Tag Archives: Exhibitions

Looking at materiality in current London exhibitions

At the weekend, I was up in London to see my son’s preview show for the Edinburgh fringe and took the opportunity to visit a couple of exhibitions at the same time. The first was at the Photographers’ Gallery and was the New Talent 19 exhibit on the top floor. I was interested to see what sort of work appeals to the artistic gatekeepers this year. Eight photographers had been selected from an initial entry of over 1000, and the criteria for entry were very wide and inclusive. Basically, if you hadn’t had a significant solo exhibition already, you could enter, and it was free to do so. The work on show had a great deal of variety, but at least four of the photographers were working well outside the traditional boundaries of what one might call straight photography. Naturally, these were the ones that interested me.

Alberto Feijóo is interested in the whole photographic medium, from collector to producer, but is particularly fascinated by the biography of objects and 3D representations. By 3D, I mean constructed maquettes and handmade sculptures alongside complex collages (which are not that easy to deconstruct, mentally). His explanation and some images for his series Free Acid can be found in a pdf, here. I was most struck by the maquette, which produced a very different viewpoint of the work, and which is an idea I may come back to later.

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Chiara Avagliano produced a series called Val Paradiso and combined ‘photography, poetics, text and objects’ which referenced life in a magical valley in northern Italy which was similar to where she had lived as a child. The series looked at make-believe and children’s magical-realistic approach to the world and how memories are made which might not be truly real, but which encapsulate the experience of childhood. I thought it was great, and particularly the sculptures of the lake and building, as shown below. There was a resonance back to her childhood that one could clearly feel.

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Giovanna Petrocchi is another lens-based multimedia artist. A winner of the Lensculture Emerging Talent Award in 2017, her work combines collage, found images and 3D printed objects to look at virtual reality and ancient cross cultural cultures and symbols. It is difficult to explain coherently, and her website gives much better information, so it is best to look there. However, of the three series on show, this work Modular Artefacts, Mammoth Remains, and Private Collection, only the last is listed in her online catalogue of work.

Last, but very much not least was my own favourite, Seungwon Jung’s Memories Full of Forgetting. Her minimalist images of landscapes, which were printed on fabric and then partially deconstructed and reworked were both absolutely beautiful and technically breathtaking. The empty spaces in her work are just as important as the printed areas, both as an expression of fading memories and as sculptural elements which add enormously to the visual effect. Simple patterns were carefully draped to include two flat areas and a panel of partially deconstructed fabric which had a gloriously sumptuous glitch effect. There was much to think about with regard to my own explorations of fading memories and empty spaces in images.

The other four entries were more traditional documentary style and of less interest to my current work, so I shall leave them for now. Overall, the move away from vanilla photography compared to a few years ago is marked, and many of these works were truly multi-media, combining sculpture, collage, sound and writing with photography to give a much deeper sensory experience.

After this, I went to St James to view the MA exhibition of a student from Falmouth University, Megan Ringrose. She had somehow managed to secure a pop-up exhibition space in Masons’ Yard, right next to the White Cube (which was showing some HUGE Jeff Wall images). Megan was there and was able to show me round herself, which was a bonus. Her background is in fashion photography and she told me that the MA had been pivotal in her personal work moving away from the studio and towards highly abstract pieces, based on Flusser’s idea on experimental photography, which were outlined by Lenot (2017).

Megan has taken brightly coloured pieces of paper and folded them in complex shapes, adding cyanotypes at each step of the process. When unfolded on completion, the images combine shadows and lighter areas in a complex geometric interplay which invites the viewer to contemplate. She is interested both in the concept of cameraless image and also duration, as the process is slow and paced, very unlike than her commercial work. It was fascinating to talk to her, as we not only had several acquaintances in common, but we also shared an obsession with materiality and had read many of the same theorists. I will definitely be looking out for her in future.

Overall, the day was very interesting, with lots of think about in relation to my own practice and I came away with my head brimming full of half formed ideas about my next assignment.

References

Feijóo, A. (2019) Free Acid: a work in progress. [online] At: https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/26dd9f_e4e9b15cfd0848e59f0fe8983594eb9c.pdf (Accessed on 29 July 2019)

Lenot, M. (2017) “Flusser and Photographers, Photographers and Flusser.” Flusser Studies , 24. At:http://www.flusserstudies.net/sites/www.flusserstudies.net/files/media/attachments/marc-lenot-flusser-photographers-photographers-flusser.pdf (Accessed on 29 July 2019)

Photo London 2019

I attended Photo London yesterday with my son William as companion. I have been a couple of times before, but this was the first occasion where I can say that I really enjoyed it. We came away buzzing with ideas and having spent a not insignificant amount on photobooks, but more of that later.

Overall impressions of this year. It was very much more diverse than I was expecting, to the point where, as far as women photographers go at least, I got no impression of under-representation. Photographers were on show from all over the world, with an interesting emphasis on Eastern European and Far Eastern work. I feel sure that people of colour would say they were under-represented, and they were, but they were not invisible. There were a lot of portrait photographers, which is a genre that I am not particularly interested in at present, but I would nominate xxx, xxx and xxx as ones I particularly liked, all of whom had a historical theme going on.

Non-standard printing techniques was a theme that I picked up, although that might be because of my own interest in them. I talked to the gallery rep for Albarran Cabrera, and to Valda Bailey, both of whom explained their techniques, which I will pass on, by request, rather than going into here. However, there were also some interesting daguerrotypes, 3D photo sculptures. lots of Polaroids, a lot that were printed on glass or Perspex, a few cyanotypes, some found photo works and a couple which, although beautiful, did not seem to have much connection to photography at all. But no oversewn or pricked images except for Jessa Fairbrother at The Photographers’ Gallery stand.

It is difficult to say what were the stand-out photographers for me, as the sheer number dulls the sense of wonder after a while (a phenomenon know in my family as ‘the museum flops’). However, these are a few of those that particularly caught my attention.

Phew. that was quite a list, and loads of techniques to try out. It was a wonderful visual feast but very tiring. I don’t know how the exhibitors manage it for four days.

So, what were the main points I took away?

  • I want to continue to try out different printing techniques. I’m enjoying experimenting with different surfaces and colours, and am hoping to do a tintype workshop over the summer.
  • My preference is still for very abstract images, which have a strong sense of materiality. Michael Koerner’s work was fabulous, with a strong background story to support what he was doing, and I am intrigued by Dora Kontha’s work, which I need to examine in more detail.
  • I seem to have a soft spot for the typology, whether it be houses or historical portraits.

Books bought:

  • Tom Blachford – Midnight Modern, series 1-4
  • Chloe Dewi Mathews – Caspian: The Elements (signed copy)
  • Philip Toledano – When I was Six (signed copy)

Review of ‘Time’ exhibition

This exhibition, organised and curated by OCA’s Thames Valley group has been in the pipeline for at least 18 months and it was wonderful to see the fruits of our labours at The Lightbox in Woking for a fortnight at the beginning of February 2019. When I say the fruits of our labours, most of it was really the labours of the exhibition sub-group of Catherine, Teresa, Dawn, Sue, Jonathan and Monica. The rest of us submitted work on the theme of ‘Time’ and only had to present it and our Artists’ Statements/hanging instructions at the appropriate point. We almost all made it to the hanging up day, and it was great to finally see our efforts up on the wall in a proper gallery.

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Set-up with Michael, Richard and Gerry

The Lightbox gallery is a plain room in a building which is a bit of a landmark in the town, and our exhibition coincided with a Gillian Wearing installation and Women in Photography: A History of British Trailblazers so we were hopeful that footfall would be good. Certainly, in terms of the visitor’s book, there were more comments than I had expected.

My own offering was a wall-hung lightbox of some of the work I made for Assignment 1, Remember When? I presented it as eight cut-out photographs from my father-in-law’s collection in a single large frame.

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In theory, the idea was that viewers could choose to switch on and off the lightbox, which would give different meaning to the images, but the Health & Safety elves decreed that it should either be switched On or Off, which was a shame. It was the first work on the right of the entry, and so had good visibility. It was certainly eye-catching, and although I still have many doubts about it myself, it seemed to get mostly positive attention, although I did overhear one person saying she didn’t understand it at the Artists’ Evening.

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Artists’ evening

I had no intention of selling the work and had not put a price on it. However, a couple of other students, Kate and Michael sold some of their work, which must have been very satisfying.

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Gerry, Kate and Keith’s work for the ‘Time’ exhibition.

Overall it was a very satisfying experience, and as I have been discussing with some fellow students and notwithstanding the historical sex bias, if women don’t submit work for exhibitions and competitions because of lack of confidence, we are never going to reach a point of parity with men in art collections. (Still cannot get over the fact that only 20 of the 2300 works held by the National Portrait Gallery are by women). So I have decided to start submitting work for local events this year, and will be submitting to the Bath Festival Fringe and the Open Exhibition at the Richard Jeffreys Museum this summer. The main aim will be to practise presenting work for submission, and if I am successful that will be an added bonus.

Finally, this event gave me the push to get some business cards made, and I am inordinately proud of them.  I have described myself as ‘Photographer and Paper Artist’ – something of a stretch, but I hopefully plan to become one in the future.
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Things I learned from this experience:

  • Work which requires a lightbox needs to have one that automatically switches on and off intermittently. It is much easier to present work in a standard format (which goes completely against the grain with me).
  • Get some packing materials well in advance. My artwork packing was perfunctory and was a problem on the takedown day as it was raining heavily.
  • Have a selection of work more or less ready for submissions at all times. I missed out on potentially having work at the OCA’s exhibition at the OXO Tower in London last autumn because all of the work I was happy with was already committed elsewhere.

References

https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/about-us/press-and-media/press-releases/the-national-gallery-acquires-artemisia-gentileschi-self-portrait

 

Assignment 1 ready to exhibit

I’ve been pretty quiet on here lately, but activity is still continuing. With the Thames Valley Group putting on an exhibition at the Lightbox in Woking for a fortnight, from next Tuesday, I submitted an idea for a revised version of my A1 work Remember When…? and it was accepted back in the autumn. Cue a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ hiatus while I got over the feeling that my work was rubbish. In the meantime, I was still playing around with cutouts and introduced the idea of a light table following the workshop with Paul Kenny. (He is using backlighting for his newer work, very successfully). Eventually I decided that my offering for the exhibition should be a series of my A1 altered images framed on a light table. My lovely local framers, St Johns in Devizes made me a hanging frame for the table, and a non-standard mountboard to accommodate eight images. I have spent the last few days trying out different images in it, with and without transparent coloured PVC backing, and eventually decided that for this series, I would show them directly on the white light table. They are now all packed up and ready to go to Woking tomorrow for hanging. I will post a proper image of them in the gallery, but here is a quick taster of what it will look like.

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For those who did not see the original assignment, these are my deceased father-in-law’s photographs, which I have altered by cutting out parts, in order to give them a new life and meaning. I have to say that they have come out far better than I could have imagined and my husband is very keen to find a place we can hang the frame at home after the exhibition. Given that this was the original purpose of the exercise, I am feeling quietly satisfied.

Also, I was pleased to be featured both on the flyer for the exhibition, shown below, and on the OCA Instagram feed. Fame, at last!

PS I could be spending a lot of money on light tables for future work, as I really enjoy making these images.

Thomas Ruff – Tripe

I was in London with my son yesterday, and feeling uninspired by what was on at most of our regular exhibition haunts, we decided to head over to the Natural History Museum for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year show. On route through the South Ken underpass, we noticed that the new V&A photography galleries are open and immediately changed the plan to visit those. To our great surprise, the first thing we saw when we entered the gallery was a new series by Thomas Ruff, called Tripe. A very uninspiring title to a Brit, for whom the word tripe conjures up WW2 austerity and hideous floppy white offal at the more adventurous butchery establishments in France and Spain. Yeuch! But I digress.

Linnaeus Tripe turns out to have been one of the first Victorian surveyors to travel to India and Myanmar with a quality camera in the 1850s, and his intentions were artistic as well as functional. Ruff came across his work when asked to do a project for the new gallery and decided to use the paper negatives as the basis of some new work. He was intrigued by the quality of the paper negatives after 160 years, with all the effects that time and atmospheric conditions have wrought on them, so took phone pictures of some and returned to Dusseldorf to work with them. I should point out at this stage that Tripe had embellished the negatives with painted clouds and other interventions and so the originals are hybrids between photography and painting.

Ruff then used Photoshop technology to turn the images into positives and alter them to give an impression of how the originals looked. He also blew up the images so that one can see the texture of the paper as part of the new work. The results are large images which rest somewhere between photography and brush arts, and they have a peculiar ethereal quality which is at odds with their size. One of them is shown below.

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Ruff’s work always blows me away because it looks at the photograph in a totally different way from most artists. His focus is on their material nature and how this can be altered  and resized to bring attention to this side of the object. While Ruff was fascinated by the unusual paper negatives, his reinterpretation of them both brings out the detail in the originals and puts his own mark on them too.

There is no accompanying catalogue in book form, but I purchased a broadsheet ezine on the work for the princely sum of £5, which will be added to my shelf of artist’s books. And, without going into any detail, the rest of the images on show were an interesting mix of old and new. Well worth a visit, and it looks like they will be changing what is on quite regularly.

 

A2 – some background research

Yesterday, I was in London and popped in to The Photographers’ Gallery to check out the exhibition All I Know Is On The Internet, the title of which has been taken from one of President Trump’s excuses for not knowing about something. I had hoped it might be helpful for my assignment and was not disappointed. The introductory blurb states that the aim of the exhibition is to

consider the digital conditions under which photography is produced and the bodies and machines which help automate the processing of visual content online.

As such it is a combination of very disparate ideas and formats, not all of which gel together. There were several video exhibits which I could not get close to as a group of school students was mesmerised by them, so this review will concentrate on some of the other work. I am not going to look at everything, but will pick out some of the most relevant exhibits for what I am thinking about, which is how our individual use of the internet mediates what it offers us to look at.

First up was a Heath Robinson machine to flick through Instagram images randomly in order to trick the algorithms into offering a more diverse content. It is part of the #stopthealgorithm campaign, a reaction against the big business tech companies directing our viewing content through their system algorithms. The #stopthealgorithm website is a mine of potential ideas and I will be delving into it in more detail later on.

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I also very much enjoyed the concept of the Captcha wall, where the artist had made a screenshot every time a Captcha screen came up on his computer for five years. Captcha was started to try to differentiate humans from bots and is a feature of many sites’ joining instructions page.

IMG_0097v2In a similar vein, but with a different context was the Batallions of Simcards exhibit, combining hundreds of used simcards taken from the phones which had been used to make fake accounts to be used by bots, (if I recall correctly – I didn’t take a note of the details of this one).

IMG_0099v2Then there was a series of circles which showed the faces of the engineers who maintain the cameras on the Google Street View cars. As we know, Google tries to automatically disguise the faces it comes across on its tours around the globe, but it is not always successful and these are some of the results.

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Finally, there was a series of individual images which captured those times when rapid scanning of documents for internet archives was not rapid enough, and the hand of the person doing the scanning appears in the image. Visually, this was a strong series, with interesting colours and a great variety of types of document scans.

IMG_0112v2 As ever, the Gallery puts on a special section of the bookshop relating to their current exhibition subjects and I spent a considerable time looking through some of the books for sale on the digital world. I finally settled for Omar Kholeif’s (2018) Goodbye, World: Looking at Art in the Digital Age, although was also strongly tempted by Melanie Bonajo’s Matrix Botanica: Non Human Persons, in which she addresses why we take and share so many images of animals doing strange and funny things.

Footnote

I always find an unexpected gem in the exhibition space downstairs, where individual artist’s prints are for sale. This time, I was struck by Alma Haser’s 3D collage Calatheas, shown below. I’ve been following her work on Instagram for several years, but had not realised she had moved into 3D work. It was very much in her style, but had the feel of a jigsaw puzzle, and I was intrigued by the different layers peeping through the surfaces.

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SW OCA study day – curating

Yesterday, I attended an excellent meeting of the OCA South West group. The theme of the day was exhibition curation and it was led by OCA tutor Michele Whiting. As usual, the programme for the day was tutor led work in the morning and student’ work in progress in the afternoon.

Michele began by giving us a brief history of artist curation from the late 1980s, starting with Damien Hirst’s led The Freeze, a group exhibit put together by Goldsmiths students, which was the first time that work had been taken outside the gallery setting and curated by the artists themselves. Prior to this, they were dependent on catching the eye of  one of the rather exclusive gallerists, but the BritArt group pioneered the use of other spaces and opened up exhibiting to a much wider range of artists.

She described the role of the artist curator (a particular term describing artists who exhibit their own work) as ‘translating and moderating the artwork from the place of production to the space of public display.’ Interesting use of the words place and space, for consideration later. This type of exhibition

  • brings objects artefacts and artwork together through a knowing, non-verbal dialogue
  • brings material knowledge to the expression of display
  • creates a narrative through collation, i.e. making new meanings through curation
  • can consider what and exhibition can be

We moved on to some theoretical discussion about exhibitions being dialogic spaces, encouraging a conversation within and about the space. It can question, point towards, elucidate and illuminate. Artist curation can be a medium in itself. An artist curator is telling a story, or at the least, providing pointers for the viewer to make up their own story. We also touched on practical considerations, such as thinking about how to encourage visitors back more than once, legacy aspects (important for funding applications) …..

For the workshop section we broke into groups and were asked to put together an idea for exhibiting and promoting the disparate objects that each of us had brought. The work my group had to marry together was a sculpture, a children’s book, some handmade paper and my assignment 1 work using lightboxes and old family photos.  (see below)

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At first we were flummoxed, but then Michele suggested we think about accessibility, and we were off. Before too long, we had designed and thought of promotional ideas for a small travelling exhibition with a draft name of Please Do Touch.  The references are obvious with the sculpture and paper, but my lightbox work would be changed to individual acetate backed photos that visitors could change themselves to see the patterns, while we thought we could emboss the illustrations in Dorothy’s book, add a Braille text below, and have it being read aloud on a loop as well. The concept was a table-top collection of objects that people with sight issues, learning disabilities, dementia homes etc. could hold, smell and feel. We would then offer a workshop alongside for the participants to have a go at making something themselves. The exhibition would tour locations where our target audience met or lived and we thought perhaps it might open at the Exeter Sight Village. We were chuffed to have Michele come up, after all the groups had presented, to suggest that the idea had legs and that we should seriously think about doing it for real.

We also thought about venues, practical stuff like licenses, promotion (Anna G reported that an art centre had recently told her that 80% of footfall for exhibitions come from targeted advertising, and only 20% from flyers), size of exhibition and any particular events that we wanted to run alongside. Michele said that many exhibitions struggle because the communication to the public is poor, rather than the subject or venue.

She finished by saying that how we construct a show is part of its nature, and that the venue is as important as the work. When collaborating, a clearly understood group vision is vital. When thinking about putting a show together, start with the nature of the work, and then move on to the type of exhibition, space, promotions etc. Clarity of thought is essential.  Also, allow enough time (2 years is not too long). There are many issues to sort out and it really needs to be run as a project management exercise if it is to work well. Finally , we talked about catalogues, whether they were necessary, who should write them (it doesn’t have to be the exhibitors themselves) and a reminder that they are a part of the exhibition, so creative thinking is helpful.

It was very different from many of the study events I have attended, and refreshingly academic in tone, and I came away thinking I had really learned something new.

The rest of the day was occupied with showing students’ work and talking about how the assessment process works. There was some wonderful work there, two pieces of which are shown below. I can’t recall the name of the lady who had produced the textile work, but the second is Liz Nunn’s fascinating 3D photographs, which she intends to make into a star book.