Posts Tagged ‘gender

10
Jun
18

Exhibition: ‘(un)expected families’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition dates: 9th December 2017 – 17th June 2018

 

Christopher Churchill (American, born in 1977) 'Hutterite Classroom, Gildford, MT' 2005

 

Christopher Churchill (American, born in 1977)
Hutterite Classroom, Gildford, MT
2005
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Elisa Fredrickson / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

It’s hard to get a sense of this exhibition from the media images, therefore difficult to make any constructive comment on the strength of the exhibition.

Apparently, “The exhibition’s gallery feels very domestic. Groups of photos hang on the walls – different sizes, colors, formats and frames – like you’d see in a living room or hallway. MFA curator Karen Haas confirms that evocation is absolutely intentional.

“Photographers from the very beginning have been fascinated by the way that the camera could capture images of loved ones, freeze them in time,” she says. “They form sort of reliquaries of memory, and these sorts of relationships to the objects – that idea of the photograph as a talisman-like object I think has been somewhat forgotten in our contemporary world.” …

Haas’ goal in creating this show is to illustrate how broad and diverse family configurations can be – without defining them. “The families that we’re born into, generational families,” she describes, “but also romantic unions, couples and chosen families – families we have chosen for ourselves.” And that includes the military and the church, Haas says. “I think the family is such a basic social construct – so basic to so many of our lives – that I hope that these kinds of images will really resonate with people.” (Text from The ARTery website)

Outsider family, insider family, single parent family, nuclear family, extended family, reconstituted family, childless family, gay family, step family, “family has always taken diverse forms: affluent and destitute, cohesive and fractured, expected and unexpected. Taken together, the photographs challenge visitors to consider what family means to them.”

But what is most important is this: “There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to what is the best type of family structure. As long as a family is filled with love and support for one another, it tends to be successful and thrive. Families need to do what is best for each other and themselves, and that can be achieved in almost any unit.” (Types of Family Structure)

Families all have secrets, no matter how perfect they may seem to the outside world. Whether it be domestic violence behind closed doors or skeletons in the closet there is always more than meets the eye. And that’s where these photographs of families fail in their representation of the family. That, and the title of the exhibition – (un)expected families – because in the 21st century, nothing should be unexpected. By adding emphasis to the (un), the title merely propagates a form of discrimination, of outsider as different and therefore worthy of abuse because of that very difference. Expected families: we are all human beings and therefore anything is to be expected.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Bringing together more than 80 pictures taken by American photographers from the 19th century to today, (un)expected families explores the definition of the American family – from the families we are born into to the ones we have chosen for ourselves. The works on view depict a wide range of relationships, including multiple generations, romantic unions, and alternative family structures. Using archival, vernacular, and fine art photographs, (un)expected families offers a variety of perspectives on the American family, from Dorothea Lange’s depiction of a migrant family at the time of the Dust Bowl to Louie Palu’s portraits of US Marines fighting in Afghanistan. The exhibition illustrates that the family has always taken diverse forms: affluent and destitute, cohesive and fractured, expected and unexpected. Taken together, the photographs challenge visitors to consider what family means to them. (un)expected families features celebrated practitioners like Nan Goldin, Carrie Mae Weems, LaToya Ruby Frazier, and Harry Callahan, as well as a number of renowned Boston-area artists, such as David Hilliard, Nicholas Nixon, Abe Morell, and Sage Sohier.

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940) 'Home Workers, New York' 1915

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Home Workers, New York
1915
Lewis W. Hine/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Migrant family, Texas' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Migrant family, Texas
1936
Gelatin silver print
Sophie M. Friedman Fun
Dorothea Lange/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Louis Faurer (American, 1916-2001) 'Ritz Bar, New York' 1947-48

 

Louis Faurer (American, 1916-2001)
Ritz Bar, New York
1947-48
Estate of Louis Faurer/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Duane Michals (American, born in 1932) 'When he was young, he could not imagine being old. And now that he is old, he cannot imagine ever having been young' 1979

 

Duane Michals (American, born in 1932)
When he was young, he could not imagine being old. And now that he is old, he cannot imagine ever having been young
1979
Gelatin silver print
Duane Michals, courtesy of the DC Moore Gallery, New York, and Osmos, New York

 

Nicholas Nixon (American, born in 1947) 'Yazoo City, Mississippi' 1979

 

Nicholas Nixon (American, born in 1947)
Yazoo City, Mississippi
1979
Gelatin silver contact print
Museum purchase with funds donated by the National Endowment for the Arts and Richard L. Menschel, Bela T. Kalman, Judge and Mrs. Matthew Brown, Mildred S. Lee, and Barbara M. Marshall
© Nicholas Nixon, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Nan Goldin (American, born in 1953) 'Jimmy Paulette and Tabboo! in the bathroom, New York' 1991

 

Nan Goldin (American, born in 1953)
Jimmy Paulette and Tabboo! in the bathroom, New York
1991
Cibachrome print
Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund for Photography
© Nan Goldin
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

“I used to think that I could never lose anyone if I photographed them enough. But in fact my pictures show me just how much I’ve lost.” ~ Nan Goldin

 

Tina Barney (American, born in 1945) 'Thanksgiving' 1992

 

Tina Barney (American, born in 1945)
Thanksgiving
1992
Chromogenic print
Contemporary Curator’s Fund, including funds donated by Barbara and Thomas Lee
Tina Barney/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Tina Barney
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Sage Sohier (American, born in 1954) 'Mum in her bathtub, Washington, D.C.' 2002

 

Sage Sohier (American, born in 1954)
Mum in her bathtub, Washington, D.C.
2002
Inkjet print
Living New England Artists Purchase Fund, created by the Stephen and Sybil Stone Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Nicholas Nixon (American, born in 1947) 'Tammy Hindle' 2006

 

Nicholas Nixon (American, born in 1947)
Tammy Hindle
2006
Digital inkjet print
Gift of James N. Krebs
© Nicholas Nixon, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Julie Mack (American, born in 1982) 'Self-portrait (Julie) with family in SUV, Michigan' 2007

 

Julie Mack (American, born in 1982)
Self-portrait (Julie) with family in SUV, Michigan
2007
Chromogenic print
James N. Krebs Purchase Fund for 21st Century Photography
© Julie Mack. Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery, New York
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

David Hilliard  (America, born 1964) 'Rock Bottom' 2008

 

David Hilliard  (America, born 1964)
Rock Bottom
2008
Panorama Construction

 

 

Rock Bottom features, in the left panel, a close up sharp focus portrait of Hilliard’s father standing in a lake, with a severe and harsh facial expression, yet vulnerably placing his hands on his chest between his two sailor swallow’s tattoos. In the right panel, Hilliard himself appears somewhat further from the camera. With a gentler facial expression, the photographer contrasts with his tense patriarchal figure, but features a similar hairy chest and matching tattoos  –  giving the viewer a hint on the subject’s father-son relationship. The middle panel is exclusive for environmental portraiture and the creation of meaning in the composition: a sunny day at the lake, where the blue skies and soft clouds perfectly reflect on the water and separate the subject matters. The real meaning of the juxtaposition relies on the knowledge of Hilliard’s personal life and the presence of the middle panel: although the father accept his son’s homosexuality, the issue has clearly been a source of tension between them, creating both emotional and physical distance between the subject matters. Represented by the central panel, a stunning view divides the two generations both visually and metaphorically, symbolizing the idea of emotional distance in an atypical form.

Like most of Hilliard’s photographs, Rock Bottom exposes how physical distance is often manipulated to represent emotional distance. The presence of the middle panel, exclusively dedicated to environmental portraiture and the emphasis on the importance of our surroundings, also suggests the emotional distance between the subjects. The lack of elements and presence of great depth of field of the center panel insinuates that, regardless of the level of intimacy between the subject matters  – distance is always palpable.

Marina Pedrosa. “David Hilliard: Building Meaning Through Composition,” on the medium website [Online] Cited 22/08/2018

 

Julie Blackmon (American, born in 1966) 'Baby Toss' 2009

 

Julie Blackmon (American, born in 1966)
Baby Toss
2009
Elizabeth and Michael Marcus
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

LaToya Ruby Frazier (American, born in 1982) 'Mom' 2008

 

LaToya Ruby Frazier (American, born in 1982)
Mom
2008
Gelatin silver print
From “The Notion of Family” (Aperture, 2014)
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Caleb Cole (American, born in 1981) 'The Big Sister' 2012

 

Caleb Cole (American, born in 1981)
The Big Sister
2012
From the series Odd One Out (2010-Present)
Archival pigment print
49 × 68 cm (19 5/16 × 26 3/4 in.)
Museum purchase with funds donated by James N. Krebs

 

 

Bringing together more than 80 pictures taken by photographers from the 19th century to today, (un)expected families at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), explores the definition of the American family – from the families we’re born into to the ones we’ve chosen. The photographs in the exhibition, on view from December 9, 2017 through June 17, 2018, depict a wide range of relationships – multiple generations, romantic unions and alternative family structures – whether connected by DNA, shared life experiences, common interests or even a social media network. Encompassing both carefully staged portraits and serendipitous snapshots, the selection of vernacular, documentary and fine art photographs in (un)expected families illustrates that the concept of family has long taken many forms – a subject that has fascinated photographers since the invention of the camera – and challenges visitors to consider what family means to them. Drawn primarily from the MFA’s holdings, the exhibition includes photographs by celebrated artists such as Nan Goldin, Gordon Parks, Nicholas Nixon, Sally Mann, Diane Arbus, Tina Barney, Emmet Gowin and Bruce Davidson. Loans from private collections include Victorian-era “hidden mother” photographs of children and turn-of-the-century portraits of women in intimate relationships sometimes referred to as “Boston marriages.” Additionally, (un)expected families highlights many New England photographers whose work centers on familial relationships, debuting eight photographs – acquired specifically for the exhibition – by Zoe Perry-Wood, Arno Rafael Minkkinen, Amber Tourlentes, Caleb Cole, Tanja Hollander, David Hilliard and Jeannie Simms. An interactive component of (un)expected families invites visitors to share thoughts about their own families on response cards. A selection will be displayed in the gallery on a rotating basis, and all will be archived as part of the permanent exhibition record. Additionally, a free family guide engages children with close looking and drawing activities. The exhibition is generously supported by an anonymous donor.

“Almost as soon as exposure times became short enough to make portraiture feasible, photographers have been drawn to capture likenesses of loved ones. Perhaps that power to freeze a moment in time is what explains why family photographs are so often described as the first thing one would save from a burning building,” said Karen Haas, Lane Curator of Photographs. “I find it particularly fascinating that there seems to be a growing interest among contemporary photographers to focus on families in their work – even as with the rise of smartphones and social media, our own personal pictures are increasingly relegated to the ether, rarely experienced as tangible objects.”

The images presented in (un)expected families span 150 years. Among the oldest pictures are photographs of “hidden mothers” (1860s-70s), depicting infants in the laps of concealed adults – a trick to keep the children still during long sittings or exposures. The mothers or nursemaids were draped with scarves or blankets, or hidden behind furniture or painted backdrops. Similarly, the contemporary photograph Nayla, Ted, Alexandra, Nick, March 30, 1995 (1995) by Cambridge-based Elsa Dorfman (born 1937) focuses solely on the children. While names of the parents are among those handwritten on the bottom of the large-scale Polaroid, only their legs are visible in the composition. Another contemporary photograph juxtaposed with the Victorian-era “hidden mothers,” which were made during a period of high infant mortality rates, is Tammy Hindle (2006) by Nicholas Nixon (born 1947). Part of Nixon’s series documenting a family’s heartbreaking loss of a child, the image shows the mother, Tammy, carrying a portrait of the baby, Claire, to the funeral service, their bodies appearing to magically merge in the reflection within the picture frame.

Father-and-son relationships are explored in images by Dawoud Bey (born 1953), Duane Michals (born 1932) and Jim Goldberg (born 1953), all of which incorporate texts that amplify the moving and often painful stories behind the images, as well as recently acquired photographs by David Hilliard (born 1964) and Arno Rafael Minkkinen (born 1945). Hilliard’s triptych Rock Bottom (2008) is one of an extended series of panoramic photographs that trace the shifting narrative of the gay artist’s complicated relationship with his father. The beautifully choreographed self-portrait visually links the two men, unmistakably related to each other and sporting identical swallow tattoos, across a serene expanse of lake. Minkkinen’s 31-12-86, Self-Portrait with Daniel, Andover (1986), recently gifted to the MFA by the artist, is one of a little-known series of portraits that he took of his son Daniel as the boy grew and matured from infancy to adolescence. The photograph shows Daniel sitting on a bed, bathed in raking light and looking directly at his father’s large-format camera. With his head hidden from view, Minkkinen’s outstretched arms perfectly echo the curve of the headboard and create a haunting embrace that speaks to a parent’s deep-seated desire to encircle and protect a child.

Seventeen photographs representing multiple generations of a family are arranged in a salon-style hang, ranging from intimate depictions of parents with children, such as Baby Toss (2009) by Julie Blackmon (born 1966); to pairs of siblings, such as Twins at WDIA, Memphis (about 1948) by Ernest C. Withers (1922–2007); to a 1925 panorama capturing an extended family reunion encompassing about 200 people. The display also features recently acquired photographs by Sage Sohier (born 1954) and Jeannie Simms (born 1967). Sohier’s Mum in her bathtub, D.C. (2002) is from an extended series devoted to her mother, a former fashion model who had posed for Richard Avedon and Irving Penn in the 1940s. Simms’ Arnie, Susan & Elijah, Jamaica Plain, MA (2015) is from a series documenting the lives of couples married in Cambridge after Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to issue same-sex marriage licenses on May 17, 2004.

Recently acquired works by Amber Tourlentes (born 1970), Zoe Perry-Wood (born 1959) and Jess Dugan (born 1986) also document the experience of LGBTQ couples, families and individuals. Tourlentes has regularly made LGBTQ family portraits on the Town Hall stage in Provincetown, Massachusetts, during its annual Family Week, sometimes revisiting the same subjects over the course of several years. Perry-Wood has spent the last decade photographing another annual event, the Boston Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Youth (BAGLY) Prom, which offers a safe and celebratory occasion for young couples – an alternative to more traditional high-school proms. Allowing her subjects to pose in front of the camera in a studio-like setting, as seen in José and Luis (2015), Perry-Wood helps to give them a sense of personal agency and collective pride at a pivotal moment in their lives. Unlike Tourlentes and Perry-Wood, Dugan photographs her subjects – friends within the LGBTQ community – in natural light and the privacy of their own living spaces, exploring issues of gender, identity and social connection through large-format portraits such as Devotion, from the series Every Breath We Drew (2012).

With the invention of the small and affordable Kodak camera in the late 19th century, followed by the instant camera in the 1940s, many Americans no longer felt the need to visit formal portrait studios in order to record their personal lives. Among the casual snapshots featured in (un)expected families are Polaroids of Caroline Kennedy and her cousin Tina Radziwill, taken by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) in the summer of 1972 and exhibited at the MFA for the first time. The artist – along with filmmaker Jonas Mekas and photographer Peter Beard – was hired by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to teach the children filmmaking and photography. Also on view are an album of photographs commemorating a fraternity at Baker University in Kansas (1910s) and six snapshots depicting “Boston marriages” (1920s-30s) – a turn-of-the-century term used to describe two women living together without the support of a man – romantic relationships in some cases and simply platonic partnerships in others.

Several groupings in the exhibition are centered on places of family life. Working roughly 50 years apart, one on New York’s Lower East Side and the other in Harlem, Lewis Hine (1874-1940) and Bruce Davidson (born 1933) both found the kitchen table an ideal site for their documentary photographs of tenement families in New York City. The groundbreaking Kitchen Table series (1990) by Carrie Mae Weems (born 1953) – featuring the photographer herself as the central figure, alongside lovers, children and friends – speaks to all those who have loved, quarrelled and come together around a communal table. Similarly, Tina Barney (born 1945) often acts as both guide and participant in her photographs – including Thanksgiving (1992) – which portray complex family moments in the wealthy East Coast social scene that she grew up in. In another selection of photographs by Julie Mack (born 1982), Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015) and Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), the car is shown as a setting for a contemporary family self-portrait, a shelter for a homeless family in Los Angeles, and a vehicle for escape for migrant farm workers and their families during the Dust Bowl.

Alongside biologically related families and romantic unions, the exhibition highlights bonds among close-knit communities – “chosen families” – often documented by photographers embedded within the groups. Louie Palu (born 1968) spent several years covering the conflict in Afghanistan, producing portraits of U.S. Marines that capture the terrible toll of war etched on their faces and reflected in their eyes. Danny Lyon (born 1942) was a student at the University of Chicago when he first befriended members of the Chicago Outlaws, a notorious motorcycle club. For a number of years, he documented the individual gang members, their families and friends, as well as races, meetings, social gatherings, rides throughout the Midwest and even their funerals. Nan Goldin (born 1953) uses her camera as a form of diary to record the lives of friends, whom she considers a surrogate family. In Jimmy Paulette and Tabboo! in the bathroom, NYC (1991), Goldin represents two drag queens in New York City’s East Village, working in her characteristically direct, snapshot-like style. For the artist, who has lost many in her circle to HIV-AIDS, such images form tangible records of powerful human connections in fragile times.

Ethel Shariff in Chicago (1963) by Gordon Parks (1912–2006) and Hutterite Classroom, Gilford, MT (2005) by Christopher Churchill (born 1977) are among the photographs depicting religious communities. Ethel Shariff, the eldest daughter of longtime Nation of Islam head Elijah Mohammed, stands at the apex of Parks’ group portrait, surrounded by fellow members of the organization’s women’s corps. Churchill’s photograph is from a series of pictures on the theme of American faith – a project he undertook in the years just after 9/11. Traveling across the country, he visited various sacred landscapes, places of worship and religious communities including the Hutterites, a branch of the Anabaptists who trace their beginnings back to the Protestant Reformation. For Churchill, the series became an exploration into the very basic human need to be connected to something greater than ourselves. Similarly, Tanja Hollander (born 1972) traveled all over the world – across the U.S. and Europe, but also as far away as Kuala Lumpur and New Zealand – for five years, tracking down all of her hundreds of Facebook friends and making portraits of them set in their own homes. Shot with an iPhone or a simple point-and-shoot camera, these intimate pictures – two of which were acquired for the exhibition – present a fascinating commentary on the role of social media and interpersonal relationships in the 21st century.

Additional highlights of (un)expected families include photographs in a variety of formats. Caleb Cole (born 1981) is a local photographer particularly fascinated by the dynamics of family photographs found at estate sales and flea markets in which one of the subjects – in contrast to the rest of the smiling faces – appears especially sad or downcast. Cole digitally alters these vernacular images to isolate the single, lonely figure, all the while maintaining the shapes of the remaining sitters so that the “odd one out” is set off against the blank, white expanse of the group. In The Big Sister (2012), a recent acquisition, a young girl whose parents have just introduced her to a new baby looks dejectedly off into space as if desperately wishing she could return to her former status as an only child. Digital projections from the series To Majority Minority (2014-15) by Annu Palakunnathu Matthew (born 1964) are also based on found snapshots, sourced from photo albums of immigrant families that have come to the U.S. from all over the world. Working with the owners of these albums, Matthew digitises the images and then recreates the figures and their poses using contemporary family members in place of the original sitters. By presenting them as projections that seamlessly flow from one generation into another, the artist measures the passage of time through the faces of subsequent generations, and the accompanying texts tell stories inspired by the treasured photographs of their ancestors.

Press release from Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Photographer unknown (American) 'Untitled [Hidden Mother]' c. 1860s-70s

 

Photographer unknown (American)
Untitled [Hidden Mother]
c. 1860s-70s
Hand-coloured tintype
Collection of Lee Marks and John C. DePrez, Jr., Shelbyville, Indiana
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Elaine Mayes (American, born in 1936) 'Group Portrait, Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco' c. 1970

 

Elaine Mayes (American, born in 1936)
Group Portrait, Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco
c. 1970
Elaine Mayes/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ernest C. Withers (American, 1922–2007) 'Twins at WDIA, Memphis' about 1948

 

Ernest C. Withers (American, 1922–2007)
Twins at WDIA, Memphis
about 1948
Gelatin silver print
Sophie M. Friedman Fund / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978) 'She is a Tree of Life to Them' 1950

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978)
She is a Tree of Life to Them
1950
Gelatin silver print
Lucy Dalbiac Luard Fund
Consuelo Kanaga/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Ethel Shariff in Chicago' 1963

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Ethel Shariff in Chicago
1963
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Gus and Arlette Kayafas in honor of Karen E. Haas / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Roswell Angier (American, born in 1940) 'Mr. and Mrs. Steve Mills, Pilgrim Theatre, Boston' 1973

 

Roswell Angier (American, born in 1940)
Mr. and Mrs. Steve Mills, Pilgrim Theatre, Boston
1973
Gelatin silver print
Polaroid Foundation Purchase Fund, reproduced with permission / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Jock Sturges (American, born in 1947) 'Misty Dawn and Alisa, Northern California' 1989

 

Jock Sturges (American, born in 1947)
Misty Dawn and Alisa, Northern California
1989
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Elizabeth Lea
© Jock Sturges
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909–2011) 'Felix and his Wife, Buffalo' 1992

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909–2011)
Felix and his Wife, Buffalo
1992
From the series Lower West Side Revisited
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Denise Jarvinen and Pierre Cremieux
© Milton Rogovin, Copyright 1952-2002 / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Louie Palu (Canadian, born in 1968) 'U.S. Marine Gysgt. Carlos "OJ" Orjuela, age 31. Garmsir, Helmand, Afghanistan' 2008

 

Louie Palu (Canadian, born in 1968)
U.S. Marine Gysgt. Carlos “OJ” Orjuela, age 31. Garmsir, Helmand, Afghanistan
2008
Inkjet print
Museum purchase with funds donated in honour of Linda and Alex Beavers
Louie Palu/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

And then there’s Louie Palu’s black and white portraits of Marines. These are some of the few single-person portraits among images of families or groups. Paired with a group photo, there is an initial sense of loneliness. But isolate the image and it’s a different story.

“In the military, you arrive alone and leave the military alone but live on a battlefield as part of a close group of people who will do everything to support you and are willing to risk their life to save yours,” he said. “When you are a soldier, your comrades can define a life-changing experience not a single member of your biological family will ever understand. When you come home, your mother, father, wife, brothers, sisters and children can never connect to that experience like your comrades can. When you are in a group, you are strong, and when you are alone, you are not.” (Text from the New York Times website)

 

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987) 'Red Book: Tina Radziwill and Caroline Kennedy, Montauk' 1972

 

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987)
Red Book: Tina Radziwill and Caroline Kennedy, Montauk
1972
Polaroid photograph
Sheet: 10.8 x 8.6 cm (4 1/4 x 3 3/8 in.)
Gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY

 

Elsa Dorfman (American, born in 1937) 'Nayla, Ted, Alexandra, Nick, March 30, 1995' 1995

 

Elsa Dorfman (American, born in 1937)
Nayla, Ted, Alexandra, Nick, March 30, 1995
1995
Polaroid polacolor
Gift of Elsa Dorfman in memory of Dorothy Glaser
© Elsa Dorfman, 2013, all rights reserved / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Dawoud Bey (American, born in 1953) 'Kevin' 2005

 

Dawoud Bey (American, born in 1953)
Kevin
2005
From the series Class Pictures
Chromogenic print
Museum purchase with funds donated by the Friends of Photography and The Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection
© Dawoud Bey
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Dawoud Bey (1953-) is a photographer known for his colour portraits of various subjects, perhaps most notably teenagers. This 2005 photograph is of a teen named Kevin and is from Bey’s series Class Pictures, which is a study of high school students across the country

 

Jess T. Dugan. 'Devotion' 2012

 

Jess T. Dugan
Devotion
2012
From the series Every Breath We Drew
Jess T. Dugan/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Jess T. Dugan

 

Tanja Hollander (American, born in 1972) 'Brittany Marcoux and Brian McGuire, Swansea, Massachusetts' 2012

 

Tanja Hollander (American, born in 1972)
Brittany Marcoux and Brian McGuire, Swansea, Massachusetts
2012
Inkjet print
Museum purchase with funds donated by James N. Krebs
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Tanja Hollander

 

 

Annu Palakunnathu Matthew
To Majority Minority – Thuan
2014-15

 

 

The word immigrant conjures up families passing through Ellis Island or young men climbing across the southwest border fence. The United States of America of yesterday, filled with immigrants of European descent is giving way to a new multi-coloured and multicultural America. By 2050 “minority” populations in the U.S. will become the majority of the population. In this new multi-coloured America, we need to reframe our understanding of our newest immigrants in terms of their cultures, religions and stories.

In this project, I explore the generational transition from immigrant to native within families, starting with portrait photographs from these immigrant’s albums. These old photographs reflect where they have come from, revealing family histories and shared stories of immigration. The final portrait animation helps us empathise with these new Americans beyond the stereotype of the family at Ellis Island or the presumed terrorist.

 

 

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18
May
18

Exhibition: ‘Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography’ at the National Portrait Gallery, London Part 2

Exhibition dates: 1st March – 20th May 2018

Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography is curated by Phillip Prodger PhD, Head of Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Poster for the exhibition 'Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography' at the National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Poster for the catalogue for the exhibition Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography at the National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Oh Clementina! the light, the stars!

There is enough text in the posting for me not to really have to say anything. It’s all there…

Art, influence, technology;
Classical, formal, diaristic;
Intimacy, mystery, atmospheric;
Motherhood, sexuality, feminist identity, nascent womanhood;
‘Profil perdu’ (French, ‘lost profile’, which refers to a portrait in which the profile cannot be seen), mirror, loss, duplication and replication, illusion, and fetish

… all woven into a performative, psychological, expressive and creative (self) portraiture.

The real stars of the show are most definitely the women… the avant-garde artists of their era.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the National Portrait Gallery, London for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

This major exhibition is the first to examine the relationship between four ground-breaking Victorian artists: Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79), Lewis Carroll (1832-98), Lady Clementina Hawarden (1822-65) and Oscar Rejlander (1813-75). Drawn from public and private collections internationally, the exhibition features some of the most breath-taking images in photographic history. Influenced by historical painting and frequently associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the four artists formed a bridge between the art of the past and the art of the future, standing as true giants in Victorian photography.

 

 

“The women are the real stars of this exhibition. Their pictures are bolder and bigger, more imaginative and more daring. They portray people with a raw reality that is not just the result of the collodion method but a powerful, visionary insight.

Hawarden’s pictures of Victorian women have an intimacy that transcends time and a mystery that asserts the autonomy of her subjects. They are feminist, and gothic too, in their eerie atmosphere. In an 1863-4 picture called ‘Photographic Study’, she poses a young woman by a mirror so that we see her twice. The “real” woman is in brooding profile while her reflection is a shadowy full-face image. The effect is spookily absorbing as we become witnesses to her melancholic introspection.

Hawarden’s ultra-sharp yet shadow-rich prints create unresolved stories featuring women free to show who they really are. None of them look happy. All are curiously defiant – these pictures anticipate those of the 1970s US artist Francesca Woodman. As portraits of women created by women, these Victorian photographers’ subversive creations have almost no precedents.

Not that Cameron looked to the handful of earlier women artists as models. She was trying to be a new Rembrandt: her portraits consciously compete with the masterpieces of the baroque age. While the painted portraits of male Victorian artists such as John Everett Millais and George Frederic Watts are period pieces at best, her great 1866 photograph Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty (Mrs Keene) with its subtle mix of resolution and suggestiveness brings us face to face with someone whose eyes hold ours and whose mind is as real to us as her tangled hair. There is a sensitivity to the magic of being human in Cameron’s portraits that makes her the greatest British artist of her time. This exhibition puts her in a brilliantly delineated context of experiment and imagination, the first avant-garde artist of the camera.”

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Extract from Jonathan Jones. “Victorian Giants: the Birth of Art Photography review – the triumph of the female gaze,” on The Guardian website Friday 2 March 2018

 

 

 

 

Clementina Hawarden

Her life cruelly cut short by pneumonia at the age of forty-two, Clementina Maude, Viscountess Hawarden produced some 800 photographs in her lifetime, nearly all are of her eight children posed in poignant tableaux. She began to photograph on her family’s estate, outside Tipperary, around 1857, later moving to Princes Gardens, London, near Hyde Park. Frequently compared to Cameron, she was much admired by Carroll, and on her death, Rejlander wrote her obituary. (Wall text)

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“I
n that vein, the greatest discovery in the exhibition is a thrillingly strange image by Hawarden, to my mind always the most intriguing photographer of the four. Hawarden was a Scottish countess who had ten children. She photographed all of her daughters repeatedly, and there were so many of them it’s hard to keep track. Her photographs, which are often classical in their formal qualities, nevertheless anticipate the diaristic work of the 20th century photographers Sally Mann and Nan Goldin. They often contain more than one girl, and often feature mirrors, so that everything is about multiplication or reflection – an effect that might also be seen as a form of self-portraiture in the mother of so many.” (Gaby Wood)

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Her photographic years were brief but prolific. Hawarden produced over eight hundred photographs between 1857 and her sudden death in 1864. During this time she gave birth to three of her eight children. Lady Hawarden’s photographic focus remained on her children. There is only one photograph believed to feature the Viscountess Hawarden, yet it could also be a portrait of her sister Anne Bontine.

A collection of 775 portraits were donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London in 1939 by Hawarden’s granddaughter, Clementina Tottenham. The photographs were torn, or cut, from family albums for reasons that are still unclear. This accounts for the torn or trimmed corners which are now considered a hallmark of Hawarden’s work.

Carol Mavor writes extensively about the place of Hawarden’s work in the history of Victorian photography as well as contemporary interpretations of the work. She states, “Hawarden’s pictures raise significant issues of gender, motherhood, and sexuality as they relate to photography’s inherent attachments to loss, duplication and replication, illusion, fetish.” (Mavor, Carol (1999). Becoming: the photographs of Clementina, Viscountess Hawarden (1st ed.). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.) (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Clementina Hawarden (1822-65) 'Photographic Study, 5 Princes Gardens (Clementina Maude)' 1863-1864

 

Clementina Hawarden (1822-65)
Photographic Study, 5 Princes Gardens (Clementina Maude)
1863-1864
from The Photographic Study Series by Clementina, Lady Hawarden
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Given by Lady Clementina Tottenham
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

“Although her work has often been linked to that of Julia Margaret Cameron, the best known woman photographer of the Victorian epoch, Clementina Hawarden struck out into areas and depicted moods unknown to the art photographers of her age.” ~ Graham Ovenden 1974

 

This remarkable photograph shows a woman gazing into a mirror, but not at her own reflection. Instead, the picture was carefully arranged so that the woman’s face is seen in profile, while only her reflection looks back out of the mirror. Hawarden excelled at producing ambiguous narrative photographs such as this one, suggesting the rich inner life of the subject, without telling a clear story. The heroes of her pictures are nearly always women, who seem all but trapped in domestic interiors. (Wall text)

 

Clementina Hawarden (1822-65) 'Photographic Study (Clementina Maude)' early 1860s

 

Clementina Hawarden (1822-65)
Photographic Study (Clementina Maude)
early 1860s
Albumen print from wet collodion negative
20.1 x 14.4 cm (7 15/16 x 5 11/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Harriette and Noel Levine Gift, 2005
© Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Clementina, Lady Hawarden, is a poetic, if elusive, presence among nineteenth-century photographers. As a devoted mother, her life revolved around her eight children. She took up photography in 1857; using her daughters as models, she created a body of work remarkable for its technical brilliance and its original depiction of nascent womanhood. Lady Hawarden showed her work in the 1863 and 1864 exhibitions of the Photographic Society. With the exception of a few rare examples, her photographs remained in the possession of her family until 1939, when the more than eight hundred images were donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Only recently have they been the objects of research, publication, and exhibition.

Clementina Maude, her mother’s preferred model, is seen here in a reflective pose against a star-studded wall. The casual placement of the shawl on the table and the girl’s loose hair contribute to the feeling of intimacy. In the airy room time seems to be suspended. The sensuous curves of the table legs, the soft weight of the crushed velvet, and the crispness of the starry wallpaper are enhanced by the skilful handling of the collodion technique. The composition, devoid of Victorian clutter, brings together light, shadow, and compositional elements in a spare and appealing interplay. In contrast to the prevailing fashion of giving literary or sentimental titles to portraits of young women, Lady Hawarden titled her works simply “Photographic Study.”

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Clementina Hawarden (1822-65) 'Photographic Study (Clementina and Isabella Grace Maude)' 1863-64

 

Clementina Hawarden (1822-65)
Photographic Study (Clementina and Isabella Grace Maude)
1863-64
Albumen print from wet collodion negative
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Hawarden frequently dressed up her sitters and arranged them in enigmatic narratives like this one. Although not derived from any known painting, the manner of dress, including the cloak and tricorn hat of the male figure (actually one of Hawarden’s daughters dressed up), suggest an eighteenth century reference. (Wall text)

 

Clementina Hawarden (1822-65) 'Photographic Study (Florence Elizabeth and Clementina Maude)' 1863-4

 

Clementina Hawarden (1822-65)
Photographic Study (Florence Elizabeth and Clementina Maude)
1863-4
Albumen print from wet collodion negative
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Working from upstairs rooms at 5 Princes Gardens, near to the South Kensington Museum (where both she and Julia Margaret Cameron were frequent visitors), Hawarden used light streaming from large floor to ceiling windows to illuminate her pictures. Her subjects were usually her children, especially her daughters Clementina, Florence, and Isabella Grace, whom she posed in domestic tableaux.

Both Carroll and Rejlander knew and admired Hawarden. On at least one occasion, Rejlander photographed her daughter Isabella Grace; after Hawarden’s death, he also photographed her youngest daughter, Antonia. (Wall text)

 

Clementina Hawarden (1822-65) Hawarden. 'Isabella Grace and Clementina Maude, 5 Princes Gardens' c. 1863-4

 

Clementina Hawarden (1822-65)
Hawarden Isabella Grace and Clementina Maude, 5 Princes Gardens
c. 1863-4
Albumen print from wet collodion negative
Given by Lady Clementina Tottenham
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Virginia Dodier thinks that this photograph belongs to an ‘Orientalist’ series. Here, Lady Hawarden gives her drawing room a tent-like atmosphere. Such scenes were popularised by the painter J. F. Lewis, and Roger Fenton exhibited his photographic ‘Nubian Series’ in 1859. Dodier writes that the idea of Orientalism allowed European artists to ‘evoke sensuality on the premise of presenting quasi-ethnographical information about the customs of the East’. The idea of the fancy dress or allegorical portrait stems from an earlier tradition in English art. They are found, for example, in the work of the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92). (Text from the Victoria and Albert Museum website)

 

 

Lady Clementina Hawarden: Themes & Style (extract)

With careful choice of props, clothing, mirrors, balcony, and posture, Hawarden produced exquisite studies of her adolescent daughters. The figures and dress are the main subject, carefully framed in the room, and often in front of the balcony. The city beyond often provides a blurred background.

The writer Carol Mavor in Becoming: The Photographs of Clementina, Viscountess Hawarden suggests that the often provocative poses of Hawarden’s daughters are significant. The Victorians were bothered by the idea of sexuality and adolescence, and in 1861 the Offences Against the Person Act raised the age of consent from 10 to 12. This was also the year in which Hawarden began to make this kind of photograph, though there is no evidence that she was deliberately exploring this controversial topic.

Hawarden liked to use natural light in her studio at her South Kensington home, in a way that was seen at the time as ‘daring’. She placed mirrors to reflect light and used them to explore the idea of ‘the double’, just as other photographers (and occasionally Hawarden herself) used a stereoscopic camera to produce twin prints.

From around 1862 Hawarden concentrated on photographing her daughters in costume tableaux, a popular subject at the time. Costumes from the dressing up box are combined with dresses at the height of fashion to produce beautiful and detailed studies that confound the contemporary with the make-believe.

Text from the Victoria and Albert Museum website

 

Clementina Hawarden (1822-65) 'Photographic Study (Clementina and Florence Elizabeth Maude)' 1859-61

 

Clementina Hawarden (1822-65)
Photographic Study (Clementina and Florence Elizabeth Maude)
1859-61
Uncut stereo albumen print

 

Figure 60 and 61 of the catalogue for the exhibition 'Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography' at the National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Figure 60 and 61 of the catalogue for the exhibition Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography at the National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Figure 112 and 113 of the catalogue for the exhibition 'Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography' at the National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Figure 112 and 113 of the catalogue for the exhibition Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography at the National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Oscar Rejlander

According to his naturalisation papers, Rejlander was born in Stockholm on October 19, 1813. He was the son of Carl Gustaf Rejlander, a stonemason and Swedish Army Officer. During his youth, his family moved to the Swedish-speaking community in Rauma, Finland (then Russia). In the 1830s, he relocated to England, initially settling in Lincoln, England. In the 1850s he abandoned his original profession as a painter and portrait miniaturist, apparently after seeing how well a photograph captured the fold of a sleeve.

He set up as a portraitist in the industrial Midlands town of Wolverhampton, probably around 1846. In the early 1850s he learned the wet-collodion and waxed-paper processes at great speed with Nicholas Henneman in London, and then changed his business to that of a photography studio. He undertook genre work and portraiture. Rejlander also produced nude studies, mainly for use as studies by painters. There are no known erotic photographs of children by Rejlander. His so-called ‘Charlotte Baker’ photograph is a well-known forgery, produced by convicted child sex offender Graham Ovenden by Ovenden’s friend Howard Grey in the 1970s, rephotographed and printed to look antique by Ovenden. No person by the name Charlotte Baker ever seems to have posed for Rejlander.

Rejlander undertook many experiments to perfect his photography, including combination printing, which he did not invent; however, he created more elaborate and convincing composite photographs than any prior photographer. He had articles feature in the Wolverhampton Chronicle, on 15 November 1854 an article called “Improvement in Calotypes, by Mr. O.G. Rejlander, of Wolverhampton” it suggests that by 1854 he was experimenting with combination printing from several negatives. He was a friend of photographer Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better known by the nom de plume Lewis Carroll), who collected Rejlander’s work and corresponded with him on technical matters. Rejlander later created one of the best known and most revealing portraits of Dodgson.

Rejlander participated in the Paris Exhibition of 1855. In 1856 he made his best-known allegorical work, The Two Ways of Life. This was a seamlessly montaged combination print made of thirty-two images (akin to the use of Photoshop today, but then far more difficult to achieve) in about six weeks. First exhibited at the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857, the work shows a man being lured to paths of vice or virtue by good and bad angels. The image’s partial nudity, which showed real women as they actually appeared and not the idealised forms then common in Victorian art, was deemed ‘indecent’ by some. Rejlander was also accused of using prostitutes as models, although Rejlander categorically denied this and no proof was ever offered. Reservations about the work subsided when Queen Victoria ordered a 10-guinea copy to give to Prince Albert. Victoria and Albert would go on to purchase three copies of the work, all of which are now lost. …

Rejlander moved his studio to Malden Road, London around 1862 and largely abandoned her early experiments with double exposure, photomontage, photographic manipulation and retouching. Instead, he became one of Britain’s leading portraitists, creating pictures with psychological charge. He became a leading expert in photographic techniques, lecturing and publishing widely, and sold work through bookshops and art dealers. He also found subject-matter in London, photographing homeless London street children to produce popular ‘social-protest’ pictures such as “Poor Joe,” also known as “Homeless”. …

Rejlander’s ideas and techniques were taken up by other photographers and this, to some extent, justifies labelling him as the father of art photography.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) 'Charles Darwin' 1871

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
Charles Darwin
1871
Albumen print
© Moderna Museet, Stockholm

 

 

Starting in the late 1860s, Charles Darwin began collecting photographs for use in the research that would eventually become his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). Hoping to find authentic photographs, that captured emotional expressions as they actually occurred, he visited print shops and studios in London, and contacted several photographers hoping to commission new pictures. Few, if any, of the photographs he acquired met his ambitious expectations.

In April, 1871, Darwin wrote, ‘I am now rich in photographs, for I have found in London Rejlander, who for years has had a passion for photographing all sorts of chance expressions, exhibited on various occasions … instantaneously.’ Rejlander would go on to become the main contributor of photographs to Darwin’s book. (Wall text)

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) 'The Two Ways of Life' 1856-7

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
The Two Ways of Life
1856-7
Albumen print, made from approximately 32 separate negatives
Moderna Museet, Stockholm

 

 

One of the most famous pictures in photographic history, Rejlander’s Two Ways of Life caused a sensation when it was exhibited at the Manchester Art Treasures exhibition in 1857. To make it, Rejlander combined some thirty-two separate negatives (there were variations between printings, and it is not always clear where negatives begin and end). Some viewers were offended by the nudes, whose bodies appear frank and realistic compared to the ideal fantasies painters were expected to produce. Others objected to its ambition, since Rejlander seemed to be saying that photography could be used to produce pictures just as meaningful, and as artistically composed, as any painting.

To make Two Ways of Life, Rejlander had to arrange the various subjects within it at the right size to maintain visual perspective. This was a challenge, since enlargement and reduction of negatives was not yet possible in the darkroom. The only way he could change the size of something in the negative was to rephotograph it.

This is the finest known print of the photograph, which is also known in a reduced form. The photograph is a parable featuring Rejlander himself, who stands in the middle, listening to ‘good’ and ‘bad’ angels luring him to paths of vice and virtue. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert loved the picture and bought three copies, none of which survive. (Wall text)

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) 'The Evening Sun (Iphigenia)' c. 1860

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
The Evening Sun (Iphigenia)
c. 1860
© Gernsheim Collection, Harry Ransom Centre, The University of Texas at Austin

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) 'The Evening Sun (Iphigenia)' c. 1860

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
The Evening Sun (Iphigenia)
c. 1860
© Gernsheim Collection, Harry Ransom Centre, The University of Texas at Austin

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) 'The Evening Sun (Iphigenia)' c. 1860 (detail)

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
The Evening Sun (Iphigenia) (detail)
c. 1860
© Gernsheim Collection, Harry Ransom Centre, The University of Texas at Austin

 

 

Iphigenia was a daughter of King Agamemnon who appears in legends about the Trojan War. When her father accidentally offended the goddess Artemis, he was forced to sacrifice Iphigenia to appease the goddess so that she would allow his ships to sail to Troy. She was tricked into going to the town of Aulis under the pretence that she would marry the heroic warrior Achilles. In some versions she was killed, while in others she was rescued by Artemis. (Wall text)

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) 'Ariadne' 1857

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
Ariadne
1857
Albumen print from a wet collodion negative

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) 'Nude female study' c. 1867

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
Nude female study
c. 1867
Albumen print
7 3/4 in. x 5 3/8 in. (196 mm x 138 mm) overall
Given by Stephan Loewentheil, 2017
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Rejlander produced a number of nude studies which he sold to painters for use as studies. He considered these pictures significant because they pointed up errors historically made by painters when depicting human anatomy. Although he was happy for painters to use photographs to improve their paintings, he also saw accuracy of depiction as one of the things that made photography special when compared to other art forms. (Wall text)

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) 'The Virgin in prayer' c. 1857

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
The Virgin in prayer (after Sassoferrato)
c. 1857
albumen print
6 7/8 in. x 5 7/8 in. (174 mm x 150 mm) overall
Purchased with help from the Art Fund, Jane and Michael Wilson and Stephen Barry, 2015
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

This photograph is a based on the famous painting The Virgin in Prayer painted by the Italian Baroque painter Sassoferrato 1640-50, now in the collection of the National Gallery, London. The rise of public art spaces in Britain in the nineteenth century, including the National Gallery (1824), and the National Portrait Gallery (1856), provided inspiration for countless photographers. Rejlander was particularly enthusiastic about restaging famous paintings, often in order to demonstrate mistakes that painters had made in scale and perspective. The process was fun, and the results fuelled the debate about photography’s role among the arts. (Wall text)

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) 'The Virgin in prayer (after Sassoferrato)' c. 1857

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
The Virgin in prayer (after Sassoferrato)
c. 1857
Albumen print
7 3/4 in. x 5 3/4 in. (196 mm x 146 mm) overall
Given by Stephan Loewentheil, 2017
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) 'Unknown young woman' 1860-1866

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
Unknown young woman
1860-1866
Albumen print
7 3/8 in. x 5 1/4 in. (188 mm x 134 mm) overall
Purchased with help from the Art Fund, Jane and Michael Wilson and Stephen Barry, 2015
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) 'Untitled (unknown sitter, possibly Rejlander's wife, Mary)' c. 1863

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
Untitled (unknown sitter, possibly Rejlander’s wife, Mary)
c. 1863
Printed by Julia Margaret Cameron
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Mrs Margaret Southam, 1941
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Cameron invited Rejlander to the Isle of Wight in 1863. Before the visit, Rejlander provided her with some of his own negatives, so that she could practise printing. She experimented with some, decorating them with ferns. This picture, which descended through Cameron’s family, was once believed to have been made by her. However, it is now recognised as one of the pictures Cameron printed from a Rejlander negative. The subject is one who frequently appears in Rejlander’s work, and may even have been his wife, Mary. (Wall text)

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) 'Unknown young woman' 1863-1866

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
Unknown young woman
1863-1866
Albumen print
8 1/8 in. x 5 7/8 in. (205 mm x 149 mm) overall
Purchased with help from the Art Fund, Jane and Michael Wilson and Stephen Barry, 2015
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) ''Sleep' (Mary Rejlander (née Bull))' c. 1855

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
‘Sleep’ (Mary Rejlander (née Bull))
c. 1855
Albumen print
6 1/8 in. x 6 5/8 in. (156 mm x 167 mm) overall
Purchased with help from the Art Fund, Jane and Michael Wilson and Stephen Barry, 2015
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) 'Minnie Constable' 1860-1866

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
Minnie Constable
1860-1866
Albumen print
7 1/2 in. x 5 3/4 in. (192 mm x 146 mm) overall
Purchased with help from the Art Fund, Jane and Michael Wilson and Stephen Barry, 2015
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) ''Art must assist Photography' (Putto as Allegory of Painting)' 1856

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
‘Art must assist Photography’ (Putto as Allegory of Painting)
1856
Albumen print
4 3/4 in. x 3 5/8 in. (120 mm x 93 mm) overall
Purchased with help from the Art Fund, Jane and Michael Wilson and Stephen Barry, 2015
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) 'Oscar Gustav Rejlander; Mary Rejlander (née Bull)' 1860-1866

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
Oscar Gustav Rejlander; Mary Rejlander (née Bull)
1860-1866
Albumen print
8 5/8 in. x 6 1/4 in. (219 mm x 158 mm) overall
Purchased with help from the Art Fund, Jane and Michael Wilson and Stephen Barry, 2015
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) 'Unknown woman' 1860-1866

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
Unknown woman
1860-1866
Albumen print
8 in. x 5 3/4 in. (202 mm x 147 mm) overall
Purchased with help from the Art Fund, Jane and Michael Wilson and Stephen Barry, 2015
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) ''A devotee' (Unknown woman)' 1860-1866

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
‘A devotee’ (Unknown woman)
1860-1866
Albumen print
8 5/8 in. x 6 1/4 in. (219 mm x 158 mm) overall
Purchased with help from the Art Fund, Jane and Michael Wilson and Stephen Barry, 2015
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) 'Purify my heart' also known as 'The Little Sisters' c. 1862

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
Purify my heart also known as The Little Sisters
c. 1862
Albumen print
5 in. x 4 1/8 in. (127 mm x 105 mm) overall
Given by Stephan Loewentheil, 2017
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

This photograph shows two sisters side by side in profile, their hands clasped in prayer. One girl seems almost to be a mirror reflection of the other. Rejlander exhibited versions of this photograph with two different titles. Purify My Heart is a reference to the biblical passage James 4:8: ‘Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.’ Lewis Carroll admired this photograph and purchased a copy for his personal collection. (Wall text)

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) 'Unknown young woman' 1863-1866

 

Oscar Rejlander (1813-75)
Unknown young woman
1863-1866
Albumen print
8 1/8 in. x 5 7/8 in. (205 mm x 149 mm) overall
Purchased with help from the Art Fund, Jane and Michael Wilson and Stephen Barry, 2015
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

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01
Jul
17

Review: ‘Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy’ at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 27th April – 8th July 2017

This project has been supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria

 

PLEASE NOTE: I am still recovering from my hand operation which is going to take longer than expected. All of the text has been constructed using a dictation programme and corrected using only my right hand – a tedious process. I have to keep my mental faculties together, otherwise this hand will drive me to distraction… Marcus

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1-3' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 1-3
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type prints
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 1
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 2' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 2
C-type print
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“While I’m interested in portraiture – I don’t consider my work as portraiture because that suggests that I’m trying to portray myself, my own visage, my own image. I employ images, icons, materials, metaphors to capture and idea and moment in time. There are many different things at play; taking a picture of myself is really the last thing that’s on my mind.”

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Christian Thompson in conversation with Hetti Perkins, catalogue extract

 

“I’m interested in simple aesthetic gestures that can say something … something quite profound about the world that we live in. I tend to build images how I create a sculpture. I borrow from the world around me.”

On being away from home: “You’re able to remove yourself from the local discourse, and romanticise home. When you’re displaced you tend to gravitate towards certain memories … But this is who I am. It would be weird not to express that somehow. I combine memories of my past with my lived experience and an idea of where I’d like to be … it’s all montaged into one.”

.
Christian Thompson

 

“But Thompson makes things up. His ‘We bury our own’ does not let us see the early daguerreotype but improvises a series of fugues on its spiritual essence. This is the crucial step that Thompson has taken: if you repeat the spectacle you cannot escape the past. But if you, a spiritual descendant, transmogrify yourself in keeping with the aura of the image’s subject, during the prolonged period of encounter and immersion, you can ‘repatriate’ that forebear. Or so he desires.”

“Through these conjurings of the language his people spoke before colonisation set out to strip them of their culture as well as their land, Christian Thompson performs private ceremonies – to reach beyond visual statements of personal presence and reawaken the knowledge of his forebears, and allow us, his listeners and viewers, into their living story.”

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Marina Warner. “Magical Aesthetics,” extracts from the catalogue essay

 

 

Still singing, still Dreaming,
still loving… not dying.

This is a strong survey exhibition of the work of contemporary Australian Indigenous artist and Bidjara man exploring the world, Christian Thompson. As with any survey exhibition, it can only give us a glimpse into the long standing development of the artist’s work, inviting the viewer to then research more fully the themes, conceptual acts and bodies (of work) that have led the artist to this point in his artistic development. Having said that the exhibition, together with its insightful catalogue essays and additional images that do not appear in the exhibition, allow the viewer to be challenged intellectually, aesthetically and most importantly … spiritually. And to be somewhat conflicted by the art as well, it has to be said.

Thompson’s “multidisciplinary practice explores notions of cultural hybridity, along with identity and history, creating works that transcend cultural boundaries.” His self-reflexive and self-referential bodies of work, often with the artist using his body as an “armature for his characters, costumes and various props,” are intuitive and imaginative in how they relate Aboriginal and Australian/European history, taking past time into present time which influences future time. Time, memory, history, space, landscape are conflated into one point, enunciated through acts of ritual intimacy. These ritual intimacies, these performative acts, are enabled through an understanding of a regularised and constrained repetition of norms (in this case, the declarative power of colonialism), where the taking of a photograph of an Aboriginal person (for example), is “a ritual reiterated under and through constraint, under and through the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of ostracism and even death controlling and compelling the shape of the production…” (Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, p. 95).

What is so heartening to see in this exhibition is a contemporary Indigenous artist not relying on re-animating colonial images of past injustices, but re-imagining these images to produce a spiritual connection to Country, to place, to people in the present moment. As Charlotte Day, Director, MUMA and Hetti Perkins, guest curator observe in the wall text at the beginning of the exhibition, “Rather than appropriating or restaging problematic ethnographic images of indigenous ancestors held in the Museum’s photographic collection, Thompson has chosen to spend significant periods of time with these images, absorbing their ‘aura’ and developing a personal artistic and deferential response that is decisively empowered.” As Marina Warner states in her excellent catalogue essay “Magical Aesthetics”, these ritual intimacies are a “magical re-animation and adopt time-honoured processes of making holy – of hallowing. Adornment is central to ritual and a prime way of glorifying and consecration.” What Thompson is doing is not quoting but translating the source-text into new material. As Mary Jacobus notes of the work of the painter Cy Twombly, “Quotation involves the repurposing of an existing text: translation requires a swerve from the source-text as it finds new directions and enters unknown terrain.” (Mary Jacobus. Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint.  Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016, p. 7).

This auto-ethnographic exploration and adornment leads to a deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation of time in a heterotopic space, juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites of contestation – Thompson’s travels and research from around the world, the embodiment in his own culture and that of contemporary Australia, pop culture, fashion, music and language – where, as Hetti Perkins says, “the unknowable is a lovely thing” and where Thompson can affect and influence “the Zeitgeist through more subversive means.” These spaces of ritualised production overlaid with memory, imagination, desire, and nostalgia, these fragmented images, become a process and a performance in which Thompson seeks to ameliorate the objects aura through a process of ‘spiritual repatriation’. Thompson’s performativity is where the ritual of production and meaning is never fully predetermined at any stage of production and reception.

Here, in terms of ‘aura’ and ‘spirit’, I am interested in the word “repatriation”. Repatriation means to send (someone) back to their own country – from the verb repatriare, from re- ‘back’ + Latin patria ‘native land’. It has an etymological link to the word “patriot” – from late Latin patriota ‘fellow countryman’, from Greek patriōtēs, from patrios ‘of one’s fathers’, from patris ‘fatherland’ – and all the imperial connotations that are associated with the word. So, to send someone back (against their own will? by force?) or to be patriotic, as belonging to or coming from, the fatherland. A land that is father, farther away. Therefore, it is with regard to a centralised, monolithic body and its materialities (for the body is usually centrally placed in Thompson’s work) in Thompson’s instinctive works, that relations of discourse and power will always produce hierarchies and overlappings which are going to be contested. As Judith Butler notes,

“That each of those categories [body and materiality] have a history and a historicity, that each of them is constituted through the boundary lines that distinguish them and, hence, by what they exclude, that relations of discourse and power produce hierarchies and overlappings among them and challenge those boundaries, implies that these are both persistent and contested regions.” (Judith Butler. Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, pp. 66-67)

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Thus performativity is the power of discourse, the politicisation of abjection, and the ritual of being.

This is where I become conflicted by much of this work. Intellectually and conceptually I fully understand the instinctive, intuitive elements behind the work (crystals, flowers, maps, butterflies, dreams) but aesthetically I feel little ‘aura’ emanating from the photographs. Thompson’s “peripatetic life and your bowerbird, magpie-like fascination” (p. 107) lead to all sorts of influences emerging in the work – orange from The Netherlands, Morris dancers from England, Jewish heritage, Aboriginal and Australian heritage, fashion, pop culture, music, language – all evidenced through “acts of concealment in his self-portraits.” (p. 75). Now there’s the rub!

In Thompson’s ritual intimacies the intimacy is performed only once, for the camera. It is not didactic, but it is interior and hidden, leaving much to the feelings of the viewer, looking. The re-presentation of that intimacy is performed by the viewer every time they look at the art. I think of the work of one of my favourite performance artists, Claude Cahun, where the artist inhabits her personas, adorning her androgynous face with costume after costume to become something that she wants to become – a buddha, a double, a harpy, a lunatic or a doll with equal ease. Cahun is always and emphatically herself, undermining a certain authority… and she produces indelible images that sear the mind.

I don’t get that from Thompson. I don’t know who he really is. Does it matter? Yes it does. In supposedly his most autobiographic work (according to Hetti Perkins), the video Heat (2010, below) the work emerges out of Thompson’s memories of growing up in the desert surrounding Barcaldine in central west Queensland where “heat captures the sensation that he associates with being on his country: the dry wind blowing through his hair.” Perhaps for him or someone from the desert country like Hetti Perkins (as she states in the catalogue), but not for me. I feel no ‘heat’ from these three beautiful woman standing in a contextless background with a wind machine blowing their hair. The only ‘heat’ I felt was perhaps the metaphoric heat of colonisation, violence and abuse thrust on a vulnerable culture.

Talking of vulnerable cultures, in the work Polari (2014, below) Thompson invokes the history of languages in an intimate ritual “as he seeks to reanimate and repossess vanishing knowledge. Polari is a private language … a kind of code used by sailors, circus and fairground folk, and in gay circles. … Thompson’s Polari series warns us that the artist has a language of his own, which we can overhear but not fully understand: something is withheld, in contrast to the imposed and implacable exposure which the subjects of scientific collections were made to suffer in the past.” (Warner, p. 74) But why is he using Polari specifically, a language that is strongly associated with the libertine gay culture of the 1950s-70s? Does he have a right to use this word and its linguistic heritage because he is gay? It is never stated, again another thing left hidden, concealed and unresolved.

Although no culture can ever fully own its language (language is a construct after all) … if Thompson is not gay, then I would take exception to his invoking the Polari language, just as an Indigenous artist would take exception to me using Bidjara language in an art work of my own. I remember coming out in London in 1975 and speaking Polari myself when it was still being used in pubs and clubs such as the A + B club in Soho. It was not being used as a language of resistance, far from it, but as a language of desire. It was a language used to inculcate that desire. As a video on YouTube observes of speaking Polari, “you didn’t think, oh God I’m so oppressed I can never speak about myself, you just did it, you just slipped into it without thinking.” It was your own language, like a comfortable pair of slippers. Does Thompson understand how using that word to title a body of work could be as offensive to some people as he finds the denaturing of his own culture? For me this is where the work really becomes problematic, when an artist does not enunciate these connections, where things, like sexuality, remain hidden. Similarly, with historical photographs of Indigenous people taken for ethnographic study, Thompson fails to acknowledge the work of academics such as Jane Lydon and her important books Eye Contact: Photographing Indigenous Australians (2005) and Photography, Humanitarianism, Empire (2016) where she unpacks the historical baggage of the images and notes that the photographs were not solely a tool of colonial exploitation. Lydon articulates an understanding in Eye Contact that the residents of Coranderrk, an Aboriginal settlement near Healsville, Melbourne, “had a sophisticated understanding of how they were portrayed, and they became adept at manipulating their representations.” Again, there is more than meets the eye, more than just ‘spiritual repatriation’ of aura.

For me, the magic of this exhibition arrives when Thompson lets go all obfuscation, let’s go all actions that make something obscure, unclear, or unintelligible. Where his ritual intimacies become grounded in language, earth and spirit. This happens in the video works, Desert slippers (2006, below), Refuge (2014, below), Gamu Mambu (Blood Song) (2011) and Dhagunyilangu (Brother) (2011, below). In these videos, the Other’s gaze disintegrates and we are left with poignant, heart felt words and actions that engage history, emotion, family and Country.

The video Desert slippers “features a Bidjara ritual in which a father and son transfer sweat. The desert slipper is a native cactus that symbolises the transferal of the spirit back to earth as the plant grows.” It is simple, eloquent, powerful, present. The other videos feature two baroque singers from Europe and Thompson singing in his native tongue Bidjara (Bidyara, Pitjara), a language that Wikipedia states “is an extinct Australian Aboriginal language. In 1980 it was spoken by twenty elders in Queensland, between Tambo and Augathella, Warrego and Langlo rivers.” Spelt out in black and white. Extinct. To hear Thompson sing a berceuse (French, from bercer ‘to rock’), or lullaby in his native language, a language taught to him by his father, is the most emotional of experiences. The work “combines evocative chanting and electronic elements to invoke the cultural experiences and narratives of his Bidjara culture,” and “is premised on the notion that if one word of Bidjara is spoken, or sung in this case, it remains a living language.” Amen to that.

This is the real hallowing, not the dress ups or the concealments. It is in these videos that the raw material of his and his cultures experience is transmuted into living, breathing stories, in an alchemical transmutation, a magical re-animation of past time into present and future time. My transfiguration into a more spiritual state was complete when listening in quiet contemplation. For I was given, if only for a very brief moment, access to the pain of our first peoples and a vision of hope for their future healing.

Still singing, still Dreaming,
still loving… and certainly not dying.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 2,053

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Many thankx to MUMA for allowing me to publish the photographs and videos in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“At the heart of my practice is a concern with aura: what it is, how it can be photographed and how it can be repatriated.”

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Christian Thompson

 

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled #6' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled #6
2010
From the series King Billy
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring stills from the video Berceuse (2017)

 

 

Christian Thompson
Berceuse (extract installation view)
2017
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.47 minutes
Sound design: Duane Morrison

 

 

Christian Thompson
Berceuse
2017
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.47 minutes
Sound design: Duane Morrison

 

 

In this newly commissioned work, Thompson sings a berceuse – a cradle song or lullaby – that combines evocative chanting and electronic elements to invoke the cultural experiences and narratives of his Bidjara culture. Intended as a gesture of re-imagining his traditional Bidjara language, which is been categorised as extinct, the work is premised on the notion that if one word of Bidjara is spoken, or sung in this case, it remains a living language.

Thompson makes subtle reference to his maternal Sephardic Jewish roots by ruminating in this work on the lullaby Nani Nani:

 

Lullaby, lullaby
The boy wants a lullaby,
The mother’s son,
Who although small will grow.

Oh, oh my lady open,
Open the door,
I come home tired,
From ploughing the fields.

Oh, I won’t open them,
You don’t come home tired,
You’ve just come back,
From seeing your new lover.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring the series Museum of Others (2016)

 

Installation view of 'Museum of Others (Othering the Ethnologist, Augustus Pitt Rivers)' 2016

 

Installation view of Museum of Others (Othering the Ethnologist, Augustus Pitt Rivers) 2016

 

Christian Thompson. 'Museum of Others (Othering the Anthropologist, Walter Baldwin Spencer)' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Museum of Others (Othering the Anthropologist, Walter Baldwin Spencer)
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

Installation view of 'Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook)' 2016

 

Installation view of Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook) 2016

 

Christian Thompson. 'Othering the Explorer, James Cook' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook)
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Equilibrium' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Equilibrium
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

 

Museum of others is Thompson’s most recent photographic series and continues to reflect on his time at the University of Oxford. It features several ‘dead white males’ from the pantheon of British and Australian culture. The explorer, the ethnologist and the anthropologist all had roles in the process of colonisation in Australia but the art critic is particular to Thompson; Ruskin was the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at University of Oxford, just as Thompson was one of its first Australian Aboriginal students. Thompson explains his motivation for the series:

“Historically, it was the western gaze that was projected onto the ethnic other and I thought I’ll create a ‘museum of others’ and I’ll be the one othering, so to speak. ‘Equilibrium’ is based around the idea that the vessel is the equaliser. The vessel is the cradle of all civilisations. We all have that in common.”

Wall text from the exhibition

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring photographs from the series We bury our own 2010 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

We bury our own is a body of work that was developed in response to the historic collection of photography, featuring Aboriginal people from the late nineteenth century, at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Thompson noted in 2012 that these early images “have permeated my work over the last year. They have remained at the forefront of every artistic experiment and they have pushed me into new territory, they have travelled with me… I was drawn to elements of opulence, ritual, homage, fragility, melancholy, strength and even a sense of play operating in the photographs…”

Each of Thompson’s lyrical photographic images from We bury our own and Pagan sun feature himself partially disguised with props and costumes. The works are virtually monochromatic with elements highlighted in full colour, and his eyes, or face, are partially concealed or painted. The use of votive objects is explained in his equally lyrical 2012 statement: “I lamented the passing of the flowers at the meadow, I lit candles and offered blood to the ancestral beings, looked into the black sparkling sea, donned the Oxford garb, visited the water by fire light and bowed at the knees of the old father ghost gum.”

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Energy Matter' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Energy Matter
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Lamenting the flowers' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Lamenting the flowers
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Forgiveness of Land' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Forgiveness of Land
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Down Under World' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Down Under World
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

 

“I conceived the We Bury Our Own series in 2010 after curator Christopher Morton invited me to develop a body of work that would be inspired by and in dialogue with the Australian photographic collection at the Pitt Rivers Museum…

The archival images have permeated my work over the last year. They have remained at the forefront of every artistic experiment and pushed me into new territory; they have travelled with me to residencies at the Fonderie Darling in Montreal and Greene Street Studio, New York. I was drawn to elements of opulence, ritual, homage, fragility, melancholy, strength and even a sense of play operating in the photographs. The simplicity of a monochrome and sepia palette, the frayed delicate edges and the cracks on the surface like a dry desert floor that reminded me of the salt plains of my own traditional lands.

I wanted to generate an aura around this series, a meditative space that was focused on freeing oneself of hurt, employing crystals and other votive objects that emit frequencies that can heal, ward off negative energies, psychic attack, geopathic stress and electro magnetic fields, and, importantly, transmit ideas.

I lamented the passing of the flowers at the meadow, I lit candles and offered blood to the ancestral beings, looked into the black sparkling sea, donned the Oxford garb, visited the water by fire light and bowed at the knees of the old father ghost gum. I asked the photographs in the Pitt Rivers Museum to be catalysts and waited patiently to see what ideas and images would surface in the work, I think with surprising results. Perhaps this is what art is able to do, perform a ‘spiritual repatriation’ rather than a physical one, fragment the historical narrative and traverse time and place to establish a new realm in the cosmos, set something free, allow it to embody the past and be intrinsically connected to the present?

I heard a story many years ago from some old men, they told me about a ceremony where young warriors would make incisions through the flesh exposing the joints, they would insert gems between the bones to emulate the creator spirits, often enduring infection and agonizing pain or resulting in death. The story has stuck with me for many years, one that suggests immense pain fused with intoxicating beauty. The idea of aspiring to embody the creators, to transgress the physical body by offering to our gods our spiritual heart, freeing ourselves of suffering by inducing a kind of excruciating decadent torture. This was something that played on my mind during the production of this series of photos and video work. The deliverance of the spirit back to land – the notion that art could be the vehicle for such a passage, the aspiration to occupy a space that belongs to something higher than one’s physical self.”

Christian Thompson

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Ship of dreams, Ancient bloom, Death’s second self, and Gods and kings from the series Imperial relic 2015 (C-type prints) and a still from the video dead tongue 2015
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

In Dead tongue Thompson continues to interrogate the implications of England’s empirical quest on the former colonies of the British Empire through the threat to or loss of Indigenous languages. In works such as this, Thompson actively challenges the perception that Aboriginal culture has become reduced to a captured trophy of Empire.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Ship of dreams, Ancient bloom, Death’s second self, and Gods and kings from the series Imperial relic 2015 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

In … Imperial relic, he continues to use himself as the ‘armature for his characters, costumes and various props’. Drawing on his background in sculpture, he has created ‘wearable sculptures’ including a trumpet shaped shirt collar, an eruption of white flowers from a union jack hoodie, and an armature of maps. In each his face is partially or fully obscured again. “I’m interested in ideas of submission and domination,” he says. “So the trumpet headpiece is beautiful, but it also potentially muffles or silences the voice. The same thing with maps: they are purporting different kinds of historical narrative, depending who is telling the story. One is about the history of Indigenous people, one is about the history of white colonisers and then one is about the idea of charting the land and of discovery. I’m wearing it as an armature over my own body: that’s part of my own history but also of Australian history.”

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ancient bloom' 2015

 

Christian Thompson
Ancient bloom
2015
From the series Imperial relic
C-type print on fuji pearl metallic paper
100 x 100 cm
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ship of dreams' 2015

 

Christian Thompson
Ship of dreams
2015
From the series Imperial relic
C-type print on fuji pearl metallic paper
100 x 100 cm
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

The series title Imperial relic, summarises the fundamental philosophy underpinning the colonial occupation of Australia. Like the nearby series We bury our own, it is closely connected to Thompson’s studies in the collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum and shares with the Australian graffiti series Thomson’s physical presence is standing in for the Australian landscape.

The work Ancient bloom alludes to the phonograph horn out which might be heard the voice of Fanny Cochran Smith, who’s wax cylinder recordings of songs are the only historical audio recordings of any of the Tasmanian Aboriginal languages. Is also represents a Victorian-era shirt collar – a motif that has appeared in Thompson’s work since his Emotional striptease series of 2003 – but here is exaggerated into a soft-sculptural form that both projects and stifles the voice.

In Death’s second self the artist’s face is uncovered but distorted by make up and digital postproduction effects.The title quotes William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73:

As after sunset fadeth in the west, 
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In God and Kings Thompson is cloaked with a map of Aboriginal language groups like a coat of armour. In the Ship of dreams he reprises the motif of Australian flora obscuring his face but here his hoodie is stitched together from several flags: the red ensign (flown by British registered ships), the RAAF flag and the Australian flag.

 

“I’m interested in ideas of submission and domination … So the trumpet headpiece is beautiful, but it also potentially muffles or silences the voice. The same thing with maps: they are purporting different kinds of historical narrative, depending who is telling the story. One is about the history of Indigenous people, one is about the history of white colonisers and then one is about the idea of charting the land and of discovery. I’m wearing it as an armature over my own body: that’s part of my own history but also of Australian history.”

.
Christian Thompson

 

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Isabella kept her dignity, I’m not going anywhere without you, Dead as a door nail and Hannah’s diary from the series Lost together 2009 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

On 13 February 2008 then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an official apology to Aboriginal Australians for the Stolen Generations – the children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families between 1910 and 1970 under the respective Federal and State government policies of assimilation. At the time, Thompson was preparing to leave Australia for further studies aboard and felt this historic gesture allowed him to proudly take his culture and history with him as he ventured into the world.

Thompson photographed the series Lost together in the Netherlands while studying at the DasArts Academy of Theatre and Dance at Amsterdam University. The theme of the orange throughout the series is a reference to the national colour of the Netherlands, while the tartan patterning refers to early clan societies in the United Kingdom. The combination of these different styles is based on counter-cultural aesthetics – particularly punk collage of 1970s London.

 

Christian Thompson. 'Hannah's Diary' 2009

 

Christian Thompson
Hannah’s Diary
2009
From the series Lost Together
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

MUMA | Monash University Museum of Art is proud to announce the first major survey exhibition of the work of Bidjara artist, Christian Thompson, one of Australia’s leading and most intriguing contemporary artists.

Thompson works across photography, video, sculpture, performance and sound, interweaving themes of identity, race and history with his lived experience. His work is held in the collections of major state and national art museums in Australia and internationally.

Thompson made history as one of the first two Aboriginal Australians to be accepted into the University of Oxford as a Charlie Perkins Scholar, where he completed his Doctorate of Philosophy (Fine Art) in 2016. Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy opens as the artist looks forward to the graduation ceremony in July, when he will be conferred his degree.

Featuring a major new commission created for this exhibition, Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy will survey Thompson’s diverse practice, spanning fifteen years, and will also be accompanied by the publication of the first monograph on the artist’s career and work, including essays by Brian Catling RA and Professor Dame Marina Warner DBE, CBE, FBA, FRSL.

The specially commissioned installation will be an ambitious multichannel composition, developing the sonic experimentation that is a signature of Thompson’s work. Incorporating Bidjara language, it will invite viewers into an immersive space of wall-to-wall imagery and sound:

“Bidjara is officially an endangered language but my work is motivated by the simple yet profound idea that if even one word of an endangered language is spoken it continues to be a living language,” Thompson says.

Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy explores the unique perspective and breadth of Thompson’s practice from the fashioning of identity through to his ongoing interest in Indigenous language as the expression of cultural survival. The new multichannel work will develop musical ideas Thompson has previously explored.

“It will be a much more ambitious iteration of a song in Bidjara. At one stage I’m singing on one screen and then other versions of me appear singing the melodies. I really see it as an opportunity to do something that’s more complex musically, more textured sonically – I also want it to be more intricate with my use of language,” the artist says.

Ritual Intimacy is curated by MUMA director Charlotte Day and guest curator Hetti Perkins. Day explains that the exhibition is part of MUMA’s Australian artist series, which affords the opportunity to look at each artist’s practice in depth. “Christian’s exhibition traces a particularly productive period of research and development, from early well-known works such as the Australian Graffiti series to more recent experiments with language in sound and song works,” Day says.

A long-time curatorial collaborator with Thompson, Perkins is the writer and presenter of art + soul, the ABC’s acclaimed television series about contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. Thompson was accepted to Oxford University on an inaugural Charlie Perkins Scholarship, set up to honour Hetti Perkins’s famous father – a leader, activist and the first Aboriginal Australian to graduate from university. Perkins says the MUMA exhibition is well-earned recognition for Thompson’s work, which she featured in the second series of art + soul.

“Christian has spent periods of his adult life, as a practicing artist, away from home, but there is a common thread in his work, and it’s this connection to home or Country,” Perkins says. “In terms of the rituals or rites of the exhibition title, he is constantly reiterating that connection to home – through words, through performance, through his art, through ideas and writing,” she says.

Alongside performance and ritual, Thompson’s concept of “spiritual repatriation” is central to his work. Working with the Australian collection at famed ethnographic storehouse the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, the artist was offered copies of colonial photographs of Aboriginal people but preferred not to work this way. Instead, he chose to spend significant periods of time with these ancestral images, absorbing their “aura” in order to then make his own artistic response that did not reproduce those original problematic images.

Dr Christian Thompson is a Bidjara contemporary artist whose work explores notions of identity, cultural hybridity, and history; often referring to the relationships between these concepts and the environment. Formally trained as a sculptor, Thompson’s multidisciplinary practice engages mediums such as photography, video, sculpture, performance, and sound. His work focuses on the exploration of identity, sexuality, gender, race, and memory. In his live performances and conceptual anti-portraits he inhabits a range of personas achieved through handcrafted sculptures and carefully orchestrated poses and backdrops.

Press release from MUMA

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring the series Polari (2014)

 

 

‘Polari’ is a form of cant or cryptic slang that evolved over several centuries from the various languages that converged in London’s theatres, circuses and fairgrounds, the merchant navy and criminal circles. It came to be associated with gay subculture, as many gay men worked in theatrical entertainment or joined ocean liners as waiters, stewards and entertainers at a time when homosexual activity was illegal. This slang rendered the speaker unintelligible to hostile outsiders, such as policeman, but fell out of use after the Sexual Offences Act (1967) effectively decriminalised homosexuality in the United Kingdom. Attracted to the theatricality and defiant nature of Polari (which he likens to the situation of Australian Indigenous languages under assimilationist policies), Thompson borrowed its name for the series which examines how subcultures express themselves.

 

Christian Thompson. 'Siren' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Siren
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity II' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Trinity II
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity III' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Trinity III
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ariel' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Ariel
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ellipse' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Ellipse
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

Polari was a form of slang used by gay men in Britain prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, used primarily as a coded way for them to discuss their experiences. It quickly fell out of use in the 70s, although several words entered mainstream English and are still used today. For more about Polari see Wikipedia.

 

 

Author and academic Paul Baker of Lancaster University discusses a form of gay slang known as Polari that was spoken in Britain. It was a secret type of language used mainly by gay men and some lesbians and members of the trans, drag and other communities in the United Kingdom in the 20th century until it largely died out by the early 1970s.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Refuge
2014
Video and sound
4 mins 18 secs

 

Refuge is a video work by contemporary Australian artist Christian Thompson. Thompson sings in the endangered Bidjara language of his heritage. A collaboration with James Young formerly of ‘Nico’ and recorded the original track in Oxford, United Kingdom.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring stills from the video Heat (2010)

 

 

Christian Thompson
Heat (extract)
2010
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.52 minutes

 

 

Like the Australian graffiti photographs [see photographs below], Heat come out of Thompson’s memories of growing up in the desert surrounding Barcaldine in central west Queensland. Barcaldine is famous for its role in the foundation organised labor in Queensland and ultimately the formation of the Australian Labor Party. It also holds historical significance for Thompson’s family as it is where his great-great-grandfather, Charlie Thompson, surreptitiously bought a block of land before Aboriginal people could legally buy land, creating a safe haven for his family and other Aboriginal families at the time when Aboriginal people had few legal rights. For Thompson, heat captures the sensation that he associates with being on his country: the dry wind blowing through his hair. It features the three granddaughters of Aboriginal rights pioneer Charlie Perkins, who are the daughters of Thompson’s Long time collaborator Hetti Perkins.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring photographs from the series Australian graffiti (2007)

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (Blue Gum)' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled (blue gum)
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (banksia)' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled (banksia)
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Monash University Collection

 

 

Australian graffiti was the last work that Thompson made before leaving Australia for Europe. It connects with his memories of growing up in the outback and its desert flowers, which he perceives to be both fragile and immensely powerful. I adorning himself with garlands of these flowers and flamboyant garments of the 1980s and 1990s – the period in which he grew up – Thompson juxtaposes these elements against his own Bidjara masculinity. By wearing native flora he also stands in for the landscape, invoking an Indigenous understanding of the landscape as a corporeal, living ancestral being.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Desert slippers
2006
Single-channel digital colour video, sound
34 seconds

 

 

Desert slippers was made at the time the Northern Territory government commissioned research into allegations of the abuse of children in Aboriginal communities. When the ‘Little Children are Sacred’ report was tabled the following year, the federal government under John Howard staged the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), which quickly became known as ‘the intervention’. This action was enacted without consultation with Indigenous people and ignored the substantive recommendations of the report to which it was allegedly responding.

Thompson made this video, involving his father, and the ceremonial aspects of their daily lives, during this period. Desert slippers features a Bidjara ritual in which a father and son transfer sweat. The desert slipper is a native cactus that symbolises the transferal of the spirit back to earth as the plant grows.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Dhagunyilangu (Brother) 
(extract installation view)
2011
Single-channel digital colour video, sound, subtitled
2.19 minutes

 

 

Christian Thompson
Dhagunyilangu (Brother)

2011
Single-channel digital colour video, sound, subtitled
2.19 minutes

 

 

Gamu Mambu (Blood Song) and Dhagunyilangu (Brother) were made in England and in the Netherlands respectively. While studying at the DasArts Academy of Theatre and Dance in Amsterdam, a centre for the study of early musical styles such as the baroque, Thompson realised that his own Bidjara language could be interpreted through the matrix of another cultural context and sphere. He undertook operatic training with this in mind, choosing in the end to work with specialist singers Sonja Gruys and Jeremy Vinogradov to realise the two works.

 

 

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09
Jun
17

Exhibition: ‘Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 15th February – 11th June 2017

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The State We're In, A' 2015

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The State We’re In, A (Room 14)
2015
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Cock (Kiss)' 2002

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Cock (Kiss)
2002
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

If one thing matters, everything matters
(A love letter to Wolfgang Tillmans)

I believe that Wolfgang Tillmans is the number one photo-media artist working today. I know it’s a big call, but that’s how I see it.

His whole body of work is akin to a working archive – of memories, places, contexts, identities, landscapes (both physical and imagined) and people. He experiments, engages, and imagines all different possibilities in and through art. As Adrian Searle observes, “Tillmans’ work is all a kind of evidence – a sifting through material to find meaning.” And that meaning varies depending on the point of view one comes from, or adopts, in relation to the art. The viewer is allowed to make their own mind up, to dis/assemble or deepen relationships between things as they would like, or require, or not as the case may be. Tillmans is not didactic, but guides the viewer on that journey through intersections and nodal points of existence. The nexus of life.

Much as I admire the writing of art critic John McDonald, I disagree with his assessment of the work of Wolfgang Tillmans at Tate Modern (see quotation below). Personally, I find that there are many memorable photographs in this exhibition … as valuable and as valid a way of seeing the world in a contemporary sense, as Eggleston’s photographs are in a historic visualisation. I can recall Tillmans’ images just an intimately as I can Eggleston’s. But they are of a different nature, and this is where McDonald’s analysis is like comparing apples and pears. Eggleston’s classical modernist photographs depend on the centrality of composition where his images are perfectly self-contained, whether he is photographing a woman in a blue dress sitting on a kerb or an all green bathroom. They are of their time. Times have changed, and how we view the world has changed.

For Tillmans no subject matter is trivial (If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters – the title of a 2003 exhibition at Tate Britain), and how he approaches the subject is totally different from Eggleston. As he says of his work, his images are “calls to attentiveness.” What does he mean by this? Influenced by the work of the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti whom I have also studied, a call to attentiveness is a way of being open and responsive to the world around you, to its infinite inflections, and to not walk around as if in a dream, letting the world pass you by. To be open and receptive to the energies and connections of the world spirit by seeing clearly.

Krishnamurti insightfully observed that we do not need 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.1 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. But being aware is not enough, we must be attentive of that awareness and not make images just because we can or must. This is a very contemporary way of looking at the world. As Krishnamurti says,

“Now with that same attention I’m going to see that when you flatter me, or insult me, there is no image, because I’m tremendously attentive … I listen because the mind wants to find out if it is creating an image out of every word, out of every contact. I’m tremendously awake, therefore I find in myself a person who is inattentive, asleep, dull, who makes images and gets hurt – not an intelligent man. Have you understood it at least verbally? Now apply it. Then you are sensitive to every occasion, it brings its own right action. And if anybody says something to you, you are tremendously attentive, not to any prejudices, but you are attentive to your conditioning. Therefore you have established a relationship with him, which is entirely different from his relationship with you. Because if he is prejudiced, you are not; if he is unaware, you are aware. Therefore you will never create an image about him. You see the difference?”2

.
Then you are sensitive to every occasion, it brings its own right action. You are attentive and tremendously awake.

This is the essence of Tillmans work. He is tremendously attentive to the images he is making (“a representation of an unprivileged gaze or view” as he puts it) and to the associations that are possible between images, that we make as human beings. He is open and receptive to his conditioning and offers that gift to us through his art, if we recognise it and accept it for what it is. If you really look and understand what the artist is doing, these images are music, poetry and beauty – are time, place, belonging, voyeurism, affection, sex. They are archaic and shapeless and fluid and joy and magic and love…

They are the air between everything.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Krishnamurti. Beginnings of Learning. London: Penguin, 1975, p. 131
  2. Ibid., pp. 130-131

.
Many thankx to the Tate Modern for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“To look at Eggleston alongside those he has inspire [Wolfgang Tillmans and Juergen Teller for example] is to see a surprisingly old-fashioned artist. No matter how instinctive his approach or how trivial his subjects, Eggleston believes in the centrality of composition. His images are perfectly self-contained. They don’t depend on a splashy, messy installation or a political stance. …

In the current survey of Tillmans’s work at Tate Modern photos of every description are plastered across the walls in the most anarchic manner, with hardly a memorable composition. Yet this shapeless stuff is no longer reviled by the critics – it’s the height of fashion.”

.
John McDonald “William Eggleston: Portraits”

 

“For a long time in Britain, there was a deep suspicion of my work. People saw me as a commercial artist trying to get into the art world, and the work was dismissed as shallow or somehow lightweight. There are still many misconceptions about what I do – that my images are random and everyday, when they are actually neither. They are, in fact, the opposite. They are calls to attentiveness.”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Installation view of room 4 (detail) from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017', which includes the latest iteration of the 'truth study centre' project

 

Installation view of room 4 (detail), which includes the latest iteration of the truth study centre project, with
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

 

The Tate show includes a room full of his “truth study centres”, which comprise often contradictory newspaper cuttings as well as photographs and pamphlets that aim to show how news is manipulated according to the political loyalties of those who produce it. As activists go, though, Tillmans is defiantly centre ground. “This is about strengthening the centre. I can understand left-wing politics from a passionate, idealistic point of view, but I do not think it is the solution to where we are now. The solution is good governance, moderation, agreement. Post-Brexit, post-Trump, the voices of reason need to be heard more than ever.”

Wolfgang Tillmans quoted on The Guardian website

 

Installation view of room 13 (detail) from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern

 

Installation view of room 13 (detail), which focuses in on Tillmans’ portraiture with Eleanor / Lutz, a (2016) at right
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Eleanor / Lutz, a' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Eleanor / Lutz, a
2016
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Portrait of Wolfgang Tillmans, Tate Modern Boiler House, Level 3, 14/02/2017 in front of his works, Transient 2, 2015 and Tag/Nacht II, 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Tag/Nacht II' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Tag/Nacht II
2010
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

The State We’re In, A, is part of Neue Welt [New World], the loose family of pictures I began at the end of the last decade. These had two points of departure: “What does the outside world look like to me 20 years after I began photographing?” and “What does it look like in particular with a new photographic medium?”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans

 

“This exhibition is not about politics, it’s about poetry, it’s about installation art. It’s about thinking about the world. I’ve never felt that l can be separated, because the political is only the accumulation of many people’s private lives, which constitute the body politics…”

“My work has always been motivated by talking about society, by talking about how we live together, by how we feel in our bodies. Sexuality, like beauty, is never un-political, because they relate to what’s accepted in society. Two men kissing, is that acceptable? These are all questions to do with beauty.”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans quoted on the Art News website

 

“There is music. There is dancing. Bewilderment is part of the pleasure, as we move between images and photographic abstractions. Tillmans’ asks us to make connections of all kinds – formal, thematic, spatial, political. He asks what the limits of photography are. There are questions here about time, place, belonging, voyeurism, affection, sex. After a while it all starts to tumble through me.”

.
Adrian Searle review on the Guardian website

 

 

What are we to make of the world in which we find ourselves today? Contemporary artist Wolfgang Tillmans offers plenty of food for thought.

This is Wolfgang Tillmans’s first ever exhibition at Tate Modern and brings together works in an exciting variety of media – photographs, of course, but also video, digital slide projections, publications, curatorial projects and recorded music – all staged by the artist in characteristically innovative style. Alongside portraiture, landscape and intimate still lifes, Tillmans pushes the boundaries of the photographic form in abstract artworks that range from the sculptural to the immersive.

The year 2003 is the exhibition’s point of departure, representing for Tillmans the moment the world changed, with the invasion of Iraq and anti-war demonstrations. The social and political form a rich vein throughout the artist’s work. German-born, international in outlook and exhibited around the world, Tillmans spent many years in the UK and is currently based in Berlin. In 2000, he was the first photographer and first non-British artist to receive the Turner Prize.

 

Room one

Static interference typically appears on a television screen when an analogue signal is switched off. This can occur when a station’s official programme finishes for the night or if a broadcast is censored. In Tillmans’s Sendeschluss/End of Broadcast 2014 it represents the coexistence of two different generations of technology. The chaotic analogue static was displayed on a digital television, which allowed Tillmans’s high-resolution digital camera to record the pattern as it really appeared, something that would not have been possible with a traditional cathode ray tube television. This work shows Tillmans’s interest in questioning what we believe to be true: the seemingly black-and-white image turns out to be extremely colourful when viewed very close up.

Other works in this room reflect on digital printmaking and photography today. For example, the technical ability to photograph a nightscape from a moving vehicle without blurring, as in these images of Sunset Boulevard, is unprecedented. Itself the subject of many famous art photographs, this iconic roadway appears here littered with large format inkjet prints in the form of advertising billboards. In Double Exposure 2012-13 Tillmans juxtaposes images of two trade fairs – one for digital printers, the other for fruit and vegetables. Encounter 2014 shows a different photo-sensitive process. A pot had been left on top of a planter preventing light from reaching the sprouts underneath and leaving them white, while the surrounding growths that caught the daylight turned green.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I
2014
Pigmented inkjet print
107 1/2 × 161 1/2″ (273.1 × 410.2 cm)
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Television white noise that the artist photographed while in Russia. For Tillmans, the image signifies resistance on his part to making clear images, but without the text its ostensibly radical nature would not be known.

 

Installation view of room 1 (detail), with 'Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I' 2014, at left

 

Installation view of room 1 (detail), with Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I, 2014, at left

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Double Exposure' 2012-13

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Double Exposure
2012-13
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room two

Tillmans spends much of his time in the studio, yet he only occasionally uses it as a set for taking portraits. Instead, it is where prints are made and exhibitions are planned in architectural models, and where he collects materials and generates ideas. Over the years this environment has become a subject for his photographs, presenting a radically different view of the artist’s studio to the more traditional depictions seen in paintings over the centuries.

These works made around the studio demonstrate Tillmans’s concern with the physical process of making photographs, from chemical darkroom processes and their potential to create abstract pictures without the camera, to digital technology that is vital to the production of contemporary images, and the paper onto which they are printed. Tillmans’s understanding of the material qualities of paper is fundamental to his work, and photographs can take on a sculptural quality in series such as Lighter, 2005-ongoing and paper drop, 2001-ongoing, seen later in the exhibition.

In CLC 800, dismantled 2011 Tillmans uses photography to record a temporary installation, the result of unfastening every single screw in his defunct colour photocopier. He prefers to photograph his three-dimensional staged scenarios rather than actually displaying them as sculptures. He has often described the core of his work as ‘translating the three dimensional world into two dimensional pictures’.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'paper drop' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
paper drop Prinzessinnenstrasse
2014
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Perhaps as a continuation of his more textural photographs – depicting fabrics and still lifes so close up they become difficult to read – experiments in abstraction followed suit, many of them featuring what is perhaps his favourite motif: the fold, which, as the exhibition’s curator Chris Dercon kindly reminded us, was considered by the philosopher Leibniz as one of the most accurate ways to depict the complexities of the human soul.

Text from the Art News website

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'CLC 800, dismantled' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
CLC 800, dismantled
2011
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room three

Having spent the preceding decade working largely on conceptual and abstract photographs, in 2009 Tillmans embarked on the four-year project Neue Welt. Looking at the world with fresh eyes, he aimed to depict how it has changed since he first took up the camera in 1988. He travelled to five continents to find places unknown to him and visited familiar places as if experiencing them for the first time. Interested in the surface of things as they appeared in those lucid first days of being in a new environment, he immersed himself in each location for just a brief period. Now using a high resolution digital camera, Tillmans captured images in a depth of detail that is immediately compelling, but also suggests the excess of information that is often described as a condition of contemporary life.

Communal spaces, people, animals, and still-life studies of nature or food are just some of the subjects that feature in Neue Welt. Seen together, these images offer a deliberately fragmented view. Rather than making an overarching statement about the changing character of modern life, Tillmans sought only to record, and to create a more empathetic understanding of the world. Over the course of the project, however, some shrewd observations about contemporary worldviews did emerge. One related to the changing shape of car headlights, which he noted are now very angular in shape, giving them a predatory appearance that might reflect a more competitive climate.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'astro crusto, a' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
astro crusto, a
2012
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Installation shot of room 3 from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern

 

Installation view of room 3 (detail), with Headlight (f) 2012, at left; and Munuwata sky, 2011 at right
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Headlight (f)' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Headlight (f)
2012
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Munuwata sky' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Munuwata sky
2011
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room four

In the mid-2000s, prompted by global events, such as the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Tillmans became interested in the assertions made by individuals, groups or organisations around the world that their viewpoint represented the absolute truth about a number of political and ethical questions.

He began his wryly-named truth study center project in 2005. Photographs, clippings from newspapers and magazines, objects, drawings, and copies of his own images are laid out in deliberate – and often provocative – juxtapositions. These arrangements reflect the presentation of information by news outlets in print and online. They also draw attention to gaps in knowledge, or areas where there is room for doubt. For each installation, the material presented in the truth study centers is selected according to its topical and geographic context. In 2017, the subject of truth and fake news is at the heart of political discourse across the world. This iteration of the project focuses in particular on how constructions of truth work on a psychological and physiological level.

The Silver 1998-ongoing prints connect to reality in a different way. Made by passing monochromatically exposed photographic paper through a dirty photo-developing machine, they collect particles and residue from the rollers and liquids. This makes them, in effect, a record of the chemical and mechanical process from which they originate.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'truth study center' 2017

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
truth study center
2017
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room five

Tillmans has described how, as a photographer, he feels increasingly less obligated to reflect solely on the outside world through documentary images. In his abstract works, he looks inwards: exploring the rudiments of photographic processes and their potential to be used as a form of self-expression.

Like the Silver works in the previous room, the abstract Greifbar 2014-15 images are made without a camera. Working in the darkroom, Tillmans traces light directly onto photographic paper. The vast swathes of colour are a record of the physical gestures involved in their construction, but also suggest aspects of the body such as hair, or pigmentation of the skin. This reference to the figurative is reflected in the title, which translates as ‘tangible’.

Tillmans has observed that even though these works are made by the artist’s hand, they look as though they could be ‘scientific’ evidence of natural processes. For him, this interpretation is important, because it disassociates the works from the traditional gestural technique of painting. That the image is read as a photographic record, and not the result of the artist’s brushstroke, is essential to its conceptual meaning.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Greifbar 29' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Greifbar 29
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room six

Tillmans is interested in social life in its broadest sense, encompassing our participation in society. His photographs of individuals and groups are underpinned by his conviction that we are all vulnerable, and that our well-being depends upon knowing that we are not alone in the world.

Tillmans has observed that although cultural attitudes towards race, gender and sexuality have become more open over the three decades since he began his artistic practice, there is also greater policing of nightlife, and urban social spaces are closing down. His photographs taken in clubs, for example, testify to the importance of places where people can go today to feel safe, included, and free.

This concern with freedom also extends to the ways in which people organise themselves to make their voices heard. Images of political marches and protests draw attention to the cause for which they are fighting. They also form part of a wider study of what Tillmans describes as the recent ‘re-emergence’ of activism.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Blue Oyster Bar, Saint Petersburg' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Blue Oyster Bar, Saint Petersburg
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'NICE HERE but ever been to KRYGYZSTAN free Gender Expression WORLDWIDE' 2006

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
NICE HERE but ever been to KRYGYZSTAN free Gender Expression WORLDWIDE
2006
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room seven

Playback Room is a space designed for listening to recorded music. The project first ran at Between Bridges, the non-profit exhibition space Tillmans opened in London in 2006 and has since transferred to Berlin. In three exhibition (‘Colourbox’, ‘American Producers’ ‘Bring Your Own’) that took place between September 2014 and February 2015, he invited visitors to come and listen to music at almost the same quality at which it was originally mastered.

Whereas live music can be enjoyed in concert halls and stadiums, and visual art can be enjoyed in museums, no comparable space exists for appreciating studio music. Musicians and producers spend months recording tracks at optimal quality, yet we often listen to the results through audio equipment and personal devices that are not fit for perfect sound reproduction. Playback Room is a response to this. An example of Tillmans’s curatorial practice, he has chosen to include it here to encourage others to think about how recorded music can be given prominence within the museum setting.

The three tracks you hear in this room are by Colourbox, an English band who were active between 1982 and 1987. Tillmans, a long-term fan of the band, chose their music for Playback Room because they never performed live, thus emphasising the importance of the studio recordings.

 

Room eight

Tillmans began experimenting with abstraction while in high school, using the powerful enlargement function of an early digital photocopier to copy and degrade his own photographs as well as those cut from newspapers. He describes the coexistence of chance and control involved in this process as an essential ingredient in most of his work.

Ever since then, he has found ways to resist the idea that the photograph is solely a direct record of reality. In 2011, this area of his practice was compiled for the first time in his book Abstract Pictures. For a special edition of 176 copies Tillmans manipulated the printing press, for example by running it without plates or pouring ink into the wrong compartments, to create random effects and overprinted pages.

Some of his abstract photographs are made with a camera and others without, through the manipulation of chemicals, light, or the paper itself. Importantly, however, Tillmans does not distinguish between the abstract and the representational. He is more interested in what they have in common. The relationship between photography, sculpture and the body, for example, is expressed in abstract photographs made by crumpling a sheet of photographic paper, but also in close-ups of draped and wrinkled clothing such as Faltenwurf (Pines) a, 2016 in Room 9.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Concorde L433-11' 1997

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Concorde L433-11
1997
Ink-jet print
Tate
© Wolfgang Tillmans, courtesy Maureen Paley, London

 

 

Room nine

Artist books, exhibition catalogues, newspaper supplements and magazine spreads, posters and leaflets are an integral part of Tillmans’s output. These various formats and the ways in which they are distributed or made visible in the public space allow him to present work and engage audiences in a completely different manner to exhibitions. For him the printed page is as valid a venue for artistic creation as the walls of a museum. Many such projects are vital platforms on which he can speak out about a political topic, or express his continued interest in subjects such as musicians, or portraiture in general.

Recently, the print layout has enabled Tillmans to share a more personal aspect of his visual archive. Originally designed as a sixty-six page spread for the Winter 2015/Spring 2016 edition of Arena Homme +, this grid of images looks back at Fragile, the name he gave as a teenager to his creative alter-ego. Spanning 1983 to 1989 – the year before he moved to England to study – the photographs and illustrations provide a sensitive insight into a formative period in Tillmans’s life, predating the time when he chose photography as his main medium of expression.

The layout is also an example of the intricate collaging technique that he has employed in printed matter since 2011, deliberately obscuring some images by overlapping others on top of them

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Faltenwurf (Pines), a' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Faltenwurf (Pines), a
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Tukan' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Tukan
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room ten

An acute awareness of fragility endures across Tillmans’s practice in all of its different forms. Often this is expressed in his attentiveness to textures and surfaces. Collum 2011 is taken from Central Nervous System 2008-13, a group of portraits featuring only one subject, where the focus on intimate details, such as the nape of the neck or the soft skin of the outer ear, both emphasises and celebrates the frailty of the human body.

Weed 2014, a four-metre tall photograph taken in the garden of the artist’s London home, invites us to consider the beauty and complexity of a plant usually seen as a nuisance. The dead leaf of a nearby fig tree appears as both a sculptural form and a memento mori. Dusty Vehicle 2012, photographed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is highly specific in its depiction of texture, yet the reasons leading to this roadside arrangement remain a mystery.

The focus on a very few works in this room serves as an example of Tillmans’s varied approaches to exhibiting his prints. Though best known for installations comprising many pictures, he always places emphasis on the strength of the individual image. By pinning and taping work to the wall, as well as using frames, Tillmans draws attention to the edges of the print, encouraging the viewer to interact with the photograph as an object, rather than a conduit for an image.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Dusty Vehicle' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Dusty Vehicle
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Collum' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Collum
2011
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Weed' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Weed
2014
Photograph, inkjet print on paper
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room eleven

In this room Tillmans highlights the coexistence of the personal, private, public, and political spheres in our lives. The simultaneity of a life lived as a sexual being as well as a political being, or in Tillmans’s case as a conceptual artist as well as a visually curious individual, plays out through the installation.

The entirely white view taken from the inside of a cloud, a word charged with multiple meanings, is presented alongside the close-up and matter-of-fact view of male buttocks and testicles. Like nackt, 2 2014, the small photograph The Air Between 2016 is the result of a lifelong interest in visually describing what it feels like to live in our bodies. Here the attention lies in photographing the air, the empty space between our skin and our clothes.

In still life, Calle Real II 2013, a severed agave chunk is placed on a German newspaper article describing the online depiction of atrocities by Islamic State. The image is as startling in its depiction of the finest green hues as it is in capturing how, simultaneously, we take in world events alongside details of our personal environment.

This room, which Tillmans considers as one work or installation in its entirety, is an example of his innovative use of different photographic prints and formats to reflect upon how we experience vastly different aspects of the world at the same time.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Air Between' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Air Between
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Still life, Calle Real II' 2013

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Still life, Calle Real II
2013
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Nackt, 2 (nude, 2)' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Nackt, 2 (nude, 2)
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room twelve

Tillmans has always been sensitive to the public side of his role as an artist, acknowledging that putting images out in the public world unavoidably places himself in the picture as well. His participation in activities such as lectures and interviews has been a platform for his voice from the beginning of his career.

Since 2014 he has also allowed performance to become a more prominent strand of his practice. Filmed in a hotel room in Los Angeles and an apartment in Tehran, Instrument 2015 is the first time that Tillmans has put himself in front of the camera for a video piece. Across a split screen, we see two separate occasions on which he has filmed himself dancing. The accompanying soundtrack was created by distorting the sound of his feet hitting the floor. In the absence of any other music, his body becomes an instrument.

On one side of the screen we see his body, on the other only his shadow. Referring to the shadow, New York Times critic Roberta Smith commented that:

“Disconcertingly, this insubstantial body is slightly out of sync with the fleshly one. It is a ghost, a shade, the specter that drives us all. The ease with which we want to believe that the two images are connected, even though they were filmed separately, might also act as a reminder to question what we assume to be true.”

 

Room thirteen

Portraiture has been central to Tillmans’s practice for three decades. For him, it is a collaborative act that he has described as ‘a good levelling instrument’. No matter who the sitter – a stranger or someone close to him, a public figure, an unknown individual, or even the artist himself – the process is characterised by the same dynamics: of vulnerability, exposure, honesty and always, to some extent, self-consciousness. Tillmans sees every portrait as resulting from the expectations and hopes of both sitter and photographer.

The portrait’s ability to highlight the relationship between appearance and identity is a recurring point of interest. In 2016, at HM Prison Reading, Tillmans took a distorted self-portrait in a damaged mirror once used by inmates. The disfigured result is the artist’s expression of the effects on the soul wrought by physical and psychological confinement and also censorship. Whoever looked into the reflective surface would gain a completely inaccurate impression of what they looked like, and how they are perceived by others.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Separate System, Reading Prison' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Separate System, Reading Prison
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Anders pulling splinter from his foot' 2004

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Anders pulling splinter from his foot
2004
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

“The image’s reference to both Dorian Gray and Francis Bacon is evident. This catapults a new association: perhaps Bacon was painting Gray all along. Insistently, fearlessly, longingly.

As with much of Bacon’s oeuvre, and the very particular picture of Dorian Gray, a distorted, forward-facing male figure intimidates the viewer with his unmade face. However, Tillsman’s piece is not a picture, it is a photograph. Here, the artist (as was the case with Bacon/Wilde) is not the one dissembling what’s inside the frame, subjecting it with his brush. No. In Tillsman’s image, a piece of thick glass distorts the artist. Here, the artist is no longer the lens that is able to affect his surroundings. Here, the surroundings distort the artist.

The message Tillsman delivers is clear: things have changed. The world disfigures the subject while the artist is trapped, forced to stand there and watch.”

Text by Ana Maria Caballero on The Drugstore Notebook website

 

Room fourteen

Symbol and allegory are artistic strategies Tillmans is usually keen to avoid. The State We’re In, A 2015 is a departure from this stance: the work’s title is a direct reference to current global political tensions. Depicting the Atlantic Ocean, a vast area that crosses time zones and national frontiers, it records the sea energised by opposing forces, but not yet breaking into waves. Differing energies collide, about to erupt into conflict.

The photographs in this room deal with borders and how they seem clear-cut but are actually fluid. In these images, borders are made tangible in the vapour between clouds, the horizon itself or the folds in the two Lighter photo-objects. The shipwreck left behind by refugees on the Italian island of Lampedusa, depicted in this photograph from 2008, is a reminder that borders, represented elsewhere in more poetic delineations, can mean a question of life and death.

The text and tables sculpture Time Mirrored 3 2017 represents Tillmans’s interest in connecting the time in which we live to a broader historical context. He always understands the ‘Now’ as the history of the future. Events perceived as having happened over a vast gulf of time between us and the past, become tangible when ‘mathematically mirrored’ and connected to more recent periods of time in our living memory.

In contrast to the epic themes of sea and time, the pictures of an apple tree outside the artist’s London front door, a subject he has photographed since 2002, suggest a day-to-day positive outlook.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Italian Coastal Guard Flying Rescue Mission off Lampedusa' 2008

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Italian Coastal Guard Flying Rescue Mission off Lampedusa
2008
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Lampedusa' 2008

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Lampedusa
2008
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Installation view of room 14 (detail)

 

Installation view of room 14 (detail), featuring at left, pictures of an apple tree outside the artist’s London front door and at right, La Palma 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'La Palma' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
La Palma
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Apple tree' 2007

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Apple tree
2007
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Apple tree' Various dates

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Apple tree
Various dates
Ink-jet prints
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Book for Architects

Book for Architects 2014 is the culmination of Tillmans’s longstanding fascination with architecture. First presented at Rem Koolhaas’s 14th International Architecture Exhibition, Venice, 2013, it explores the contrast between the rationality and utopianism that inform design and the reality of how buildings and streets come to be constructed and inhabited.

In 450 images taken in 37 countries, across 5 continents, Tillmans hones in on the resourceful and ingenious ways in which people adapt their surroundings to fit their needs. These are individual and uncoordinated decisions that were not anticipated in architects’ plans, but still impact the contemporary built environment.

Across the double projection, we see examples of how buildings come to sit within a city plan, the ad-hoc ways in which they are modified, and the supposed ‘weaknesses’ of a space such as the corners where there are service doors, fire escapes, or alarm systems.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Shit buildings going up left, right and centre' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Shit buildings going up left, right and centre
2014
Book for Architects Plate 083 2014
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Untitled' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Untitled
2012
Book for Architects 2014
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

“He has said of his photographs that “they are a representation of an unprivileged gaze or view … In photography I like to assume exactly the unprivileged position, the position that everybody can take, that chooses to sit at an airplane window or chooses to climb a tower.”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans quoted in Peter Halley, Midori Matsui, Jan Verwoert, Wolfgang Tillmans, London 2002, p. 136

 

 

Wolfgang Tillmans has earned recognition as one of the most exciting and innovative artists working today. Tate Modern presents an exhibition concentrating on his production across different media since 2003. First rising to prominence in the 1990s for his photographs of everyday life and contemporary culture, Tillmans has gone on to work in an ever greater variety of media and has taken an increasingly innovative approach to staging exhibitions. Tate Modern brings this variety to the fore, offering a new focus on his photographs, video, digital slide projections, publications, curatorial projects and recorded music.

Social and political themes form a rich vein throughout Tillmans’s work. The destabilisation of the world has arisen as a recurring concern for the artist since 2003, an important year when he felt the world changed with the invasion of Iraq and anti-war demonstrations. In 2017, at a moment when the subject of truth and fake news is at the heart of political discourse, Tillmans presents a new configuration of his tabletop installation truth study center 2005-ongoing. This ongoing project uses an assembly of printed matter from pamphlets to newspaper cuttings to his own works on paper to highlight Tillmans’s continued interest in word events and how they are communicated in the media.

Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 will particularly highlight the artist’s deeper engagement with abstraction, beginning with the important work Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I 2014. Based on images the artist took of an analogue TV losing signal, this work combines two opposing technologies – the digital and the analogue. Other works such as the series Blushes 2000-ongoing, made without a camera by manipulating the effects of light directly on photographic paper, show how the artist’s work with abstraction continues to push the boundaries and definitions of the photographic form.

The exhibition includes portraiture, landscape and still lives. A nightclub scene might record the joy of a safe social space for people to be themselves, while large-scale images of the sea such as La Palma 2014 or The State We’re In, A 2015 document places where borders intersect and margins are ever shifting. At the same time, intimate portraits like Collum 2011 focus on the delicacy, fragility and beauty of the human body. In 2009, Tillmans began using digital photography and was struck by the expanded opportunities the technology offered him. He began to travel more extensively to capture images of the commonplace and the extraordinary, photographing people and places across the world for the series Neue Welt 2009 – 2012.

The importance of Tillmans’s interdisciplinary practice is showcased throughout the exhibition. His Playback Room project, first shown at his Berlin exhibition space Between Bridges, provides a space within the museum for visitors to experience popular music by Colourbox at the best possible quality. The video installation Instrument 2015 shows Tillmans dancing to a soundtrack made by manipulating the sound of his own footsteps, while in the Tanks Studio his slide projection Book for Architects 2014 is being shown for the first time in the UK. Featuring thirty-seven countries and five continents, it reveals the tension between architectural form and function. In March, Tillmans will also take over Tate Modern’s south Tank for ten days with a specially-commissioned installation featuring live music events.

Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 is co-curated by Chris Dercon and Helen Sainsbury, Head of Programme Realisation, Tate Modern with Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue from Tate Publishing designed by Wolfgang Tillmans and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

Press release from Tate Modern

 

Images from the exhibition

Installation view of the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern 15 February - 11 June

 

Installation view of the exhibition Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 with at left, Sunset night drive (2014) and at centre right, Young Man, Jeddah (2012)

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Sunset night drive' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Sunset night drive
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Young Man, Jeddah' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Young Man, Jeddah
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Young Man, Jeddah (B)' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Young Man, Jeddah (B)
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) '17 Years Supply' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
17 Years Supply
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

“Now the camera is staring into a big cardboard box, half-filled with pharmacist’s tubs and packages, 17 years’ supply of antiretroviral and other medications to treat HIV/Aids. I imagine the sound that box would make if you shook it, what that sound might say about a human life, its vulnerability and value.” ~ Adrian Searle

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Market I' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Market I
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Studio still life, c' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Studio still life, c
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Juan Pablo & Karl Chingaza' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Juan Pablo & Karl Chingaza
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Iguazu' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Iguazu
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Oscar Niemeyer' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Oscar Niemeyer
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Tube escalator joint' 2009

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Tube escalator joint
2009
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'JAL' 1997

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
JAL
1997
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Port-au-Prince' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Port-au-Prince
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'London Olympics' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
London Olympics
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Fespa Car' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Fespa Car
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Spectrum Dagger' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Spectrum Dagger
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Gaza Wall' 2009

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Gaza Wall
2009
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Simon, Sebastian Street' 2013

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Simon, Sebastian Street
2013
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Arms and Legs' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Arms and Legs
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
Sunday – Thursday 10.00 – 18.00
Friday – Saturday 10.00 – 22.00

Tate Modern website

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24
May
17

Exhibition: ‘Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask’ at the National Portrait Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 9th March – 29th May 2017

 

This is the last posting for a while as my hand operation is tomorrow… so let’s make the most of the occasion!

 

“…the life of spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself. It is this power, not as something positive, which closes its eyes to the negative as when we say of something that it is nothing or is false, and then having done with it, turn away and pass on to something else; on the contrary, spirit is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and tarrying with it. This tarrying with the negative is the magical power that converts it into being.”

.
George Wilhelm Frederich Hegel 1807 ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’, Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 10

 

 

This is an interesting pairing for an exhibition but the connection between the artists is unconvincing. This is because Wearing and Cahun are talking to different aspects of the self.

Wearing’s self-portraits, her mask-querades, her shielded multiple personalities, talk to a “postmodern meditation on the slipperiness of the self” in which there is little evidence of the existence of any “real” person. Wearing wears her identities in a series of dress-ups, performances where only the eyes of the original protagonist are visible. These identities evidence Jung’s shadow aspect, “an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself.” Rather than an assimilation of the shadow aspect into the self followed by an ascent (enantiodromia), Wearing’s images seem to be mired in a state of melancholia, a “confrontation with the shadow which produces at first a dead balance, a stand-still that hampers moral decisions and makes convictions ineffective…tenebrositas, chaos, melancholia.” This is not a confrontation that leads anywhere interesting, by looking the negative in the face and tarrying with it. These split personalities rise little above caricature, an imitation of a person in which certain striking characteristics are over emphasised, such as in Wearing’s portraits of her as Andy Warhol or Robert Mapplethorpe. To me, the photograph of Wearing as Mapplethorpe is a travesty of the pain that artist was feeling as he neared the end of his life, dying from HIV/AIDS.

Cahun’s self-portraits contain all the depth of feeling and emotion that Wearing’s can never contain. Here, identity and gender is played out through performance and masquerade in a constructive way, a deep, probing interrogation of the self in front of the camera. While Cahun engages with Surrealist ideas – wearing masks and costumes and changing her appearance, often challenging traditional notions of gender representation – she does so in a direct and powerful way. As Cumming observes, “She is not trying to become someone else, not trying to escape [as Wearing is]. Cahun is always and emphatically herself. Dressed as a man, she never appears masculine, nor like a woman in drag. Dressed as a woman, she never looks feminine. She is what we refer to as non-binary* these days, though Cahun called it something else: “Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.””

*Those with nonbinary genders can feel that they: Have an androgynous (both masculine and feminine) gender identity, such as androgyne. Have an identity between male and female, such as intergender. Have a neutral or unrecognized gender identity, such as agender, neutrois, or most xenogenders.*

Cahun had a gift for the indelible image but more than that, she possesses the propensity for humility and openness in these portraits, as though she is opening her soul for interrogation, even as she explores what it is to be Cahun, what it is to be human. This is a human being in full control of the balance between the ego and the self, of dream-state and reality. The photographs, little shown in Cahun’s lifetime, are her process of coming to terms with the external world, on the one hand, and with one’s own unique psychological characteristics on the other. They are her adaption** to the world.

**“The constant flow of life again and again demands fresh adaptation. Adaptation is never achieved once and for all.” (Carl Jung. “The Transcendent Function,” CW 8, par. 143.)**

.
Claude Cahun is person I would have really liked to have met. Affiliated with the French Surrealist movement, living with her partner the artist and stage designer Marcel Moore, the two women left Paris for the Isles of Scilly and were then imprisoned in Nazi-occupied Jersey during the Second World War as a result of their roles in the French Resistance.

“Fervently against war, the two worked extensively in producing anti-German fliers. Many were snippets from English-to-German translations of BBC reports on the Nazis’ crimes and insolence, which were pasted together to create rhythmic poems and harsh criticism. The couple then dressed up and attended many German military events in Jersey, strategically placing them in soldier’s pockets, on their chairs, etc. Also, they inconspicuously crumpled up and threw their fliers into cars and windows. In many ways, Cahun and Malherbe’s [Marcel Moore] resistance efforts were not only political but artistic actions, using their creative talents to manipulate and undermine the authority which they despised. In many ways, Cahun’s life’s work was focused on undermining a certain authority, however her specific resistance fighting targeted a physically dangerous threat. In 1944 she was arrested and sentenced to death, but the sentence was never carried out. However, Cahun’s health never recovered from her treatment in jail, and she died in 1954.” (Wikipedia)

Undermining a certain authority … while ennobling her own identity and being. Love and respect.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the National Portrait Gallery, London for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. For more information please see the blog entry Claude Cahun: Freedom Fighter.

 

This exhibition brings together for the first time the work of French artist Claude Cahun and British contemporary artist Gillian Wearing. Although they were born almost seventy years apart and came from different backgrounds, remarkable parallels can be drawn between the two artists. Both of them share a fascination with the self-portrait and use the self-image, through the medium of photography, to explore themes around identity and gender, which is often played out through masquerade and performance.

 

 

“Under this mask, another mask. I will never finish removing all these faces.”

.
Claude Cahun, 1930

 

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1929

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (reflected image in mirror with chequered jacket)
1927
Silver gelatin print

 

 Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1928

 

Claude Cahun
Autoportrait
1928
Gelatin silver print
13.9 x 9 cm
Jersey Heritage Collection
© Jersey Heritage

 

 

“Once seen, never forgotten: Cahun had a gift for the indelible image. Even when the signals are jammed, and the meaning deliberately baffled, her vision always holds strong. This is partly convenienced by the artist’s exceptional looks. Her long, thin face, with its shaved eyebrows, large eyes and linear nose, takes paint like a canvas. She converts herself into a harpy, a lunatic or a doll with equal ease. In one self-portrait, she even holds her own bare face like a mask…

Peering into these monochrome images, so delicate and small, the viewer might inevitably wonder which is the real Cahun: the woman in the aviator goggles, the pensive Buddhist, the young man in a white silk scarf? But this is not the right question. She is not trying to become someone else, not trying to escape. Cahun is always and emphatically herself.

Dressed as a man, she never appears masculine, nor like a woman in drag. Dressed as a woman, she never looks feminine. She is what we refer to as non-binary these days, though Cahun called it something else: “Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.” …

There is little evidence that she ever displayed these photographs, which were forgotten for decades after her death. It seems that her partner was generally behind the lens, but we know almost nothing about how they were made. Of her lifelong project, Cahun wrote: “Under this mask, another mask. I will never finish removing all these faces.”

Commentators have taken this to mean that she thought of herself as a series of multiple personalities, and the double exposures, shadows and reflections in her work all seem to undermine the idea of a singular self. Yet Cahun is formidably and unmistakably Cahun, her force of personality registering every time in that utterly penetrating look. Far from some postmodern meditation on the slipperiness of the self, her images are completely direct. They acknowledge the sufferings of a double life and are deepened by them every time; and yet they rejoice in that life too.”

Laura Cumming. “Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the Mask, Another Mask – review,” on The Observer website

 

 

Claude Cahun in collaboration with Marcel Moore. 'Aveux non avenus frontispiece' 1929-30

 

Claude Cahun in collaboration with Marcel Moore
Aveux non avenus frontispiece
1929-30
Photomontage
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

 

“Cahun appears in enigmatic guises, playing out different personas using masks and mirrors, and featuring androgynous shaven or close-cropped hair – as can be seen in the multiple views of her in the lower left-hand side of this collage. The image also includes symbols made up by the women to represent themselves – the eye for Moore, the artist, and the mouth for Cahun, the writer and actor. Whereas the majority of Surrealists were men, in whose images women appear as eroticised objects, Cahun’s androgynous self-portraits explore female identity as constructed, multifaceted, and ultimately as having a nihilistic absence at the core.”

Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (as a dandy, head and shoulders)' 1921-22

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (as a dandy, head and shoulders)
1921-22
Silver gelatin print
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection
Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York / Scala, Florence

 

Claude Cahun. 'Studies for a keepsake' c. 1925

 

Claude Cahun
Studies for a keepsake
c. 1925
Silver gelatin prints
Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
© Musée d’Art moderne / Roger-Viollet

 

Claude Cahun. 'Study for a keepsake' c. 1925

 

Claude Cahun
Study for a keepsake
c. 1925
Silver gelatin print
Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
© Musée d’Art moderne / Roger-Viollet

 

Claude Cahun. 'I am in training don't kiss me' c. 1927

 

Claude Cahun
I am in training don’t kiss me
c. 1927
Silver gelatin print
117mm x 89mm (whole)
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Totor (progenitor of Tintin) and Popol are two comic characters by the Belgian cartoonist Hergé. Castor and Pollux are the twin stars; Pollux and Helen were the children of Zeus and Leda, while Castor and Clytemnestra were the children of Leda and Tyndareus.

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (kneeling, naked, with mask)' c. 1928

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (kneeling, naked, with mask)
c. 1928
Silver gelatin print
116mm x  83mm
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (full length masked figure in cloak with masks)' 1928

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (full length masked figure in cloak with masks)
1928
Silver gelatin print
109mm x 82mm
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait' 1929

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait
1929
Silver gelatin print

 

Claude Cahun. 'Je tends les bras (I extend my arms)' c. 1932

 

Claude Cahun
Je tends les bras (I extend my arms)
c. 1932
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (in cupboard)' c. 1932

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (in cupboard)
c. 1932
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

 

Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask (9 March – 29 May 2017) draws together over 100 works by French artist Claude Cahun (1894-1954) and British contemporary artist Gillian Wearing (b.1963). While they were born 70 years apart, they share similar themes of gender, identity, masquerade and performance.

Cahun, along with her contemporaries André Breton and Man Ray, was affiliated with the French Surrealist movement although her work was rarely exhibited during her lifetime. Together with her partner, the artist and stage designer Marcel Moore, the two women left Paris and were then imprisoned in Nazi-occupied Jersey during the Second World War as a result of their roles in the French Resistance. In her photographs she is depicted wearing masks and costumes and engaging with Surrealist ideas. She also changes her appearance by shaving her hair and wearing wigs, often challenging traditional notions of gender representation.

Gillian Wearing studied at Goldsmiths University, winning the Turner Prize in 1997. She has exhibited extensively in the United Kingdom and internationally, including solo exhibitions at the Whitechapel Gallery and Serpentine Gallery, whilst overseas, recent retrospectives include IVAM Valencia and K20 Dusseldorf. Wearing’s photographic self-portraits incorporate painstaking recreations of her as others in an intriguing and sometimes unsettling range of guises such as where she becomes her immediate family members using prosthetic masks.

Despite their different backgrounds, obvious and remarkable parallels can be drawn between the artists whose fascination with identity and gender is played out through performance and masquerade. Wearing has referenced Cahun overtly in the past: Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face is a reconstruction of Cahun’s self-portrait Don’t kiss me I’m in training of 1927, and forms the starting point of this exhibition, the title of which (Behind the mask, another mask) adapts a quotation from Claude Cahun’s Surrealist writings.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘This inspired, timely and poignant exhibition pairs the works of Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun. These pioneering artists, although separated by several decades, address similarly compelling themes around gender, identity, masquerade, performance and the idea of the self, issues that are ever more relevant to the present day.’

Sarah Howgate, Curator, Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask, says: ‘It seems particularly fitting that at the National Portrait Gallery on International Women’s Day we are bringing together for the first time Claude Cahun’s intriguing and complex explorations of identity with the equally challenging and provocative self-images of Gillian Wearing.’

Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask is curated by Sarah Howgate, Senior Curator of Contemporary Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait as a young girl' 1914

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait as a young girl
1914
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait as a young girl' 1914

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait as a young girl
1914
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (shaved head, material draped across body)' 1920

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (shaved head, material draped across body)
1920
Silver gelatin print
115mm x 89mm

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1927

 

Claude Cahun
Autoportrait
1927
Silver gelatin print

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-Portrait' 1927

 

Claude Cahun
Self-Portrait
1927
Silver gelatin print

 

Claude Cahun. 'Que me veux tu?' 1929

 

Claude Cahun
Que me veux tu? (What do you want from me?)
1929
Gelatin silver print
18 x 23 cm (7 1/16 x 9 1/16 ins)
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait' 1929

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait
1929
Gelatin silver print

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1939

 

Claude Cahun
Autoportrait
1939
Gelatin silver print
10 x 8 cm
Jersey Heritage Collection
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (with Nazi badge between her teeth)' 1945

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (with Nazi badge between her teeth)
1945
Photograph – Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Ten things you need to know about this extraordinary artist

1. Her real name was Lucy Schwob.
She was born 25 October 1894 in Nantes, daughter of newspaper owner Maurice Schwob and Victorine Marie Courbebaisse; her uncle was the Symbolist writer Marcel Schwob. Subjected to anti-Semitic acts following the Dreyfus Affair, she was removed to a boarding school in Surrey, where she studied for two years.

2. Cahun’s lover was also her stepsister.
In 1909, she met her lifelong partner and collaborator Suzanne Malherbe while studying in Nantes, in what she described as a ‘thunderbolt encounter’. Eight years later, Cahun’s father married Suzanne’s widowed mother.

3. The couple adopted gender-neutral names.
Schwob first used the name Claude Cahun in the semi-biographical text ‘Les Jeux uraniens’, Cahun being a surname from her father’s side. Malherbe changed her name to Marcel Moore and the pair moved to Paris in 1914, where they began their artistic collaborations and Cahun studied literature and philosophy at the Sorbonne.

4. Cahun was one of the few female Surrealists.
In 1932 she was introduced to André Breton, who called her ‘one of the most curious spirits of our time’. Four years later, Cahun participated in the Surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Charles Ratton, Paris, and visited the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries, London. Whereas in the works of male Surrealists women often appear as eroticised objects, Cahun’s self-portraits explore female identity as constructed and multifaceted.

5. She was first and foremost a writer.
Now best known for her striking self-portraits, Cahun saw herself primarily as a writer. In 1930 she published Aveux non avenus (translated into English as Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions), an ‘anti-memoir’ including ten photomontages created in collaboration with Moore.

6. In 1937 the couple swapped Paris for Jersey.
Cahun and Moore moved to La Rocquaise, a house in St Brelade’s Bay, Jersey, where they led a secluded life. The couple reverted to their given names, Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe, and were known by the islanders as ‘les mesdames’.

7. They were actively involved in the resistance against Nazi Occupation.
When the Germans invaded Jersey in 1940 they decided to stay and produced counter-propaganda tracts. In July 1944 they were found out, arrested, stood trial, and were, briefly, sentenced to death (though these sentences were commuted). The couple were imprisoned in separate cells for almost a year before Liberation in May 1945.

8. In 1951 Cahun received the Medal of French Gratitude for her acts of resistance during the Second World War. Suffering increasingly from ill health, she died in 1954 at the age of sixty. Moore died eighteen years later, in 1972.

9. She remained forgotten for half a century
Following her move to Jersey, Cahun slipped from critical attention. After the death of Marcel Moore, much of Cahun’s work was put up for auction and acquired by collector John Wakeham, who then sold it to the Jersey Heritage Trust in 1995. The publication in 1992 of the definitive biography by Francois Leperlier, Claude Cahun: l’ecart et la metamorphose, and subsequent exhibition, Claude Cahun: Photographe, at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1995 encouraged a growing interest in the artist’s work. It was during this time that Gillian Wearing discovered Claude Cahun.

10. She was an artist ahead of her time
Wearing speaks of a ‘camaraderie’ between her and Cahun but she is not the only contemporary artist to have been influenced by her work. Cahun has a dedicated following among artists and art historians working from postmodern, feminist and queer theoretical perspectives; the American art critic Hal Foster described Cahun as ‘a Cindy Sherman avant la lettre’.

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Self-portrait as my brother Richard Wearing' 2003

 

Gillian Wearing
Self-portrait as my brother Richard Wearing
2003
Heather Podesta Collection
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Mapplethorpe' 2009

 

Gillian Wearing
Me as Mapplethorpe
2009
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London, Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Warhol in Drag with Scar' 2010

 

Gillian Wearing
Me as Warhol in Drag with Scar
2010
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London, Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Diane Arbus' 2008-2010

 

Gillian Wearing
Me as Diane Arbus
2008-2010
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London, Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face' 2012

 

Gillian Wearing
Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face
2012
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Self-portrait of me now in a mask' 2011

 

Gillian Wearing
Self-portrait of me now in a mask
2011
Collection of Mario Testino
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as mask' 2013

 

Gillian Wearing
Me as mask
2013
Private collection, courtesy Cecilia Dan Fine Art
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'At Claude Cahun's grave' 2015

 

Gillian Wearing
At Claude Cahun’s grave
2015
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London

 

 

National Portrait Gallery
St Martin’s Place
London, WC2H 0HE

Opening hours:
Monday – Wednesday, Saturday – Sunday 10am – 6pm
Thursday – Friday 10am – 9pm

National Portrait Gallery website

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13
May
15

Exhibition: ‘Hold That Pose: Erotic Imagery in 19th Century Photography’ at the Kinsey Institute, Bloomington, Indiana Part 1

Exhibition dates: 23rd January – 4th September 2015

Kinsey Institute Gallery, Indiana University

*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART PHOTOGRAPHS OF HUMAN EROTIC ACTIVITY AND NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

 

 

A first for Art Blart – photographs from the world famous Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction!

After visiting the Kinsey Institute as part of my PhD in 2001 I was not allowed to publish any photographs from the collection for my research, which was a pity. Things have changed over the last decade and a half I am happy to say. As I observed in an email to Catherine Johnson-Roehr, Curator of Art, Artifacts, and Photographs recently, I understood that they had to be more sensitive than most institutions, especially with some of the material they hold in their collection. In reply, Catherine noted that while the Kinsey still had to be careful with the use of their materials especially when they are made public online, things had improved in the last 15 years. “Although we have collected artworks since the 1940s, we did not exhibit any of the materials until the 1990s and then on a very limited basis until 2002. When I arrived here in 2000, we had only a few tame images on our website, but now we have online galleries for some of our exhibitions (including all the juried art shows).”

Therefore, after some negotiation for online release, it is with great pleasure that I can feature 40 images in this two-part posting. Nobody should be offended by these glorious, historic photographs of the human body and a human action that everyone does, and it is fantastic to see the Kinsey opening up their collection to the world. We must oppose bigoted views such as that of Nazi Germany where they destroyed the library of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexology) headed by Magnus Hirschfeld, in 1933… by making these images visible in the world, not hiding them away behind closed doors. These are joyous photographs of the male and female body, a body in which everyone of us lives, desires, and enjoys pleasure.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx for the Kinsey Institute for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

The Kinsey Institute research collection contains thousands of examples of erotic imagery produced over centuries by artists around the world. When the new technology of photography was announced in France in 1839, it was not long before it became the most popular medium for depictions of the nude figure, as well as erotic imagery. The first photographic process to be widely used was the daguerreotype, which produced a unique image. With the invention of other processes that used negatives to make multiple prints, the mass production of erotic photographs became possible. Hold That Pose features daguerreotypes, tintypes, albumen and gelatin silver prints, stereocards, and other examples of photographic processes that were used by professional photographers in the 19th century to produce and distribute erotic material.

 

 

Gallery wall of the exhibition 'Hold That Pose' at the Kinsey Institute

 

Gallery wall of the exhibition Hold That Pose at the Kinsey Institute

 

Photo process display case from the exhibition 'Hold That Pose' at the Kinsey Institute

 

Photo process display case from the exhibition Hold That Pose at the Kinsey Institute

 

Stanhopes on display from the exhibition 'Hold That Pose' at the Kinsey Institute

 

Stanhopes on display from the exhibition Hold That Pose at the Kinsey Institute

 

Unknown photographers 'Stanhope lenses and holders' 19th or early 20th century

Unknown photographers 'Stanhope lenses and holders' 19th or early 20th century

 

Unknown photographers
Stanhope lenses and holders
19th or early 20th century

 

Unknown photographer. 'Stanhope lens and holder' (detail) 19th or early 20th century

 

Unknown photographer
Stanhope lens and holder (detail)
19th or early 20th century

 

Stanhope lenses and holders, 19th or early 20th century

 

Stanhope lenses and holders
19th or early 20th century

 

Stanhopes derive their name from Lord Stanhope, who created the tiny rod-shaped lens before the invention of photography. In 1859, an entrepreneurial French inventor named René Prudent Patrice Dagron patented a process for making “cylindres photomicroscopiques”, and then created a successful business selling them as inexpensive novelty items. A photograph smaller than the head of a pin was mounted on a Stanhope lens, and then both were placed in a holder such as a pen knife, ring, or other small object. Stanhopes were popular souvenir items – many featured photographs of places or famous monuments such as the Eiffel Tower, but images of nude women or explicit sexual activity were also produced.

 

Gallery wall from the exhibition 'Hold That Pose' at the Kinsey Institute

 

Gallery wall from the exhibition Hold That Pose at the Kinsey Institute

 

Stereoscope display case from the exhibition 'Hold That Pose' at the Kinsey Institute

 

Stereoscope display case from the exhibition Hold That Pose at the Kinsey Institute

 

Stereoscope on display in the exhibition 'Hold That Pose' at the Kinsey Institute

Stereoscope on display in the exhibition 'Hold That Pose' at the Kinsey Institute

 

Stereoscope on display in the exhibition Hold That Pose at the Kinsey Institute

 

Stereo photography

The stereoscope, a device for viewing images in three dimensions, was invented in England in1838, just as the first photographic processes were being developed in France. The first stereo photographs were created using the daguerreotype process, which preserved an image on a highly polished silver plate. Initially a single camera was used to produce two nearly identical images that when viewed through a stereo device gave the illusion of seeing in 3-D, but soon a camera equipped with two lenses came into use for the production of stereo images. Stereoscopes became as popular as televisions are today, as a form of affordable home entertainment that could be enjoyed by children and adults.

 

Webster & Albee, Publishers, United States 'Woman standing on the back of a kneeling man' late 19th century

 

Webster & Albee (Publishers, United States)
Woman standing on the back of a kneeling man
Late 19th century
Hand-colored stereocard

See the installation photograph above and the card in the Stereoscope

 

Unknown photographer, France 'Two nude women in a room with a mirror' c. 1850-1855

 

Unknown photographer (France)
Two nude women in a room with a mirror
c. 1850-1855
Stereo daguerreotype under glass

 

Underwood & Underwood, United States 'Oh ! you naughty man' 1900

 

Underwood & Underwood (United States)
Oh ! you naughty man
1900
Stereocard

 

Unknown photographer. 'The Entanglement' Mid 19th century

 

Unknown photographer
The Entanglement
Mid 19th century
Hand-coloured stereocard

 

Unknown photographer, France 'Nude woman in a room with a mirror' c.1850-1855

 

Unknown photographer (France)
Nude woman in a room with a mirror
c. 1850-1855
Copy photograph of stereo daguerreotype

 

Unknown photographer. 'Photomontage of men and women engaged in sexual activity' 1895-1900

 

Unknown photographer
Photomontage of men and women engaged in sexual activity
1895-1900
Gelatin silver print

 

Unknown photographer. 'Photomontage of men and women engaged in sexual activity' 1895-1900 (detail)

 

Unknown photographer
Photomontage of men and women engaged in sexual activity (detail)
1895-1900
Gelatin silver print

 

Unknown photographer. 'Woman penetrating a woman with a dildo' 1880-1885

 

Unknown photographer
Woman penetrating a woman with a dildo
1880-1885
Gelatin silver copy print

 

Unknown photographer. 'Bathing in a Baetingplace' Japan, 1880-1890

 

Unknown photographer
Bathing in a Baetingplace
Japan, 1880-1890
Hand-colored albumen print

___ and ___ – bathing, attended by their ____ (maid) who is putting charcoal into the fire under the tub

 

Unknown photographer, United States 'Nude woman reclining on a fallen tree' c. 1880

 

Unknown photographer (United States)
Nude woman reclining on a fallen tree
c. 1880
Modern platinum print from glass plate negative
(printed in 2012 by Herbert Ascherman, Jr.)

 

Unknown photographer, Indiana, United States 'Erect penis' 19th century

 

Unknown photographer (Indiana, United States)
Erect penis
19th century
Modern gelatin silver print from glass plate negative

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931), Germany 'Man seated beside a tree' Taormina, Sicily, 1899

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931 Germany)
Man seated beside a tree
Taormina, Sicily, 1899
Albumen print

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931), Germany 'Two nude men standing in a forest' Taormina, Sicily, 1899

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931, Germany)
Two nude men standing in a forest
Taormina, Sicily, 1899
Albumen print

 

 

The Kinsey Institute
Morrison Hall 313, Indiana University
Bloomington, Indiana, USA

Opening hours
Monday-Friday, 1-5pm

The Kinsey Institute website

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08
Sep
14

Exhibition: ‘Cindy Sherman – Untitled Horrors’ at Kunsthaus Zürich

Exhibition dates: 6th June – 4th September 2014

 

I remember some time in the dim distant past when Cindy Sherman’s photographs actually had relevance and were important in and of themselves… but perhaps my memory is playing tricks with me. Memory is a strange thing for we remember only fragments of fragments, like an echo chamber, a distant echo of something (the construction of identity and gender) that was once cutting edge, now overtaken by reality itself – on the red carpet, in the cosmetic surgery offices, in the media mags. Once there may have been an original, an original Cindy Sherman, an original idea, but now there just seems to be pastiche after pastiche of a Sherman nobody is sure ever really existed.

There are certainly some horrors among this posting, images that I wish I had never seen, and never really wish to see again. As the amount of ‘Untitled’ works rises (untitled is such a cop out!) the numbers, and the body count, become irrelevant. The early work, through the 80s to the early 90s, had important things to say but now the artist formally know as Sherman is earth mother goddess to all, and ancestral trickster to many. Enough please!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Kunsthaus Zürich for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of 'Cindy Sherman - Untitled Horrors' at Kunsthaus Zürich

 

Installation view of Cindy Sherman – Untitled Horrors at Kunsthaus Zürich
Photo: Lena Huber

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #93' 1981

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #93
1981
Chromogenic color print
61 × 121.9 cm
Astrup Fearnley Collection, Oslo
© Cindy Sherman. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. Untitled #122 1983

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #122
1983
Chromogenic color print
89.5 × 54 cm
Vanmoerkerke Collection, Belgium
© Cindy Sherman. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #129' 1983

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #129
1983
Chromogenic color print
89.7 × 59.3 cm
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark, Donation: The New Carlsberg Foundation
© Cindy Sherman. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New Yor

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #146' 1985

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #146
1985
Chromogenic color print
184.2 × 125.4 cm
Skarstedt Gallery, New York
© Cindy Sherman. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #153' 1985

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #153
1985
Chromogenic color print
170.8 × 125.7 cm
© Cindy Sherman. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #170' 1987

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #170
1987
Chromogenic color print
179.1 x 120.7 cm
Collection Metro Pictures, New York
© Cindy Sherman. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #216' 1989

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #216
1989
Chromogenic color print
221.3 × 142.5 cm
Astrup Fearnley Collection, Oslo
© Cindy Sherman. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

 

“From 6 June to 14 September 2014, the Kunsthaus Zürich plays host to a major retrospective featuring American artist Cindy Sherman (b. 1954). Sherman is one of the leading exponents of staged photography. In her work she deals with issues of identity, (gender) roles and physicality, almost always using herself as the model. Cindy Sherman’s earliest works were created in 1975. Preceding the celebrated ‘Untitled Film Stills’ (1977-1980), these photographs were produced at home using an external shutter release, yet they were already concerned with the issues of identity and role play that are central to her oeuvre. The exhibition Cindy Sherman – Untitled Horrors includes a selection of these early and rarely shown works as well as her latest pieces, some of them monumental and covering entire walls. Sherman references the techniques and forms of advertising, cinema and classical painting.

THE THREATENING HEART OF UNTITLED HORRORS

The principal focus of the overview, which has been compiled by the Kunsthaus together with the artist, is the threatening and grotesque. The retrospective’s subtitle, ‘Untitled Horrors’, is partly a reference to the exhibition’s content, but also a play on the fact that Cindy Sherman invariably labels her photos ‘Untitled’. She leaves it to the viewer to read the pictures in their own way, inviting them to develop the stories behind them as they see fit, and come up with their own titles.

110 WORKS IN TOTAL

The presentation includes all the key works from the various phases of Cindy Sherman’s artistic career. Iconic pieces from the early period, such as the famous ‘Untitled Film Stills’ series, reminiscent of Italian Neo-Realism and American film noir, appear alongside the later photographs of ‘Hollywood/Hampton Types’ (2000-2002), while the ‘Clowns’ (2003-2004) encounter the ‘Sex Pictures’ series from 1992. These juxtapositions reveal the remarkable consistency with which, throughout her long career, the artist has engaged with fundamental issues of human existence and repeatedly explored new avenues of formal expression. Curated by Mirjam Varadinis and created in association with the Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo, and the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, the 110-work presentation dispenses with a linear or chronological approach, choosing instead to create unexpected combinations that shed new light on the oeuvre of this important artist and her exploration of the self through film and photography.”

Text from the Kunsthaus Zürich website

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #235' 1987-1991

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #235
1987-1991
Chromogenic color print
228.6 × 152.4 cm
Private collection, courtesy Segalot LP, New York
© Cindy Sherman. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #304' 1994

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #304
1994
Chromogenic color print
154.9 × 104.1 cm
© Cindy Sherman. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #324' 1996

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #324
1996
Chromogenic color print
146.7 × 99.1 cm
Collection Metro Pictures & Skarstedt Gallery
© Cindy Sherman. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #348' 1999

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #348
1999
Gelatin silver print
97,8 × 66 cm
© Cindy Sherman. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #352' 2000

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #352
2000
Chromogenic color print
68.6 × 45.7 cm
Collection Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall
© Cindy Sherman. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #363 (Bus Riders I)' 1976/2000

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #363 (Bus Riders I)
1976/2000
Gelatin silver print
18.9 x 12.7 cm
Tate; purchased with funds provided by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, 2001
© Cindy Sherman. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #420' 2004

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #420
2004
Chromogenic color print (2-teilig)
Each: 182.4 × 115.8 cm
Astrup Fearnley Collection, Oslo
© Cindy Sherman. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #458' 2007-2008

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #458
2007-2008
Chromogenic color print
195 × 147 cm
Astrup Fearnley Collection, Oslo
© Cindy Sherman. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #544' 2010 / 2012

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #544
2010 / 2012
Chromogenic color print
172.7 × 254 cm
Astrup Fearnley Collection, Oslo
© Cindy Sherman. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #549-C' 2010

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #549-C
2010
Pigment / print on PhotoTex, adhesive fabric,
Dimensions variable
© Cindy Sherman. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

 

Kunsthaus Zürich
Heimplatz 1
CH–8001 Zurich

Opening hours:
Tue/Fri–Sun 10 am – 6 pm
Wed/Thu 10 am – 8 pm

Kunsthaus Zürich 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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