Posts Tagged ‘memory

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.”

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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.”

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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.

 

 

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA)
Ground Floor, Building F,
Monash University Caulfield campus,
900 Dandenong Road,
Caulfield East, VIC 3145
T: 61 3 9905 4217

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5pm
Saturday 12 – 5pm

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07
May
17

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

Exhibition dates: 18th February – 14th May 2017

 

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

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

Marcus

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK 73102

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm
Thursday: 10 am – 9 pm
Sunday: noon – 5 pm
Closed: Monday and Major Holidays

Oklahoma City Museum of Art website

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13
Sep
14

Exhibition: ‘Oscar Muñoz: Protographies’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 3rd June – 21st September 2014

Curated by José Roca and María Wills Londoño (adjunct curator)

 

Another artist investigating the medium of photography in totally fascinating ways… breaking the glass, deconstructing the support, fragmenting the image, questioning the imprint of photography – in memory, in the photographs physicality, in what leaves an impression, in what remains. The un/stable image, in flux, in sediment, investigated through “work [that] defies systematic classification because he works in so many different media: photography, printmaking, drawing, installations, video and sculpture.” Such inventiveness over such a long period of time “developing special techniques to produce images that reveal themselves as a kind of counterpoint to photography and the “decisive moment” it once claimed to capture.” Ephemeral photography that is truly remarkable.

Marcus

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

 

This summer, the Jeu de Paume, which is celebrating 10 years devoted to the image, will be inviting the public to discover Oscar Muñoz (born in 1951), Colombia’s most emblematic artist, who has been producing a body of work for nearly forty years that centres on the capacity of images to preserve memory.

 

CALI-DOSCOPE: CITY FRAGMENTS

Oscar Muñoz. 'Ambulatorio [Ambulatory]' 1994

 

Oscar Muñoz
Ambulatorio [Ambulatory]
1994
Aerial photograph enclosed in security glass, wood and aluminium, 36 units
100 x 100 cm each
Courtesy O.K. Centrum, Linz

 

Muñoz emerged on the Colombian art scene with his series of large-format hyperrealist drawings in charcoal on paper that revealed his interest in the social implications of empty or deteriorating spaces. This group includes drawings from the series entitled Inquilinatos [Tenement Houses] (1979) and Interiores [Interiors] (1980-1981). Also on display are works referring to Cali’s urban life, such as Ambulatorio [Ambulatory] (1994), El Puente [The Bridge] (2004), Archivo Porcontacto [Bycontact Archive] (2004-2008), which are images of a specific period and specific places in the city, and A través del cristal [Through the Glass] (2008-2009), the latter a way of introducing an absent cultural reference through sound.

Cali recurs in Muñoz’s work as a contextual reference or a support. This is literally the case with Ambulatorio, an aerial photograph of the city blown up to a monumental scale and laid out in a regular grid. Each segment of the photograph is fixed to a piece of security glass, which breaks into pieces when the viewer walks on the work. Each break creates another random mesh of lines over the urban image of a chaotic city in which rational planning and the unstructured coexist in a way typical of all modern South American cities.

 

THE SUPPORT RECONSIDERED

Oscar Muñoz. 'Cortinas de Baño [Shower curtains]' 1985-1986

 

Oscar Muñoz
Cortinas de Baño [Shower curtains]
1985-1986
Acrylic on plastic, 5 elements
190 x 140 cm and 190 x 70 cm each, dimensions variable
Banco de la República collection, Bogotá

 

Having achieved international renown as an exceptional draughtsman, in the 1980s Muñoz gradually abandoned paper as a support and experimented with new techniques of drawing and printmaking, using unconventional materials and supports such as acrylic applied to damp plastic and charcoal dust on water. This group includes the series Cortinas de Baño [Shower Curtains] (1985-1986), Tiznados [Tainted] (1990), Narcisos secos [Dry Narcissi] (1994-1995) and Simulacros [Simulacra] (1999).

In Cortinas de baño Muñoz experimented for the first time with an unconventional support, in this case an everyday plastic shower curtain, in order to construct an image from a photograph transferred onto a silkscreen mesh. In the printing process, executed with an airbrush through previously prepared silkscreen, the image was transferred onto an unstable surface, with the artist preventing the pigment from being totally fixed by sprinkling water on it.

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Narcisos (en proceso)' [Narcissi (in process)] 1995-2011

 

Oscar Muñoz
Narcisos (en proceso) [Narcissi (in process)]
1995-2011
Charcoal dust and paper on water, Plexiglas, 6 elements
10 x 50 x 50 cm each, overall dimensions: 10 x 70 x 400 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Narcisos was a key series in the artist’s quest to dematerialise the support of the photographic image. Muñoz developed a new technique unprecedented in the history of art and probably never to be encountered again – that of printing on water. The earliest photographic images emerged from water, from the chemical baths that fixed the silver salts in different gradations of intensity produced by the action of light. The support was an incidental necessity. Muñoz has referred to the three phases in the process of Narcissi as allegories of an individual’s progress through life: creation, at the moment when the charcoal dust touches the surface of the water; the changes that come about during evaporation; and death, at the moment when the dried out dust finally settles at the bottom of the container. The result, which the artist has called Narcisos secos, is both the final image and the death of the process: the remains of a photograph that possessed a life after it was fixed for posterity. In this sense, Dry Narcissi are the record of a double death of the image.

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Narciso [Narcissus]' 2001

 

Oscar Muñoz
Narciso [Narcissus]
2001
Single-channel video 4:3, colour, sound, 3 min
Courtesy of the artist

 

Muñoz’s first work in video was Narciso, in which he dramatically presented the processes developed in his Narcissi of the 1990s (in which the evaporation was invisible to the naked eye) by making the water disappear in a few minutes. As in those earlier works, a self-portrait floats on the surface of the water but the drain in the sink and the sound of running water foretell for the viewer what the image’s final fate will be. In reality, there are two images here: that of the subject and that of its shadow on the white bottom of the basin. The images gradually come closer together, as if to suggest that life is a constant quest for self-understanding. However, at the moment when the two images are about to coincide, it is already too late: they fuse into a single distorted stain that disappears down the drain.

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Re/trato [Portrait/I Try Again]' 2004

 

Oscar Muñoz
Re/t
rato [Portrait/I Try Again]
2004
Single-channel video projection 4:3, colour, no sound, 28 min
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

About the exhibition

“Through a multifaceted body of work that moves freely between photography, printmaking, drawing, installation, video and sculpture, eliminating the borderlines between these disciplines through innovative practices, Oscar Muñoz (Popayán, Colombia, 1951) explores the capacity of images to retain memory.

In 1826, for the first time in history the French inventor Nicéphore Niépce succeeded in fixing the elusive image produced by the camera obscura, a device known since antiquity. In contrast to painting or drawing, the camera obscura was able to obtain an image from life without the assistance of the human hand and in real time: what it could not do was freeze it or fix it onto a support in order to extract it from the passing of time. It could thus be said that the essence of the photographic act does not lie in taking the image but in permanently fixing it. What, then, is the status of the image in the instant prior to the moment when it is fixed for posterity?

If the ontology of photography lies in fixing a moving image for all time, extracting it from life, we might say that Oscar Muñoz’s work is located in the temporal space prior (or subsequent) to the true decisive moment when the image is fixed: that proto-moment when the image is finally about to become photography. In that sense, it could be said that Muñoz’s work is protographic.

 

The exhibition

Born in 1951 in Popayán (Colombia), Oscar Muñoz is regarded as one of the country’s most important contemporary artists, whilst also garnering attention on the international art scene. A graduate of the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Cali, he has built up over a period of four decades a body of work whose images deal with the realm of memory, loss and the precarious nature of human life. Muñoz’s work defies systematic classification because he works in so many different media: photography, printmaking, drawing, installations, video and sculpture.

“Protographs” (a term coined to evoke the instant just before or just after that split-second when the photographic image is captured and frozen for ever) presents his major series grouped by theme. These themes poetically and metaphorically juxtapose Muñoz’s own past and the different material states of the image. For example, he combines the dissolution, deterioration or disintegration of the image with the inherent fragility of memory and the impossibility of making time stand still; or the image’s evaporation and transformation with the tension between rationality and chaos in our urban societies. Finally, in the main part of his work, he creates ephemeral images that, as they disappear, invite the spectator to share in an experience that is simultaneously rational and sensual.

Oscar Muñoz began his career in the 1970s in Cali in a period when a whirlwind of cultural and cross-disciplinary activity saw the emergence of a generation of writers, photographers and filmmakers who today play a leading role in the contemporary art scene (with Carlos Mayolo, Luis Ospina, Fernell Franco and Andrés Caicedo to name but a few). At that time, Muñoz was drawing with charcoal on large-format supports presenting a cast of sad and sometimes sordid characters with a deep emotional charge. The main characteristics of his work emerged at an early stage. These include a profound and tireless interest in social questions, an original approach to materials, the use of photography as an aid to memory and the exploiting of the dramatic possibilities afforded by the play of shadow and light in defining the image. Moreover, the artist developed a phenomenological approach to minimalism by insisting on the relationship between the artwork, the spectator and the surrounding exhibition space.

In the mid-1980s, Oscar Muñoz moved away from traditional artistic methods and began to experiment with innovative processes that created a real interactive exchange with the spectator. This was the time of a radical reassessment of his artistic practices, whether drawing, printmaking, or photography, and a questioning of the relationship between the artwork and its surroundings. He abandoned traditional formats and techniques, whilst preserving something of their roots and wellsprings, to investigate ephemerality, highlighting the very essence of the materials themselves and their poetic associations. His use of the fundamental elements – water, air and fire – refers to the processes, the cycles and the transcendental manifestations of life, our very existence and death itself. “My work attempts to understand why the past and the present are so full of violent acts,” says the artist. By choosing to use a diverse selection of media and to apply innovative and unique processes, Oscar Muñoz blurs the boundaries between artistic disciplines.

The “Protographs” exhibition showcases a career that has lasted nearly forty years. It presents series of works grouped around the artist’s major themes, starting with his works on paper and his series of large format hyperrealist drawings in charcoal (1976-1981) – bearing witness to his deep interest in social context – and the drawings and engravings that he started making in the 1980s, which marked the relinquishing of paper for an exploration of unconventional materials and processes (printing on damp plastic, the use of sugar and coffee, etc.); continuing with his experiments in the 1990s and 2000s on the stability of the image and its relationship to the processes of memory; and including his latest works (2009-2014), characterised by a continual process of appearance and disappearance, including a new work produced specifically for the exhibition.”

Text by José Roca and María Wills Londoño

 

IMPRINTS

Over the last decade, Muñoz has created a series of works on the indicative relationship between the object and its image, making use of contact printing, a characteristic printmaking process. This was the case with La mirada del Cíclope [The Cyclops’ Gaze] (2001-2002), Intervalos (mientras respiro) [Intervals (While I Breathe)] (2004) and Paístiempo [Countrytime] (2007), as well as series from a number of other periods.

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Aliento [Breath]' 1995

 

Oscar Muñoz
Aliento [Breath]

1995
Metal mirrors, screen-printed with grease, 7 mirrors
Diameter: 20 cm each
Courtesy of the artist

 

The series Aliento comprises portraits printed in photo-silkscreen with grease on small round metal mirrors located at eye level. The mirrors initially seem blank and the printed image only reveals itself when the viewer, having recognised himself/herself, breathes onto the circular mirror. During this brief moment the reflected image is replaced by the printed image (photographs taken from obituaries) of a deceased person who fleetingly returns through the viewer’s breath.

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'La mirada del cíclope [The Cyclops' Gaze]' 2002

 

Oscar Muñoz
La mirada del cíclope [The Cyclops’ Gaze]
2002
Digital print on paper, 6 photographs
50 x 50 cm each one
Courtesy of the artist

 

La mirada del cíclope, in which the subject is considered in relation to death, uses one of the oldest techniques of portraiture and printmaking: a mould made by direct contact, in this case of the artist’s own face. This sculptural object (inspired by the ancient Roman tradition of funerary masks) becomes two-dimensional when it is captured by the camera’s single eye (hence the title). Lacking references to volume, the viewer’s eye cannot decide if the object represented is concave or convex, in a play of perceptual opposites: negative/positive, presence/absence, reality or illusions. Quoting Pierre Bourdieu, Muñoz has noted that “the imagines of ancient Rome are exactly equivalent to the social nature of some modern photographs; they play an important role in the tortuous act of mourning: we accept a reality by ‘becoming accustomed to the unreality of its images’.”

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Horizonte [Horizon]' 2011

 

Oscar Muñoz
Horizonte [Horizon]
2011
From the series Impresiones débiles [Weak Impressions]
Charcoal dust print on methacrylate
4 elements, 85 x 73.5 cm each
Galerie mor. charpentier, Paris

 

The earliest successful images taken by Niépce were proto-photographs that did not survive intact as images because the light that had created them continued to affect them until they eventually succumbed to darkness in an inexorable fade to black. This is what happens in film photography when a photograph is not properly rinsed and the developing agent continues to act, or when the photographic paper is directly exposed to the action of light. However, the image can also move towards clarity. In Impresiones débiles, Muñoz employs photographs of great historical and political significance for Colombia and subjects them to a process that makes them seem like “washed out” photos in which over-exposure to light has made the image deteriorate to the point of near invisibility. The works that make up this series are in fact prints rather than photographs, given that they are silkscreens made with charcoal dust on acrylic. The variable distance between the silkscreen mesh and the support allows the artist to single out a different element from the original photograph in each print, making it more highly defined than the rest. The “variable focus” in this series questions another of the supposedly essential characteristics of photography, namely the camera’s systematic, technical objectivity in relation to its subjects.

 

THE IMAGE IN FLUX

In his most recent works, Muñoz depicts images in a process of continual appearance and disappearance. These are subtle impressions with varying emphases on the different parts of the image that are literally in flux and cannot be fixed, such as those produced by a camera obscura. This section includes the video Cíclope [Cyclops] (2011), the installation Editor solitario [Solitary Editor] and the work Sedimentaciones [Sedimentations] (2011), the latter comprising three tables with projections of documents that are constantly created and destroyed. The exhibition ends with the highly personal Fundido al blanco [Fade to White] (2010).

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Fundido a blanco (dos retratos)' [Fade to White (Two Portraits)] 2010

 

Oscar Muñoz
Fundido a blanco (dos retratos) [Fade to White (Two Portraits)]
2010
HD Video, colour, sound, 7 min 40 s
Courtesy of the artist

 

Fundido a blanco (dos retratos) is an autobiographical work: a family portrait with Muñoz behind the camera, constituting the third side of a temporal triangle that includes his mother and father. It is, in other words, a memorial. Rather than making their features more clear, the strong light that bathes the scene makes them imprecise and ethereal. Muñoz has referred to the intense light in Cali at a certain time of day, when people seem to “disintegrate”, and also to the blinding brilliance of the sun when the artist came out after seeing a film at the city’s film club. The central figure in Fundido a blanco momentarily falls asleep now and then, entering into the light. Rather than fixing that figure at a precise moment of its existence, in the manner of a photographic portrait or snapshot, Muñoz creates a portrait that develops in time. Fundido a blanco is one of the artist’s most moving works, an image that touches the viewer. Its power may perhaps lie in the fact that for the first time in his extensive output, we are here seeing a specific subject rather than the generic representation of one.

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Sedimentaciones' [Sedimentations] 2011

 

Oscar Muñoz
Sedimentaciones [Sedimentations]
2011
2 HD video projections, colour, sound, 42 min 27 s, 41 min 42 s, on wooden tables
Courtesy of the artist

 

The strategy of dissolving the image reappears in Sedimentaciones, a photographic development table on which there are numerous photographs arranged in lines, with various blank sheets between them. The photos are extremely varied in nature, ranging from universally known images to others that are very specific to a Colombian context, personal portraits by the artist and anonymous, generic images. There are two developing trays at opposite corners. A hand takes a photograph from the table and puts it in a plastic tray filled with liquid in which the image dissolves. The paper emerges white and is then randomly placed in one of the lines. On the other side of the table another hand takes up one of the empty sheets and slides it into another tray. On taking out the sheet, the image has magically re-formed on it and the hand places it in the line of photographs. The process starts again in the other corner. Through this alternation we thus witness the ceaseless life and death of the image (see video below).

 

MORE WORK

Oscar Muñoz. 'El juego de las probabilidades' [The Game of Probabilities] 2007

 

Oscar Muñoz
El juego de las probabilidades [The Game of Probabilities]
2007
12 colour photographs
47 x 40 cm each with frame
Courtesy of the artist and Sicardi Gallery, Houston

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Línea del destino' [Line of Destiny] 2006

Oscar Muñoz. 'Línea del destino' [Line of Destiny] 2006

Oscar Muñoz. 'Línea del destino' [Line of Destiny] 2006

 

Oscar Muñoz
Línea del destino [Line of Destiny]
2006
Single-channel video 4:3, black and white, no sound,
1 min 54 s
Courtesy of the artist

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Pixeles' [Pixels] 1999-2000

 

Oscar Muñoz
Pixeles [Pixels]
1999-2000
Coffee stains on sugar cubes, Plexiglas
9 panels 35 x 35 x 3 cm each
Courtesy of the artist and Sicardi Gallery, Houston

 

OSCAR MUÑOZ: “Protographs” in progress from Jeu de Paume / magazine on Vimeo.

 

The magazine’s camera has gone behind the scenes of Oscar Muñoz’ exhibition Protographs at the Jeu de Paume. It attempts to show how the artist and his assistant, Juliana Guevara, produce unstable images, using unconventional materials and supports such as water, charcoal dust, grease on metal, the spectator’s breath, and shower curtains. Since the early 80s, Muñoz has been developing special techniques to produce images that reveal themselves as a kind of counterpoint to photography and the “decisive moment” it once claimed to capture.

Narcissi (1995), Breath (1995), Simulacra (1999), The Collector (2014): all these works question the fragile status of images and the way they live - and die – in our memory.

 

 

 

Jeu de Paume
1, Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
T: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 12.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Friday: 12.00 – 19.00
Saturday and Sunday: 10.00 – 19.00
Closed Monday

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15
Nov
13

Text: “The Book of Memory” extract from Paul Auster’s ‘The Invention of Solitude’ 1982

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“The Book of Memory. Book Four.

Several blank pages. To be followed by profuse illustrations. Old family photographs, for each person his own family, going back as many generations as possible. To look at these with utmost care.

Afterwards, several sequences of reproductions, beginning with the portraits Rembrandt painted of his son, Titus. To include all of them: from the view of the little boy in 1650 (golden hair, red feathered cap) to the 1655 portrait of Titus ‘puzzling over his lessons’ (pensive, at his desk, compass dangling from his left hand, right thumb pressed against his chin) to Titus in 1658 (seventeen years old, the extraordinary red hat, and, as one commentator has written, ‘The artist has painted his son with the same sense of penetration usually reserved for his own features’) to the last surviving canvas of Titus, from the early 1660s: ‘the face seems that of a weak old man ravaged with disease. Of course, we look at it with hindsight – we know that Titus will predecease his father…’

To be followed by the 1602 portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh and his eight-year-old-son Wat (artist unknown) that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London. To note: the uncanny similarity of their poses. Both father and son facing forward, left hands on hips, right feet pointing forward, and the somber determination on the boy’s face to imitate the self-confident, imperious stare of the father. To remember: that when Raleigh was released after a thirteen-year incarceration in the Tower of London (1618) and launched out on a doomed voyage to Guiana to clear his name, Wat was with him. To remember that Wat, leading a reckless military charge against the Spanish, lost his life in the jungle. Raleigh to his wife: ‘I have never known what sorrow meant until now.’ And so went he went back to England, and allowed the King to chop of his head.

To be followed by more photographs, perhaps several dozen: Mallarmé’s son, Anatole; Anne Frank (‘This is a photo that shows me as I should always like to look. Then I would surely have a chance to go to Hollywood. but now, unfortunately, I usually look different’); Mur; the children of Cambodia; the children of Atlanta. The dead children. The children who will vanish, the children who are dead. Himmler: ‘I have made the decision to annihilate every Jewish child from the face of the earth.’ Nothing but pictures. Because, at a certain point, the words lead one to conclude that it is no longer possible to speak. Because these pictures are the unspeakable.”

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Paul Auster. “The Book of Memory,” from The Invention of Solitude. Faber and Faber, 1982, pp. 102-103.

Please click on the images for a larger version.

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pmmsm_h-WEB

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Marcus Bunyan
Untitled (family)
2005
From the series Photos my mother sent me, 2005

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Rembrandt van Rijn (1641-1668) 'Portrait of a Boy in Fancy Dress (Titus)' c. 1655

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Rembrandt van Rijn (1641-1668)
Portrait of a Boy in Fancy Dress (Titus)
c. 1655
Oil on canvas

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Rembrandt van Rijn (1641-1668) 'Portrait of Titus' 1655

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Rembrandt van Rijn (1641-1668)
Portrait of Titus
1655
Oil on canvas

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Rembrandt van Rijn (1641-1668) 'The Artists Son Titus' 1657

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Rembrandt van Rijn (1641-1668)
The Artists Son Titus
1657
Oil on canvas

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Rembrandt van Rijn (1641-1668) 'Portrait of Titus' 1663

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Rembrandt van Rijn (1641-1668)
Portrait of Titus
1663
Oil on canvas

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Unknown artist. 'Sir Walter Ralegh and son' 1602

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Unknown artist
Sir Walter Ralegh and son
1602
Oil on canvas
78 1/2 in. x 50 1/8 in. (1994 mm x 1273 mm)
Given by Lennard family, 1954
National Portrait Gallery, London

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Anonymous. 'Portrait of Anatole Mallarmé' c. 1874

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Anonymous
Portrait of Anatole Mallarmé
c. 1874
Photograph

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Unknown photographer. 'Anne Frank' 10th October 1942

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Unknown photographer
Anne Frank
10th October 1942
Hand written note from The Diary of a Young Girl

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Photos of child victims on display at the Toul Sleng Genocide museum in Cambodia

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Photos of child victims on display at the Toul Sleng Genocide museum in Cambodia

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Unknown photographer. 'Executions of Kiev Jews by German army mobile killing units (Einsatzgruppen) near Ivangorod Ukraine' 1942

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Unknown photographer
Executions of Kiev Jews by German army mobile killing units (Einsatzgruppen) near Ivangorod Ukraine. A woman protects a child with her body as Einsatzgruppen soldiers aim their rifles
1942

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Executions of Kiev Jews by German army mobile killing units (Einsatzgruppen) near Ivangorod Ukraine. The photo was mailed from the Eastern Front to Germany and intercepted at a Warsaw post office by a member of the Polish resistance collecting documentation on Nazi war crimes. The original print was owned by Tadeusz Mazur and Jerzy Tomaszewski and now resides in Historical Archives in Warsaw. The original German inscription on the back of the photograph reads, “Ukraine 1942, Jewish Action [operation], Ivangorod.”

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25
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘Lorna Simpson’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 28th May – 1st September 2013

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Fascinating practice!

Identity, memory, gender, representation, the body, the subject, felt, text, images, video, gesture, reenactment, concept and performance, all woven together seamlessly like a good wig made of human hair…

Marcus

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

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Lorna Simpson. 'Five Day Forecast [Prévisions à cinq jours]' 1988

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Lorna Simpson
Five Day Forecast [Prévisions à cinq jours]
1988
5 gelatin silver prints in a frame, 15 plates engraved plastic
24 ½ x 97 in (62.2 x 246.4 cm) overall
Lillian and Billy Mauer Collection
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. 'Stereo Styles [Styles stéréo]' 1988

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Lorna Simpson
Stereo Styles [Styles stéréo]
1988
10 dye-diffusion black-and-white Polaroid prints, 10 engraved plastic plaques
57 ¾ x 125 ¼ x 1 3/8 in (146.7 x 318.1 x 3.5 cm) overall
Collection of Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond Learsy
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. 'Wigs II' 1994-2006

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Lorna Simpson
Wigs II
1994-2006
Serigraph on 71 felt panels (images and text)
98 x 265 in (248.9 x 673.1 cm) overall
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson surprised her audiences in 1994 when she began to print her photographs on felt, inspired by its materiality after seeing an exhibition of the sculpture of Joseph Beuys in Paris “where the piano and walls were covered for a beautiful installation.” Simpson questioned whether the medium might be appropriate in a far different way for her work given the perspective afforded her by the passage of time. With the felt pieces, Simpson turned away from photography’s traditional paper support, magnified the already larger-than-life-size of the images within her large photo-text pieces to extremely large-scale multi-part works, and, most critically, absented the figure, in particular, the black woman in a white shift facing away from the camera for which she had received critical acclaim.

Ever-present, nevertheless, were her thematic concerns. The first felts offered surrogates for the body in  a taxonomy of her own photographs of Wigs, with voicings “in and around gender,” and expanded upon the investigation of the role of coiffure in the construction of identity in Simpson’s photo-texts (such as Stereo Styles, Gallery 1). In the mid-1990s, such felts were succeeded by a series of photographs of interior and exterior scenes that were accompanied by long text passages printed on separate small felts. In these works the figure was replaced, as Okwui Enwezor wrote, “by the rumor of the body.”

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Lorna Simpson. 'Please remind me of who I am' (detail) 2009

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Lorna Simpson
Please remind me of who I am (detail)
2009
50 found photo booth portraits, 50 ink drawings on paper, 100 bronze elements
Overall installation dimensions variable
Collection of Isabelle and Charles Berkovic
© Lorna Simpson

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For each multi-part photo-booth piece, Simpson sets in bronze frames these small inexpensive shots as well as her drawings of selected details of the photographs. Self-styled and performed, these photographs were used for a variety of purposes by their now anonymous sitters, ranging from sober, formal ID photos to glamorous, often theatrically playful mementos. Encompassing photo booth shots of different sizes from the 1920s to the 1970s (a few in color), Simpson’s constellations of many images for each work offer a collective portrait of self-portraiture (Gather, 2009) and continue her ongoing explorations of identity and memory, explicitly phrased in the title of one of them: Please remind me of who I am (2009).

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Lorna Simpson. 'Waterbearer [Porteuse d'eau]' 1986

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Lorna Simpson
Waterbearer [Porteuse d’eau]
1986
Gelatin silver print, vinyl letters
59 x 80 x 2 ½ in (149.9 x 203.2 x 5.7 cm) overall
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris / Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Waterbearer shows a woman from the back, pouring water from an elegant silvery metallic pitcher in one hand and from an inexpensive plastic jug in the other, echoing art historical renderings of women at wells or in the domestic settings of Dutch still-life paintings. As if balancing the scales of justice, this figure also symbolically offers disjunctions of means and class. In the accompanying text, Simpson explicitly addresses memory and the agency of speakers: “She saw him disappear by the river, they asked her to tell what happened, only to discount her memory.”

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For her first European retrospective, the Jeu de Paume presents thirty years of Lorna Simpson’s work. For this Afro-American artist, born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1960, the synthesis between image and text is profound and intimate. If one were to consider Lorna Simpson as a writer, the textual element of her works could have an autonomous life as prose poems, very short stories or fragments of scripts. And yet, her texts are inseparable from her images; there is a dynamic between the two that is both fragile and energising, which links them unfailingly. Lorna Simpson became known in the 1980s and 90s for her photographs and films that shook up the conventions of gender, identity, culture and memory.

Throughout her work, the artist tackles the complicated representation of the black body, using different media, while her texts add a significance that always remains open to the spectator’s imagination. In her recent work, Lorna Simpson has integrated archive images, which she reinvents by positioning herself in them as subject. As the artist underlines: “The theme I turn to most often is memory. But beyond this subject, the underlying thread is my relationship to text and ideas about representation.” (Lorna Simpson)

This retrospective reveals the continuity in her conceptual and performative research. In her works linking photography and text, as well as in her video installations, she integrates – while continually shaking them up – the genres of fixed and moving images, using them to ask questions about identity, history, reality and fiction. She introduces complexity through her use of photography and film, in her exploitation of found objects, in the processes she develops to take on the challenges she sets herself and to spectators.

The exhibition gathers her large format photo-texts of the mid 1980s, which brought her to the attention of the critics (Gestures / Reenactments, Waterbearer, Stereo Styles), her work in screenprints on felt panels since the 1990s (Wigs, The Car, The Staircase, Day Time, Day Time (gold), Chandelier), a group of drawings (Gold Headed, 2013), and also her “Photo Booths,” ensembles of found photos and drawings (Gather, Please remind me of who I am…). The exhibition is also an opportunity to discover her video installations: multivalent narratives that question the way in which experience is created and perceived more or less falsely (Cloudscape, 2004, Momentum, 2010), among them, Playing Chess, a new video installation made especially for the occasion.

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About the exhibition

by Joan Simon

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In her critically acclaimed body of work spanning more than thirty years, Lorna Simpson questions identity and memory, gender and history, fact and fiction, playing eye and ear in tandem if not in synchrony to prompt consideration of how meaning is constructed. That she has often described herself as an observer and a listener informs an understanding of both her approach and her subjects. In her earliest black-and-white documentary street photographs (1978-80), Simpson isolated gestures that bespoke an intimacy between those framed in her viewfinder, recording what was less a decisive moment than one of coming into relation. Some of these photographs seem to capture crossed glances, pauses in an ongoing conversation. Others are glimpses of occasions, transitional events identifiable by a white confirmation or wedding dress, which convey a sense of palpable silence in exchanges between people just out of earshot.

When Simpson began to stage her own photographs in 1985 and to write accompanying texts, she came in closer. She allowed us to see a carefully framed black body, abstracted in gesture and in white clothing, yet also permitted us to read seemingly overheard comments that redirected and recomplicated the view. While her images captured gestures, her narratives imbued these images frozen in a never-changing present with memory, a past. The title of her first photo-text work, made in 1985, and of the exhibition of that year in which it was first exhibited was Gestures / Reenactments, and one can argue that all Simpson’s work is built on the juxtaposition of gestures and reenactments, creating meaning in the resonant gap between the two. It is a gap that invites the viewer / reader to enter, all the while requiring an active reckoning with some inalienable truths: seeing is not necessarily believing, and what we might see is altered not only by our individual experiences and assumptions but also, critically, by what we might hear.

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The exhibition

Whether for still or moving picture productions, Lorna Simpson (b. 1960) uses her camera as catalyst to question identity and gender, genres and history, race and class, fact and fiction, memory and meanings. Assumptions of photographic “truth” are challenged and qualified – indeed redirected – by the images she creates that are inseparable from the texts she writes to accompany them, by the soundings she chooses  for videos, or by her pairings of vintage photographs with newly made renderings. The Jeu de Paume presents lorna Simpson’s first large-scale exhibition in europe beginning with her earliest photo-text pieces of the 1980s through her newest video installation, Chess, 2013, which makes its debut in Paris.

Works in the exhibition show the artist drawing on traditional photo techniques such as gelatin silver prints in an intimate synthesis with speakerly texts (Gallery 1). They also show Simpson’s creation of new combines, among them serigraphs on felt with writings and images invoking film noir (Gallery 2), a video installation of three projections based on historic photographs and her own prior still photos (Gallery 3), constellations of recuperated photo-booth photos with her drawings isolating details from them as well as vintage photographs together with those re-staged by the artist (Gallery 4), and a video focusing on performance as well as time itself and its reversal (Gallery 5).

The exhibition’s parcours reveals turning points in Simpson’s oeuvre as well as thematic continuities. The earliest pieces in the show are Simpson’s performative proto-cinematic photo-texts, beginning with the 1985 Gestures/ Reeactments, a title literally evocative of the work’s visual/verbal aspect while also paradigmatically descriptive of what would be her conceptual practice for the next three decades. Simpson herself makes a rare appearance in her work in two related pieces in the show: the 2009 epic still photo work 1957-2009 (Gallery 4), for which the artist re-enacted scenes from vintage photos, and Chess, 2013, (Gallery 3), which features re-enactments of some of the same photos.

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Gallery 1 introduces the artist’s signature, indeed iconic early images of the 1980s – a black figure in white clothing, face turned away from the camera or cropped out of the frame – accompanied by precisely crafted, allusive texts that recomplicate what is seen by what is heard in these voicings. The intention to deny a view of a face, as Simpson says, “was related to the idea that the one thing that people gravitate to in photography is the face and reading the expression and what that says about the person pictured, an emotional state, who they are, what they look like, deciphering and measuring. Who is being pictured, what is actually the subject? Photographing from the back was a way to get viewers’ attention as well as to consciously withdraw what they might expect to see.”

The performative photo-text works in Gallery 1 are Gestures/Reenactments, 1985 (created as part of her thesis project for her MFA at the University of California, San Diego), Waterbearer and Twenty Questions (A Sampler) (the first works that Simpson made when she moved to New York in 1986), as well as Five Day Forecast, 1988, and Stereo Styles, 1988. Beginning with Waterbearer, all of these except Gestures/Reenactments (which features a black male) show a black female in a white shift played by artist Alva Rogers, who was often mistaken for Simpson herself.

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Gallery 2 marks important changes the artist made during the ’90s, most notably Simpson’s surprising shift to printing her photographs on felt and absenting the human figure. At first she used surrogates for the body, seen in the many and various wigs she photographed and which she accompanied with texts that continued to address ideas of identity and gender (Wigs, 1994-2006). She used photographs taken during her travels for the next series of felt works, which were interior and exterior scenes (The Car, 1995, The Rock, 1995, The Staircase, 1998) that in both imagery and texts invoked film noir. These works led almost inevitably to the start of Simpson’s film and video work in 1997. (Her earliest photo-texts will be recognized by the viewer as proto-cinematic with their multiple frames and conversational voices.)

This gallery also reveals how Simpson continues to use her felt medium and returns to her own archive of images   as well as found objects. Three related works, though no longer using text, nevertheless “comment” on each other:  a video of a performance (Momentum, 2010) inspired by an early 1970s performance at Lincoln Center generated felt works based on vintage photographs of this famous New York theater – Chandelier, 2011, Daytime, 2011, and Daytime (gold), 2011- as well as the Gold Headed (2013) drawings, based on the dancers costumed head to foot in gold. Drawings are perhaps the least known medium in Simpson’s practice, and while they reveal the fluid gestures of her hand, visitors will recognize in these gold heads turned from the viewer an echo of the position of the figures  in Gallery 1.

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Gallery 3 is devoted to Simpson’s newest video, Chess, 2013, which is based on historic photos as well as her own earlier photographic piece, 1957-2009 (Gallery 4), in which she restaged found vintage photographs. Chess and 1957-2009 mark the rare instances in which Simpson has herself appeared in her work.

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Gallery 4 presents reenactments that use quotidian photographic genres to explore constructions of identity   and that offer a collective portrait of photographic portraiture over time. All of the works in this gallery are based on found photographs Simpson purchased on eBay and each depicts anonymous subjects performing for the camera. 1957-2009 is based on photographs in a vintage album; Gather and Please remind me of who I am are constellations of bronze-framed found photo-booth images (from the 1920s to the 1970s) accompanied by Simpson’s similarly framed drawings of details from the photographs.

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Gallery 5 offers Simpson’s video installation Cloudscape, 2004, which focuses on performance itself and the soundings of a body, that of artist Terry Adkins whistling a hymn. Embodying memory (and the distortions of it) as she did in her earliest photo-works but playing also with the particularities of video, Simpson loops the video to play forward and backward. In this process a new melody is created even as the stationary figure appears same but different.

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Lorna Simpson. 'Chess [Échecs]' 2013

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Lorna Simpson
Chess [Échecs]
2013
HD video installation with three projections, black & white, sound
10:25 minutes (loop)
Score and performance by Jason Moran
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. 'Chess [Échecs]' 2013

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Lorna Simpson
Chess [Échecs]
2013
HD video installation with three projections, black & white, sound
10:25 minutes (loop)
Score and performance by Jason Moran
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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“Gestures” and “reenactments” could both be described as the underlying methods of Simpson’s practice for the decades to follow. Whether working with photographs she herself staged, found photographs, or archival film footage, her images captured gestures (as in her earliest documentary photographs of 1978-1980) while her series of multiple images, accompanied by texts, proposed simultaneous (if not synchronous) reenactments. This method also applied to works in which she replicated found images, whether turning images from her films into drawings, or using herself to re-play roles depicted by anonymous figures she had discovered in vintage photographs, either for staged still photographs (as in 1957-2009, 2009), or for moving pictures (as in the video Chess, 2013).

Chess, 2013, Simpson’s video installation made expressly for this exhibition, draws on images from 1957- 2009, her still photograph ensemble of 2009 (on view in Gallery 4). For both, in a departure from her earlier videos and prior staged photographs, Simpson herself performs. In 1957-2009, by reenacting scenes from found vintage prints with which they are shown, Simpson is “mirroring both the male and  the female character, in dress, pose, expression, and setting. When I would mention the idea of working with mirrors [for the Chess video] people would often mention the famous portraits of Picasso and  Picabia taken at a photo studio in New York by an anonymous photographer who placed the subject   at a table in front of two mirrored panels at seventy-degree angles. The result is a five-way portrait that includes views that are not symmetrical and that offer slightly different angles: a surrealist trope of trick photography.”

Though the artist first rejected the idea of working with the mirror device used in these historic portraits, which she had seen many times, she decided to take it on fully and reconstruct it in her studio for this new video project after  art historian and sociologist Sarah Thornton sent her “a beautiful image of an unknown man of African descent in a white straw hat, which had been in an exhibition at MoMA [catalogue page 61]. It was a five-way portrait probably taken by the same photographer who had taken the portraits of Picasso and Picabia. I could no longer resist or dis- miss this idea. I felt that it was demanding my attention.”

Shot in Simpson’s studio over the weekend of December 8, 2012, Chess is comprised of three video projections. For two of them Simpson again plays both female and male chess-players, and with the help of makeup and hair assistants, she now allows her characters to age. The third projection shows pianist Jason Moran performing his improvised score for this project, which was inspired by discussions between artist and composer about “mirroring in music,” especially “in the work of musician Cecil Taylor, who employs mirroring in his compositions.”

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Lorna Simpson. 'The Car' 1995

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Lorna Simpson
The Car
1995
Serigraph on 12 felt panels with felt text panel
102 x 104 in (259.1 x 264.2 cm)
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. 'The Car' (detail) 1995

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Lorna Simpson
The Car (detail)
1995
Serigraph on 12 felt panels with felt text panel
102 x 104 in (259.1 x 264.2 cm)
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. '1957-2009' (detail) 2009

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Lorna Simpson
1957-2009 (detail)
2009
299 gelatin silver prints, framed
5 x 5 in. (12.7 x 12.7 cm) each (image size)
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Lorna Simpson

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While collecting photo booth images on eBay, Simpson found the first of the vintage photographs – a woman in a tight sweater-dress leaning on a car – that would generate 19572009 (2009). The artist subsequently bought the entire album and in 2009 restaged these photographs of an anonymous black woman and sometimes a man performing for their camera between June and August 1957 in Los Angeles, which they may have done in the hope of gaining movie work in Hollywood or as an independent project of self-invention. For 1957-2009, Simpson reenacted both female and male roles, and the 299 images are comprised of both the 1957 originals and Simpson’s 2009 remakes. Simpson again reenacted a selection of these vignettes for her video installation Chess, 2013.

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Lorna Simpson. 'Cloudscape [Paysage nuageux]' 2004

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Lorna Simpson
Cloudscape [Paysage nuageux]
2004
Video projection, black & white, sound
3:00 minutes (loop)
Centre national des arts plastiques, purchase in 2005
Photo courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson/Centre national des arts plastiques

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Lorna Simpson’s video installation Cloudscape (2004) isolates one man, Simpson’s friend, the artist and musician Terry Adkins, in a dark room, spotlighted as he whistles a hymn and is enveloped in fog. Focusing on the ephemerality of performance, the artist employs a technique afforded by her medium to play with time as well. Simpson runs the video forward and then also backward in a continuous loop, creating new visual and oral/aural permutations of gesture and reenactment. In the reversal of the time sequence, the image remains somewhat familiar while the tune turns into something else, a different melody.

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Lorna Simpson. 'Momentum' 2010

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Lorna Simpson
Momentum
2010
HD video, color, sound
6:56 minutes
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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As Simpson explored new mediums, such as film and video starting in 1997 or found photographs in  the late 1990s, she continued to work in parallel with her felt serigraphs. In this gallery are three related sets of works that, unlike her earlier photo-text pieces, are all based on a personal memory: performing as a youngster, age 12, in gold costume, wig, and body paint in a ballet recital at New York’s Lincoln Center. Simpson re-staged such a performance for her video Momentum (2010).

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Jeu de Paume
1, Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
T: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 12.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Friday: 12.00 – 19.00
Saturday and Sunday: 10.00 – 19.00
Closed Monday

Jeu de Paume website

Lorna Simpson website

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17
Aug
13

Catalogue essay by Dr Marcus Bunyan / Exhibition: ‘Sudarios (Shrouds)’ by Erika Diettes at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale

Exhibition dates: 17th August – 15th September 2013

Entry free, open daily 10 am – 5pm

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This exhibition is one of the core programs for this year’s Ballarat International Foto Biennale and I had the privilege of writing the catalogue essay for the Colombian artist Erika Diettes. I met the delightful Erika and her husband today at the opening of BiFB on their first trip to Australia and I must say the art hangs very well in the Mining Exchange building.

This was one of the most difficult but rewarding pieces that I have ever had to write.
In reading, I hope you gather the full import of the text.

Text © Marcus Bunyan. All images © Marcus Bunyan, Erika Diettes and Ballarat International Foto Biennale.

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Intimations of Mor(t)ality: Sudarios (Shrouds) by Erika Diettes

by Dr Marcus Bunyan

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“There is now a vast repository of images that make it harder to maintain [a] kind of moral defectiveness. Let the atrocious images haunt us. Even if they are only tokens, and cannot possibly encompass most of the reality to which they refer, they still perform a vital function. The images say: This is what human beings are capable of doing – may volunteer to do, enthusiastically, self-righteously. Don’t forget.”

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Susan Sontag Regarding the Pain of Others 2003 1

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When I was asked to write the catalogue essay on Colombian artist Erika Diettes’ work Sudarios (Shrouds) by editor Esther Gyorki for the Ballarat International Foto Biennale the work gave me pause. What could I say about it that was relevant, insightful and spoke from the heart? I wrote back to Esther saying I needed to do some background research: “This is difficult subject matter and I want to make sure I can do it justice before I commit to writing about it.”2 In a synchronous way that often happens in the world, that is ultimately what this text is about – justice.

The basics are easily told. Artist and anthropologist Erika Diettes travelled to different cities in the department of Antioquia to interview women who had been present at the torture and murder of their loved ones.3 Diettes photographed the women, closely cropped in black and white, at a moment of great vulnerability – all but one with their eyes closed. The resultant twenty photographs were printed on seven feet tall silk panels and form the work Sudarios (shrouds are a burial cloak, a cloth that shrouds the body of the deceased). The artist always intended for these images to be printed on silk and had the installation in mind before she took the photographs: in other words previsualisation was strong. The work is usually displayed in sacred spaces such as churches and convents with a sound track of a barely audible, sighing female voice; here in Ballarat the work is hung in the former Mining Exchange building, a seat of colonial power and wealth which can be read as appropriate for the presentation of this work, for torture is always about the power of one person over another. The viewer can walk through these floating realities and be enfolded in the aggrieved women’s sorrow as if part of a ceremonial procession, perhaps a funeral cortege.

In her creation of an allegorical space for mourning, Diettes work acts as a funeral rite for both living and dead, acts of mourning placed in a context of splendour. The images evoke the representation of the death of Saint Sebastian, the faces recalling “the exquisite suffering of the Catholic saints and martyrs, but also of refugees and victims of contemporary traumas,”4 while the atrocities perpetrated on the body are hidden by the close cropping of the images. As Diettes observes, “You can’t help being a little pierced by their exhalations,”5 an indirect reference by Diettes to the arrows that pierce Saint Sebastian’s body. Diettes opens a space before the camera for the human ‘being’ in context, a terrain (of) or becoming, where the terrors are written on the countenance of the women, their mouths silently singing their song of mourning. Look at their mouths, each one contorted in agony, each one giving voice to the memory of terror.

These are confronting images about trauma and grief, documenting the ongoing effects of atrocity on the mind of the observer for they are portrayals of the effect of intim(id)ation, where intimations of mortality are evidenced by the removal of an identity, the beloved id, which reveals the intimate – expressed in the adoration/adornment of the women with jewellery which signifies the women’s dignity, comfort, and continuing engagement with the world as an extension of personal self/belief.

The signs of erasure of these murders are rearticulated through Diettes work. The bodies are held in suspended animation, in endless agony, through an act of re-terror-itorialization. Through the evacuation of loved ones, their discontinuity and deterritorialization, and the reterritorialization / re-terroring of that space through memory – portrayed on the faces of the women – the images recast and represent issues of power, domination and abuse. Through suspended sorrow, suspended mourning, the disappearance of some bodies and the speaking of others, the images become a representation of a doubled absence, a doubled momenti mori – for the photographs picture the women (making them dead) as they themselves remember the violence perpetrated before them from behind closed eyes (as the dead have their eyes closed), remembering in their mind’s eye the death of the beloved. The image of the victim has become a ghost, a trace etched upon the face of the relative, a trace of that which “persists and gives testimony of a vanished state” in art, for if art is linked to memory and to what survives, it is from the perspective of its own corpse-oreality, its own ghostly and fragile materiality that these images emerge: the hanged man, the hung woman. Remaking but always recording the past through interaction with the present, the shrouds are a palimpsest in which “personal memories are always interwoven with historical consciousness”6 and are constantly being rewritten.

Of course the photographs elicit our empathy but more than that they make us feel their terrible vulnerability while drawing us into uncomfortable complicity as subsidiary witnesses to the event.7 Normally when looking at a photograph the viewer is a secondary witness but here the viewer becomes a tertiary witness – the actual event, the memory of that event etched on the face of the women captured by the camera and now observed by the viewer. There is an osmotic effect taking place as one as one image is super imposed on another. Even after an event is over, “there’s an after image or an echo that exists… a spirit or a residue, a trace.”8 These visions are like images of the Holocaust. As soon as we see them we are implicated in a narrative – and we are helpless in this process – which is an essential part of history.

Diettes work reframes the subject because there is no traditional frame of reference for the viewer, only a memory of that reference in the form of a ghost-like shroud. The normal definition of a shroud no longer pertains to these images for the cloth is no longer around a dead body but represents / holds a trace of what was once dead.

As spirit photographs in the Victorian era solidified a fractured, unknown reality, so these apparitions of the departed are brought forth and solidified, just for a moment, in the faces of the suffering women. The viewer of these images does not see the (dead) carrier of messages, but only their shadows carried by the grief of their loved ones, shrouded as they are in remembrances of the past. We feel that the women are not looking at us but that the aura of their invisible seeing is directed toward us from outside of its normative context – from behind their eyes. It is this imprint on the Shrouds; the imprint of their memories that travels great distances towards us, that enfolds us in sorrow and shadow.

“It is the special feeling of the ‘presence’ of a work produced not by its remaining where it is but by its moving across boundaries where it reaches us from a distance, looking at us even when it appears not to. It is where the work seems peculiarly meant for us even in its indifference to or difference from us.”9

If photographs really are “experience captured” then Diettes explores this arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood,10 probing the limitation of the medium, shaping the space within the available conditions. Her images become images of sentience that enable the viewer to live in the world with open eyes (while the victims eyes are closed) – to be made aware of the injustices of this world and not remain silent. Diettes work is not about remembering, it’s about an answerable “not forgetting” for hers… is to remind us of the responsibility to make art in response to mor(t)ality.

As human beings, we must fight for the right to be heard and use art as a visual language to textualise our experience and thereby make it available for interpretation and closure. Powerful, simple questions (and I believe) undeniable questions have to be asked; and in response to those questions (power: it will corrupt you, but if you don’t want it, it will be used against you), intelligence, justice and integrity must be used in the service of art. While human truth may be ephemeral qualities like justice are not; the struggle is to define justice and to live it. And for artists to display it.

You place innocence at the heart of human depravity – and hope it survives.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Melbourne 2013

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Endnotes

1. Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2003, p.102.

2. Email to Esther Gyorki. Tue, March 26, 2013

3. The capital of the department of Antioquia is Medellin. The city is a 35-minute flight from the Colombian capital Bogota and has one of the highest rates of violence concerning drugs in Colombia. Most of the crimes were committed between 2001 and 2008.

4. Anon. “Berlinde De Bruyckere Into One-Another To P.P.P.” on the Hauser and Wirth website [Online] Cited May 5, 2013.
www.hauserwirth.com/exhibitions/899/berlinde-de-bruyckere-into-one-another-to-p-p-p/view/

5. Diettes, Erika quoted in Tobón, Paola Cardona. “The exhalation of sorrow,” in  El Colombiano, November 4, 2012 [Online] Cited Cited May 5, 2013.
erikadiettes.com/links/prensa/houston/02_ExhalationOfSorrow_ElColombiano_v2.pdf

6. Garb, Tamar. “A Land of Signs,” in Journal of Contemporary African Art 26, Spring 2010, p.11.

7. Op. cit. “Berlinde De Bruyckere Into One-Another To P.P.P.”

8. Rakes, Rachael and Goldsmith, Leo. “Pasolini’s Body: Cathy Lee Crane with Leo Goldsmith and Rachael Rakes,” on The Brooklyn Rail website. January 13, 2013 [Online] Cited May 5, 2013.
www.brooklynrail.org/2013/02/film/pasolinis-body-cathy-lee-crane-with-leo-goldsmith-rachael-rakes

9. Butler, Rex. “”Lines”, Leading Out of Sight?: Is Aboriginal Art Losing its Aura?” in Australian Art Collector No. 13, July-September 2000, p.87.

10. Campany, David. “Photography and Photographs,” on the Still Searching blog. April 14, 2013 [Online] Cited May 11, 2013.
blog.fotomuseum.ch/2013/04/1-photography-and-photographs/#more-1282

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of Sudarios (Shrouds) by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat
Photographs by Marcus Bunyan
© Marcus Bunyan, Erika Diettes and Ballarat International Foto Biennale

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

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Ballarat International Foto Biennale
Mining Exchange building
8 Lydiard St N
Ballarat VIC 3350
T: (03) 5333 4242

Ballarat International Foto Biennale website

Erika Diettes website

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02
Apr
13

Exhibition: ‘Light from the Middle East: New Photography’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Exhibition dates: 13th November 2012 – 7th April 2013

From the Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

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A massive posting on a fascinating subject. I know little about this area of (sometimes postcolonial) photography. The images are really strong, powerful and laden with symbology – the signifier (photograph) and signified (meaning of the photograph) evidencing signs that interrogate “the creative responses to the social challenges and political upheavals that have shaped the Middle East over the past 20 years.” The three concepts Recording, Reframing and Resisting are critical to understanding the practices of these artists as they investigate the historicity, sacrifice, repression and persecution of their peoples.

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

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Newsha Tavakolian. From the series 'Mothers of Martyrs' 2006

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Newsha Tavakolian
Born Tehran, Iran, 1981. Lives Tehran
From the series Mothers of Martyrs
2006
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

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Nermine_Hammam_From_the_series_Upekkha_2011_WEB

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Nermine Hammam
Born Cairo, Egypt, 1967. Lives Cairo
The Break
2011
from the series Upekkha
Archival inkjet print
The Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

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Light from the Middle East: New Photography is the first major museum exhibition of contemporary photography from and about the Middle East. It features more than 90 works by some of the most exciting artists from the region, spanning North Africa to Central Asia. The exhibition is part of a collaboration between the British Museum and the V&A, which has over the last three years seen the development of a major collection of Middle Eastern photography thanks to substantial funding from the Art Fund. The collection of 95 works has been built in response to a surge of interest in the visual arts in the region and is beginning to remedy the under-representation of Middle Eastern photography in UK collections. Light from the Middle East includes 87 of the works from this shared collection.

The photographs on display show the creative responses to the social challenges and political upheavals that have shaped the Middle East over the past 20 years and include work made following the recent revolution in Egypt. The photographs present multiple viewpoints of a region where collisions between personal, social, religious and political life can be emotive and complex. The exhibition showcases the work of 30 artists from 13 different countries including internationally established practitioners such as Abbas (Iran), Youssef Nabil (Egypt) and Walid Raad (Lebanon) as well as emerging talents such as Taysir Batniji (Palestine), Shadi Ghadirian (Iran) and Abdulnasser Gharem (Saudi Arabia). The work covers a wide range of techniques and subject matter, from photojournalism to staged and digitally manipulated imagery.

Marta Weiss, curator of the exhibition said: “In the past few years contemporary photographic practice from and about the Middle East has been some of the most exciting, innovative and varied art anywhere in the world. The exhibition celebrates the creative and sophisticated ways that contemporary artists use photography to respond to the complexities of the Middle East.”

The exhibition is structured around three key themes; Recording, Reframing and Resisting. Each explores a range of strategies Middle Eastern artists have used to engage with the medium of photography.

The opening section shows how photography can be used as a powerful tool for recording people, places and events. From Newsha Tavakolian’s series Mothers of Martyrs (2006) featuring elderly mothers holding framed pictures of their sons who were killed in the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s, to Jananne Al-Ani’s disorienting aerial views of the desert in her video Shadow Sites II (2011), this section demonstrates various ways in which the camera has been used to document and record. The work in the second section explores an interest in reframing and reworking preexisting photographs. Shadi Ghadirian’s series Qajar (1998) recreates 19th-century Iranian studio portraits, updating them with contemporary props such as sunglasses and Pepsi cans, while Taysir Batniji applies the modernist style of the German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher to his series of photographs of Israeli watchtowers in the West Bank.

The final section looks at practitioners who resist the authority of the photograph, questioning the medium’s ability to record factual information. Whether manipulating or digitally altering images, or physically attacking the print surface by scratching and burning, these artists demonstrate a desire to undermine the legibility and reliability of the photograph. In the intimate and poetic series Le Retour Imaginaire (2002), Afghan artist Atiq Rahimi rejects new technology, opting instead to photograph war-ravished Kabul with a primitive box camera. The recent series Uphekka by Nermine Hammam reworks photographs of Egyptian soldiers taken during the protests in Tahrir Square, Cairo in 2011 and transports them to multicoloured fantasy settings that are far removed from the struggles of the Arab Spring.”

Press release from the V&A website

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Recording

Photography is a seemingly accurate means of recording people, places and events. A photograph can serve a commemorative purpose or document a historic moment. It can reveal something not otherwise visible, such as a place or event the viewer would not have access to, or a particular vantage point available only to the photographer. It can also create a lasting image of a fleeting performance, or of a scene staged only for the camera.

But how reliable is a photograph? Despite the apparent authority of photographic images, they can trick or disorient. They can be ambiguous and difficult to decipher. Their meaning can shift according to context, cropping or captioning. What are the limitations of photography?

The photographers in this section use a range of approaches to exploit and explore the camera’s capacity to record.

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Abbas. 'France Rioters burn a portrait of the Shah as a sign of protest against his regime. Tehran, December 1978' 1978-9

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Abbas
Born Kash, Iran, 1944. Lives Paris, France
Rioters burn a portrait of the Shah as a sign of protest against his regime. Tehran, December 1978
1978-9
From the series Iran Diary
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum
Abbas@Magnum Photos, courtesy Magnum Gallery

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Issa Touma. From the series 'Sufis: The day of al-Ziyara' 1995-2005

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Issa Touma
Born Safita, Syria, 1962. Lives Aleppo, Syria
From the series Sufis: The day of al-Ziyara
1995-2005
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Issa Touma is a prominent figure in the Syrian art scene. Self-taught, he began his career as a photographer in the early 1990s. In 1996 he founded Le Pont Organisation and Gallery, an independent art organisation to promote freedom of expression and stimulate the local art scene through international events.

His series on the day of al-Ziyara documents an annual procession of Sufi pilgrims in northern Syria. Sufism is a mystical path within Islam. Touma photographed the event over the course of ten years, gradually gaining the trust of his subjects. The resulting images convey his sense of immersion in the festival and capture the fervour of the worshippers.

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Waheeda Malullah. From the series 'Light' 2006

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Waheeda Malullah
Born Bahrain, 1978. Lives Bahrain
From the series Light
2006
Inkjet print on rag paper
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Waheeda Malullah uses playfulness and humour to explore social rules, and in particular the roles women play in Islamic society. In the series Light she records a performance staged expressly for the camera. By lying down next to tombs in Bahrain she exaggerates the Shi’i Muslim custom of seeking blessing by touching the tombs of revered people. These stylised compositions are also studies of form, light and shadow.

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Ahmed Mater. 'Magnetism II' 2012

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Ahmed Mater
Born Tabuk, Saudi Arabia, 1979. Lives Abha, Saudi Arabia
Magnetism II
2012
Photogravure
Acquired thanks to Mr Abdulaziz al-Turki

Ahmed Mater is a Saudi artist and qualified GP. Working in photography, calligraphy, painting, installation and video, Mater reflects his experiences as a doctor and the ways this has challenged his traditional background and beliefs, and explores wider issues about Islamic culture in an era of globalisation. In the series Magnetism, what at first appear to be pilgrims circling the Ka’ba, the sacred building at the heart of the sanctuary at Mecca, are in fact iron filings spiralling around a cube-shaped magnet. Mater refers to the spiritual force that Muslim believers feel during Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. By creating photographs that recall well-known images on a dramatically different scale, Mater also questions the reliability of photography.

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Newsha Tavakolian. From the series 'Mothers of Martyrs' 2006

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Newsha Tavakolian
Born Tehran, Iran, 1981. Lives Tehran
From the series Mothers of Martyrs
2006
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Newsha Tavakolian started her career at the age of 16, as a junior photographer for the Iranian women’s daily Zan-e Rooz. She also worked with other reformist newspapers and by the early 1990s had established herself as one of Tehran’s few female photojournalists, working internationally and particularly focussing on women’s issues. She is a founder member of the EVE international collective of women photojournalists, established in 2006 and of Rawiya, a collective of women photographers from the Middle East, founded in 2011. Her series Mothers of Martyrs shows elderly Iranian women holding framed photographs of their sons who died decades earlier in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-8). The double portraits attest to photography’s emotive power.

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Abbas Kowsari. 'Halabche' 2003

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Abbas Kowsari
Born Tehran, Iran, 1970. Lives Tehran
Halabche
2003
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Abbas Kowsari began his career as a photojournalist for the Tehran Times in 1994 and is currently Senior Picture Editor for Shargh, a popular reformist title. This photograph made in nothern Iraq presents a portrait within a portrait. The figure of a peshmerga (a Kurdish combatant) is tightly framed to exclude his face. Instead, the face of rock musician Bryan Adams, on the soldier’s T-shirt, fills a central portion of the composition. The faded black-and-white image is surrounded by saturated colours and brightly gleaming metal. The contrast reinforces the incongruity between warfare in Iraq and western pop culture.

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Abdulnasser Gharem. 'The Path (Siraat)' 2009

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Abdulnasser Gharem
Born Khamis Mushait, Saudi Arabia, 1973. Lives Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
The Path (Siraat)
2009
Inkjet print on aluminium
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Abdulnasser Gharem works across a variety of media to explore local Saudi issues. Amongst his best-known works are ‘stamp paintings’, made from industrial paint on rubber stamps, a technique devised to negotiate and comment on censorship. He combines service in the Saudi armed forces (he is currently Lieutenant Colonel) with his activities as an artist.

The subject of this photograph is a bridge in southern Saudi Arabia that was severely damaged in the early 1980s when villagers attempted to take shelter on it during a flash flood. Instead of providing a safe high ground above the floodwaters the bridge collapsed, resulting in the loss of many lives. Gharem spray-painted the word siraat repeatedly on the bridge. The word means path, and in the Qur’an it refers to ‘the path to God’.

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Tal Shochat. 'Pomegranate (Rimon)' 2010

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Tal Shochat
Born Netanya, Israel, 1974. Lives Tel Aviv, Israel
Pomegranate (Rimon)
2010
C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

In her photographs Shochat stages both figures and objects to create symbolically-laden images that often question the boundary between nature and artifice. Here she applies the conventions of studio portraiture to photographing trees. The first stage in her meticulous process is to identify the perfect specimen of a particular type of tree. When the fruit is at the height of maturity, she cleans the dust off the branches, leaves and fruit. Finally, Shochat photographs the tree, artificially lit and isolated against a black cloth background. The photographs present a view of nature that would never actually exist in a natural environment. The work highlights the tensions in photography between reality and artifice.

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Yto Barrada. 'Bricks (Briques)' 2003/2011

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Yto Barrada
Born Paris, France, 1971. Lives Tangier, Morocco
Bricks (Briques)
2003/2011
C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Yto Barrada grew up in Paris and Tangier and studied in Paris and New York. Since 2006 she has directed the Cinématèque de Tanger, a cultural centre home to an archive of Maghrebi and Arabic film and video. Barrada’s hometown of Tangier is the subject of much of her work. In this view, recently constructed buildings in various states of completion are scattered across the hillsides. The pile of bricks in the foreground seems to parallel the haphazard nature of the surrounding building projects. The untidy man-made heap echoes the form of the natural hills in the background.

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Mehraneh Atashi. 'Bodiless I' 2004

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Mehraneh Atashi
Born Tehran, Iran, 1980. Lives Tehran
Bodiless I
2004
From the series Zourkhaneh Project (House of Strength)
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Mehraneh Atashi explores the relationship between photography and power in her ongoing investigation into the possibilities of self-portraiture. Her photographic series reveal lesser-known aspects of Iranian life.

This photograph shows the inside of a zurkhana, a traditional Iranian wrestling gym, in Tehran. The artist has explained that ‘tradition forbids the breath of women’ in the zurkhana. Atashi includes herself in the scene through a reflection in a mirror. This picture within a picture emphasises her incongruous presence in a place from which women are normally excluded.

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Reframing

The artists in this section appropriate or imitate images from the past in order to make statements about the present. Their sources range from studio portraiture to fashion photography, from Old Master paintings to Modernist photographs. Using a variety of techniques, they update and interrogate, knowingly combining past and present, East and West, fact and fiction. Whether emulating or critiquing, these artists reframe existing images to new ends.

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Raeda Saadeh. 'Who will make me real?' 2003

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Raeda Saadeh
Palestinian. Born Umm al Fahem, 1977. Lives Jerusalem
Who will make me real?
2003
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

In her photographs, videos and performances, Raeda Saadeh assumes various roles to explore issues of displacement, gender and identity, with particular reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here the artist lies in a pose that recalls 19th-century European paintings of reclining nudes. These often featured non-European women and ‘Orientalist’ costumes and scenery. Saadeh is encased in Palestinian newspapers, which conceal her body from neck to ankle while revealing its contours. The covering is both flimsy and apparently immobilising, resembling a papier-mâché body cast. Any sensuality implied by her pose is disrupted by the harsh realities reported in the newspaper.

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Bahman Jalali. 'Image of Imagination' 2003

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Bahman Jalali
Born Tehran, Iran, 1945. Died Tehran, 2010
Image of Imagination
2003
C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum
© Rana Javadi

Jalali was a photographer and teacher who played a leading role in collecting and preserving historical photographs in Iran. He was an influential teacher, mentored many of the younger generation of Iranian photographers, and was instrumental in setting up Tehran’s first Museum of Photography (also known as Akskhaneh Shahr).

In this montage he layered Qajar-period (1786-1925) portraits and an enlarged detail of an old photographic studio sign that had been crossed out with red paint. Jalali speculated that this defacement occurred during the Islamic revolution (1978-9), perhaps as an attack on a studio where unveiled women had been photographed.

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Shadi Ghadirian. From the series 'Qajar' 1998

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Shadi Ghadirian
Born Tehran, Iran, 1974. Lives Tehran
From the series Qajar
1998
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Shadi Ghadirian was among the first students to graduate in photography from the Azad University, Tehran. Her work addresses concerns of Iranian women of her generation, exploring ideas such as censorship, religion and modernity, often with a wry humour.

The series Qajar is based on a style of photograph made during Iran’s Qajar period (1786-1925). In those portraits, sitters posed with props representing their aspirations. Here, the sitters wear costumes that approximate Qajar fashion, but the objects they pose with are jarringly modern and western – a mountain bike, a stereo or a can of Pepsi. The contrast makes a comment on the tensions between tradition and modernity that women in Iran face today.

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Youssef_Nabil_Detail_from_the_series_The_Yemeni_Sailors_of_South_Shields_2006_WEB

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Youssef Nabil
Born Cairo, Egypt, 1972. Lives New York, USA
The Yemeni Sailors of South Shields (detail)
2006
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Youssef Nabil’s photographs and films evoke the glamour and melodrama of the golden age of Egyptian cinema in the 1940s and 50s, known as Hollywood on the Nile. This is one of a dozen portraits made as part of a project to document the last surviving Yemeni men to settle as ship-workers in South Shields, in the north of England. The area is home to one of the oldest Muslim communities in the UK. Nabil hand-coloured the black-and-white photographs in the manner of mid 20th-century Egyptian studio portraiture.

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Hassan Hajjaj. 'Saida in Green' 2000

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Hassan Hajjaj
Born Larache, Morocco, 1961. Lives London, UK, and Marrakesh, Morocco
Saida in Green
2000
Digital C-print and tyre frame
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Hajjaj is inspired by fashion photography, while also mocking its methods. He creates playful juxtapositions between global brand names and local motifs such as veils and babouches (traditional Moroccan slippers). The result is an exuberant collision of the stereotypical symbols of western consumerism and Middle Eastern tradition. The frames, which Hajjaj constructs from recycled materials, transform the photographs into three-dimensional, sculptural objects.

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Resisting

The artists in this section question the idea that a photograph can tell the truth. Some digitally alter images. Some scratch negatives and prints, or even burn them. Other artists reject clarity and detail in favour of processes that rely on chance. The results are murky, atmospheric images that require effort to interpret. These manipulations demonstrate the fragility of the photograph, whether at the hands of artists or censors. They also lay bare the power of photographic imagery to influence and control through propaganda or surveillance. These works resist photography’s claim to accuracy and authority.

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Atiq Rahimi. 'On the threshold of time (Au seuil du temps)' 2002

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Atiq Rahimi
Born Kabul, Afghanistan, 1962. Lives Paris, France
On the threshold of time (Au seuil du temps)
2002
From the series The Imaginary Return (Le retour imaginaire)
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Atiq Rahimi is a writer, film director and photographer who fled Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1984, seeking political refuge in France, where he is now based. He returned to Afghanistan in 2002, after the fall of the Taliban. Confronted by the ruins of Kabul, he decided not to photograph the city with his digital camera. Instead he chose a primitive box camera normally used to take identity portraits in the streets of Kabul. The unpredictable process resulted in dreamlike photographs. They convey the nostalgia and brutal feelings of loss that Rahimi experienced when revisiting the war-wounded city.

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Jowhara AlSaud. 'Airmail' 2008

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Jowhara AlSaud
Born Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 1978. Lives Jeddah and New York, USA
Airmail
2008
From the series Out of Line
C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Jowhara AlSaud’s photographs explore the language of censorship and the malleability of photography. AlSaud scratches the outlines of figures from her personal photographs into photographic negatives, which she then prints. By reducing the figures to line drawings she renders them anonymous. The embracing figures hint at farewells and longing. The envelopes suggest thwarted attempts at communication. AlSaud’s hybrid technique of drawing and photography critiques the censorship of visual communication in Saudi Arabia.

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Şükran Moral. 'Despair' 2003

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Şükran Moral
Born Terme, Turkey, 1962. Lives Rome, Italy, and Istanbul, Turkey
Despair
2003
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Şükran Moral works in photography, sculpture, video and performance, creating bold and often controversial works that critique society and its institutions. Violence against women is a major theme. She has also made work about other groups who lack societal power, including the mentally ill, children, immigrants and prostitutes.

In this image, brightly-coloured birds, what Moral calls ‘digital nightingales’, perch on a group of migrant workers huddled in a boat. According to the artist, in Turkish literature nightingales are a symbol of hope, love and separation. The men and boys are shown in black-and-white, at the mercy of their situation. The birds, however, are free to fly away.

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Nermine Hammam. 'Armed Innocence II' 2011

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Nermine Hammam
Born Cairo, Egypt, 1967. Lives Cairo
Armed Innocence II
2011
From the series Upekkha
Archival inkjet print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Influenced by a background in film and graphic design, Nermine Hammam works in series, making prints that combine elements of painting and photography, often digitally manipulating and layering images to represent subjects in states of abandonment or altered consciousness. When the army was called in to respond to the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in January 2011, Hammam was struck by the vulnerability of the soldiers. They seemed to want to be anywhere but there. In the Uppekkha series she transports these soldiers into vibrant fantasy settings. Reminiscent of postcards, the series likens the events of Tahrir Square to a tourist attraction that drew the world’s attention, but was not fully understood.

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Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige. 'Wonder Beirut #13, Modern Beirut, International Centre of Water-skiing' 1997-2006

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Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige
Both born Beirut, Lebanon, 1969. Live Beirut and Paris, France
Wonder Beirut #13, Modern Beirut, International Centre of Water-skiing
1997-2006
From the series Wonder Beirut: The Story of a Pyromaniac Photographer
C-print mounted on aluminium with face mounting
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum
Courtesy of the artists and CRG Gallery, New York and In Situ / Fabienne Leclerc, Paris

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige collaborate as filmmakers and artists, producing cinematic and visual art work that intertwine. In the series Wonder Beirut they use photography to blur fact and fiction. The artists noticed that tourist postcards of pre-civil war Beirut were still for sale after the war ended in 1990. They invented a fictional photographer named Abdallah Farrah who, in 1968, was commissioned by the tourist board to make postcard views of Beirut’s attractions. When the civil war broke out in 1975, he began to burn his negatives to reflect the surrounding destruction. The artists present these works as prints from the fictional photographer’s damaged negatives.

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John Jurayj. 'Untitled (Large Embassy with Red Mirror #1)' 2007

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John Jurayj
Born Evanston, Illinois, USA, 1968. Lives New York, USA
Untitled (Large Embassy with Red Mirror #1)
2007
Inkjet print on watercolour paper, with burn holes and mirrored Plexiglas
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Using a variety of media, including painting, print-making, sculpture and video, John Jurayj explores the impact of the Lebanese civil war (1975-90), as both a world conflict and an identity trauma. He often re-works photographs of Lebanon from family albums, press archives and online databases. Here he translates the brutality of war into an attack on the photograph itself. He enlarges to near abstraction a news photograph of the bombed US embassy in Beirut in 1984. The image is further disrupted by the holes burnt into the paper. The holes are then filled in with red, mirrored Plexiglas.

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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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