, watched the march and decided to mark the gravity of the occasion with a painting of all the ministers involved. He started by making oil sketches but rapidly realised that this was an impossible task so looked for an alternative way. At this point he was introduced to Adamson, who was already an expert in the use of the new photographic method – the calotype. And so, it began.

Talbot’s image process, the calotype, was patented in England, but those patent rights did not extend to Scotland, so the Scottish images makers were free to experiment with it, and take large numbers of images. John Adamson, Robert Adamson’s older brother, altered the process to use potassium bromide rather than iodide as a fixative, but also introduced a lengthy washing to the prints. Both Adamsons became highly proficient in the making of calotypes which was shown by the vast number of images eventually produced.

Hill and Adamson did go on to make images of all the ministers which Hill eventually combined into a massive painting. The photographic images are redolent of the times, serious faced men, often leaning on books, looking sombrely out at the world. There are no women in this series as, of course, women could not be ministers in that era. The positioning of the men is at least partly to do with the demands of the calotype process, where, even when the sun was shining, the exposure could take up to several minutes, smiling would have been impossible, but would also have been thought inappropriate for an image of a man of the church.

After taking the images of the ministers, the partnership continued, photographing the great and good of Edinburgh society, by now including women, landscapes, building projects showing Edinburgh old and new and even at least one nude portrait. Many of the images were taken in Greyfriars Cemetery, cemeteries were a popular and romantic destination even then, and many were certainly influenced by the Romantic works of Sir Walter Scott, with people dressing to portray characters from his books. They also took images of military characters, such as drummers and soldiers from the 92nd Gordon Highlanders, which again Hill combined into a massive painting of people under Edinburgh Castle. One of the ventures of the duo was to capture images of the Newhaven fisherfolk, men, women and children. This is probably one of the first examples of photographic typology extant. The images are not snapshots, but carefully composed, often using the tools of the trade as props to allow for the extended time of image taking, but also using stands and clamps to hold people still. These were often taken out of the final image or ‘painted’ over. They had planned to produce a book of these images but this never materialised.

                Images by Hill and Adamson, courtesy of the National Galleries of Scotland.

Their partnership was short, only four years, as Adamson died at 26 and Hill did not continue with the photographic work after his death, returning instead to painting and producing lithographs. However their work had a profound effect on the popularity and use of photography in Scotland, and still remains a massive achievement.

The exhibition was fascinating, accompanied by an audio recording explaining the history of the images and an extensive catalogue (Lyden, 2017). I found the images of the people surprisingly moving given that they had to sit for such a long period and they were clearly staged. They give a real sense of the people and places. The faces are the same as those you see in Edinburgh today, only the dress has changed.

Shadows of War

Roger Fenton (1819 – 1869) was a London based photographer who was commissioned to travel to the Crimea to take a series of images of the generals and other important figures there and to bring them back for the artist Thomas Barker to form a large oil painting depicting them all meeting. A meeting that could never have happened in reality. The war in Crimea, known then as the Russian War ran from 1853-55. Fenton travelled there in March 1855, leaving in June 1855 and was neither the first or the last photographer there, however his pictures were well advertised and shown around the country on his return to England and he is considered to be one of the first war photographers. He travelled to the Crimea with two assistants, his portable darkroom (a shed on wheels) and 700 plates which he prepared as needed, and brought back about 360 images.

                                               Images by Roger Fenton (public domain)

The exhibition shows many of his images together with others of the Crimean War, including its aftermath and the fall of Sevastopol, by which time Fenton had left the area. As with all photographers of that time many of the issues were staged, and some were ‘touched up’ with details before the final prints were made. He has been criticised as only showing the images that the authorities wanted the public to see, but in reality, many of his images are bleak in the extreme. He shows the chaos of the railways, the squalor of the camps as well as the set piece portraits of the generals that he was commissioned to take. Several are instantly recognisable – ‘The Valley of the Shadow of Death’ with its cannonballs (even if they were placed there) is an iconic picture of a war-torn environment, while his haunting picture ‘Lord Balgonie’ has been suggested to be the first image of a soldier suffering from shell-shock.

                                    Images by Roger Fenton (public domain)

The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive book (Fenton, Gordon and Pearson, 2017) with large plates and an historical overview together with an audio soundtrack about the images, this soundtrack is enhanced by Prince Harry talking about his own experiences of war and also by Don McCullin speaking about the difficulties of shooting pictures in those situations and the ethics of what can and what cannot be taken, how sometimes all you can do is bear witness.

At this stage one cannot know how many of his images were truly real, certainly at that time photographs were thought to show the absolute truth, although they could be altered and staged then as much as they can be now. They are possibly less overtly full of death than more recent war images, however they do show the aftermath of battle. It would have been nigh on impossible to take images in the middle of a firefight using collodion plates and long exposures. They are not ‘pretty’ or ‘romantic’ images – a world away from those of Hill and Adamson.

References

Fenton, R., Gordon, S. and Pearson, L. (2017). Shadows of war.

Lyden, A. (2017). A Perfect Chemistry.

Nationalgalleries.org. (2017). A Perfect Chemistry | Photographs by Hill and Adamson. [online] Available at: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/exhibition/perfect-chemistry-photographs-hill-and-adamson [Accessed 30 Sep. 2017].

Shadows of War (2017). Shadows of War: Roger Fentons Photographs of the Crimea, 1855. [online] Royalcollection.org.uk. Available at: https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/themes/exhibitions/shadows-of-war/the-queens-gallery-palace-of-holyroodhouse [Accessed 9 Oct. 2017].

Nudes Never Wear Glasses

An Exhibition at Stills Gallery, Edinburgh by Kate Davis

12/09/17

Kate Davis is an artist with a wide range of skills including drawing, photography and film making, all of which are used in her solo exhibition at Stills Gallery in Edinburgh. She is a feminist and uses many archival images to engage her audience with her ideas. Her website says ‘Davis’ artwork is an attempt to reconsider what certain histories could look, sound and feel like. This has often involved responding to the aesthetic and political ambiguities of historical art works and their reception.’ (Katedavisartist.co.uk, 2017).

The exhibition consists of a space that is divided up by brick walls, which themselves are part of the experience. These are hung with images developed from found photographs that are subversive and also amusing. The first is a nude statue with added glasses.  You then enter a space which shows two alternating films, ‘Charity’ and ‘Weight’, and on searching further past another wall more images. The exhibition is accompanied by an essay by Laureen Dyer Amazeen who says ‘As I reflect back on her use of bricks throughout the installation, the brick can be seen of fundamental value. Foundations are built, brick by brick. Metaphorically, the excerpts, references, extracts, snippets of recorded everyday experiences are the bricks though (from) which she builds a premise, a dwelling – a place in the world.’ (Dyer Amazeen, 2017).

untitled

©Kate Davis Image taken and posted with permission of Stills Gallery

Writing for MAP magazine Victoria Horne comments Visitors to Nudes Never Wear Glasses are welcomed by a found photograph of a classical nude statue, to which Davis has added the eponymous glasses, crudely scratched onto the surface. This act of détournement re-presents Spence’s words as visual prank: playfully exposing the contradictions between body and intellect, femininity and rationality, that have underpinned modern art and its institutions. That the statue is clearly located in a pedagogical studio environment adds weight to this critique, intimating by association the educational logic that prohibited women artists from entering the classroom, while glorifying abstract femininity within. The photograph thus establishes key feminist themes that characterise much of Davis’ output, preparing visitors for the witty archival retrievals to follow.’ (Horne, 2017).

‘Weight’ uses a BBC documentary on Barbara Hepworth as a starting point and looks at the perceived roles of woman and how they can be balanced against the intense life of being an artist – or can they? Which is more valuable? Again, in MAP, Horne describes it as ‘Adhering to the leisurely pace and formal conventions of the BBC documentary format, Davis comically undermines this familiar style from the outset. Against the dated sounds of folksy guitar music, Weight’s opening title sequence ambiguously locates the study in ‘1961 or thereabouts’. At the same time a platter of dramatically staged potato peelings revolves on a turnstile, further alerting the audience to the strange reversals to come……One of Weight’s key contributions is to highlight the uneven appreciation of domestic care work in comparison with the solitary, creative pursuits of the artist.’ (Horne, 2016).

untitled-3

©Kate Davis Image taken and posted with permission of Stills Gallery

‘Weight’ is available to see on BBC iPlayer at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/4wkNLQBpFhTC8yXyxlZYqJD/weight-by-kate-davis

‘Charity’ is a newly produced film that talks about the work of women in bringing up children, specifically in breastfeeding. It recently won the Margaret Tait award. On receipt of the award Davis said ‘Working with the moving image has become an increasingly important part of my practice in recent years and the Margaret Tait Award will be invaluable in enabling me to realise my most ambitious and experimental moving image work to date. Inspired by the ways in which Margaret Tait’s films invite us to contemplate fundamental emotions and everyday activities that are often overlooked, I propose to investigate how the essential, but largely invisible and unpaid, processes we employ to care for others and ourselves can inform both the subject of my film and the way it is made’ (Glasgow Film Festival, 2016). The film intersperses archival images of painting and statues of breastfeeding women throughout the ages with pictures of ordinary household practices such as washing up. I found it fascinating but difficult to decipher whether it was talking about mothers breastfeeding their own children or wet nurses doing a job. Clearly that was at least part of the point – is looking after your own child a job, should you have a contract and join a union – or is it an expected part of being a woman?

untitled-4

©Kate Davis Image taken and posted with permission of Stills Gallery

When you turn and leave the exhibition the last image you are confronted with is another altered image. This time of a man, a Minuteman, which has been altered to look as though he is breastfeeding. A final comment on roles – and possible role reversal in the present age.

untitled-2

©Kate Davis image taken and posted with permission of Stills Gallery

This is a powerful exhibition, although it does warrant close study. I initially went with my daughter who was too impatient to sit though the films and left wondering what it was about. I then returned with more time to sit and think.  This made me realise that so often I just rush though an exhibition – taking in the highlights, missing the subtleties. The use of found and then altered images pointed up how we should/can/might change our viewpoint in life, thinking about gender stereotypes, women as housewives not intellectuals or artists, men as soldiers not carers. It also reminded me of the use of walls, to divide things, to hide things, to separate people. I was recently at Hadrian’s Wall, built by the Romans to separate civilised land from the wild North. One of the exhibitions in Tullie House Museum, Carlisle looked at the theme of walls in present day society (Tullie House, 2017). This exhibition is about walls between men and women, between traditional roles and expanded or reversed roles but a wall remains a wall until it is totally removed.

References

BBC. (2014). BBC Arts – Weight by Kate Davis – BBC Arts. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/4wkNLQBpFhTC8yXyxlZYqJD/weight-by-kate-davis [Accessed 11 Sep. 2017].

Dyer Amazeen, L. (2017). Nudes Never Wear Glasses.

Glasgow Film Festival (2016). Artist Kate Davis Announced as Winner of 2061/17 Margaret Tait Award.

Horne, V. (2016). The Weight of History | MAP Magazine. [online] Mapmagazine.co.uk. Available at: http://mapmagazine.co.uk/9935/weight-history/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2017].

Horne, V. (2017). Nudes Never Wear Glasses | MAP Magazine. [online] Mapmagazine.co.uk. Available at: http://mapmagazine.co.uk/9991/nudes-never-wear-glasses/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2017].

Katedavisartist.co.uk. (2017). About: Kate Davis. [online] Available at: http://katedavisartist.co.uk/about/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2017].

Stills.org. (2017). Kate Davis: ‘Nudes Never Wear Glasses’ | Stills Gallery. [online] Available at: http://www.stills.org/exhibition/current-exhibition/kate-davis-nudes-never-wear-glasses [Accessed 11 Sep. 2017]

Tullie House (2017). Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery | Art – History – Nature of Carlisle, Cumbria. [online] Tulliehouse.co.uk. Available at: http://www.tulliehouse.co.uk/ [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].

Creatures and Creations

Creatures and Creations (Waddesdon Manor,2017) is an exhibition showing at Waddesdon Manor which is the home of the Rothchilds in England. It showcases work by two creatives that is based on insects, birds and animals that are linked in that their scientific name shares the Latin version of Rothschild – Rothschildi. Many of the Rothschild family have had a keen interest in the natural world, and one in particular, Walter, 2nd Lord Rothschild was a famed naturalist who collected insects from childhood and later developed a natural history museum at Tring, near Waddesdon Manor.  His fame led to many newly discovered specimens being named after him. The present exhibition shows work by Platon H and Mary Katrantzou.

Platon H (born Platon Alexis Hadjimichalis) is an artist and a civil servant. He started with drawing and painting, moved through making heavily textured creations on to digital art. The art works shown at Waddesdon are abstract digital colleges inspired by the feather and wings from the insects and birds in the Rothschild collection. In an interview, he says ‘No artist has just a single source of inspiration. Moreover, nature is not always the basis of my work. My compositions are the result of many factors. Nature lies at the root of my inspiration, but the resulting composition is the product of different inspirations, closely tied to my history and upbringing. I see forms in nature that enable me to combine them with abstract art. I do this inspired by different artists and art movements from the 1960s and 1970s  ……. I have not considered this, nor do I want to break away from the subtle geometry, as you put it. My eyes and my aesthetics as a child had a rough time being immersed in architecture and archaeology… The geometry found in nature, ultimately, highlights my work. Of special interest in this respect is the fractal theory of nature. Without intending to, I construct my pieces using fractal features.’ (Liapi, 2017).

Images used with kind permission of Platon H.

Mary Katrantzou is a fashion designer who has worked with textiles to produce highly coloured fantastic pieces of clothing, which have brought her fame in the fashion world. In Vogue, …. says about her work ‘a great print designer, and a Greek one, at that—which is good’ and quotes Katrantzou saying ‘she was also triggered by the words of a girlfriend who happened to remark, “Your work is so psychedelic!” She’d not seen her many-layered digital compositions that way before, but it led her to search out the trippy graphics of late-’60s and early-’70s music posters’. (Mower, 2016). Here she showcases three couture dresses and the images she has based them on, all of which are inspired by the insects from the Rothschild collection.

Images used with kind permission of Mary Katrantzou

The exhibition is full of colour, set off against the original specimens collected by Rothchild on loan from the Tring Natural History Museum. It is fascinating to see how the same starting point can lead two artists in completely different ways, one towards a highly regimented fractal designs and the other to freely flowing and exotic prints made into stunning pieces of artwork that masquerade as dresses. Both are highly detailed, in the exhibition the prints are shown at a similar size, which emphasises the contrast between the two bodies of work. Both resonate for me, the patterns of Platon H are soothing and repetitive, almost mesmerizing to look at for any length of time while the stunning vibrancy of Katrantzou’s work has the opposite effect.

References

Liapi, Z. (2017). Interview by Zinovia-Christina Liapi – Texts – Hadjimichalis, Official website – SOCOS –. [online] Platon-socos.com. Available at: http://www.platon-socos.com/texts/interview-by-zinoviachristina-liapi/ [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017].

Mower, S. (2016). Mary Katrantzou Spring 2017 Ready-to-Wear Fashion Show. [online] Vogue. Available at: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2017-ready-to-wear/mary-katrantzou [Accessed 31 Aug. 2017].

Waddesdon Manor. (2017). Creatures & Creations – Waddesdon Manor. [online] Available at: https://waddesdon.org.uk/whats-on/creatures-and-creations-platon-katrantzou-exhibition/ [Accessed 1 Sep. 2017].

 

 

Tillmans and Moriyama

Two exhibitions at the Tate Modern.

Wolfgang Tillmans

Wolfgang Tillmans’s exhibition at the Tate Modern is vast, consisting of 14 rooms which have ‘been specially configured by Tillmans as a personal response to the present moment’ (booklet accompanying the exhibition). It shows a range of images from all his work since 2003.  The Tate says in describing it ‘This is Wolfgang Tillmans’s first ever exhibition at Tate Modern and brings together works in an exciting variety of media – photographs, of course, but also video, digital slide projections, publications, curatorial projects and recorded music – all staged by the artist in characteristically innovative style.’ (Tate, 2017) and “He’s not a prophet, but he sees where things might go because he has an eye for the world,” said Chris Dercon, director of the Volksbuhne Berlin and co-curator of Tate Modern’s Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 show (Smyth, 2017).

I found it overwhelming in the number of images shown and oddly underwhelming in my emotional response to them. My thoughts could be summed up as interesting but cold. Some of the individual images were compelling such as the image of his studio with a portrait of a man hung above all the chaos. An image made by ‘passing monochromatically exposed photographic paper though a dirty photo-developing machine’ (Tate Modern, 2017) was surprisingly reminiscent of an EEG (a tracing of brain waves) – an odd conjunction of patterns, the EEG describing life and thought while the image by Tillmans showing ‘the potential of the photographic processes……to be used as a form of self-expression’ (Tate Modern, 2017).  Other images I found fascinating were some of the portraits such as ‘Anders pulling splinter from his foot, 2005’ and the images of a curled piece of photographic paper ‘paper drop Prinzessinnenstrasse 2014’. The final room dealt with borders and their fluidity, especially the contrast between the simple border between sea and sky versus the shipwreck caused by refugees. In the present moment of shifting borders with Brexit and hardening borders in the USA this is an important political statement, and, of course, much of Tillmans’s work should be looked at in a political context.

In a review for The Guardian Laura Cumming says ‘Tillmans’s eye is empathetic, pensive and patient, but always determinedly indeterminate. He is as far from Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment as can be. He doesn’t go in for metaphor or simile; he doesn’t try to sum anything up, nail it down or catch it by the tail. He wonders at the beauty of a pear glowing in late afternoon sun as much as viscosity of the plastic bag from which it came. He homes in on the inner seams of discarded jeans. Even when photographing a momentous starry night he can’t help noticing the camera’s own distortions. Not every star in that sky is natural………. The inconsequential is made tangible, permanent.’ (Cumming, 2017) and in a further review by O’Hagen, Tillmans says “For a long time in Britain, “there was a deep suspicion of my work. People saw me as a commercial artist trying to get into the art world, and the work was dismissed as shallow or somehow lightweight. There are still many misconceptions about what I do – that my images are random and everyday, when they are actually neither. They are, in fact, the opposite. They are calls to attentiveness” O’Hagen says ’his photography has been marked by its shifts in style and by his determination to avoid the traditional. His exhibitions can appear wilfully haphazard both in terms of their seemingly unrelated subject matter – portrait next to still life next to abstraction next to landscape – and his eschewal of the accepted norms of the gallery show’ (O’Hagen, 2017).

On Tillmans website http://tillmans.co.uk/book-downloads you can access several catalogues and books of his work that are less expansive and more focused, I found these more accessible, possibly I was suffering from overload in the exhibition.

Daido Moriyama

Moriyama’s images are on show at the Tate Modern as one of the Artists Room Collections, which are travelling collections jointly owned by Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland. There are a relatively small number of images on display which concentrate on his monochrome photographs of the intense life occurring in cities shown as large panels.

Moriyama (born 1938) is famous for his street photography, which show bold and gritty details, often close-up. He has published many photobooks which are very detailed and intense, usually with full-bleed images, these are mainly monochrome however there are several colour images, tending to be cleaner, which punctuate the intensity of the flow. ‘Daido Moriyama’s art is a far, far cry from any formal academic quality…. blurred, blotched and saturated…. his photography becomes an autobiography, a means of expressing personal experiences’ (Remy and Moriyama, 2012). A recent one ‘Daido Tokyo’ focuses on Shinjuku. He says, ‘many pose the question “Why Shinjuku?” ….. I answered on impulse …… the truth is “because it was there” ….. light and shade, obverse and reverse, truth and falsehood: each accompanies the other’ (Moriyama, 2016).

Moriyama explained how he used photography to convey his subjective experience: “By taking photo after photo, I come closer to … the fragmentary nature of the world and my own personal sense of time” ………. Moriyama’s approach included re-photographing images, working without a viewfinder and embracing printing errors. The resulting photographs are blurred, scratched and grainy. By pushing the medium to the limits of legibility Moriyama attempted to go “to the end of photography”. (Moriyama, 2012).

Phaidon’s publication Daido Moriyama gives a series of his images with accompanying explanatory text by Nishii. He quotes Moriyama as saying ‘one of photography’s essential qualities is its amateurism, and another its anonymity’ (Nishii, 2012). The text about each image describes where and when it was taken, and gives some thoughts about what might have been going though Moriyama’s mind, and how the image links in to the style of photography prevalent at the time the image was taken. While these side-notes are fascinating I found that they detracted from the impact of the images as I ended up looking at them from a technical and historical point of view rather than an emotional or aesthetic one. The mass effect of looking at the original photobooks is lost.

I was fascinated by this exhibition as I am interested in Japanese photographers and the marked differences in style from European and American photography although I suspect this is an over-generalisation. Unlike the Tillmans exhibition I found the images full of emotion, warm and sometimes amusing. It felt as though Moriyama was really engaged with his subject, involved rather than simply observing, that he knew the people, in reality as this is street photography, it is likely that many of the images were of strangers.

 

Comparing the work of two photographers there are multiple similarities: both have a huge oeuvre, both take images of almost anything, from close details of parts of people (I noted very similar images of the back of a man’s neck in the Tillmans exhibition and in Moriyama’s Remix) via more formal portraits to pictures of street rubbish and both produce photobooks as a primary way of showing their work. Tillmans concentrates mainly on colour and Moriyama on monochrome. However, when looking at the images on the same day, and then exploring a wider number of images several days afterward there is a very different feel. Tillmans images seem to be making ‘a point’, often political and usually fascinating while Moriyama’s are simply what he sees, telling an intimate story about a place.

References

Cumming, L. (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017; Eduardo Paolozzi –  review from the chaos of time. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/feb/19/wolfgang-tillmans-2017-review-tate-modern-eduardo-paolozzi-whitechapel-gallery [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Moriyama, D. (2012). Daido Moriyama. [online] Tate. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern/display/media-networks/daido-moriyama [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Moriyama, D. (2016). Daido Tokyo. Paris: Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain.

Nishii,K. (2012). Daido Moriyama. New York: Phaidon

O’Hagan, S. (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans: ‘I was hit by a realisation  – all I believed in was threatened’. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/feb/13/wolfgang-tillmans-photographer-interview-tate-modern [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Remy, P. and Moriyama, D. (2012). Daido Moriyama – remix.: Edition Mennour.

Smyth, D. (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 opens at London’s Tate Modern. [online] British Journal of Photography. Available at: http://www.bjp-online.com/2017/02/wolfgang-tillmans-2017-opens-at-londons-tate-modern/ [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Tate Modern (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans, 2017.

Tate. (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/wolfgang-tillmans-2017 [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Tillmans, W. (2017). home. [online] Tillmans.co.uk. Available at: http://tillmans.co.uk/ [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].