Both the Eliasson and the Goldin exhibitions are currently on at the Tate Modern, so it was easy to combine them in a single visit, although they could not have been more different in approach and aesthetic. First the Eliasson one, In Real Life.
Reviews of the exhibition have been a bit ‘Meh’, despite it being one of the most successful shows the Tate Modern has ever put on. It is huge and spreads out over the whole site and I am quite certain we missed some of the works en route. Eliasson is a bit like Wolfgang Tillmans in that his interests spread across a wide variety of subjects, from the very basics of what we eat and how to provide light for children in developing countries to get to school, right through to the most metaphysical concepts, and like Tillmans there was a great variety of media and activities, not all of which we engaged in.
Personally, I was quite blown away by much of the installation work, but for very specific reasons. I did not go to see it because of where I am in my own studies, but it fitted perfectly in to where I am at present, in particular his use of gaps and mirrors and the ideas he was exploring in some of the works around what is reality and where does it become the simulacrum. Some example will be explained below.
As you enter the hallway for the exhibition, one of Eliasson’s trademark mirrored light sculptures commands attention. While the sculpture itself is interesting in its complexity, what really grabs the attention is the shadow version seen on the wall behind it. That shadow version has a clarity that is hidden by the complexities of metal, glass and mirrors in the real version.
I loved the two contemplative works, Wave Machines (1995) and Beauty (1993), which invited the viewer to take time to become mesmerised by the movement within them, but felt that both would be better appreciated without the crowds of other visitors. Your Uncertain Shadow (2010) was a fascinating display of colour and movement created by the visitors themselves and providing much entertainment for all. Big Bang Fountain (2014) was another piece which required attention, although the strobe lighting very soon made one feel a migraine might be coming on. Din Blinde Passager (2010) went to the other extreme, by removing all visual information in a sea of thick coloured fog, through which the voices of other visitors could be heard and whose shapes occasionally loomed out of the gloom and then disappeared again. Your Planetary Window (2019) created a patchwork of varying images of the view outside the building as seen through a variety of angled mirrors, and felt very much in tune with the work I have been doing on gaps, mirrors and integrating patchwork ideas into visual work.
Finally, and for me the pièce de resistance, was How Do We Live Together? (2019). A semicircle of black steel was set into the space, and a mirrored ceiling completed the circle. Everyone who entered the room stared up at the mirrored version of reality rather than looking at the real version right in front of their eyes. Further added to this was the way everyone was taking photos of the mirrored version, and the whole piece became a comment on our relationship with the world. It was utter simplicity in its concept, but very effective in what it said.
The Nan Goldin, her very famous early work The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, was a combined exhibition of images and a slide show accompanied by the music of the time period, and was a totally different experience from the Eliasson. I have seen various images from the series before, but not them all en bloc and their appeal is more clear when seen together. Each of them alone appears like the sort of snap that gets taken at many a drunken party, but together they spoke of a nihilistic lifestyle of drink drugs and sexual misadventures, peopled by famous faces from the 1970s and 1980s. I am not sure that Goldin’s work would have had the success it did had she not moved in the circles she did, but there was no doubt it was compelling. So much so, that the audience in the tiny screening theatre hardly changed at all while we were there – people were content to sit and let it all wash over them as an immersive experience, one which I felt was much more affective than the collection of individual prints alongside.
Flicking through my emails recently, I chanced upon the information that Maggie Taylor was currently exhibiting at the Fox Talbot museum in Lacock, and was intrigued enough by the advert to pop over to have a look. Am so glad I did. It was amazing! I hadn’t come across her work before, but it was just the right thing to clarify some ideas I have for my own work just now.
Taylor first came to prominence as a pupil, and subsequently (for a time) wife of Jerry Uelsmann, who was a doyen of the 1960s and 70s surrealist wave in photography. She began in black and white, using collaged groups of objects, but it was the arrival of Photoshop that allowed her to really spread her wings. She has always been interested in the surreal, but Photoshop allowed her to seamlessly integrate her chosen objects into her images in a way that appears painted, but is in fact all a result of Photoshop layering, and she is acknowledged as a pioneer in Photoshopmontage. She and Uelsmann had an artistic partnership which is explained in this long but fascinating documentary and I was particularly interested to see how much overlap there is between them, both in ideas and presentation, even though their methodologies are completely different. He remains firmly wedded to analogue processes, which she has gone the digital route.
The images on show were from a series called Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, which follows on from her previous series Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll’s work is an ideal subject for Taylor’s whimsical, dreamy approach and the works on show were stunning. A selection is shown below, made on my iPad.
They are built up using a mixture of elements from old daguerrotypes, found photographs and illustrations from antique books and each finished image may contain hundreds of layers to give her characteristic fully integrated look. To a certain extent, there are elements of the ‘creative’ style of camera club offerings, but these are much more complex and historically grounded and it was fascinating to identify background landscapes, carpets, floors and clothes which all came from different origins, but which worked together seamlessly. It was particularly interesting to see them in the context of Lacock Abbey, which has its own history of rooms and pictures which might have been used as elements in the photographs, and at her subsequent artist’s event (sadly all too brief as she was recovering from food poisoning), she acknowledged that parts of Lacock were indeed included in the series. One of the things which fascinates me about her work is the complexity of thought that has gone into each image, including icons and elements of the Lewis Carroll books, Carroll’s enthusiastic early embracing of photography (I am sure he must have known Fox Talbot as they moved in the same circles), the history of photography and subtle themes of suspected paedophilia on his part.
All this wonderfulness made me want to rush home and get back to work on my assignment, as it has become apparent that the experiments I am currently working on for the assignment have a dreamlike basis coming from surrealism/magical realism/hyperrealism, and I now want to make this a formal part of my approach to the assignment. Therefore a short diversion into the history of these movements in photography is required.
The Surrealist movement in art began in the early 1920s, starting with Andre Breton’s ‘Surrealist Manifesto’ and is exemplified by the work of artists and writers such as Picasso, Magritte, Dali etc. It was a conscious move away from pictorial art to focus on the imagination, the unconscious and the conscious and was a way of depicting dreams and ideas outside of rational control. It was a deliberate reaction against the ideas of the Enlightenment, with its focus on reason, reality and a scientific, fact based approach to life. Surrealism ran alongside Dadaism, although that had a strongly political undertone which was absent from surrealism. However, both movements used the concept of juxtaposition of several disparate elements within a piece to force bizarre connections and absurdities.
Photographers who were in the first wave of surrealism included Atget, Alvarez Bravo, Bellmar, Tabard and Man Ray, but to my surprise I discovered that women photographers also featured strongly in the early days, including Lee Miller, Dora Maar, Claude Cahun and Florence Henrí. More recent names in the movement include Maia Flore, Erik Johansson, Stephen Criscolo and Christopher McKenny (New York Film Academy, 2014).
Magical realism is a sister to surrealism which evolved at very much the same time (1930s) but it came from Lation America. Like Dadaism, it had political undertones, to enable its proponents to comment in a symbolic way about situations which could otherwise lead to trouble. The essential difference between the two is that magical realism retains some link with potential reality (the events could possibly happen) while surrealism moves definitively into the realm of the impossible. (Tendreams, n.d.) There is a lot of crossover between the two though, and both are very much involved in visualising the confused state of dreaming, with its weird juxtapositions and sense of internal reality, which afterwards make no sense. Photographers who specifically claim to be magical realists include Kate Moser, Susan Kae Grant, Tom Chambers and the mother/daughter duo Emma Powell and Kirsten Hoving, about whom I have written before, here.
Hyperrealism is another term reflecting how the real and not real can be alternated in art and literature. Hyperrealism is normally thought of as an art movement where pictures are produced which look photographic in their extreme detail, such as the work of Robin Eley and Diego Fazio, but in this instance I am talking about hyperreality as discussed in Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation, where it is particularly associated with the liminal spaces between reality and simulation/AI. Where does one stop and the other begin and is either a true reflection of reality? (Oberly, 2003)
There is considerable overlap between these three terms when it comes to artwork, and artists frequently skip from one to the other without really differentiating between them. However, for the purposes of this work, the overall points I have taken on board are:
- images don’t have to realistic to have meaning
- dreams and detachment from reality are valid subjects for image making
- the world is your lobster – let your imagination take you where it will, or anything goes as long as there is some overall understanding of what it all means personally.
As it happens, I also went to Harry Potter World this week with my stepdaughter, C. While there, we marvelled at the imagination and creativity shown in making all the elements of the films, from the details of the costumes, to the set designs and props. Everything had been meticulously researched, and then the production team were allowed an almost free rein in letting their imagination run wild. The outcome was a joyous explosion of mixed genres, but every tiny detail had a researched and fully integrated background which held them all together.
The overall moral of these disparate thoughts is that within art it is ok to play with our imaginations, despite most photography work being visually realistic. It does not need to be so, and this is where my assignment is going. All three movements seem to be associated with post-modernist ideas of what is real/truth and whether anything can be taken at face value. This area of study fits perfectly into where I am going with my assignment, i.e. the place that the internet has/seems to have in relationship to the individual and how the two interact.
Jerry and Maggie https://vimeo.com/69911353
https://www.plusonegallery.com/blog/32/ excellent review of hyperralism
Last night I took part in a DI&C hangout with three other students who are doing this course. We tend to meet online roughly monthly to discuss current work and general areas with which we need another opinion. (By the way, it is open to all DI&C students, and if you haven’t attended a Hangout before, they are both relatively easy to join, albeit I find I need to use the Chrome browser as Edge doesn’t work with it, and a good way of thrashing out some of the detail in your current work. I highly recommend them.)
These are some of the notes I took regarding people’s thoughts on where I am going with my experiments for A4, and comments are based on the ongoing series of images in this post, which constitutes my long list of ideas.
These were the suggestions that the other members of the group made, in bullet format. It quite quickly became apparent that the mirrors and the cut images were where we all found the most to discuss. As we talked I became aware that the mirror cube concept was the one I am really enjoying and that I
ought to follow that line of enquiry for now. Below, in bullet format, are some of the considerations discussed.
- three themes – ambiguity, contrast and surrealism
- try the mirror cube in the city, especially at night
- try different lighting effects
- add in photographs of people as collage, either inside the mirror cube or outside
- look at adding mirrored cut-outs into the landscape. I was thinking about mirrored silhouettes of objects for this, and will try it out today.
- does it all need to happen inside the mirror cube, or could the surroundings be incorporated too.
- potentially collage over the images (another thing to try as well).
Photographers whose work was suggested for ideas were Guillaume Amat, Daniel Kukla and I subsequently also recalled Ville Kansensen and Murray Fredericks. However, all of these use the mirror in the landscape and are quite minimalist in approach, whereas my current project looks as if it is going the psychedelic dream way. It was also suggested I try making some short video pieces in the style of Helen Sears (and I may do this in the style of Plato’s Cave)
I’m also thinking about titles that might explain what I am doing, and have so far come up with these options, which I will add to as the process continues. These titles help me pin down what I am trying to say.
- Identity, interrupted
- We are all electrons
So, today is going to involve more cutting and experiments with bits of mirror tile in various situations.
I’ve been pondering on subjects for A4 which is about digital identity. There is so much to choose from that it is a little difficult to know where to start. So, as suggested in the coursebook, I made a brainstorming page for the subject in my notebook. It is getting a little full, so may have to expand onto a bigger piece of paper before it is done.
The first idea that I had was a very overcomplicated plan to involve random collections of words from an infographic I found which shows our relationship as individuals with what algorithms and internet marketing companies and how they interpret what we search for into making personalised adverts. It was too complicated though and I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to make interesting art from the word selections.
Next up was a plan to make a series of alternative Instagram profiles of people I might have been if my life had gone a different route at various crunch points of choice. Although the idea was sound, I lacked the enthusiasm to turn the idea into reality.
Then the brainstorming set in and some themes began to appear which had some promise.
- what is reality, and more particularly does our internet presence reflect our actual lives?
- my ongoing interest in gaps and how they might be used in materialist ways to signify both memory loss and alternative meaning.
- the work I did in A2 on what lies beneath the surface of the digital image, and how this relates to the theory of digital versus analogue photography.
- An ongoing and underlying concern that our lives are being manipulated in ways we do not see by political and commercial forces whose agenda is about themselves, not humanity as a whole.
This feels right, and I have been spurred into making some test ideas to see how it might be turned into a series. Two different ideas are shown below and one or both concepts might appear in the eventual series.
In this first example (and I have made a whole load of different versions of this), I used a crystal ball in a box lined with mirror tiles to see what would happen with the reflections in different locations around my home. A lot of duds and very obvious images appeared but amongst them were some that I felt had something more, and this is one of them.
The second idea has involved cutting up the mirror tiles and inserting them into images, so that one sees two separate scenarios in the same image. In the one below, the initial image of the girl has had strips of mirror tile added and a second scenario can be glimpsed behind. The girl herself is a covering for the real world behind. I rather like it as a metaphor for Plato’s Cave, and there are hints of The Matrix about it too and of imprisonment. Therefore the rest of this week will be spent playing around with this concept some more to see what else comes up.
Just as a footnote, there is also something to think about in relation to how the first image, which appears to be created digitally is in fact what really showed up in front of the camera, while the second looks as if it might have been done in Photoshop, but was in fact made physically by cutting and layering. This sensory confusion is also part of what I want to achieve in the series. The methodology will be to use mirrors and reflections to disrupt the photographic image.
I now think I know what I want to do for Assignment 1, which is exploring how we see images that are incomplete, either by cutting parts of them out or by rearranging the elements in unconventional ways.
The next question is the subject. have been playing around with different ideas over the last few days, and have decided that I want to make collages out of some my father-in-law’s old snapshots. He kept practically every photo he took over the years, and the great majority of them have no sentimental value, being of places, flowers and scenes that only mattered to him and his wife. My plan is to repurpose these photos into some new pieces, and effectively bring them up to date, in the same way as one might refashion an old piece of jewellery. This will be done in the style of patchwork quilting, using shapes and patterns which have been around for centuries, but more of this later in the assignment preparation. For the time being, here are a couple of test ideas, and I think there is some potential in this process.
In the first test, a die cutter was used to punch out a series of holes in the image, and I used the punched pieces in the first one and the remaining image in the second. With these I am questioning our understanding of what is real and what is perceived in an image, again more of which later. Neither of the images below are quite what they seem.
In the second test, I cut three photographs into squares, using the die cutter, and started playing with a basic stepladder pattern. I like the concept, but have not yet worked out an effective way of connecting the pieces, given that ideally I would like it to be a wall hanging. The gold thread is too light to hold the grid neatly and I had to glue the pieces to a bit of paper to hold them still for sewing. If anyone has any idea on how I could manage this, I’d be very pleased to hear about it. I’d prefer, if possible, to avoid having to glue it onto a backing to make it hold its shape.
Finally, and just because I like it, I did an inverted version of the top right hand image, and this has just the feel of modern patchwork that I was looking for, albeit it has strayed quite a long way from the original by now.