Posts Tagged ‘displacement

07
May
17

Exhibition: ‘The Unsettled Lens’ at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art

Exhibition dates: 18th February – 14th May 2017

 

Not a great selection of media images… I would have liked to have seen more photographs from what is an interesting premise for an exhibition: the idea of the uncanny as a sense of displacement, as a difficulty in reconciling the familiar with the unknown.

The three haunting – to haunt, to be persistently and disturbingly present in (the mind) – images by Wyn Bullock are my favourites in the posting.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Since the early twentieth-century, photographers have crafted images that hinge on the idea of the uncanny, a psychological phenomenon existing, according to psychoanalysis, at the intersection between the reassuring and the threatening, the familiar and the new. The photographs in this exhibition build subtle tensions based on the idea of the uncanny as a sense of displacement, as a difficulty in reconciling the familiar with the unknown. By converting nature into unrecognisable abstract impressions of reality, by intruding on moments of intimacy, by weaving enigmatic narratives, and by challenging notions of time and memory, these images elicit unsettling sensations and challenge our intellectual mastery of the new. This exhibition showcases new acquisitions in photography and photographs from the permanent collection, stretching from the early twentieth-century to the year 2000.

 

 

Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879-1973) 'Moonrise, Mamaroneck, New York' 1904, printed 1981

 

Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879-1973)
Moonrise, Mamaroneck, New York
1904, printed 1981
Photogravure
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Museum purchase with funds provided by Ms. Frances Kerr

 

William A. Garnett. 'Sand Bars, Colorado River, Near Needles, California' 1954

 

William A. Garnett (1916-2006)
Sand Bars, Colorado River, Near Needles, California
1954
Silver gelatin print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art

 

Elliott Erwitt (American, born France 1928) 'Cracked Glass with Boy, Colorado' 1955, printed 1980

 

Elliott Erwitt (American, born France 1928)
Cracked Glass with Boy, Colorado
1955, printed 1980
Gelatin silver print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Gift of Raymond W. Merritt

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Navigation Without Numbers' 1957

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Navigation Without Numbers
1957
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas V. Duncan

 

 

In “Navigation Without Numbers,” photographer Wynn Bullock comments on life’s dualities and contradictions through imagery and textures: the soft, inviting bed and the rough, rugged walls; the bond of mother and child, and the exhaustion and isolation of motherhood; and the illuminated bodies set against the surrounding darkness. The book on the right shelf is a 1956 guide on how to pilot a ship without using mathematics. Its title, Navigation Without Numbers, recalls the hardship and confusion of navigating through the dark, disorienting waters of early motherhood.

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Child in Forest' 1951

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Child in Forest
1951
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas V. Duncan

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975) 'Child on Forest Road' 1958, printed 1973

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Child on Forest Road
1958, printed 1973
Gelatin silver print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Lent by Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas V. Duncan

 

 

“Child on Forest Road,” which features the artist’s daughter, brings together a series of dualities or oppositions in a single image: ancient forest and young child, soft flesh and rough wood, darkness and light, safe haven and vulnerability, communion with nature and seclusion. In so doing, Bullock reflects on his own attempt to relate to nature and to the strange world implied by Einstein’s newly theorized structure of the universe.

 

Ruth Bernhard (American, born Germany, 1905-2006) 'In the Box - Horizontal' 1962

 

Ruth Bernhard (American, born Germany, 1905-2006)
In the Box – Horizontal
1962
Gelatin silver print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Museum purchase

 

Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993) 'Untitled [dead bird and sand]' 1967

 

Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
Untitled (dead bird and sand)
1967
Gelatin silver print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Gift of the Christian Keesee Collection

 

Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879-1973) 'Balzac, The Open Sky - 11 P.M.' 1908

 

Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879-1973)
Balzac, The Open Sky – 11 P.M.
1908
Photogravure
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Museum purchase with funds provided by Ms. Frances Kerr

 

 

Edward Steichen, who shared similar artistic ambitions with Symbolist sculptor, Auguste Rodin, presented Rodin’s Balzac as barely decipherable and as an ominous silhouette in the shadows. In Steichen’s photograph, Balzac is a pensive man contemplating human nature and tragedy, a “Christ walking in the desert,” as Rodin himself admiringly described it. Both Rodin and Steichen chose Balzac as their subject due to the French writer’s similar interest in psychological introspection.

 

Ralph Gibson (American, b. 1939) 'Untitled (Woman with statue)' 1974, printed 1981

 

Ralph Gibson (American, b. 1939)
Untitled (Woman with statue)
1974, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Gift of Carol and Ray Merritt

 

William A. Garnett (1916-2006) 'Two Trees on Hill with Shadow, Paso Robles, CA' 1974

 

William A. Garnett (1916-2006)
Two Trees on Hill with Shadow, Paso Robles, CA
1974
Silver gelatin print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art

 

Thomas Harding (American, 1911-2002) 'Barbed Wire and Tree' 1987

 

Thomas Harding (American, 1911-2002)
Barbed Wire and Tree
1987
Platinum print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Museum purchase with funds provided by Mr. Jack Coleman

 

Zeke Berman (American, b. 1951) 'Untitled (Web 2)' 1988

 

Zeke Berman (American, b. 1951)
Untitled (Web 2)
1988
Gelatin silver print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Museum purchase

 

 

In “Untitled,” New York sculptor and photographer Zeke Berman sets up a still life in the Dutch tradition – the artist presents a plane in foreshortened perspective, sumptuous fabric, and carefully balanced objects – only to dismantle it, and reduce it to a semi-abandoned stage. Spider webs act as memento mori (visual reminders of the finitude of life), while the objects, seemingly unrelated to each other and peculiarly positioned, function as deliberately enigmatic signs.

 

Stan Douglas (Canadian, b. 1960) 'Roof of the Ruskin Plant' 1992

 

Stan Douglas (Canadian, b. 1960)
Roof of the Ruskin Plant
1992
Chromogenic print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Gift of the Christian Keesee Collection

 

 

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Oklahoma City, OK 73102

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16
Dec
15

Exhibition: ‘The Aftermath of Conflict: Jo Ractliffe’s Photographs of Angola and South Africa’ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 24th August 2015 – 3rd January 2016

 

 

The photograph as unoccupied land

To be frank, I am not enamoured of these photographs. They seem to be conceptual ideas masquerading as documentary photographs that evidence a lazy way of seeing the world, one in which the untold narrative has become an empty spectacle. The story, such as it is, is only narrativised by the accompanying text. If an image cannot stand on its own two feet in and of itself without lines of text to support its supposition, then it is not doing its job properly.

The framing is sloppy and the focus of the images is poor. For example, the focus of Template for digging graves, Pomfret is the shadow at the front of the photograph, where the real focus should have been the template and the graves beyond with their horizontals and verticals. This would have made for a much stronger photograph because the foreground and the background are extraneous to the image.

Ractliffe really needs to look at the documentary photographers of the 19th century to see how it is done. The aftermath of conflict photographs of the American Civil War by photographers such as Matthew Brady, Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan (and here I am not talking about the battlefield photographs) have a robust narrative quality that this artist could only ever hope to achieve. Their photographs possess a clear and consistent vision, a deep aesthetic that is emergent, based on transparence, a ruddy darkness and textural ambience – rather than an aesthetic that is superficially descriptive of surfaces.

This lack of understanding of the depth of contested place/disputed histories can be no better illustrated than in the diptych The battlefield at Cuito Cuanavale (2009, below) whose photographs really say nothing about what went on here. The photographs are prescriptive (relating to the imposition or enforcement of a rule or method) statements constructed by the artist, with no emotion and little ambience or feeling for subject matter. They are not even very good descriptive photographs of the landscape. Photographs such as Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (2009, below) and Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa (2007, below) are worse, recording inarticulate artefacts at a level best reserved for student work.

By far the most interesting and powerful photograph is Roadside stall on the way to Viana (2007, below). This photograph is memorable as so many of the other are not, because it possesses a sense of disposition, of alienation, ambience and the weight of history all bound up in those hanging bodies.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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Many thankx to The Metropolitan Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Vacant plot near Atlantico Sul' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Vacant plot near Atlantico Sul
2007
From the series Terreno Ocupado
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

This coarse, grassy landscape appears at first glance to be empty, yet the billboard declaring “Terreno Ocupado” – Portuguese for “occupied land” – reveals this site in Luanda as both active and politically charged. It points to Angola’s long history of occupation and territorial turmoil, from the arrival of Portuguese explorers in 1483 through to the tangled twentieth-century conflicts that spilled over into neighboring countries. It also points to the contested terrain that is today’s Luanda. With this image, the opening photograph of the first series, Ractliffe sets the scene for her exploration of land, borders, and displacement, themes which thread through all the works featured here.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Woman and her baby, Roque Santeiro market' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Woman and her baby, Roque Santeiro market
2007
From the series Terreno Ocupado
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

Conflict between Luanda’s population and its governing elites forms an undercurrent to this photograph of a young woman carrying a baby across litter-strewn ground, observed by a man wearing a military beret. In September 2010, three years after Ractliffe took these photographs and following a protracted dispute between the government and the local community, the Luandan authorities closed down Roque Santeiro and relocated it to a new Chinese-built facility at Panguila, some twelve miles to the north. Although the government cited concerns over insanitary conditions and organized crime, critics argued that the relocation had more to do with repossessing prime real estate for new luxury apartments.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Woman on the footpath from Boa Vista to Roque Santeiro market' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Woman on the footpath from Boa Vista to Roque Santeiro market
2007
From the series Terreno Ocupado
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

Apparently out of breath and clutching a plastic bag, the woman in the foreground of this photograph is making her way up a faintly visible footpath and out of Ractliffe’s field of vision. A digger perches on the cliff top above her, and in the middle distance, a cluster of dwellings clings precariously to the litter-strewn side of the ravine. Boa Vista – “good view” – is one of Luanda’s largest shanty towns, and at the time of this photograph was home to over 50,000 people. Following landslides in 2001 which killed several residents, parts of the neighborhood were bulldozed and over 4,000 families were evicted from their homes and relocated to tents in other parts of the city while awaiting the construction of their new accommodation.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Video club, Roque Santeiro market' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Video club, Roque Santeiro market
2007
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 14 3/16 in. (36 cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

Before its closure in 2010, Roque Santeiro was renowned as the biggest open-air market in sub-Saharan Africa, and the center of Angola’s informal economy. Established in the 1980s and named after a popular Brazilian soap opera, it flourished during the Angolan Civil War as streams of refugees fled the countryside and came to Luanda, searching for new livelihoods. Everything was for sale in its makeshift stalls, from household items, food, and clothes, to contraband alcohol, cars, and livestock. In this photograph Ractliffe focuses on one of the market’s many video clubs, which were housed in military-style tents and screened action movies on televisions powered by generators.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) ''God with us', Pomfret' 2011

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
‘God with us’, Pomfret
2011
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm) Width: 22 1/16 in. (56 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The abandoned mining town of Pomfret is located in the far north of South Africa, near the border with Botswana. After the closure of its asbestos mine, the town was converted into a military base and used to accommodate 32 Battalion, an elite Special Forces unit made up of Angolan soldiers. When the unit was disbanded in 1993, most of the veterans and their families stayed in Pomfret, living in abject conditions without basic services and under constant threat of eviction. Ractliffe has spoken of finding graves there marked only with “Born Angola”; for the veterans whose paths ended here, death in Pomfret was “the final displacement”.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Unidentified memorial in the desert, south of Namibe I' 2009

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Unidentified memorial in the desert, south of Namibe I
2009
From the series As Terras do Fim do Mundo
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this photograph, an assemblage of objects perches on a stony outcrop, surrounded by a barren expanse of desert. The long pole protruding from the pile is topped with a ragged banner, announcing the presence of this unusual memorial, but giving little away about its exact significance. Ractliffe took this photograph close to the Cuban base at Namibe on Angola’s southwestern coast, where an extensive network of trenches, bunkers, and anti-aircraft defenses is located. As Ractliffe has remarked: “there are some very poignant things in the landscape, like these markers, that seem to say ‘I have been here, people have been here.'”

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'The battlefield at Cuito Cuanavale' (diptych left) 2009

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'The battlefield at Cuito Cuanavale' (diptych right) 2009

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
The battlefield at Cuito Cuanavale (diptych left and right)
2009
From the series As Terras do Fim do Mundo
Inkjet prints, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

Reflecting on this diptych, Ractliffe has observed that “Quite often, sites of significance don’t evidence their historical weight.” It is true that the calm landscape – muddy riverbanks weaving through a marsh – together with the small size of these prints belies the huge historical importance of their subject. In 1987-88, during the Angolan Civil War, Cuito Cuanavale was the site of the biggest battle in Africa since World War II. On one side was the armed wing of Agostinho Neto’s government, supported by their Cuban allies; on the other side was the rebel group UNITA, supported by the South African Defence Force. The outcome of the battle is still widely disputed, with both sides claiming victory.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Thorn tree, Platfontein' 2012

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Thorn tree, Platfontein
2012
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 14 3/16 in. (36 cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this photograph and the next one, “Playing soccer with marbles, Platfontein”, the placement of personal objects in a seemingly unforgiving setting hints at the tension between resilience and vulnerability negotiated by the resident community. The settlement of Platfontein is now home to veterans of 31/201 Battalion, a South African Special Forces unit made up of Angolan and Namibian San trackers who became tied up in the independence conflicts in Angola and Namibia. After the conflicts ended, many of the San veterans were relocated to Schmidtsdrift, but had to live in tents for 14 years because of a competing claim on the land from local communities. The veterans ultimately accepted financial compensation, which enabled them to buy land at Platfontein, pictured here.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Playing soccer with marbles, Platfontein' 2012

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Playing soccer with marbles, Platfontein
2012
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 10 1/4 in. (26 cm) Width: 12 13/16 in. (32.5 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this photograph and the previous one, “Thorn tree, Platfontein”, the placement of personal objects in a seemingly unforgiving setting hints at the tension between resilience and vulnerability negotiated by the resident community. The settlement of Platfontein is now home to veterans of 31/201 Battalion, a South African Special Forces unit made up of Angolan and Namibian San trackers who became tied up in the independence conflicts in Angola and Namibia. After the conflicts ended, many of the San veterans were relocated to Schmidtsdrift, but had to live in tents for 14 years because of a competing claim on the land from local communities. The veterans ultimately accepted financial compensation, which enabled them to buy land at Platfontein, pictured here.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Template for digging graves, Pomfret' 2013

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Template for digging graves, Pomfret
2013
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 14 3/16 in. (36 cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Veteran soldiers of 'Omega' 31/201 Battalion, Paulo Cassanga and Automover Kakenge, Schmidtsdrift (portrait under instruction)' 2012

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Veteran soldiers of ‘Omega’ 31/201 Battalion, Paulo Cassanga and Automover Kakenge, Schmidtsdrift (portrait under instruction)
2012
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 14 3/16 in. (36 cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The veterans’ experiences are given added poignancy in this portrait, in which they stand in front of a tarpaulin hanging untidily from a derelict building. Automover Kakenge, standing on the right, is the leader of a group of San veterans who refused to move to Platfontein after their land claim at Schmidtsdrift was unsuccessful. Kakenge has stated that “Schmidtsdrift was the ending for us […]. When we were relocated from Namibia, we had to swear, “South Africa is our land, and our house is here in Schmidtsdrift.” This attachment to the land and buildings at Schmidtsdrift is the endpoint of what Ractliffe refers to as an “epic narrative of displacement”.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'On the Road to Cuito Cuanavale I' 2009

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
On the Road to Cuito Cuanavale I
2009
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Donkey, Pomfret Asbestos Mine' 2011

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Donkey, Pomfret Asbestos Mine
2011
From the series The Borderlands
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The Aftermath of Conflict: Jo Ractliffe’s Photographs of Angola and South Africa at The Metropolitan Museum of Art beginning August 24 features 23 works produced over the past 10 years by South African artist Jo Ractliffe (born 1961). The photographs examine the landscapes of Angola and South Africa as sites of conflict and contention. Focusing on the aftermath of the Angolan Civil War and the intertwined conflict known in South Africa as the “Border War,” her photographs address themes of dispossession, history, memory, and erasure. The exhibition highlights Ractliffe’s engagement with the land and structures of Angola’s capital, Luanda, as well as with places in the Angolan and South African countryside where unmarked mass graves, minefields, and former military testing sites reveal the complex traces of the past in the present.

The 23 works on loan from the artist include single images, diptychs, and triptychs selected from three photographic series: Terreno Ocupado (2007), As Terras do Fim do Mundo (2010), and The Borderlands (2013). In Terreno Ocupado, Ractliffe establishes the city of Luanda as a multilayered place of both historical dispute and present-day struggle. Photographs highlighting the Portuguese colonial occupation of Angola and its imprint on the built environment appear alongside works depicting the often harsh economic conditions of Luanda today. By focusing on the structural instability of the city’s shanty towns, as well as the longer history of political instability threading through their foundations, these photographs question what it means for land to be occupied, abandoned, and struggled over.

The works selected from 2010’s As Terras do Fim do Mundo highlight traces of the Border War, a conflict fought in rural Angola and present-day Namibia between South Africa and its allies on one side and, on the other, the exiled Namibian liberation movement, the Angolan government, and their allies. For this series, Ractliffe traveled alongside ex-soldiers returning to the desolate places where they had fought. The images produced on these trips include photographs of unmarked mass graves, minefields, and other often-inconspicuous signs of past conflict, showing how landscape can function as a repository of histories and memories and yet not be apparent at first glance. Most of the photographs in this series appear devoid of human presence, but in a triptych featuring mural representations of the conflict’s three key political leaders – Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto, and Leonid Brezhnev – Ractliffe points more directly to notions of individual agency, culpability, and experience.

For her most recent series, The Borderlands, Ractliffe sought out sites in South Africa that were intricately connected to the history of the Border War and photographed their inhabitants amid their surroundings. The people she photographed, often the subjects of forced relocation and living in precarious conditions, exist at the intersection of the region’s troubled history and challenging present. Works from this series show how histories of violence and dispossession under apartheid intersect with these militarized landscapes.

The Aftermath of Conflict has been organized to coincide with the special exhibition Kongo: Power and Majesty, which focuses on works created by artists in present-day Angola between the 16th and 19th centuries (on view at the Metropolitan Museum September 17, 2015 – January 3, 2016). The landscapes captured by Ractliffe consider a more recent chapter of Angola’s history. The Aftermath of Conflict: Jo Ractliffe’s Photographs of Angola and South Africa is curated by Yaëlle Biro, Associate Curator in the Department of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the Metropolitan Museum, together with Dr Evelyn Owen, the 2013-2015 Mellon Curatorial Fellow at The Africa Center, New York, in collaboration with the Museum’s Department of Modern and Contemporary Art and Department of Photographs.”

Text from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Man maintaining the lawn of the Monumento de Agostinho Neto' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Man maintaining the lawn of the Monumento de Agostinho Neto
2007
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 13 3/4 in. (35 cm) Width: 13 3/4 in. (35 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

This monument to Angola’s first president Agostinho Neto (1922-79) was erected in 2001-2 as a gift from North Korea. Neto, a doctor and poet, was a founder of the MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and led the party during Angola’s struggle for independence from Portugal. When the Portuguese withdrew from Angola on November 11, 1975, with help from Cuba and in the face of competing anti-colonial factions, the MPLA seized control of Luanda and Neto became president. He went on to cultivate closer ties with the Soviet Union and other communist states. In this photograph, Ractliffe contrasts the heroic figure symbolizing freedom from colonialism shown on the monument’s pedestal with the everyday heroism of a man pushing a heavy lawnmower.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Banco Nacional de Angola (diptych left) 2007

Ractliffe-banco-nacional-RIGHT-WEB

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Banco Nacional de Angola (diptych left and right)
2007
Inkjet prints, 2015
Height: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The National Bank of Angola building was designed by Portuguese architect Vasco Regaleira and inaugurated in 1956 by Portuguese president Francisco Lopes. The building’s pink exterior, with its imposing dome and colonnade, was intended to fit in with other colonial-style buildings in Luanda. The bank’s lavish décor provides a dramatic contrast to many of Ractliffe’s other photographs of the city, especially the marble atrium, which features tiled murals portraying the arrival of the Portuguese in Angola. In the image to the right (bottom above), Portuguese explorers are depicted disembarking from their ship and erecting a padrão; these large limestone markers were inscribed with the Portuguese coat of arms and positioned at key locations along the coast by Portuguese navigator Diogo Cão in 1483. An original padrão is currently on view in the exhibition Kongo: Power and Majesty.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Roadside stall on the way to Viana' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Roadside stall on the way to Viana
2007
From the series Terreno Ocupado
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this photograph and the next one, “Wreck of a Chinese ship at Ilha”, stretches of bare ground in and around Luanda form the backdrop to ghostly signs of economic activity. Workmen’s overalls dangle from a tree at a roadside stall next to a taxi rank, and a grounded ship basks on a deserted beach while other vessels float offshore. Before it capsized in the mid-2000s, this ship transported and housed Chinese workers drawn to Angola by the many Chinese-run infrastructure projects in the country. These images reflect Angola’s diverse economy where a globalized workforce and the informal sector both play important roles, yet the absence of the workers themselves is striking.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa 2' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa 2
2007
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 13 3/4 in. (35 cm) Width: 13 3/4 in. (35 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa 4' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa 4
2007
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 13 3/4 in. (35 cm) Width: 13 3/4 in. (35 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

This photograph and the previous one were taken inside the Fortaleza de São Miguel, a fort originally built in 1576 by Paulo Dias de Novais, the explorer who “founded” Luanda. It later became the administrative heart of the Portuguese colony of Angola in its important role as a trading center and slaving hub. In 1938 the fort was transformed into the home of the Museum of Angola, and the tiled murals shown here were commissioned at this time. Depicting the flora, fauna and history of Angola, these cobalt-blue 18th-century style tiles were inspired by early modern European prints depicting the Kongo and Angola kingdoms, and represented an attempt to legitimize the ongoing Portuguese presence in the country. Sources included Olfert Dapper’s 1668 “Description of Africa” from which the map fragment shown here is drawn.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Decommissioned military outpost, Schmidtsdrift (triptych left) 2012

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Decommissioned military outpost, Schmidtsdrift (triptych middle) 2012

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Decommissioned military outpost, Schmidtsdrift (triptych right) 2012

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Decommissioned military outpost, Schmidtsdrift (triptych left, middle and right)
2012
From the series The Borderlands
Inkjet prints, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this triptych, Ractliffe’s focal point is a ghostly ensemble of deserted military buildings. Schmidtsdrift’s original inhabitants were forcibly relocated in the 1950s-70s under the apartheid regime’s policy of racial segregation. From 1974 the emptied settlement was used as a military training base by the South African Defence Force, which was fighting against the exiled Namibian liberation movement and the Angolan army in a conflict later referred to in South Africa as the “Border War”. Now that the war is over, the decommissioned buildings remain, testifying to the region’s past conflicts and histories of forced relocation.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (detail) 2009

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (detail) 2009

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (detail) 2009

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo' 2009

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (details)
2009
Inkjet prints, 2015
Height: 15 3/4 in. (40 cm) Width: 19 11/16 in. (50 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The central figure of Agostinho Neto, Angola’s anti-colonial leader and president from 1975-79, is flanked by Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro on the left, and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev on the right. This mural personifies the threats of African Nationalism and Communism that propelled South Africa to become involved in the Border War. It highlights the fact that the Angolan Civil War was also a Cold War battleground, with Cuba and the Soviet Union on the side of Neto’s party, the MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola), and South Africa and the United States supporting UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola). Here, all three men still command a presence despite their faded, cartoon-like rendering.

 

 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
New York, New York 10028-0198
T: 212-535-7710

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Thursday: 9.30 am – 5.30 pm*
Friday and Saturday: 9.30 am – 9.00 pm*
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Closed Monday (except Met Holiday Mondays**), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

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27
Nov
14

Exhibition: ‘War from the Victims’ Perspective, Photographs by Jean Mohr’ at the Moscow Manege, Moscow

Exhibition dates: 11th November – 14th December 2014

An exhibition produced by the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne, and the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs

 

 

It’s always the women and children that suffer.

Marcus

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Many thanxk to the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and the Moscow Manege for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

 Jean Mohr. 'Greek children, Strovolos camp planned for 1,600 people, Cyprus, 1974'

 

Jean Mohr
Greek children, Strovolos camp planned for 1,600 people, Cyprus, 1974
1974
© Jean Mohr, Musée de l’Elysée

 

Jean Mohr. 'Bullet-holes in a façade, Cyprus, 1974'

 

Jean Mohr
Bullet-holes in a façade, Cyprus, 1974
1974
© Jean Mohr, Musée de l’Elysée

 

Jean Mohr. 'Palestinian refugees camp, Gaza, 1979'

 

Jean Mohr
Palestinian refugees camp, Gaza, 1979
1979
© Jean Mohr, Musée de l’Elysée

 

Jean Mohr. 'Portrait of a Greek refugee, Larnaca, Cyprus, 1976'

 

Jean Mohr
Portrait of a Greek refugee, Larnaca, Cyprus, 1976
1976
© Jean Mohr, Musée de l’Elysée

 

Jean Mohr. 'Young Mozambican refugee, Nyimba camp, Zambia, 1968'

 

Jean Mohr
Young Mozambican refugee, Nyimba camp, Zambia, 1968
1968
© UNHCR / J. Mohr

 

Jean Mohr. 'Young Mozambican refugee who gave birth at the Lundo clinic, Tanzania, 1968'

 

Jean Mohr
Young Mozambican refugee who gave birth at the Lundo clinic, Tanzania, 1968
1968
© HCR/J.Mohr

 

Jean Mohr. 'School, Kyangwali camp, Uganda, 1968'

 

Jean Mohr
School, Kyangwali camp, Uganda, 1968
1968
© Jean Mohr, Musée de l’Elysée

 

Jean Mohr. 'A camp of 300 tents for 1,400 refugees, Lefkaritis, near Lamaca, Cyprus, 1974'

 

Jean Mohr
A camp of 300 tents for 1,400 refugees, Lefkaritis, near Lamaca, Cyprus, 1974
1974
© HCR/J.Mohr

 

 

 

“Early on, Jean Mohr sought to understand and explain the drama of civilians trapped in belligerent situations. His reportages are the result of decades of experience, which saw a ICRC and UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) delegate transform himself into a full-time photographer, after a spell at an academy of painting.

More than 80 exhibitions worldwide have been dedicated to his work, including two at the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne that holds his collection. In 1978, at Photokina (Frankfurt’s major Photography Fair), Jean Mohr was awarded the prize for the photographer who had most consistently served the cause of human rights. He is one of the best representatives of humanist photography, masterfully balancing sensitivity and rigor, emotion and reflection, art and documentary evidence.

The exhibition addresses the issues of victims of conflicts, refugees and communities suffering from war and still under potential threat. It focuses on the emblematic cases of Palestine, Cyprus, and Africa. Other examples illustrate the universal problems of populations directly or indirectly enduring repercussions of war (in Iran, Pakistan, Nicaragua…).

Palestine, its refugee camps, precarious sanitary conditions, and the Gaza stalemate, whilst being the subject of major media attention, is a case worthy of reconsideration. It needs to be regularly re-explained and repositioned in the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict. The case of Cyprus serves as a reminder that the refugee problem still remains an issue for certain members of the European Union. Several hundreds of thousands of people were forced into exile. Africa too needed to be addressed, as the post-colonial conflicts forced millions into displacement. The fragility of these States, outlined as they are by inherited colonial borders, regularly fuels turmoil which leads to humanitarian crises. The refugee problem is present throughout the continent.

Focussing upon these three geographical regions presents the problem of war victims in an historical setting classified by theme: “Portraits of Exile”, “The Children’s Diaspora”, “Temporary Landscapes”, and “Life Goes On”. These photographs render a face to the casualties and retrace the steps of their displacement, from their settlement in the precariousness of the camps and reception centres to their attempts to adapt to an enduring situation.

 

Portraits of Exile

Featuring portraits of refugees from different countries and cultures, the first section gives a human face to the impact of conflict.

Temporary Landscapes

The second section deals with the impact that war has on people’s homes. The photos document the displacement process and the precarious settlement of victims in camps, reception centres, mosques and shanty towns.

The Children’s Diaspora

Featuring images that capture the day-to-day lives of war’s youngest victims, this section reveals the gamut of situations faced by child refugees, as well as the many and diverse activities they engage in. Some photos show children attending a medical centre or clinic, while others show them playing, dancing or in class at a temporary school.

Life Goes On

The final section documents how people adapt to temporary situations that stretch out indefinitely. The images illustrate how important the distribution of food and clothing is, as well as documenting efforts to ensure that refugees can continue their schooling and education. This section includes the iconic image of a young Mozambican refugee and her newborn baby in a clinic in Lundo, Tanzania. ”

Press release from the Musée de l’Elysée

 

Jean Mohr. 'A few days after the Six-Day War, an Israeli officer considers an ICRC proposal, under the gaze of a Palestinian boy, Kalandia village between Jerusalem and Ramallah, 1967'

 

Jean Mohr
A few days after the Six-Day War, an Israeli officer considers an ICRC proposal, under the gaze of a Palestinian boy, Kalandia village between Jerusalem and Ramallah, 1967
1967
© ICRC / Mohr, Jean

 

Jean Mohr. 'A needs assessment visit to stricken families, Khan Yunis, Gaza, 2002'

 

Jean Mohr
A needs assessment visit to stricken families, Khan Yunis, Gaza, 2002
2002
© ICRC/MOHR, Jean

 

Jean Mohr. 'A needs assessment visit to stricken families, Khan Yunis, Gaza, 2002'

 

Jean Mohr
A needs assessment visit to stricken families, Khan Yunis, Gaza, 2002
2002
© ICRC/MOHR, Jean

 

Jean Mohr. 'A young Mozambican refugee, Muhukuru clinic, Tanzania, 1968'

 

Jean Mohr
A young Mozambican refugee, Muhukuru clinic, Tanzania, 1968
1968
© HCR/J.Mohr

 

Jean Mohr. 'Young Greek refugee, Cyprus, 1976'

 

Jean Mohr
Young Greek refugee, Cyprus, 1976
1976
© Jean Mohr, Musée de l’Elysée

 

Jean Mohr. 'Kurdish refugees waiting for a food distribution, Qatr camp, Mahabad, Iran, 1991'

 

Jean Mohr
Kurdish refugees waiting for a food distribution, Qatr camp, Mahabad, Iran, 1991
1991
© ICRC/Mohr, Jean

 

Jean Mohr. 'The photographed photographer, Jerusalem, 1979'

 

Jean Mohr
The photographed photographer, Jerusalem, 1979
1979
© Jean Mohr, Musée de l’Elysée

 

Jean Mohr. 'Mozambican refugee at Sunday mass, Lundo installation area, Tanzania, 1968 The photographed photographer, Jerusalem, 1979'

 

 

Jean Mohr
Mozambican refugee at Sunday mass, Lundo installation area, Tanzania, 1968
1968
© UNHCR / J. Mohr

 

 

Moscow Manege
Manezhnaya ploschad (Manege Square), 1
Moscow 125009

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 12.00 – 22.00
Closed Monday

Moscow Manege website

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16
Oct
12

Paper: ‘Traversing the unknown’ by Dr Marcus Bunyan, Faculty of Arts, The University of Melbourne presented at the ‘Travel Ideals’ international conference, July 2012

International conference: Travel Ideals: Engaging with Spaces of Mobility, Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne, 18th – 20th July 2012

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All cdv and cabinet cards © Joyce Evans collection, © Marcus Bunyan.

Installation photographs of the exhibition Traverse by Kim Percy at Stockroom, Kyneton, 10th March – 8th April 2012.

Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Keywords: refugees, asylum seekers, boat people, spaces of mobility, travel, early colonial photography, cartes de visite, cabinet cards, Second Fleet, John Dell, aborigine, Australia, white Australia, immigration, photography, early Australian photography, Foucault, non-place, Panopticon, inverted Panopticon, (in)visibility, visual parentheses, axis of visibility, symbolic capital, context of reason.

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Installation of Traverse by Kim Percy at Stockroom, Kyneton
Installation photographs by Marcus Bunyan © Kim Percy

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Traversing the unknown

Dr Marcus Bunyan July 2012

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What I am about to say, my musings if you like, are inspired by Kim Percy’s exhibition which took place at Stockroom gallery in Kyenton in March – April 2012. The work is the basis of my inquiry. The images that illustrate the paper are installation shots from the exhibition and Victorian cartes de visite, photographic portraits of an emerging nation taken from the 1850s – 1890s. Unlike the business cards of today (where identity is represented by the name of the business owner and the printer of the card remains anonymous), in cartes de visite the name of the people or place being photographed is usually unknown and the name of the photographer is (sometimes) recorded. In other words the inverse of contemporary practice. Another point to note is that most of the photographers were immigrants to this country. I use these cards to illustrate the point that the construction of national identity has always been multifarious and, in terms of the representation of identity, unknown and unknowable.

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I would like to take you on a journey, at first personal and then physical, metaphorical and maybe even philosophical. I want to asks questions of the world, questions about the journey we all take as human beings. I would like to tell you two personal things.

First, I have nearly drowned three times in my life. Once, aged 12 years, my mother dove into the swimming pool and pulled my out as I was going under for the third time. The second time was in Australia at Squeaky Beach on Wilsons Prom and the third up at Byron Bay. All three times there was shear blind panic as the water tried to consume me, as my feet scrabbled to touch the bottom, seeking any purchase, the minutest toe hold so that I could pull myself to safety, so that I could save myself. Panic. Fear. Nothingness.

Second, I still vividly remember being dumped by my parents at boarding school in England at the age of twelve years. I watched disconsolately as they drove away and promptly burst into tears, terrified of being alone in an alien environment, with a different accent than everyone else (having grown up on a rural farm) and being different from other boys (just discovering that I was gay). Those were horrible years, suffering from depression that crept up on me, isolated with few friends and struggling with my nascent sexuality. Thoughts of suicide and self-harm were constant companions. Fast forward, arriving in Australia in 1986, again with no friends, living in a foreign culture. Even though I was white I felt alienated, isolated, alone. I hated my first years in Australia. Now imagine being an asylum seeker arriving here.

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Anon
Untitled [Borough of Clunes Notice Strike ..rm Rate]
Nd
Cabinet card
Albumen print
16.5cm x 10.7cm
Blank verso
© Joyce Evans collection

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Anon
Mrs Dean, Dean & Co, Hay, Corn & Produce Merchants, Rea St, North Fitzroy
Nd
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
10.4cm x 6.3cm
Blank verso
© Joyce Evans collection

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National Photo Company
Untitled [Group of bricklayers holding their tools and a baby]
Nd
140 Queen Street,
Woollahra,
Sydney
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
10.4cm x 6.3cm
© Joyce Evans collection

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Imagine being an asylum seeker living in an (in)between space, living in a refugee camp over there. Marc Augé coined the phrase “non-place” to refer to places of transience that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as “places”.1 These camps are such places. Put yourself in that predicament, seeking a better life, seeking to escape persecution, war, prejudice and death, deliberately placing yourself and your family in a fragile boat, like a seed pod floating upon the waters, taking the dangerous journey to reach Australia. Imagine the emotional and intellectual turmoil that must surround such a decision, the decision to place your life in the hands of the ocean. Important decisions affecting the entire course of one’s life are rarely made without some form of mental distress.

Nurtured in water, some baptised in it, water is the life-blood of the world and the asylum seeker must trust to its benevolence. Marc Auge “argues that we are in transit through non-place for more and more of our time, as if between immense parentheses.”2 This is the journey that the asylum seeker takes over water, a journey through an interstitial space that has no beginning and no end caught between a set of parentheses [insert life here / or not]. And now let us move our line of sight. What about a visual parentheses?

Asylum seekers are almost invisible from Australia living over there. They are over the horizon, out of sight and out of mind. When they journey across the sea – an open ended journey passing through a liminal space, a forgotten space – they suddenly appear as if by magic washed up on the shore, unseen despite surveillance planes, ships and other forms of tracking and reconnaissance. Think, for example, of the sudden and surprising arrival of the boat SIEV-221 when it was washed onto the rocks of Christmas Island in December 2010. The invisible made visible caught in a non-place.

This (in)visibility can be evidenced in other ways. The specks of humanity waving from the deck of the Tampa, the asylum seekers being escorted from arriving boats, seen for a few brief seconds on the evening news and then disappearing from view, almost like being sucked into the depths of the sea. Here and not here; here and there. Halfway between nothingness and being: they walk between one state and another, forward and backward, backward and forward.

Displacement
Diaspora
Disruption

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There is much discussion in political circles in relation to the retrieval, processing and housing of detainees, that is, the control of the artefact within space (of Australia) and, consequently, the impact on the citizens of Australia and that of public sentiment. The axis of visibility3 that operates in relation to subject, object, and space is not interrogated as to the representations that are constructed. This is what I am interested in here.

The spectacle of the asylum seekers is despectacularised by and for the viewer. We remove ourselves from the emotion of these people, the presence of these images. They become ordinary as if seen from far away – glimpsed every so often as though viewing the world of another. They become Other. The movement of the ship, the movement of the sky, the movement of vision is a constant decentering through a push/pull with something else – some other order of the world. The journey into the unknown is a journey to submit to the ordering of another: the socially constructed system of classification: “refugee,” “asylum seeker.”

These vital, alive human beings come from one taxonomic system (of ordered death, persecution, injustice), become visible from a brief instance, and are then fed into another taxonomic system of order – that of the detention center. Through the journey and in the detention centers there is an effacement of specific religious, political or personal symbolic features as the refugees become part of a disciplinary system whereby they can be viewed as symbolic capital (both political and economic tools). This process of effacement and simultaneous self-negation, this neutralization of original context and content is hidden in the forgotten spaces, of the sea and of the processing centers.

And then the seekers are naturalized, becoming one with the body of Australia, as though they were unnatural before.

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Kim Percy
Pale Sea
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Where
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Rough Water
2012
Digital photograph

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Anon
Untitled
Nd
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
Blank verso
© Joyce Evans collection

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E. B. Pike
Untitled [Older man with moustache and parted beard]
Nd
Cartes de visite
6.3cm x 10.4cm
Verso of card
© Joyce Evans collection

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Artist & Photographer
Otto von Hartitzsch
Untitled [Man with quaffed hair and very thin tie]
1867 – 1883
Established 1867
127 Rundle Street
Adelaide
South Australia
Cartes de visite
6.3cm x 10.4cm
Verso of card
© Joyce Evans collection

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Kim Percy
Traverse
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Red Horizon No.1
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Red Horizon No.2
2012
Digital photograph

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Taking the metaphor of the horizon line further, I would argue that the detention centers are like that of an inverted Panopticon. The Panopticon is a type of institutional building, a prison, designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late eighteenth century. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe all inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched.4 The guard sits in a central tower and can observe and inspect all prisoners on the outer 360 degree circle, while the prisoners cannot see the guard and can only presume he is there (an omnipresent God) and hence they behave. Let us invert this concept. Now the asylum seekers sit in the tower looking outwards, seeing the promised land but unable to touch it and the guards (prison officers, government, the Australian people) are all around but most are blind. They look inwards but cannot see / they look outwards and most go about their daily business. The perimeter fence of the detention center becomes the horizon line of the sea. Over the horizon is out of sight and out of mind.

This regime of acceptability, the common-sense world within which we all live and usually take for granted, this form of rationality has a historical specificity. Think convict for example: such branding appeared at a time of historic specificity. What we take to be rational, the bearer of truth, is rooted in domination and subjugation, and is constituted by the relationship of forces and powers. But, as Foucault observes “what counts as a rational act at one time will not so count at another time, and this is dependent on the context of reason that prevails.”5

Hence no more convicts, in the future one hopes no more refugees.

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Profesor Hawkins
Photographic
Artist
Untitled [Chinese women with handkerchief]
c.1858 – 1875
20, Queensbury St Et.
near Dight’s Mills,
Melbourne
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
© Joyce Evans collection

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“Truth in a Pleasing Form”
J. R. Tanner
Untitled [Two woman wearing elaborate hats]
1875
Photographer and Photo-Enameler
“Permanent Pictures in Carbon”
“Imperishable Portrais on Enamel”
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
© Joyce Evans collection

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What Kim’s eloquent, minimal, brooding installation does is hold our attention and ask certain questions of us as human beings. If photography is a mode of visually addressing a certain order in the world – be it horror, war, peace, human tragedy, public, private – and then destabilizing it, then Kim’s images destabilize the binary sea/sky through fragmentation and isolation. She redlines our experience and asks us to inhabit the non-space, the non-place of the gallery, allowing us to hover between boat and image, between sea and sky, between seeing and sky. Through her work she asks us to become more aware. She asks us to see things more clearly. Above all she asks us to have faith in the compassion of human beings. The asylum seekers have faith: faith to get into a fragile boat to venture upon the sea in search of a better life.

I will finish with a quote from Jeff Brown

“Sometimes we have to surrender to the not knowing. At other times, it is helpful to adventure outward and explore new possibilities. Like swashbucklers of the spirit, we bravely seek out any experience that might inform our path. When we are afraid of something, we live it fully and see what floats to the surface in the doing. We participate in our own revealing. We have faith in the shaping of what we cannot see.”6

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The seekers surrender to the not knowing and have faith in the shaping of what they cannot see. These risk takers are the strong ones that are going to make a difference in a new society by the very fact of their strength and determination to survive and live in a free society, for the very fact of the risks undertaken. This exhibition and this paper informs their path as it informs our path. Be aware of the doing, be bold and forthright in the being.

Dr Marcus Bunyan, July 2012

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Addendum – Australia from settlement to subjugation

The cartes de visite below is one of the most important cards that I have ever held.

Private John Dell (1763 – 1866) of the The New South Wales Corps. (Rum Corps.) “Renamed 1st /102nd Regiment of Foot” arrived on the ship Surprize of the Second Fleet on the 26 June 1790 (not, as stated in pencil on the verso of the card, in 1788). The Second Fleet has been regarded as being the three convict ships which arrived together at Sydney Cove in June 1790: these ships were the Surprize , Neptune, and Scarborough.

The Surprize weighed 400 tons, she was the smallest ship of the fleet, she proved an unsuitable vessel as for her size and she was a wet vessel even in clam waters. Sailing from England on January 19th 1790 with 254 male convicts. Her master was Nicholas Antis, formerly chief mate on the Lady Penrhyn in the First Fleet. The surgeon was William Waters. 36 convicts died on the voyage. Soldiers of the New South Wales Corps on board may have stayed. Some where convicts who later enlisted.

Private John Dell served in 102nd Foot Regiment. He was discharged aged 42 after 21 years 10 months of service. Covering dates give year of enlistment to year of discharge: 1789-1811. He enlisted on 3rd July 1789 and was discharged in May 1810. He married three times and had numerous children, dying in Tasmania on the 2nd March 1866. He was born on 5th of November 1763 so this would make him over the age of 87 when this photograph could have first been taken or, if later, between the age of 96 – 103. We can date this photograph from the time that W. Paul Dowling worked in Launceston (1851-1852 / 1859 – 1866).

We are looking at one of the first English migrants to ever settle in Australia during the invasion of the supposed terra nullius. This is an important photograph. The photographer obviously thought it was important to document the appearance of this person, present in the first two years of colonial settlement and later injured by an aborigine spear. For us, the photograph traverses the history of white Australia, from settlement to subjugation, from 1790 to 1866. One can only imagine the agony, the death and destruction that occurred during this man’s lifetime.

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THE LATE MR. JOHN DELL (From the Melbourne Spectator)

“The following reminiscences of the olden times were furnished to us by a gentleman who took them down as they fell from the lips of John Dell, the Greenwich pensioner, a few months before his, death, which happened at Launceston, in the early part of the present year: He was born, he said, at Reading, in Berkshire, on the 5th of November, 1763. He was one of a family of twenty four children. He remembered the excitement occasioned by the Gordon riots, and how the people gathered round the London coach which brought down the tidings of the tumult, incendiarism, and bloodshed. He was apprenticed with another Reading lad, to a veneer cutter in London; and as he and his fellow-apprentice were one day staring in at a shop window in Fleet-street, and observing to each other that there was nothing like that in Reading, they were accosted by a respectably dressed man, who said his wife was from Reading, and would so like to have a chat with them about the dear old place; would they go home to tea with him? They cheerfully assented; and were taken to a house in an obscure neighborhood, at the back of the Fleet Prison…”

“THE LATE MR. JOHN DELL,” in Launceston Examiner (Tas.: 1842 – 1899), 25 July 1866, p. 2. [Online] Cited 15 July, 2012 on the Trove website. nla.gov.au/nla.news-article36636642

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DEATH OF MR JOHN DELL

“It is with feelings of sincere regret that we record tbe death of Mr. John Dell, at the patriarchal age of 102 years and four months. He had been ailing but a very short time, and had the use of his faculties to the last hour of his life. He was reading as usual without the use of spectacles, and out of bed on Thursday night, but be breathed his last yesterday, at the residence of his son-in-law, Mr. William Brean, of Brisbane Street, and his remains are to be interred on Monday.

Mr. Dell was born at Reading, in Berkshire, in 1763, and arrived in New South Wales with the 102nd Regiment of Foot, in 1790, in the ship ‘Surprize,’ the first of the fleet which brought convicts to Botany Bay, and he was present in Sydney during the whole of the period of the government of Governor Phillip, and at the arrest of Governor Bligh, who it will beremembered by those who have read the early history of New South Wales, was arrested by Colonel Johnson, tbe Colonel of the regiment in which Dell served, the 102nd. This corps was raised specially for service in New South Wales, and Mr. Dell returned with in 1808, and on board the vessel in which Governor Bligh died on the passage to England. He was pensioned in 1815, and has been in ilie receipt of a pension for more than half a century.

He arrived in this colony in 1818, and was for some time Chief Constable of Launceston, but retired many years ago from office, to a large farm at Norfolk Plains. Mr. Dell was the owner of very valuable property in this colony, though be did not die wealthy, the Court House Square belonged to him at one time, and he fenced it in, but subsequently he returned it to the Government in exchange for a grant of six hundred and forty acres of land in the country. Mr. Dell was a temperate man but not a teetotaller. It is strange that throughout his eventful career, be never learned to smoke, but this may account for the steadiness of his nerves to the latest day of his long life. He had encountered great hardships in New South Wales, having been in the bush there for three day disabled by a spear wound inflicted by an aborigine. He was in a very exhausted state when discovered, but his iron constitution enabled him to rally, and he was soon in as sound a state of health as ever.

For some years past his sight keener and his hair of a darker colour than they had been twenty years previous. He was rather eccentric of late, but no one from his hale appearance would suppose him to be much above seventy years of age. His voice was a good strong firm bass without a quaver in it. Very few men have ever been blessed with such a long period of interrupted sound health as Mr Dell. He will be missed and his death lamented by a wide circle of relatives and friends.”

“DEATH OF MR JOHN DELL,” in The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tas. : 1835 – 1880) Saturday 3rd March 1866. [Online] Cited 15 July, 2012 on the Trove website. trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/72358170

See the Rootsweb website for more information on John Dell.

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W. Paul Dowling,
Photographer,
John Dell
1851-1852 / 1859 – 1866
Launceston,
Tasmania.
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
© Joyce Evans collection

John Dell
Born at Reading, Berkshire
5 Nov 1763
came out with his regiment (the 102nd) to Sydney in 1788
Nov 5th 1763

In pencil on verso

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W. Paul Dowling,
Photographer,
John Dell
1851-1852 / 1859 – 1866
Launceston,
Tasmania.
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
© Joyce Evans collection

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Endnotes

1. Augé, Marc (trans. John Howe). Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London: Verso, 1995.

2. Ibid.,

3. Hooper-Grenhill, Eilean. Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge. London: Routledge, 2000, p.7.

4. Anon. “Panopticon,” on Wikipedia. [Online] Cited 09/03/2012.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon

5. Hooper-Grenhill Op cit., p.8.

6. Brown, Jeff quoted on Stroud, Jeff. The reluctant blogger website. [Online] Cited 09/03/2012.
jeffstroud.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/884/

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Travel Ideals: Engaging with Spaces of Mobility conference website

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Digimarc enabled images

30
Jul
12

Artwork: ‘Transit’ series by Katrin Koenning, Melbourne

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Transit is a stimulating body of work by Melbourne artist Katrin Koenning that documents mostly everyday journeys. As Koenning notes, “It is concerned with the space that lies between destinations, routines and obligations – the space between distances, if you so like,” where strangers are thrown together in an intimate space. The outcome of these encounters is mainly silence. In these works photography and the depiction of the lived world becomes the primer and reference point for a mediated existence, one based on longing, desire, reverie, absent presence and the phantasies of daydreams.

Compositionally the work is strong. Koenning shows an excellent understanding of the construction of the image plane and the use of colour, light and dark complements her intellectual enquiry. This much is given: these are excellent images that immerse the viewer in a visual dreamscape. What I am more interested in here is the transitional spaces of the journey, the traces of light that reflect back to us the concerns of the photographer and the conceptual ideas upon which the work is based.

Even when people are asleep in these photographs (which they sometimes are) it is as if an internal image, a day dream, a subconscious image is projected into/onto the external world in an act of scopophilic [the desire for pleasurable looking] voyeurism. It is as though our daydreams are inscribed in a physical location and we identify with this imaginary image and take it for reality.1 “This specific joy of receiving from the external world images that are usually internal… of seeing them inscribed in a physical location… of discovering in this way something almost realizable in them”2 becomes one reality of the journey. We become possessed, possessed by the phantasies of our daydreams, possessed by desire for this imaginary image.
Paradoxically these daydreams, the longing and yearning of the inner voice for a better place to be, for a holiday, for an escape from the drudgery of everyday life (for an imaginary, hallucinatory image) promote an escapism in the traveller and the absenting of presence that can be seen on any tram or train, any day of the week in cities throughout the world. The enactment of absent presence is usually performed through technology of some kind – a book, headphones, smart phones that connect to the internet, conversation on the mobile which is mainly gossip and texting – that distract people from having a quiet mind that leads to the contemplation of Self. The fear of silence is the fear of quietening the chattering voice in your head, being afraid of what you might find. The act of non-engagment is supplemented by the necessity of avoiding eye contact with fellow travellers, of making conversation, of engaging with strangers in any meaningful way. Hence the silence of forcibly intimate spaces.

The photographs that make up the series Transit form a theatrical space, a dramatic space where the people in them are separated from the outside world, neither here nor there, present but absent at one and the same time. This ritual of (non)spectatorship begins long before we begin our journey: the preparation, leaving the house with headphones and iPod, iPad, iPhone and I. This is followed by the ritual of buying a ticket (or not), boarding the train, tram, bus, plane or car being an effective way of transforming time and space. Our practices of mobility, that is our acts of moving are constituted in our acts of staying. What we take with us (for example our passport when we go overseas), always takes our place of residing, of staying, with us. Travel becomes the enactment or enfolding of bodies that move and bodies that stay, of stability.3 As Mary Louise Pratt has observed recently, the Western subject is an autonomous being with inherent conditions attached to its body and mobility is the privileged figure of its freedom, the proof and performance of its liberated state. In the metaphor of flow there is the enactment of freedom.4 Ironically, in the flow of travel envisaged in these photographs there is a dis/placement of desire onto the object of our (non)attention: in other words if we observe the world and desire it (as in the woman looking out of the window onto the distant view of the city, below) we displace our desire onto the object of our affection. If, on the other hand, we ignore the distant vista (as in the man playing with his iPod while the world flashes past outside, below) we displace our own presence through non-attention and our desire becomes a narcissistic attraction to Self. The remainer (who remains) and the remainder (what is left) is dictated by the place and placedness of the encounter, the interdependent modalities along the points of un/freedom (displacement of desires onto other may, in fact, not be freedom at all!)

In a sense, and I use that word advisedly, these images become trans-sensual, hovering between one desirous place and the next, between one condition or possibility of becoming and another. Here I must note that I see a philosophical difference between ‘transit’ and ‘in transit’. ‘Transit’ suggests a pre-determined path between point A and point B: for example in the transit of Venus that recently took place the path that Venus would take was already mapped out, even before the event happened, even if Venus was absent. The DNA of the journey, its blueprint if you like, is already formed in the knowledge: we are going to Collins Street, Melbourne, the path immanent in the tabula rasa of the journey even before it has started. ‘In transit’ on the other hand, suggests an amorphous space that has no beginning and no end. There is no boundary that defines the journey, much as in these images “amorphous thinking in visual terms is inextricably bound up with sensation and perception. In many ways, how we think is how we see and vice versa.”5 Perhaps the series should have been called In Transit, for the images visualise a conception of boundary and form that is constantly in flux, emanating as it does from the subconscious desires of the traveller. These are scenarios for an intuitive vision of an amorphous space that image a lapse in time, where energy and information, light and shadow, harmony and form challenge an absolute identity, the pre-determined path.6

Projection of inner desires onto the actual world becomes the locality for the contemporary mythologies of values, beliefs, dreams and desires.7 In a Buddhist sense, in the longing of an individual to effect his or her liberation this flow of sense-desire must be cut completely. Instead of a desire to possess the object of their longing and then to be possessed by that desire (desire to possess / possessed by desire) we must learn, as Krishnamurti has insightfully observed, not to make images out of every word, out of every vision and desire. We must be attentive to the clarity of not making images – of desire, of prejudice, of flattery – and then we might become aware of the world that surrounds us, just for what it is and nothing more.8 Then there would be less need for the absenting of self into the technological ether or the day dreams of foreign lands or the desire for a better life.

The strength of this work is the trans-sensuality of the photographs. Their trans-sensuality initiates differently configured constructions of the world, one that will not allow the world to simply be displaced by a lack of awareness, a lack of presence in the world. The photographs physically queer the performative aspect of the actor upon the stage, allowing the viewer to understand the process that is happening within the photographs and then NOT construct alternate narratives of longing and desire if they so wish. What they do for the viewer is collapse the boundaries between the subjective and the objective, between the conscious and the subconscious, inducing in the viewer a glimpse of self-actualization,9 whereby the viewer has the ability to enjoy the experience of just being. As the viewer becomes the person in the photograph (by understanding the experience of being, not by making an image) the permeability and lack of fixity of the boundaries between self and other, between self and amorphous space, between self and the physical world becomes evident. We become aware of the suspension of time and space in these momentary, (photographic) acts of transcendence. These wonderful, never ending moments.

Dr Marcus Bunyan July 2012

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Many thankx to Katrin Koenning for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs Untitled from the series Transit (2009 – ) © Katrin Koenning.

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“Transit documents people on mostly everyday journeys. It is concerned with the space that lies between between destinations, routines and obligations – the space between distances, if you so like. While I travel and observe, I write down snippets of overheard conversations. Old ladies talk about the weather, teenagers gossip, you hear laughter and bits of stories in amongst the monotonous sighing of the train or the mourning sound of an aching ship. Mostly, you hear silence – strangers are thrown together for a short while, forced to share an intimate space. They rarely talk.”

Artist statement

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1. Leonard, Richard. The Mystical Gaze of the Cinema: the Films of Peter Weir. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2009, p.23.

2. Metz, C. Essais Sémiotiques. Paris: Klincksieck, 1977, p.136 quoted in Leonard, Op. cit.

3. Pratt, Mary Louise. “On Staying.” Keynote speech presented at the international conference Travel Ideals: Engaging with Spaces of Mobility. July 18th 2012 at The University of Melbourne.

4. Ibid.,

5. Navarro, Kevin. “An Amorphous Image Process,” on Rhizome: Image Theory website. January 19th 2010 [Online] Cited 29/07/2012. rhizome.org/discuss/view/44895/

6. Ibid.,

7. Leonard Op. cit., p.56.

8. KrishnamurtiBeginnings of Learning. London: Penguin, 1975, p.131.

9. “It must be noted that self-actualization is not necessarily related to vocation or career choice … From Malsow’s (Maslow, A (1970) Motivation and Personality. New York, Harper & Row) standpoint, self-actualization is not primarily concerned with results of a particular kind of activity – it is concerned with the experience of the activity itself – not the composition but the composing – not the work of art but the creative process by which it is produced – not the taste of the food, but the creativity in the cooking of it. This is not to say that the product has no importance. What Maslow is emphasizing is the fact that the self-actualized persons is fulfilling his potentiatlities in the act itself. A byproduct of this creative act is a unique outcome. He may admire the result of this process. But the enjoyment of the process itself is also extremely important. The ability to enjoy the experience of being, therefore, is one of the essential capabilities of the healthy individual.” (My italics)

Benson, Lou. Images,Heroes and Self-Perceptions. Englewood Hills, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1974, pp.352-354.

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Katrin Koenning website

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08
Jul
12

Review: Lost & Found: Family Photos Swept away by the 3.11 East Japan Tsunami’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 1st June – 15th July 2012

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Opening of the Lost & Found exhibition at the CCP

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This is an profound exhibition of photographs that have been lost then found. Too damaged to be returned to the families of their missing owners after the 3.11 East Japan Tsunami they have been cleaned, dried, digitally catalogued and put on display. As remnants of disaster they have taken on an ethereal, abstract expressionist beauty.

Like Atget’s photographs (his “documents for artists”) they were never meant to be “art”, but through morphogenesis these snapshots of places, family and friends reveal their inherent form. This beginning of form has been exposed through displacement, washing and erasure. Through this process of erasure these anonymous images reveal their underlying structure with its link to alchemy, as the image dis/appears from view; they have become unfixed (as in the fixer that stabilises the image in the analogue darkroom) from reality. In this process they have become art.

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The images are incredibly beautiful.

They hid secrets (of ownership, names, families and places, of time and space).

Something (energy, spirit?) emerges when you least expect it.

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Photographs are coded, but usually so as to appear uncoded but here the link to the indexicality of the image – the idea of the visible as evidence of truth – has been broken. These photographs, taken out of their original context, have lost their specific use value in the particular time and place of their consumption. The fragmentation of this use value, together with the dissolution of their formal characteristics, means that they are freed of the conditions that limit and determine their meaning.1 As Annette Kuhn has written in The Power of the Image“Meanings do not reside in images, then: they are circulated between representation, spectator and social function.”2 And in these images all three things have changed.

Further, the link between the image and its referent, the photograph and the thing being photographed has been irreversibly broken. As the French critic Maurice Blanchot has written, “The image has nothing to do with signification, meaning, as implied by the existence of the world, the effort of truth, the law and the brightness of the day. Not only is the image of an object not the meaning of that object and of no help in comprehending it, but it tends to withdraw it from its meaning by maintaining it in the immobility of a resemblance that it has nothing to resemble.”3 In other words (and especially in these photographs) it is this severance of meaning and its object, this resemblance of nothing.

But think about this idea:

THINK ABOUT THE IDEA OF RE(AS)SEMBLANCE!
DOES THE PHOTOGRAPH REASSEMBLE A SIGNIFICATION, A MEANING WHOLLY ITS OWN, OR IS THAT RE(AS)SEMBLANCE PART OF THE ORIGINAL MEANING OF THE OBJECT PHOTOGRAPHED?

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In these photographs there is an obfuscation of reality in which the usually coded photographs now appear to be uncoded in some visceral sense. In fact there is a double obfuscation, a double effacement, as the images are displayed on the wall like a series of bathroom tiles in plastic sleeves, here not at one remove but at two (the clouding of the image and the clouding through the plastic). What emerges from this alchemical miasma is the ghost of the meaning of the object, where we acknowledge that the essence of these people did really exist. The recognition of their presence, this partial reassemblance of the context and meaning of the object originally photographed, is the strength of these images: our acknowledgment of some form of existence in the trace of the photograph, where seeing is subconsciously believing.

What we are left with in these images are vestiges of presence, remnants or traces of people that have passed on. In a kind of divine intervention, these photographs ask the viewer questions about the one fact that we cannot avoid in our lives, our own mortality, and what remains after we pass on. We can never know these people and places, just as we can never know the place and time of our death – when our “time” is up – but these photographs awaken in us a subconscious remembering: that we may be found (in life), then lost (through death), then found again in the gaze of the viewer looking at the photographs in the future present. We are (dis)continuous beings.

There is no one single reading of these photographs for “there are only competing narratives and interpretations of a world that cannot be wholly, accurately described.”4 These indescribable photographs impinge on our consciousness calling on us to remember even as the speed of contemporary life asks us to forget. This ethical act of looking, of mourning and remembering, of paying homage to presence acknowledges that we choose not to let pass into the dark night of the soul these traces of our forebears, for each emanation is deeply embedded within individual and cultural memory.

These photographs are a contemporary form of Western ‘dreaming’ in which we feel a link to the collective human experience. In this reification, we bear witness to the (re)assemblance of life, the abstract made (subconsciously) concrete, as material thing. These images of absent presence certainly reached out and touched my soul. Vividly, I choose to remember rather than to forget.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to Munemasa Takahashi, Kristian Haggblom and Karra Rees for their help and the CCP for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs to view a larger version of the image.

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“Lost & Found is a profoundly moving exhibition of collected photographs recovered from the devastation following the earthquake and tsunami and subsequent nuclear catastrophe that took place in the Tohoku region in 2011. 

The tsunami not only swept the harbour away, but also houses, cars, trains; and many people lost their lives. Although no longer in the media, people in this region are still in great need. These photographs remind us of their presence and make us aware of their silent voices. The exhibition also gives us an opportunity to think about the relationship people have with their photographs.

The Lost & Found project is attempting to return pictures from the collection to their owners by cleaning, cataloguing and creating a digital database of the photographs. Many images were too badly damaged and can not be returned; rather than discard them, the project team decided to exhibit the imagery and give people the opportunity to see these photographs in the belief that they carry powerful messages. 

This project was initiated by Munemasa Takahashi and Hiroshi Hatate in Japan and Kristian Haggblom from Wallflower Photomedia Gallery in Australia. Funds raised will go directly to the people of Yamamoto-cho.”

Text from the CCP website

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All photographs are from the exhibition Lost & Found

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1. Kuhn, Annette. The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985, p.6.

2. Ibid.,

3. Blanchot, Maurice. The Gaze of Orpheus. New York: Barrytown, 1981, p.85.

4. Townsend, Chris. Vile Bodies: Photography and the Crisis of Looking. Munich: Prestel, 1998, p.10.

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Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy
Victoria 3065, Australia
T: + 61 3 9417 1549

Opening Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm
Sunday, 1pm – 5pm

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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11
Mar
12

Opening: ‘Traverse’ by Kim Percy at Stockroom, Kyneton

Exhibition dates: 10th March – 8th April 2012

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Many thanx to Jason, Magali and Kent for inviting me to the gallery, and Kim for asking me to open the exhibition – it was fun!

I have known Kim since the early 1990s when we both did our Bachelor of Arts in photography at RMIT University so it was wonderful to have opened her show yesterday. Reprinted below is the speech I gave at the opening with its musings on the (in)visibility of asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australia. I hope you enjoy reading the text. Marcus.

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Opening speech by Dr Marcus Bunyan, 10th March 2012

Out of Sight, Out of Mind _______________

“What I am about to say, my musings if you like, are inspired by Kim’s wonderful installation. The work before you is the basis of my inquiry. The issues involved are difficult and not to be dealt with lightly but I hope you will follow my drift, my traverse if you like.

I would like to take you on a journey – physical, metaphorical and maybe even philosophical. I want to ask questions of the world, questions about the journey we all take as human beings. These questions are prompted by my personal response to two elements of Kim’s work – water and the journey, specifically the image of asylum seekers arriving here in Australia. Imagine being an asylum seeker making that journey.

Imagine living in an (in)between space, living in a refugee camp over there. Marc Augé coined the phrase “non-place” to refer to places of transience that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as “places.”1 These camps are such places. Put yourself in that predicament, seeking a better life, seeking to escape persecution, war (of which we as a nation are often part), prejudice and death, deliberately placing yourself and your family in a fragile boat, like a seed pod floating upon the waters, taking the dangerous journey to reach Australia. Imagine the emotional and intellectual turmoil that must surround such a decision, the decision to place your life in the hands of the ocean. Important decisions affecting the entire course of one’s life are rarely made without some form of mental distress.

Nurtured in water, some baptised in it, water is the life-blood of the world and the asylum seeker must trust to its benevolence. Marc Augé “argues that we are in transit through non-place for more and more of our time, as if between immense parentheses.”2 This is the journey that the asylum seeker takes over water, a journey through an interstitial space that has no beginning and no end caught between a set of parentheses [insert life here / or not].

Now let us move our line of sight. What about a visual parentheses?

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Asylum seekers are almost invisible from Australia living over there. They are over the horizon, out of sight and out of mind. When they journey across the sea – an open ended journey passing through a liminal space, a forgotten space – they suddenly appear as if by magic washed up on the shore, unseen despite surveillance planes, ships and other forms of tracking and reconnaissance. Think, for example, of the sudden and surprising arrival of the boat SIEV-221 when it was washed onto the rocks of Christmas Island in December 2010. The invisible made visible caught in a non-place.

This (in)visibility can be evidenced in other ways. The specks of humanity waving from the deck of the Tampa, the asylum seekers being escorted from arriving boats, seen for a few brief seconds on the evening news and then disappearing from view, almost like being sucked into the depths of the sea. Here and not here; here and there. Halfway between nothingness and being: they walk between one state and another, forward and backward, backward and forward.

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Displacement
Diaspora
Disruption

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The spectacle of the asylum seekers is despectacularised by and for the viewer. We remove ourselves from the emotion of these people, the presence of these images. They become ordinary as if seen from far away – glimpsed every so often as though viewing the world of another. They become Other.

The movement of the ship, the movement of the sky, the movement of vision is a constant decentering through a push / pull with something else – some other order of the world. Their journey into the unknown is a journey to submit to the ordering of another: the socially constructed system of classification: “refugee,” “asylum seeker.” The axis of visibility3 that operates in relation to subject, object, and space is not interrogated as to the representations that are constructed. This is what I am interested in here. These vital, alive human beings come from one taxonomic system (of ordered death, persecution, injustice), become visible from a brief instance, and are then fed into another taxonomic system of order – that of the detention center.

Taking the metaphor of the horizon line further, I would argue that detention centers are like an inverted Panopticon. The Panopticon “is a type of institutional building, a prison, designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late eighteenth century. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe all inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched.”4 The guard sits in a central tower and can observe and inspect all prisoners on the outer 360 degree circle, while the prisoners cannot see the guard and can only presume he is there (an omnipresent God) and hence they behave.

Let us invert this concept.

Now the asylum seekers sit in the tower looking outwards, seeing the promised land but unable to touch it and the guards (prison officers, government, the Australian people) are all around but most are blind. They look inwards but cannot see / they look outwards and most go about their daily business. The perimeter fence of the detention center becomes the horizon line of the sea. As in Kim’s red lined horizons, over the horizon is out of sight, out of mind _________________

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What Kim’s eloquent, minimal, brooding installation does is hold our attention and ask certain questions of us as human beings. If photography is a mode of visually addressing a certain order in the world – be it horror, war, peace, human tragedy, public, private – and then destabilizing it, then Kim destabilizes the binary sea / sky through fragmentation and isolation. She redlines our experience and asks us to inhabit the non-space, the non-place of the gallery, allowing us to hover between boat and image, between sea and sky, between seeing and feeling. Through her work she asks us to become more aware. She asks us to see things more clearly. Above all she asks us to have faith in the compassion of human beings.

The asylum seekers have faith: faith to get into a fragile boat to venture upon the sea in search of a better life. If we had more faith in ourselves then we would have less need to rely on the images of the past, a white colonial past.

I will finish with a quote from Jeff Brown.

“Sometimes we have to surrender to the not knowing. At other times, it is helpful to adventure outward and explore new possibilities. Like swashbucklers of the spirit, we bravely seek out any experience that might inform our path. When we are afraid of something, we live it fully and see what floats to the surface in the doing. We participate in our own revealing. We have faith in the shaping of what we cannot see.”5

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The seekers surrender to the not knowing and have faith in the shaping of what they cannot see. These risk takers are the strong ones that are going to make a difference in a new society by the very fact of their strength and determination to survive and live in a free society, for the very fact of the risks undertaken. This exhibition informs their path as it informs our path. Be aware of the doing, be bold and forthright in the being. Enjoy.

Thank you

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Installation of Traverse by Kim Percy at Stockroom, Kyneton
Installation photographs by Marcus Bunyan © Kim Percy

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Kim Percy
Pale Sea
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Where
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Rough Water
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Traverse
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Red Horizon No.1
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Red Horizon No.2
2012
Digital photograph

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Footnotes

1. Augé, Marc (trans. John Howe). Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London: Verso, 1995.
2. Ibid.,
3. Hooper-Grenhill, Eilean. Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge. London: Routledge, 2000, p.7.
4. Anon. “Panopticon,” on Wikipedia. [Online] Cited 09/03/2012.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon
5. Brown, Jeff. Soulshaping. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2009, np quoted on Stroud, Jeff. The reluctant blogger website. [Online] Cited 09/03/2012.
jeffstroud.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/884/

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Stockroom
98 Piper street, Kyneton
T: 03 5422 3215

Opening hours:
Monday, Thursday, Friday 10.30am – 5pm
Saturday – Sunday 10am – 6pm

Stockroom website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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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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