Archive for March, 2009

31
Mar
09

Publication of ‘Jpegs: Photographs by Thomas Ruff’ from Aperture Foundation

 

“How much visual information is needed for image recognition? A pretty small quantity of data will go a long way for the brain and the computer, both of which take shortcuts for the sake of speedy comprehension. In the Jpegs series, German photographer Thomas Ruff exploits this imprecision in digital technology, locating online jpegs and enlarging them until the pixels emerge in a chessboard pattern of near abstraction. A closer look at these images reveals that, in addition to the degeneration of the image into a digital grid, the color and brightness generated by the algorithms of the compression also become visible. Many of Ruff’s works in this series focus on idyllic, seemingly untouched landscapes, or conversely, on scenes of war and nature disturbed by human manipulation – subjects ill suited to disruptive pixelation, and therefore perfect for Ruff’s purposes. Taken together, these images constitute an encyclopedic compendium of contemporary visual culture that also engages the history of landscape painting. A fittingly deluxe and oversize volume, Jpegs is the first monograph dedicated exclusively to this monumental series.” 

Text from the Amazon website

 

Thomas Ruff. 'jpeg sh01' 2005

 

Thomas Ruff
‘jpeg sh01′
2005

 

Thomas Ruff. 'jpeg ca02' 2004

 

Thomas Ruff
‘jpeg ca02′
2004

 

“Thomas Ruff is among the most important international photographers to emerge in the last fifteen years, and one of the most enigmatic and prolific of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s former students, a group that includes Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, Candida Höfer, and Axel Hutte. In 2007, Ruff completed his monumental and very timely Jpegs series in which he explores the distribution and reception of images in the digital age. Starting with images he culls primarily from the Web, Ruff enlarges them to a gigantic scale, which exaggerates the pixel patterns, until they become sublime geometric displays of color. A fittingly deluxe and oversized volume, Jpegs (Aperture, June 2009) is the first monograph dedicated exclusively to the publication of Ruff’s remarkable series.

 

Thomas Ruff. 'jpeg msh01' 2004

 

Thomas Ruff
‘jpeg msh01′
2004

 

jpeg-soi01-2005

 

Thomas Ruff
‘jpeg soi01′
2005

 

When viewed up close the images in Jpegs look abstract; as you move away they merge into decipherable photographic images. Like Impressionistic paintings, Ruff’s photographs require the viewer’s active participation and shift in perspective in order to make a complete assessment of the image content. The work ranges from idyllic, seemingly untouched landscapes and popular tourist spots, to scenes of war and nature disturbed by human manipulation. Places and global events that have defined the visual media world of recent decades are represented, including the familiar, almost iconic pictures of atomic bomb tests; 9/11; scenes of warfare in Baghdad, Beirut, and Grozny; the killing fields of Cambodia; and the ravaged Asian coasts after the 2004 tsunami, among others. Taken together, these masterworks create an encyclopedic compendium of contemporary visual culture that also actively engages the history of landscape painting. Jpegs is a testament to the effects of the digital age on the medium of photography.”

Text from Artdaily.org website


Thomas Ruff. 'jpeg ny02' 2004

 

Thomas Ruff
‘jpeg ny02′
2004

 

Book available from the Amazon website from May 2009

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29
Mar
09

Review: ‘reENLIGHTENMENT’ exhibition by Peter James Smith at Gallery 101, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th March – 4th April 2009

 

Peter James Smith links the culture of science and of human experience, bringing together mathematics and the power of nature in realist imagery that is balanced by strong mark making and text. Redolent still life and landscape images juxtapose with astronomical, poetic and historical observations in the painted images. Handwritten citations, notes, jottings, diagrams and erasures float on the loosely painted surfaces of stretched linen, paper collage and found pieces which bring a Beuysian sense of the charismatic object. A sunset, a violin, a book of verse, an installation of old bells or delicate Jasperware porcelain provide a resonant foil for the artist and viewer – and create a space for the imagination, for mathematical wonder and contemplation.

‘Beyond painting, in the current work there is a sense of history allowing us to privilege its objects, their collecting and their housing on walls, in vitrines, on shelves and on plinths. Like any true collector I am keen to bring them to an audience, to show them in a revelatory way. If they are inflected by hand markings it is to personalise the revelation. There are no plastic imitations: the Jasperware vases are authentic collected Wedgwood; the small Greek Pelike is indeed a c 300 BC vase; the Roman glass is a c 300 AD; the collected Wollemi pine needles are indeed from this prehistoric plant. These and other antiquities have a long museological tradition. The narratives of Wedgwood blue and white Jasperware designs are of Greek antiquity—the firing of the white clay over a cobalt blue base (in around) 1772 was a triumph of chemistry over alchemy. With these objects, it is not a postmodernist kitsch that is revealed, but rather the resuscitated fabric of authenticity. I am re-enlightened by their tactile physical presence that has a timeless beauty. To render such things as a painted image is to engage in a different act, with different rules referring to different histories.’

Peter James Smith, 2009. Notes from the exhibition catalogue.

 

Peter James Smith. 'reENLIGHTENMENT' installation view 2009

 

Peter James Smith. 'reENLIGHTENMENT' installation view 2009

 

Peter James Smith
‘reENLIGHTENMENT’ installation views
2009

 

Enlightenment, Romanticism, reason, authenticity, revelation.

Variously: Wedgwood Jasperware, Roman glass, Greek Pileke, books, doors, texts, paintings, bells, video, video machine, wooden boxes, black paint, crosses, albatross, Wollemi Pine needles, Paradise Lost, astronomy, linen, stars, photography, Chinese porcelain, collage, mathematical equations, mirrors, Amphora from the Han Dynasty, a violin, a sunset, a book of verse, notes, shelves, jottings, citations.

 

Notes to myself

Golden ratio

The archive

Topographical markings, inscriptions and decodings

The ‘nature’ of authenticity

The ‘voice’ of revelation

Re-possession of clarity and logic

Re-production of mystery, tenderness and love

Reverence for the object itself

Referentiality between image and text

The colour black: transcendent, the depths of the night sky but also the closing in of darkness at the end of days.

Never one truth but many truths

Less is more.

 

Peter James Smith. 'Paradise Lost IV' 2008

 

Peter James Smith
‘Paradise Lost IV’
2008

 

“Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories. More than that: the chance, the fate, that suffuse the past before my eyes are conspicuously present in the accustomed confusion of these books. For what else is this collection but a disorder to which habit has accommodated itself to such an extent that it can appear as order?”1

“Thus the claim is that texts themselves can actually be intrinsically ‘genuine’, but that authenticity is a ‘social construct’. In other words, a certain kind of authenticity is created through the interaction of the users, situations and the texts.”2

 

 

I am a collector like Peter James Smith. I display my collection of early 20th century English vases. I have a collection of 300 ties that span from the 1930s to the 1970s. I have eight rare 1940s suits, those suits that Humphrey Bogart used to wear with the wide wide lapels that nearly reach the seam of the sleeve.

Rare, fragile, beautiful, genuine.

In this exhibition Smith appeals not to the genuineness of the objects but to the authenticity of the objects he displays: “There are no plastic imitations … With these objects, it is not a postmodernist kitsch that is revealed, but rather the resuscitated fabric of authenticity.” He wants to show these objects in a revelatory way, for us to once more appreciate their authenticity. To make order out of disorder. But then Smith wants to personalise this revelation and overlays the objects with texts that re-order the taxonomy through a reinscription that is both a de-territorialization and re-territorialization of meaning, a loss of original meaning and the production of new meanings. This is the faint silver flicker of re-enlightenment the artist seeks. It is above all authentication as individual spectacle, as social construct.

“Authenticity is an issue for us today because of a widespread sense that there is something inauthentic in the way we experience the modern world.”3

In some of the works this process is effective and in other works it falls flat on it’s proverbial, intertextual backside. The process works well in the less cerebral works. The use of black paint in ‘Paradise Lost IV’ (above) is particularly effective as the re-inscription of paint invades and threatens the motifs of the classical figures with the text and cross reinforcing the idea of a lost paradise. ‘Cathedral’ (2009, below) is also a stunning installation of different bells hung at various heights within a locked cabinet, complicit in their silence as they would not be inside a cathedral. For me this was probably the best piece in the show for its simplicity of thought, eloquence of execution and understanding of how the installation re-enlightens the viewers socially constructed authenticity in a revelatory way. No double marking is needed – a zen balance is proposed and achieved in the quietness of the viewers mind.

 

Peter James Smith. 'Cathedral' 2009

 

Peter James Smith
‘Cathedral’
2009

 

Other pieces are less successful. ‘Amphora in grey teracotta Han Dynasty c 100BC’ (2008), the amphora inscribed with text sitting on a painted black video recorder is particularly unengaging and unappealing – there is no revelatory experience to be had here. The Greek Pileke (see below) inscribed with lines from John Keats ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ seems an appropriate intervention but sometimes in this exhibition one just longs to appreciate the sanctity of the object, it’s presence, in silence without the personalising of the revelation by the hand of the artist. To see the object clearly for what it is.

 

Peter James Smith. 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' 2008

 

Peter James Smith
‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’
2008

 

Peter James Smith. 'reENLIGHTENMENT' 2009

 

Peter James Smith
‘reENLIGHTENMENT’
2009

 

The large installation ‘reELIGHTENMENT’ (2009 above, and installation photo at top) falls into darkness. The use of the doors as metaphor is clumsy, book covers have been more successfully used by other artists and the black paint is heavy and oppressive. More interesting are some of the paintings, for example ‘The slow dance of an astronomical twighlight’ (2009, below) where the poem of William Wordsworth

‘… a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns

illuminates the poetry of the painting, adding an insightful double meaning to the universal revelation.

A vibration of spirit is present both in the landscape and the markings upon the landscape.

 

the-slow-dance

 

Peter James Smith
‘The slow dance of an astronomical twighlight’
2009

 

Unfortunately all too often in this exhibition access to the sublime is denied. Appeals to neo-authenticity fall on deaf ears. The motifs of this exhibition are universal, archetypal but the elements that go to make up this exhibition are too many and lack focus. Sometimes in art less in more and this exhibition is a classic example of this fact. There are some interesting elements but overall the whole is not the sum of its parts.

As John Donne observed

“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated … No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”4

Our authentic place in the world, our spiritual space, our re-enlightenment needed to be better defined, more lucidly enunciated in this exhibition NOT IN CAPITAL LETTERS but in the quietness of our hearts.

M Bunyan

 

 

GALLERY 101 
Ground level, 101 Collins Street, Melbourne VICTORIA 3000
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5pm, Saturday 12 – 4pm
T 61 3 96546886  F 61 3 9663 0562
www.101collins.com.au

 

1. Benjamin, Walter. “Unpacking my Library: A Talk about Book Collecting,” in Illuminations. English translation. London: Fontana, 1982, pp. 59-60.

2. Lee, W. “Authenticity revisited: text authenticity and learner authenticity,” in ELT Journal, 49(4). 1995, pp.323–328 cited in Shomoossi, Nematullah and Ketabi, Saeed. “A Critical Look at the Concept of Authenticity,” in Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching. 2007, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 149-155 [Online] cited on 29th March, 2009 at http://e-flt.nus.edu.sg/v4n12007/shomoossi.htm.

3. McClure, Christoper. The Concept of Authenticity in Charles Taylor and Martin Heidegger. [Online] cited on March 29th, 2009 at http://www.allacademic.com//meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/1/3/8/5/8/pages138584/p138584-1.php

4. Donne, John. Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris. 1624.

28
Mar
09

Exhibition: ‘Plant Studies by Karl Blossfeldt and Related Works’ at Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne

Exhibition dates: March 13th – 17th June 2009

 

Karl Blossfeldt from 'Art Forms in Nature'

 

“According to the records, attention was drawn to Karl Blossfeldt s work in particular by the fact that the Berlin gallerist Karl Nierendorf heard about his work and presented the first exhibition of his photographs outside the school context in 1926. The plant photographs, still under the influence of the ornamental art nouveau although more as a reaction to it were highly appreciated in the early days of New Objectivity. These studies seemed to put into practice the newly formed principles contained in the art of the 1920s, in which there was a demand for things to be presented without artistic digression, in a clear, authentic pictorial language, at the same time providing insight into their nature. It is therefore even more surprising that Blossfeldt was able to achieve this so easily, considering that he accomplished it seemingly uninfluenced by questions of artistic or photographic history categories. His motivation stemmed from his didactic and pragmatic aims to depict plant forms with precise accuracy, in order to provide flawless reference aids which would encourage his students to transform them artistically. His straightforward, passionate concentration on one theme, which he almost endlessly varied within a limited field, opened it up for comparative viewing. In particular since the 1970s, in the light of a new-orientation of the medium, his work was highly regarded and gained indirect influence on contemporary art, to the extent that knowledge of his images influences today s viewing perspectives.” 

Text from Artdaily.org website

 

Karl Blossfeldt from 'Art Forms in Nature'

 

Karl Blossfeldt from 'Art Forms in Nature'

 

“In 1928 Karl Blossfeldt (1865 – 1932) published the now legendary photographic book “Art Forms in Nature.” Brought together were a selection of images of plants that this craftsman had photographed only as illustrative material for his students at the college in Berlin. He photographed the plants isolated in front of a neutral background, their blossoms, buds, stems, umbels and seed capsules often greatly magnified to serve as a dinstinct model for the decorative art forms of the Art Noveau movement, whose own bloom period was already fading …

It is quite clearly the particular combination of subject matter and photographic style that gives the works a classic timelessness, allowing them to be discovered “afresh” again and again. So the isolating, monumental and formalistic approach to nature not only tied in well with concepts of New Functionalism, but was also successively interpreted as illustrating the relationship between Art and Nature and as a precursor of Conceptual Art.”

Text from the Karl Blossfeldt Archive website

 

Karl Blossfeldt from 'Art Forms in Nature'

 

Karl Blossfeldt from 'Art Forms in Nature'

 

“He photographed plants by the thousands – photographs which feature flowers, buds, branched stems, clusters or seed capsules shot directly from the side, seldom from an overhead view, and rarely from a diagonal perspective. He usually placed the subjects of his photographs against white or grey cardboard, sometimes against a black background. Hardly ever can details of the rooms be detected. The light for his shots was obtained from northern windows, making it diffuse, but it fell from the side, creating volume. The technique and processing conditions were very simple; only the medium size of the negative format was somewhat out of the ordinary. Nothing detracted from the subject. This man produced such pictures for over thirty years.

The man’s name was Karl Blossfeldt, and his life’s achievement occupies a firm place in the history of 20th-century art, although the aims of his undertaking place him firmly within the 19th century. Blossfeldt shares this bridging of two centuries with other great collectors in the history of photography, such as the Parisian Eugene Atget, and it is to this bridging of two centuries that his influence may be attributed today …

 

Karl Blossfeldt from 'Art Forms in Nature'

 

Karl Blossfeldt from 'Art Forms in Nature'

 

The plant photographs were produced by simple means. Legend has it that a relatively straight-forward homemade camera was used, one common in its time and not very large, with a format of 9 X 12 cm. The glass plates which served as negatives were coated with inexpensive but not completely neutral-coloured orthochromatic emulsion, and occasionally – after 1902, as they became more widely available – with panchromatic emulsions, making possible a neutral reproduction of the colour red in halftones. Since the first emulsion was thin and therefore enabled high contrast with extremely sharp edges, it served especially to stress the structural elements. It was thus used primarily for photographs with white or grey backgrounds. The rarer photos with panchromatic emulsions were used to illustrate entire clusters or beds of flowers with a wider variation of chromatic values or halftones.”

Text by Rolf Sachse from the book Karl Blossfeldt Benedikt Taschen Verlag (April 1997) available on Amazon.

 

Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur website

26
Mar
09

Exhibition: ‘Francis Bacon’ at the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Exhibition dates: February 3rd – April 19th 2009

 

Looks like an amazing exhibition of Francis Bacon’s work, one of my favourite artists –  I wish I could see it!

There is a very interesting 14 minute description of the exhibition by curator Manuela Mena on the Prado website. It features a section on Bacon’s use of photographs and reference to work from all his major periods.
I can’t embed the video so click on the image below or link below to take you to the page.

 

Description of exhibition of the work of Francis Bacon at the Prado Museum, Madrid by curator Manuela Mena

 

Layout of the exhibition with comments by Manuela Mena (video)

 

The exhibition is constructed in different sections

  • Animal
  • Zone
  • Apprehension
  • Crucifixion
  • Crisis
  • Archive
  • Portrait
  • Memorial
  • Epic
  • Late

 

“Bacon’s work demonstrates marked similarities to that of many of the Spanish artists he admired. (Manuela Mena, co-curator of the exhibition at the Prado, has written an excellent essay on this topic that can be found in the exhibition’s catalog.) The retrospective at the Prado provides a rare opportunity to compare Bacon to some of the Spanish masters that influenced him. 

Start by meandering through the vast Bacon exhibition. Spread between two floors of the new wing of the Prado, the exhibition has brought together Bacon’s most important works from nearly his entire artistic production. It begins with the work that put Bacon on the map, “Three Studies for Figures at the Foot of a Crucifixion” (1944), and follows his work through the interpretations of Velázquez, crucifixion triptychs, his unique portraits and the late works through the years shortly before his death.”

 

Francis Bacon. 'Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X' 1953

 

Francis Bacon
‘Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X’
1953

 

Francis Bacon. 'Chimpanzee' 1955

 

Francis Bacon
‘Chimpanzee’
1955


Francis Bacon. 'Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (from Muybridge)' 1961

 

Francis Bacon
‘Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (from Muybridge)’
1961


fFrancis Bacon. 'Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho' 1967

 

Francis Bacon
‘Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho’
1967


Francis Bacon. 'Portrait of John Edwards' 1988

 

Francis Bacon
‘Portrait of John Edwards’
1988

 

Museo Nacional del Prado website

25
Mar
09

Review: ‘The Big Black Bubble’ exhibition of paintings by Dale Frank at Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 12th March  - 11th April 2009

 

“The immersive scale of these new paintings at Anna Schwartz Gallery Melbourne allows us to experience their inner qualities of landscape and of transformation. This is painting at fundamental authenticity. The paint is its own agent; it is allowed to act, to behave. The artist is the facilitator of these phenomena of nature and natural forces, whose residue is a metaphor for nature itself.

Black contains all colours, contours and depths. A pink monochrome is transformed by pure varnish into an expressionistic moment of process and performance. All colour is absent from elemental silver aluminium and form and gesture alone survive. New dynamics are possible through an innovative colouration: the emergence of colour through black, and its equivalent power.

Dale Frank’s painting is one of poetry, performance and nature. It represents both the macro and micro. Huge universal forces pulsate with molecular, atomic activities. Imagination is gifted by the artist to the viewer. These are our paintings to create.”

Anonymous text from the exhibition flyer.

 

Dale Frank. 'The Big Black Bubble' installation view at Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne 2009

 

Dale Frank
‘The Big Black Bubble’ installation view
Left to right: ‘Timothy Oliphant’ (2008), ‘Ryan Gosling’ (2008/2009) and ‘Matthew Macfadyen’ (2008)
2009

 

Dale Frank. 'The Big Black Bubble' installation view at Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne 2009

 

Dale Frank
‘The Big Black Bubble’ installation view
Left to right: ‘Daniel Radcliffe’ (2008/2009), ‘Khan Chittenden’ (2009) and ‘Rupert Grint’ (2008/2009)
2009

 

This is a brilliant exhibition by Dale Frank, one of my favourites so far this year in Melbourne.

Six large varnish on linen landscape paintings are presented in the beautiful Anna Schwartz gallery space in Melbourne. Photographs really do not do the paintings justice – they can only give an impression of the size and scale of the work but not of their intimacy or smell. The smell of varnish permeates the air. The serendipity of the natural convulsions of the varnish and the facilitations of the hand of the artist, his performance, have been caught like bugs in amber in the final molecular structure of the painting. Here are pendulous, globular goops of varnish, immersive heroic tone poems that form images in the mind of the viewer. Moving close to the paintings you are surrounded by flows and eddies, the macro and the micro; details become more apparent as you study the work.

While disagreeing that these paintings are the viewers to create (the viewer as author) what I can say is that the artist offers the viewer the ability to generate their own resonances with the painting, to use the imagination of ‘equivalence’ to suggest what these paintings stand for – and also what else they stand for. States of being, of transformation, wonder and joy emerge in the playfulness of these works. Perhaps this is where the titles of the paintings come from, referencing film actors in the pop tradition, but this is the only thing that did not ring true with the work, their titles. The use of this trope seems to me a bit facile given the nature of the work.

The hot pink painting ‘Rupert Grint’ (2008/2009, above) is hotter and lighter than in the photograph above, the varnish more translucent, the effect altogether mesmeric. You are drawn into the work, the intensity of the colour, the thickness of the hanging varnish. Two cosmological galaxies (‘Timothy Oliphant’ (2008) and ‘Matthew Macfadyen’ (2008)) surround the most complex painting in the exhibition, the darkness and light that is ‘Ryan Gosling’ (2008/2009, below).

 

Dale Frank. 'Ryan Gosling' (2008/2009)

 

Dale Frank
‘Ryan Gosling’
2008/2009

 

This painting is a tour de force. With the poetic structure of an oil spill, the varnish forms intricate slick upon slick contours that are almost topographical in their mapping. The black oozes light, becomes ‘plastic’ black before your eyes, like the black of Rembrandt’s backgrounds, illusive, illuminative and hard to pin down – perpetually hanging there in two dripping rows, fixed but fluid at one and the same time (you can just see the suspensions in the photograph above).

The painting reminds me of the black paintings of Mark Rothko that he undertook for The Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas (see below). As with the Rothko paintings, this painting is not just black (physically there are swirls of purple as in the Rothko paintings), not about darkness at all. What both artists do is create a contemplative, transformative space  - in Frank’s case for a world on the edge of oblivion. This is a post post-modern landscape: process and nature, performance and chance coalescing in the colour : black!

This painting is one of the most overwhelming syntheses of art and nature, of universal forces that I have seen in recent contemporary art. This exhibition is an electric pulsating universe of life, landscape and transformation. Magnificent!

M Bunyan

 

The Rothko Chapel, Houston, Texas

 

The Rothko Chapel
Houston, Texas

 

 

Anna Schwartz Gallery

185 Flinders Lane
Melbourne 3000
Australia

+61 3 9654 6131

Tuesday – Friday 12-6pm
Saturday 1-5pm

24
Mar
09

Exhibition: ‘Daidō Moriyama: Tokyo Photographs’ at Philadelphia Museum of Art

Exhibition dates: February 28th 2009 – July 31st 2009

 

untitled-rose-1984

 

Daido Moriyama
‘Untitled (Rose)’
1984

 

viaduct-1-bunkyo-ku-tokyo-1981

 

Daido Moriyama
‘Viaduct 1, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, 1981′

 

“Daidō Moriyama is one of the most important and exciting Japanese photographers of our time, having made prolific, often experimental pictures of modern urban life since the 1960s. This exhibition showcases a group of approximately 45 photographs made in and around Tokyo in the 1980s, when Moriyama focused his mature aesthetic on the city with renewed intensity.

Moriyama approaches the world with an equalizing eye, capturing disparate peripheral details that in themselves account for little, but together add up to a powerful diagnosis of modern experience. In 1980s Japan such details encompassed the disorienting and sometimes brutal juxtaposition of traditional culture and modernization, most visible in the glut of consumer goods and images. But in Moriyama’s photographs these subjects appear alongside the banal elements of any streetscape: a derelict patch of pavement and wall, a car with an aggressive key scratch running its full length, even a single rose blossom.

Moriyama’s urban imagery shares some of its qualities with other great street photography of the 20th century, and he has cited the photographs of William Klein as a major influence. But his work involves strong responses to a wide range of modern art and literature, including photographs and graphic designs by many of his Japanese contemporaries, Andy Warhol’s silkscreens, and the novels of Jack Kerouac and James Baldwin. Moriyama’s mix of international and Japanese trends to represent modern Tokyo is one source of his photography’s power, and the exhibition will include a small number of works by other artists to demonstrate his visual sensibility, including prints and photographs by Warhol, Klein, Shomei Tomatsu, and Tadanori Yokoo.”

Text from the Philadelphia Museum of Art website

 

Daido Moriyama. 'Tokyo, 1981'

 

Daido Moriyama
‘Tokyo, 1981′

 

Daido Moriyama. 'Untitled (Train Yard)' 1982

 

Daido Moriyama
‘Untitled (Train Yard)’
1982

 

Daido Moriyama. 'Untitled (Twin Chairs)' 1986

 

Daido Moriyama
‘Untitled (Twin Chairs)’
1986

 

“In 1960 Moriyama took up the study of photography under Takeji Iwamiya and one year later moved to Tokyo hoping to join the eminent photographerss’ group VIVO, a short-lived cooperative whose members were exploring and confronting the revolution in modern Japanese society in their work. Although VIVO disbanded a week after Moriyama’s arrival in the capital, the visual and existential turmoil they explored would become one of the core subjects in Moriyama’s photographs. His gritty, black and white images of streets and highways express the conflicting realities of contemporary Japan, the disorienting and sometimes brutal juxtaposition of traditional culture and modernization. 

“It is a pleasure to present this group of photographs from the Museum’s collection reflecting the distinctive vision of Daidō Moriyama, who is undoubtedly among the great urban photographers of the 20th century,” Curator of Photographs Peter Barberie said. “These particular images focus on the visual experience of modern-day Tokyo, but through them Moriyama is documenting broader global trends of modernization, and at the same time exploring the unique aesthetic qualities of his medium.” 

His early images from the 1960s and 70s tested the notion of photographic artistry in an extreme fashion. He chose seemingly arbitrary subjects, and experimented with motion and overexposure to create blurred or nearly blank images, adopting an anti-aesthetic position. Other Japanese photographers were also working in this vein, but Moriyama’s 1972 book Bye Bye Photography became the defining statement of this particular style. The later photographs presented in this exhibition are generally sharper in focus but maintain the peripheral vantage point that Moriyama so often employed, as well as the seemingly random content. His images capture with an equalizing eye the kinds of disparate peripheral details that litter the modern urban experience: shadows, cars, and abandoned corners, as well as the glut of consumer goods and commodities. 

Profoundly influenced by Japanese photographers Eikoh Hosoe and Shomei Tomatsu, Moriyama’s vision was also enriched by his acquaintance with the work of American photographers William Klein and Robert Frank. Like them he practiced a new, more action-oriented street photography. His images are often out of focus, vertiginously tilted, or invasively cropped. 

 

His work also involves strong responses to a wide range of modern art and literature, including photographs and graphic designs by many of his Japanese contemporaries, Andy Warhol’s silkscreens, and the novels of Jack Kerouac and James Baldwin. The exhibition will include a small number of works by other artists to demonstrate his visual sensibility, including prints and photographs by Warhol, Klein, Shomei Tomatsu, and Tadanori Yokoo.”

Text from the Artdaily.org website

 

Daido Moriyama. 'Shinagawa 1981'

 

Daido Moriyama
‘Shinagawa 1981′

 

Daido Moriyama. 'Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, Midnight 1986'

 

Daido Moriyama
‘Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, Midnight 1986′

 

 

All images copyright Daido Moriyama

Daido Moriyama website

Philadelphia Museum of Art website

23
Mar
09

The Passing of Memory: resurrecting a photograph for the series ‘The Shape of Dreams’

 

“Fragments of harmonic lines assemble and collapse as the meaning of each interval must be continually revised in light of the unfolding precession of further terms in an ultimately unsustainable syntax. The mind’s ear tries to remember the sum of passing intervals, but without the ability to incorporate them into larger identifiable units each note inevitably lapses back into silence, surrendered to the presence of the currently sounding tone, itself soon to give way to another newly isolated note in its turn.”

Craig Dworkin1 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

 

Marcus Bunyan
‘Oakland, 7-’51′ from the series ‘The Shape of Dreams’
2009

 

 

Thinking about this photograph

I bought an album on Ebay that contained an anonymous aviator with snapshots of his life: photographs of him in Oakland, California, Cologne in Germany and flying out of Italy – photos of his buddies and the work they did, the places they visited, the fun they had.

This one photograph has haunted me more than the rest.

Who was he? What was his life like? Do he get married and have children? Is he still alive?

When scanned the image was so dirty, so degraded, that I spent 7 weeks of my life cleaning and restoring the photograph working all hours of the day and night –  I was obsessive almost to the point of obstinacy. Many times I nearly gave up as I thought the task impossible – thousands of dots and hairs inhabited the surface of the image and, surely, it was just another photograph one of millions that circle the world. Why expend so much energy just to resurrect this one particular image?

 

shape-v-man-plane-before

Before

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

After

 

 

Some things that can be said about this photograph

It is small measuring only 9cm high by 7.5 cm wide

It is printed on cheap glossy photographic paper which now has a slight yellow tinge to it.

The image is creased at top left.

The back is annotated ‘Oakland, 7-’51′

The dark roundel with the wing on the side of the aircraft has faint text that spells out the words ‘AERO ACE’.

There is no engine in the aircraft and it looks from the parts lying on the ground that the aircraft is being broken up or used for spares.

The man is wearing work overalls with unidentifiable insignia on them, a worker on the aircraft being dismantled or just a fitter on the base.

Someone standing on the ground has obviously called out the man’s name and he has turned around in response to the call and lent forward and put out his hand in greeting – a beautiful spontaneous response – and the photograph has been taken.

 

shape-v-man-small-before

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

 

 

Some other things that can be said about this photograph in passing

The sun splashes the man’s face. He smiles at the camera.

His arm rests gently on the metal of the aircraft, shielded from the sun.

Perhaps he wears a ring on his fifth finger.

He is blind.

 

This photograph is an individual, isolated note in the fabric of time. It could easily pass into silence as memory and image fade from view. Memories of the individual form the basis for remembering and photographs act as an aide-memoire both for individual memory and the collective memory that flows from individual memory. Memory is always and only partial and fragmentary – who is remembering, what are they remembering, when do they remember, what prompts them to remember and how these memories are incorporated into the collective memory, an always mediated phenomenon that manifests itself in the actions and statements of individuals, are important questions.

Images are able to trigger memories and emotional responses to a particular time and place, but since this photograph has no personal significance what is going on here? Why did I cry when I was restoring it? What emotional association was happening inside me?

“To remember is always to give a reading of the past, a reading which requires linguistic skills derived from the traditions of explanation and story-telling within a culture and which [presents] issues in a narrative that owes its meaning ultimately to the interpretative practices of a community of speakers. This is true even when what is remembered is one’s own past experience… [The] mental image of the past … becomes a phenomenon of consciousness only when clothed with words, and these owe their meaning to social practices of communication.”2

 

shape-v-tyre-feet-before

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

 

 

His blindness stares at us while underneath his body walks away into his passing.

I have become the speaker for this man, for this image.

His brilliant face is our brilliant face.

 

In this speaking, the phenomenon of making the image conscious, the gap between image and presence, between the photo and its shadow has collapsed. There is no past and present but a collective resonance that has presence in images.

Such reasoning questions the separation of past and present in a fundamental way. As a consequence it becomes fruitless to discuss whether or not a particular event or process remembered corresponds to the actual past: all that matters are the specific conditions under which such memory is constructed as well as the personal and social implications of memories held.”3

‘The personal and social implications of memories held’. Or not held if images are lost in passing.

It is such a joyous image, the uplifted hand almost in supplication. I feel strong connection to this man. I bring his presence into consciousness in my life, and by my thinking into the collective memory. Perhaps the emotional response is that as I get older photographs of youth remind me of the passing of time more strongly. Perhaps the image reminds me of the smiling father I never had. These are not projections of my own feelings but resonances held in the collective memory.

As Susan Sontag has observed,

“Remembering is an ethical act, has ethical value in and of itself. Memory is, achingly, the only relation we can have with the dead. So the belief that remembering is an ethical act is deep in our natures as humans, who know we are going to die, and who mourn those who in the normal course of things die before us – grandparents, parents, teachers and older friends.”4

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

 

 

Remembering is an ethical act. It is also a voluntary act. We can choose not to remember. We can choose to forget. In this photograph I choose to remember, to not let pass into the dark night of the soul. My mind, eyes and heart are open.

This is not a simulacra of an original image but an adaptation, an adaptation that tries to find resonances between past and present, between image and shadow. As such this photograph is no longer an isolated tone that inevitably lapses back into silence but part of a bracketing of time that is convulsingly beautiful in it’s illumination, it’s presence. The individual as collective, collected memory present for all to see.

The form of formlessness, the shape of dreams.

 

M Bunyan

 

 

 

1. Dworkin, Craig. Grammar Degree Zero (Introduction to Re-Writing Freud ) (2005) [Online] Cited 23rd March, 2009 at http://english.utah.edu/eclipse/Editor/DworkinFreud.pdf

2. Holtorf, Cornelius. “Social Memory,” part of a doctoral thesis Monumental Past: The Life-histories of Megalithic Monuments in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Germany) submitted 1998 [Online] Cited on 23rd March 2009 at https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/citd/holtorf/2.7.html

3. Ibid.,

4. Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2003, p.103.

20
Mar
09

Review: ‘Order and disorder: archives and photography’ at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th October 2008 – 19th April 2009

 

“Archives contain elements of truth and error, order and disorder and are infinitely fascinating. As both collections of records and repositories of data, archives are able to shape history and memory depending on how, when and by whom the materials are accessed. Their vastness allows for multiple readings to be unravelled over time.

Photography is naturally associated with archives because of its inherent ability to record, store and organise visual images. With this in mind, this exhibition brings together artists drawn largely from the permanent collection of the NGV who explore the idea of archives as complex, living and occasionally mysterious systems of knowledge. Several of the selected artists act as archivists, collecting and ordering their own unique bodies of photographs, while others create disorder by critiquing the ideas and systems of archives.”

Text from the NGV International website

 

 Patrick Pound. 'Writing in a library' 1996

 

Patrick POUND
New Zealander 1962–, worked in Australia 1989–
Writing in a library 1996
photocopies, oil stick, card
169.4 x 127.2 cm (image); 180.2 x 137.2 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1997
© Patrick Pound  

 

 

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”

T.S. Eliot


An interesting exhibition is presented in the permanent third floor photography gallery at NGV International, Melbourne on a subject that deserved a much more rigorous investigation than could been undertaken in this small gallery space. Presenting single works by Ed Ruscha, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Patrick Pound, Robert Rooney, Simon Obarzanek, Penelope Davis, Candid Hofer, Linda Judge and Charles Green and Lyndell Brown the works seek to investigate the nature of the relationship between photography and the archive, between the semi-permanences of an archival memory and the spaces of a transgressive intertexuality marked by fragmentary, ironic counter-performances.

As noted in the catalogue essay by NGV curator Maggie Finch the archive is a place for holding knowledge that contains elements of truth and error, order and disorder; archives are able to shape history and memory, depending on how, when and by whom the records are accessed. Any disruption of order, governance and authority can lead to alternative readings and interpretations as the arcane ‘mysteries’ of the methods of classification are overturned. Since Victorian times when the body came under the self-surveillance of the camera and was found wanting, photographs have documented the faces of criminals, the physiognomy of degeneration and the fever of war.

As Yiannis Papatheodorou has observed when reviewing Jacques Derrida Mal d’Archive

“Derrida declares that since the dominant power of the archive derives from the economy of knowledge, it also provides the institutional responsibility of the interpretation. The localisation of the information transforms the inscription, provided by the function of the archive, into the impression of a memory’s trace, conscious or unconscious …
The preservation of memory, the access to information, the “resources” of the sources and the working environment are not just the representation of a future memory. They are active practices and discourses that create hierarchies and exclusions. The archives are the languages of the past, activated however dialogically, according to scientific and social demands. The content of our choice is marked by the way we are seeking information. Far from being an abstract principle, our choice is an ideologically oriented negotiation closely related to the politics of interpretation.”1


An there’s the rub. Not only is this exhibition a reordering of an unpublished memory by the artist (for that is what an archive is, a unique unpublished memory whereas a book has multiple copies) it is also a reiteration of the authority of the gallery itself, the “institutional responsibility of the interpretation.”2 Deciding what was in this exhibition and what to leave out creates hierarchies of inclusion and exclusion – and in this case the inclusions are mainly ‘safe’ works, ones that challenge the ontology of existence, the cataloguing of reality in a slightly ironic way but oh – nothing too shocking! nothing too disordered! Nothing here then of the archive of images that substantiate the horrors of war, the trans/disfiguration of men in both World Wars for example. There are few images to haunt us, none to refresh our memories in a problematic way.

 

Ed Ruscha. 'Every Building on Sunset Strip' 1966

 

Ed Ruscha. 'Every Building on Sunset Strip' 1966

 

Ed Ruscha. 'Every Building on Sunset Strip' 1966

 

Ed RUSCHA
American 1937–
Every building on the Sunset Strip 1966 
artist book: photo-offset lithographs, letterpress, concertina, cardboard cover, silver-coated plastic-covered slipcase, 1st edition
17.8 x 760.7 cm (open); 17.8 x 14.4 x 0.8 cm (closed); 18.6 x 14.6 x 1.4 cm (slipcase)
Private collection, Melbourne
© Ed Ruscha, courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York

 

The more successful pieces, the works that challenge the order of the archive (“what is no longer archived in the same way is no longer lived in the same way”)3, are the ones by Ed Ruscha (above), Penelope Davis and Simon Obarzaneck (below).

Ruschas vertical inverted cityscape is trapped in a display cabinet opened out on the horizontal plane in concertina format, like one of those optical illusion images in which you see an image looking from one direction and a different image from the other direction. Ruscha’s personal experience of driving down Sunset Strip in Los Angeles and his anthropological recording of the urban experience has been disseminated in a mass produced ‘artists’ book. No unique unpublished archive here. Beneath the facades of the shops other narratives emerge – images are stitched together, cars chopped off, people dismembered – all in a very linear, conceptual way; a journey from one point to another, one that is both subjective (the voice  and hand of the author) and objective (the en masse production of the book).

As Chris Balaschak has noted, “The images, taken during the day, capture only the facades of the buildings. Ignorance is given to cars or people, both of which are often cut in half between separate exposures. The imperfections of matching the facades are cracks along Ruscha’s drive. Through these cracks we find Ruscha, not such an anonymous author after all. Splitting cars in two, and mismatching facades we become keenly aware of the passage of time. The facades of buildings may appear as stage sets but they are active points on other itineraries, anticipating future and past narratives.”4

This is Ruscha’s trace through the city but also our intersection with his journey, our chance to make our own itineraries as Balaschak in his insightful writing rightly points out. The fragmentary dismembering becomes the space between, the disorder of the linear into a heterotopic space of remembering. We the viewer create our own narrative, flitting through the cracks in the archive of memory, the photographer, the author of our own journey.

 

Penelope Davis. 'Shelf' 2008

 

Penelope DAVIS
Australian 1963–
Shelf (2008)
from the Fiction-Non-Fiction series 2007–08
type C photograph
90.0 x 70.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2008 (2008.100)

 

 

Penelope Davis photograms are luminous objects. She makes resin casts of the spine of discarded books and places the casts directly onto photographic paper and then exposes them to light. The books glow and hover in the blackness, the words on the spine reversed. Stripped of their context, of their memory, they become ethereal books, phantom texts, liminal images that hover between what is known and what is imagined. As Davis has said, Most people assume that when they look at a photo that they are looking at the thing photographed – but they are not. They are looking at a photo. Books and photographic images and archives are enigmatic – you can’t be sure of a singular definition or meaning.”

Davis is ‘messing around’ with the idea of veracity, the truth of photography and the ordering of the archive of our mind through the images we collate. We seek to grasp the original memory of an event, of the reading and ordering of our life through images and none is available to us, for as Foucault has observed memories are only ever fragmentary and distorted representations, partial truths a best. Like Jorge Luis Borges’ journey into the infinite universe of The Library of Babel for Foucault the psyche is not an archive but a mirror, like the shining silver foil surface of the cover of the Ed Ruscha book:

“The search for the self is a journey into a mental labyrinth that takes random courses and ultimately ends at impasses. The memory fragments recovered along the way cannot provide us with a basis for interpreting the overall meaning of the journey. The meanings that we derive from our memories are only partial truths, and their value is ephemeral. For Foucault, the psyche is not an archive but only a mirror. To search the psyche for the truth about ourselves is a futile task because the psyche can only reflect the images we have conjured up to describe ourselves. Looking into the psyche, therefore, is like looking into the mirror image of a mirror. One sees oneself reflected in an image of infinite regress. Our gaze is led not toward the substance of our beginnings but rather into the meaninglessness of previously discarded images of the self.”5


This leads us nicely onto the images of Simon Obarzanek.

In a great series of photographs, the only ones of this exhibition that seemed to haunt me (as Susan Sontag says images do) Obarzanek photographs people in an ordered almost scientific manner. Photographed face on against a non-contextual background using a low depth of field, these repetitive, collective, unnamed people remind me of the images of Galton. But here the uniformity is overwhelmed by quirky differences – the placement of eyes and lips seem large offering a strange, surreal physiognomy. These images resonate, the challenge, they remain with you, they question the order of things as no other photograph in this exhibition does. From simplicity comes eloquence.


Simon Obarzanek. '6 faces from 123 faces' (2000–02)

 

Simon OBARZANEK
Israeli/Australian 1968–, worked in United States 1995–2001
6 faces from 123 faces (2000–02)
gelatin silver photographs
(a) 33.1 x 25.4 cm; (b) 33.4 x 25.4 cm; (c) 33.2 x 25.3 cm; (d) 33.4 x 25.4 cm; (e) 33.4 x 25.4 cm; (f) 33.4 x 25.4 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds arranged by Loti Smorgon for Contemporary Australian Photography, 2003 (2003.86.a-f)
© Simon Obarzanek

 

 

To finish I must address the elephant in the room, in fact two elephants!

There is not one digital photograph contained in the exhibition, the work being collage, Type C colour or black and white silver gelatin prints. There is no mention in the catalogue of the crisis of cultural memory that is now permeating our world. Some believe the ever expanding digital archive, the Internet, threatens our lived memories “amidst the process of the ‘digitisation of culture’ and the new possibilities of storing.”6 This vision entails the fear of loosing cultural contents, hitting the delete button so that  memory passes into forgetting. This is a vision to which I do not subscribe, but the issue needed to be addressed in this exhibition: how are digital technologies altering our re-assemblance of memory, altering photography’s ability inherent ability to record, store and organise visual images? What about the aura of the original or was there never such a thing?

Furthermore, it would seem that with photographs becoming less and less a fixed essence, with the meaning of the photograph more and more divorced from its referent, with the spectators look the key to reading photographs and the performance of the photograph a cut and paste reality then perhaps we are left not with the two polar opposites of order and disorder but some orthogonal spaces in-between.

The second elephant in the room in the gallery space itself.

Whilst the curators of photography at the National Gallery of Victoria do an amazing job running large exhibitions such as the Andreas Gursky and Rennie Ellis shows that have starred this year, the NGV ‘International’ is shooting itself in the foot with the current permanent photography gallery space. Small, jaded and dour it seems an addendum to other larger spaces in the gallery and to be honest photography and Melbourne deserves better. Personally I feel more alive in the fashion gallery that is on the floor below and that, for an photographer, is a hard thing to say.
As the theme for this exhibition deserved a greater in depth investigation so the gallery needs to expand it’s horizons and give the permanent photography gallery a redesign and overhaul. Where is the life and passion of contemporary photography displayed in a small space for all to see in a gallery that sees itself as ‘International’? In an occularcentric world the key word is intertexuality: the gallery space should reflect the electri-city, the mixing of a gallery design ethos with images to surround us in a space that makes us passionate about contemporary photography. Now that would really be a new order of things!

M Bunyan

 

 

1.  Papatheodorou, Yiannis. History in the promised land of memory. Review of  Jacques Derrida, Mal d’Archive, Paris, Éd. Galilée, 1995 [Online] Cited on 20th March 2009. http://www.historein.gr/vol1_rPapatheodorou.htm 

2. The archive is understood as collective reservoir of knowledge fulfilling diverse functions and conditioned by three main factors: conservation, selection and accessibility. How are contents stored and which media are used to conserve them? What is selected for storage and what is decided to be cleared out and thus forgotten? Who decides what is archived and who has access to the resources? All these questions paint the archive as a political space where relations of power cross aspects of culture and collective identity.” 

Assmann, A. (2003) Erinnerungsräume, Formen und Wandlungen des kulturellen Gedächtnis. [Memory Spaces, Forms and Transformations of Cultural Memory] Special paperback editon, 1st edition publ. 1999, München: Beck, p.343-346.

3. Derrida, J. (1996) Archive Fever, A Freudian Impression. Transl. by E. Prenowitz, p.18 orig. publ. as ‘Mal d’ Archive: une impresion freudienne’ in 1995, Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press.

4. Balaschak, Chris. Itineraries [part 3] [Online] Cited on 20th March 2009. http://glowlab.com/lab2/artist_project.php?project_id=114&artist_id=5

5. Hutton, Patrick. “Foucault, Freud, and the Technologies of the Self,” in Martin, Luther and Gutman, Huck and Hutton, Patrick (eds.,). Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. London: Tavistock Publications, 1988, p.139.

6. Featherstone, M. (2000) “Archiving Cultures,” British Journal of Sociology, 51(1): 161–184.

17
Mar
09

Exhibition: ‘Hyper’ by Denis Darzacq at Australian Centre for Photography (ACP), Sydney

Exhibition dates: Friday 13th March – Sunday 12th April 2009

 

“The astonishing photographs that make up Hyper involve no digital manipulation, just close collaboration between young dancers and sportspeople as they jump for the camera to form strange, exaggerated poses and body gestures. Denis Darzacq was drawn to the trashy, consumerist nature of the French Hypermarkets (the equivalent of our supermarkets) and the hyper coloured backgrounds they provided. These supermarkets offered a sharp juxtaposition to the sublime, almost-spiritual bodies that appear to float in their aisles.

Hyper is the latest series of works by French photographer Denis Darzacq, who continues to explore the place of the individual in society, a theme which has been crucial to his work in the last few years.”

Text from the ACP website

 

Denis Darzacq. 'Hyper #3' 2007

 

Denis Darzacq
‘Hyper #3′
2007

 

Denis Darzacq. 'Hyper #7' 2007

 

Denis Darzacq
‘Hyper #7′
2007

 

These images form an interesting body of work: levitating bodies suspended between heaven and earth, neither here nor there, form a hyper-real image grounded in the context of the fluorescent isles of French supermarkets. The mainly anonymous humans look like mannequins in their inertness, frozen at the moment of throwing themselves/being thrown into the consumer environment. After his brilliant series La Chute (The Fall) Darzacq has taken people gathered in a casting call from around the town of Rouen and made their frozen bodies complicit in the mass production of the supermarket and the mass consumption of the image as tableaux vivant: the mis en scene directed by the photographer to limited effect. There is something unsettling about these images but ultimately they are unrewarding, as surface as the environment the bodies are suspended in, and perhaps this is the point.

Suspension of bodies is not a new idea in photography. Jacques Henri Lartigue used the freeze frame to good effect long before Henri Cartier-Bresson came up with his ‘decisive moment’: playing with the effect of speed and gravity in an era of Futurism, Lartigue used the arrested movement of instant photography then afforded by smaller cameras and faster film to capture the spirit of liberation in the ‘Belle Epoque’ period before the First World War.

“All the jumping and flying in Lartigue’s photographs, it looks like the whole world at the turn of the century is on springs or something. There’s a kind of spirit of liberation that’s happening at the time and Lartigue matches that up with what stop action photography can do at the time, so you get these really dynamic pictures. And for Lartigue part of the joke, most of the time, is that these people look elegant but they are doing these crazy stunts.”

Kevin Moore (Lartigue biographer)

BBC Photography Genius of Photography website

 

Jacques Henri Lartigue. 'Bichonnade, 40, Rue Cortambert, Paris' 1905

 

Jacques Henri Lartigue
‘Bichonnade, 40, Rue Cortambert, Paris’
1905

 

Jacques Henri Lartigue. mr-folletete-plitt-et-tupy-paris-mars-1912

 

Jacques Henri Lartigue
‘Mr Folletete (Plitt) et Tupy, Paris, March 1912′

 

Jacques Henri Lartigue. 'Fuborg' 1929

 

Jacques Henri Lartigue
‘Fuborg’
1929

 

Herni Cartier-Bresson. 'Behind Saint Lazare Station, Paris, France' 1932

 

Herni Cartier-Bresson
‘Behind Saint Lazare Station, Paris, France’
1932

 

One of the greatest if not the greatest ever series of photographs of levitating bodies is that by American photographer Aaron Siskind. Called ‘Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation’ (sometimes reversed as ‘Terrors and Pleasures of Levitation’ as on the George Eastman House website) they feature divers suspended in mid-air with the sky as their blank background canvas. The images formal construction makes the viewer concentrate on the state of the body, its positioning in the air, and the look on the face of some of the divers caught between joy and fear.

“Highly formal, yet concerned with their subject as well as the idea they communicate, The Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation photographs depict the dark shapes of divers suspended mid-leap against a blank white sky. Shot with a hand-held twin-lens reflex camera at the edge of Lake Michigan in Chicago, the balance and conflict suggested by the series’ title is evident in the divers’ sublime contortions.”

Museum of Contemporary Photography website

 

Aaron Siskind. 'Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation #37' 1956

 

Aaron Siskind
‘Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation #37′
1956

 

siskind-pleasures-and-terrors-of-levitaiton-1956

 

Aaron Siskind
‘Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation #63′
1956

 

Aaron Siskind. 'Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation #298' 1956

 

Aaron Siskind
‘Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation #298′
1956

 

Aaron Siskind. 'Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation #99' 1956

 

Aaron Siskind
‘Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation #99′
1956

 

Aaron Siskind. 'Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation #491' 1956

 

Aaron Siskind
‘Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation #491′
1956

 

For more images see the George Eastman House website

 

Perhaps because of their air of balance and conflict we can return to these vibrant images again and again and they never loose their freshness, intensity and wonder. The same cannot be said of Denis Darzacq ‘Hyper’ photographs. Slick and surface like the consumer society on which they comment the somnambulistic bodies are more like floating helium balloons, perhaps even tortured souls leaving the earth. Reminiscent of the magicians trick where the girl is suspended and a hoop passed around her body to prove the suspension is real these photographs really are more smoke and mirrors than any comment on the binary between being and having as some commentators have suggested.1 There is no spirit of liberation here, no sublime revelation as the seemingly lifeless bodies are trapped between the supermarket shelves, as oblivious to and as anonymous as the products that surround them. Of course the well shot images possess a sense of fun as Darzacq plays with our understanding of reality but are they more than that or is the Emperor just wearing very thin consumer clothing?

M Bunyan

 

number-2

 

Denis Darzacq
‘Hyper #2′
2007

 

Denis Darzacq. 'Hyper #13' 2007

 

Denis Darzacq
‘Hyper #13′
2007

 

 

Denis Darzacq website

Denis Darzacq ‘Hyper’ images

Australian Centre for Photography (ACP) website

 

            

1. “Denis Darzacq is drawn to the contradictions he sees, or would like to see, in everyday life. Indeed his past series have reflected this — bold naked people walking through bland and conformist suburban housing estates, groups of immigrants in the classic and serene poses found in French masterpieces, French youths appearing mid-flight or mid-fall in bleak, unpopulated urban landscapes.

Darzacq’s practice includes press photography. Just last year he won the prestigious World Press Photo Award. It is intriguing to see how his “anthropological” press photographer’s eye and sensibility makes its way into his fine art work.


His newest series, Hyper, is concerned with the binary between being and having.

Hyper refers to the Hypermarkets (French equivalent to our supermarkets) in which these works are shot. Darzacq was drawn to the trashy, pop nature of the Hypermarkets and the hyper coloured background they provided.


Here he explores the idea of the body in levitation, using straight photography and no PhotoShop tricks. Shot in Rouen with subjects sourced from a casting call in the area, these images offer a sharp juxtaposition, as sublime, almost-spiritual bodies float within that epitome of mass production and mindless consumption.

There is humour here too, as these young people appear to achieve the impossible — levitation — in front of products claiming similarly unreachable outcomes, such as perfect hair, eternal youth, a slim waist no matter how much you eat, a germ-free home……



Not all these bodies are in calm repose, however. There are those caught as if in the aftermath of a violent act — a punch, a throw, a kick, Darzacq tells me that areas around Rouen have had a bad reputation for youth violence — and so here we see this played out quite dramatically, almost ballet-like in the clinical, normally “safe” environment of the hypermarket.

For me, someone who hates going to the supermarket and avoids it all costs, these images are especially surreal — for here they are devoid of the chaos and hubbub of the usual grocery shopping experience, goods are within easy reach, aisles are clear. And in my mind the young man leaping in front of the stack of trolleys is doing so because he has found one without a dodgy wheel and an annoying squeak.


These images are also disturbing. It is hard to believe that they are real — a young man in mid air, snap frozen like the vegetables in the aisle he is hovering above? But Darzacq is playing with us. We are being manipulated, but not in the way we think we are. They are both real (in the sense that the image has not been doctored) and not real, since what we are seeing is the fraction of a second of a body in motion — an image impossible to contemplate in reality.

It is these types of contradictions that of course make life and people  — and photography — so fascinating.”

Amy Barrett-Lennard, Director Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts


Barrett-Lennard, Amy. “Hyper” [Online] cited 16th March, 2009 on Lens Culture: Photograph and Shared Territories website.

 

 

 

 

14
Mar
09

Exhibition: ‘Yayoi Kusama: Mirrored Rooms’ at Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 24th February – 8th June 2009

 

 

 

“Discover the work of internationally acclaimed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama with this major exhibition that spans decades of her artistic practice.

Yayoi Kusama: Mirrored Years demonstrates the enduring force of Yayoi Kusama. Renowned early installations such as Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field (1965) along with recent immersive environments including Fireflies on the Water (2000) and Clouds (2008) provide insight into the creative energy of this extraordinary artist and her lifelong preoccupation with the perceptual, visual and physical worlds.

Working across different media and forms that include painting, collage, sculpture, installation and film, as well as performance and its documentation, Kusama creates works that reveal a fixation with repetition, pattern and accumulation. Describing herself as an “obsessive artist”, her work is intensely sensual, infused with autobiographical, psychological and sexual content.”

Text from the MCA website

 

Yayoi Kusama. 'Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli's Field' 1965

 

Yayoi Kusama
‘Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field’
1965

 

Yayoi Kusama. 'Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli's Field' 1965

 

Yayoi Kusama
‘Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field’
1965
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 2008

 

 

Rewind 1960

Visual hallucinations of polka dots since childhood have inspired the most significant works of this avant-gardist, who says creating art “saved” her during her lifelong battle with mental illness.

Interview by Natalie Reilly

 

This photograph (see above, top, for the image of her in 1965) shows a creative work that I made in New York in 1960. I was 31 years old at the time and my inspiration was the inundation and proliferation of polka dots. The work represents the evolution of my original formative process. Of all the pieces I have made, I like this one the best. It was my intention to create an interminable image by using mirrors and multiplying red polka dots.
I was born in Nagano Prefecture , a mountainous region in Japan. The youngest of four children, I have one sister and two brothers.
Since childhood, I have loved to paint pictures and create art forms. [Kusama has suffered from obsessive thinking and visual hallucinations since early childhood. the hallucinations - often of polka dots, or "nets" as she calls them - have become the inspiration for much of her work.] I did many artworks in great numbers in my younger days.
I went to Seattle in 1957 where I had my first solo exhibition in the US. I moved  to New York in 1958. Japan in those days was too conservative for avant-garde art to be accepted. [By 1961, Kusama was an active participant in the avant-garde movement in New York. Her art, which often included performance and controversial themes such as nudity and protests against the Vietnam War, drew acclaim for art critics and other artists such as Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg.]
I was deeply moved by the efforts the artists in New York were making then to develop a new history for art. I owe what I am today to many people in the art circles in Japan, the US and Europe who enthusiastically supported my art and gave me a boost into the international art scene.
Artists Georgia O’Keefe and Joseph Cornell were among the many friends who helped me, including Donald Judd and [writer and activist] Lucy Lippard who appreciated the originality of my art.  [in 1962 at the height of her success in New York, Kusama's mental health began to suffer as she grew more paranoid about other artists copying her work. Late that year, sho covered up all the windows in her studio in an attempt to "shut out the world", and by November she was hospitalised after suffering a nervous breakdown.]
I came back to Japan in 1973, because my health had deteriorated. I wanted to create art in a quiet atmosphere. I once said, “if it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago” an that’s still true. I do art in order to pursue my philosophy of life seeking truth in art.

Reilly, Natalie. “Rewind 1960,” in Boleyn, Alison (ed.,). Sunday Life: The Sunday Age Magazine. Melbourne: Fairfax Magazines. February 15th 2009, p.30.

 

Yayoi Kusama. 'Fireflies on the Water' 2000

 

Yayoi Kusama
‘Fireflies on the Water’
2000

 

Yayoi Kusuama. 'The Moment of Regeneration' 2004

 

Yayoi Kusama
‘The Moment of Regeneration’
2004
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 2008

 

Yayoi Kusama. 'Invisible Life' 2000

 

Yayoi Kusama
‘Invisible Life’
2000
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 2008

 

Yayoi Kusama. 'Clouds' 1999 and 'Love Forever' 2005

 

Yayoi Kusama
‘Clouds’ 1999 and ‘Love Forever’ 2005
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 2008

 

Yayoi Kusama. 'Narcissus Garden' 1966

 

Yayoi Kusama
‘Narcissus Garden’
1966

 

 

Many thanks to Ed Jansen for the use of his installation photographs of this exhibition at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam in 2008. See the whole set of his photographs on Flickr.

 MCA website

Yayoi Kusama website




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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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