Posts Tagged ‘performativity

21
Feb
17

Exhibition: ‘Film Stills: Photography between Advertising, Art and the Cinema’ at Albertina, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 4th November 2016 – 26th February 2017

 

I seem to have a bit of a thing for film and photography at the moment!

More delicious film fascination, this time for the still camera. German Expressionism, film noir, science-fiction, horror, murder and mayhem – photographers using all manner of artistic techniques to get their message across. Now often found in fine art auction houses.

I love the heading “Intermediality and Self-Reflexivity” … “intermediate images” that unite aspects of both media (film and photography) and self-reflexive images that take on a life of their own, developing “a filmic work further in an independent manner, thereby allowing it to be regarded from new perspectives. Such stills often contain self-reflexive commentary on the work’s specifically “filmic” aspects.”

Sensitive, sensual, snapshot; stars and auteurism; murder and mayhem; avant-garde, beauty and sex – it has it all. Great stuff.

Marcus

PS. Look at the amazing colours in Horst von Harbou’s stills for Metropolis (1927) which were produced as transparent foils and elaborately coloured by hand. Never heard of such a thing before, coloured transparent foils.

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

 

 

Anonymous. 'La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc' 1927

 

Anonymous
La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc
1927
Karl Theodor Dreyer (director)

 

 

Carl Theodor Dreyer (3 February 1889 – 20 March 1968), commonly known as Carl Th. Dreyer, was a Danish film director. He is regarded by many critics and filmmakers as one of the greatest directors in cinema. His best known films include The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Vampyr (1932), Day of Wrath (1943), Ordet (1955), and Gertrud (1964) …

As a young man, Dreyer worked as a journalist, but he eventually joined the film industry as a writer of title cards for silent films and subsequently of screenplays. He was initially hired by Nordisk Film in 1913.

His first attempts at film direction had limited success, and he left Denmark to work in the French film industry. While living in France he met Jean Cocteau, Jean Hugo and other members of the French artistic scene and in 1928 he made his first classic film, The Passion of Joan of Arc. Working from the transcripts of Joan’s trial, he created a masterpiece of emotion that drew equally on realism and expressionism.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

 

 

Who doesn’t know them: that picture from The Seven-Year Itch of a smiling Marilyn Monroe with her white dress blown upward by the air from a subway grate, or the photo of a conspiratorial James Stewart in Rear Window? Regardless of whether one has seen the actual movies, such images are familiar. It’s film stills like these that have burnt themselves into the collective memory and had a major impact on how their films are perceived.

Film stills embody visual traces of films as well as independent photographic images. Taken on set during production, they are based on an elaborate process in which film photographers re-stage film scenes for the still camera.

In the first-ever major exhibition devoted to this hybrid genre, the Albertina is showing 130 film stills taken between 1902 and 1975 in cooperation with the Austrian Film Museum. That was the period during which black-and-white film stills reached their highest level of technical and aesthetic quality, simultaneously covering a sweeping cross-section of various artistic movements from photographic and cinematic history such as Pictorialism and Expressionism. Employing pictures by Deborah Imogen Beer, Horst von Harbou, Pierluigi Praturlon, Karl Struss, and others, three aspects of this genre’s intermedial relationships are highlighted: the functions performed by film stills, the interfaces between photography and film with their breaks and couplings, and the additional artistic value of still photographs as such.

 

For the Media and the Press

The purpose of film stills is clearly defined: as material for the press and various types of advertising, they help to market films. And alongside their use in trailers, film journalism, and other marketing tools such as posters, film stills also represent a key ingredient of audience expectations pertaining to a film upon its release. Even so, it is the production of visually appealing images – rather than authentic reproduction of the film itself – that is important, here. In display windows and the media, still images visualise different aspects of a production ranging from key scenes to the actual filming work. This motivic variety corresponds to various film still categories: portrait photos of the actors and actresses taken by in-house studio photographers, as well as scene photos and making-of photos, are used in these contexts. And fed into numerous distribution processes, such photos also serve as models for posters, lobby cards, photo books, and press materials.

 

Intermediality and Self-Reflexivity

Film stills unite functional requirements with photographic and filmic intentions. And in fact, still photography is the only way in which to show visual traces of a production outside of the filmic event – the screening – itself. The challenges that photographers face in taking such shots lie in the difference between the media of moving (projected) film images and static (material) photography. In a complex and laborious process, they work on set to restage film scenes specifically for the still camera, thus transforming the film from a moving to a static medium.

The employment of various photographic strategies makes possible film stills’ “filmic” reception, with momentary photos that evoke a film’s dynamics being just as exemplary here as panoramic shots that require a longer look. Still photos thus repeat a film’s constituent elements, inscribing them onto a photographic medium in various ways and thus functioning as “intermediate images” that unite aspects of both media. They can be read not only as static views of a filmic reality, but also as independent types of photographic image. This quality is reinforced by the fact that stills frequently develop a filmic work further in an independent manner, thereby allowing it to be regarded from new perspectives. Such stills often contain self-reflexive commentary on the work’s specifically “filmic” aspects.

 

Film Stills at the Interface to Fine Art

Being situated between film and photography, many film stills also possess artistic qualities that are clearly photographic in nature. Here, composition plays a major role as it bears witness to a pictorial conception that differs from that of a filmic image. For while moving images are designed as horizontal arrangements, with the pictorial elements sequenced one after the other to effect their visual continuation, still photographers stage still photos according to the (static) central perspective governed by the camera’s vanishing point. This positions observers at that place which has been assigned them since the Renaissance – that is, looking straight down the picture’s central axis. Correspondingly, many stills exhibit reminiscences of the proscenium stage from traditional live theatre, favouring views that render scenes more immediate and thus more easily legible.

Photographers, in composing their images, often borrow iconographic and stylistic elements from various artistic movements: Expressionism, Art Nouveau, and Pictorialism are examples of these.

And in this way, still photographers depart from the original filmic work and realise their own pictorial ideas. Their photos thus refrain from “authentic” reproduction of a film’s various aspects, instead using these aspects to realise subjective artistic practices, thereby implying a reversal of the classic hierarchy between photography and film.

Press release from the Albertina

 

Paul Ronald. Edra Gale in 'Otto e mezzo' (Edra Gale in '8½') 1963

 

Paul Ronald
Edra Gale in Otto e mezzo (Edra Gale in)
1963
Director: Federico Fellini, 1963
Ekatchrome
© Archivio Storico del Cinema / AFE

 

 

(Italian title: Otto e mezzo) is a 1963 comedy-drama film directed by Federico Fellini. Co-scripted by Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, and Brunello Rondi, it stars Marcello Mastroianni as Guido Anselmi, a famous Italian film director. Shot in black-and-white by cinematographer Gianni di Venanzo, the film features a soundtrack by Nino Rota with costume and set designs by Piero Gherardi.

 

Horst von Harbou. Georg John in 'M - A City searches for a Murderer' 1931

 

Horst von Harbou
Georg John in M – A City searches for a Murderer
1931
Gelatin silver print
Austrian Theatre Museum
© Horst von Harbou – Deutsche Kinemathek

 

 

M (German: M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder – “M – A city looks for a murderer”) is a 1931 German drama-thriller film directed by Fritz Lang and starring Peter Lorre. It was written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou and was the director’s first sound film. It concerns the manhunt for a serial killer of children, conducted by both the police and the criminal underworld. Now considered a classic, the film was deemed by Fritz Lang as his finest work.

Little Elsie Beckmann leaves school, bouncing a ball on her way home. She is approached by Hans Beckert, who is whistling “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg. He offers to buy her a balloon from a blind street-vendor [above] and walks and talks with her. Elsie’s place at the dinner table remains empty, her ball is shown rolling away across a patch of grass and her balloon is lost in the telephone lines overhead.

 

Unknown artist. 'Poster for "M"' 1931

 

Unknown artist
Poster for “M”
1931
Director: Fritz Lang (Austria, 1890-1976)
Collection of La Cinémathèque française

 

 

Wall texts

Advertising pictures

Aimed at inviting the public to buy a ticket, film stills were used as advertising photographs in cinema lobbies and as press material for the media. Directors and production companies depended on them for promoting their movies, because the film as a projected moving image is immaterial and does not exist beyond the screen. Stills comprise various types of pictures that show different aspects of a movie’s production: scenes, portraits of its actresses and actors, as well as production photographs capturing its shooting.

The production of stills was based on a division of labor. In major production companies like those of Hollywood, still photographers were assigned to the companies’ advertising or publicity departments. Sometimes involving the director, these departments selected the photographs intended for publication. The promotion photographs for the movie palaces’ lobbies were published in sets of twenty to forty pictures each, which visualised characteristic aspects of the film. A wider selection of stills was used for the press. Picture editors adapted the photographs according to their purposes. We find instructions for the material’s reproduction and cropping marks indicating new image areas; retouches deleted undesired elements and changed the motif in line with the planned layout.

 

Anonymous. Still from 'Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror' 1922

 

Anonymous
Still from Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror
1922
Director: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
Gelatin silver print
© Deutsche Kinemathek

 

Anonymous. Still from 'The Night of the Hunter' 1954

 

Anonymous
Still from The Night of the Hunter
1954
Silver gelatin print

 

Anonymous. Robert Mitchum in 'The Night of the Hunter' 1955

 

Anonymous
Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter
1955
Director: Charles Laughton
Gelatin silver print
© The John Kobal Collection

 

 

The Night of the Hunter is a 1955 American film noir directed by Charles Laughton and starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish. The screenplay by James Agee was based on the 1953 novel of the same name by Davis Grubb. The plot focuses on a corrupt reverend-turned-serial killer who attempts to charm an unsuspecting widow and steal $10,000 hidden by her executed husband.

The novel and film draw on the true story of Harry Powers, hanged in 1932 for the murder of two widows and three children in Clarksburg, West Virginia. The film’s lyrical and expressionistic style with its leaning on the silent era sets it apart from other Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s, and it has influenced later directors such as David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick, Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee, and the Coen brothers.

In 1992, The Night of the Hunter was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. The influential film magazine Cahiers du cinéma selected The Night of the Hunter in 2008 as the second-best film of all time, behind Citizen Kane.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

The Night of the Hunter film poster 1955

 

The Night of the Hunter film poster 1955

 

Anonymous. Still from the film 'Vertigo, Judy behind Madeleine' 1957/58

 

Anonymous
Still from the film Vertigo, Judy behind Madeleine
1957/58
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Silver gelatin print

 

Vertigo film poster 1957/58

 

Vertigo film poster 1957/58

 

Bud Fraker (attributed to) Janet Leigh, Vera Miles and John Gavin in 'Psycho' 1960

 

Bud Fraker (attributed to)
Janet Leigh, Vera Miles and John Gavin in Psycho
1960
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Gelatin silver print
© Berlin, Deutsche Kinemathek – Paramount Pictures

 

 

Star portraits

Regarded as the supreme discipline of still photography, the portraiture of stars was an integral part of the film industry’s elaborate promotion campaigns. Productions could be effectively marketed by using actresses and actors to project their image. With the emergence of the studio system, Hollywood perfected this business strategy from the 1920s on by employing specialised portrait photographers. These photographers worked in company-owned studios and – unlike set photographers who mostly remained anonymous – were known by name. Relying on sophisticated lighting and drastic retouching, they created the aesthetic of the glamour portrait. Don English perfectly translated the lighting as it had been exactly planned by Josef von Sternberg, the director, for his film in his portrait of Marlene Dietrich for Shanghai Express (1932). Generally, domestic production companies could not afford to run their own portrait studios and were thus unable to exercise any influence on photographic products from outside. This offered both the stars and the studios a certain degree of freedom when it came to the representation and interpretation of a certain look. The photograph taken of Hedy Kiesler (later Lamarr) in her role in Gustav Machatý’s Ecstasy (1933) by the renowned studio Manassé in Vienna is one of the rare portrait stills taken on the set at that time.

 

Karl Struss. Gloria Swanson in 'Male and Female' 1919

 

Karl Struss
Gloria Swanson in Male and Female
1919
Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Gelatin silver print
© The John Kobal Foundation

 

 

Don English. Marlene Dietrich in 'Shanghai Express' 1932

 

Don English
Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express
1932
Director: Josef von Sternberg
Silver gelatin print

 

Raymond Cauchetier (French, born 1920) 'Jean Paul Belmondo & Jean Seberg, Paris, 1959' 1959

 

Raymond Cauchetier (French, born 1920)
Jean Paul Belmondo & Jean Seberg, Paris, 1959
1959
Still from the film Breathless
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Gelatin silver print

 

Breathless film poster 1960

 

Breathless film poster 1960

 

Anonymous. Still from the film 'Breathless' 1959

 

Anonymous
Still from the film Breathless
1959
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Gelatin silver print

 

Georges Pierre. Delphine Seyrig in 'Last Year in Marienbad' 1961

 

Georges Pierre
Delphine Seyrig in Last Year in Marienbad
1961
Director: Alain Resnais
Astor Pictures Corporation / Photofest
© Astor Pictures Corporation

 

 

Delphine Claire Beltiane Seyrig (10 April 1932 – 15 October 1990) was a Lebanese-born French stage and film actress, a film director and a feminist.

As a young woman, Seyrig studied acting at the Comédie de Saint-Étienne, training under Jean Dasté, and at Centre Dramatique de l’Est. She appeared briefly in small roles in the 1954 TV series Sherlock Holmes. In 1956, she returned to New York and studied at the Actors Studio. In 1958 she appeared in her first film, Pull My Daisy. In New York she met director Alain Resnais, who asked her to star in his film Last Year at Marienbad. Her performance brought her international recognition and she moved to Paris. Among her roles of this period is the older married woman in François Truffaut’s Baisers volés (1968).

During the 1960s and 1970s, Seyrig worked with directors including Truffaut, Luis Buñuel, Marguerite Duras, and Fred Zinnemann, as well as Resnais. She achieved recognition for both her stage and film work, and was named best actress at the Venice Film Festival for her role in Resnais’ Muriel ou Le temps d’un retour (1963). She played many diverse roles, and because she was fluent in French, English and German, she appeared in films in all three languages, including a number of Hollywood productions.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

L’Année dernière à Marienbad (released in the US as Last Year at Marienbad and in the UK as Last Year in Marienbad) is a 1961 French-Italian film directed by Alain Resnais from a screenplay by Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Last Year at Marienbad is famous for its enigmatic narrative structure, in which truth and fiction are difficult to distinguish, and the temporal and spatial relationship of the events is open to question, even if it never quite ventures into surrealism. The film’s dreamlike nature has both fascinated and baffled viewers; many have hailed the work as a masterpiece, while others consider it incomprehensible.

At a social gathering at a château or baroque hotel, a man approaches a woman. He claims they met the year before at Marienbad and is convinced that she is waiting there for him. The woman insists they have never met. A second man, who may be the woman’s husband, repeatedly asserts his dominance over the first man, including beating him several times at a mathematical game (a version of Nim). Through ambiguous flashbacks and disorienting shifts of time and location, the film explores the relationships among the characters. Conversations and events are repeated in several places in the château and grounds, and there are numerous tracking shots of the château’s corridors, with ambiguous voiceovers. The characters are unnamed in the film; in the published screenplay, the woman is referred to as “A”, the first man is “X”, and the man who may be her husband is “M”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

L'Année dernière à Marienbad Japanese film poster 1961

 

L’Année dernière à Marienbad Japanese film poster 1961

 

 

Artistic pictures

Until the 1950s still photographers used large-format plate cameras, which projected an inverted image onto the focusing screen at the back of the body. These cameras produced technically brilliant pictures, yet were complicated to handle because of their size and comparatively long exposure times. The staging of stills had to be meticulously planned and was fundamentally different from the shooting of a film. While the film camera is geared to the story in motion and its visual continuation in the pictures to follow, actresses and actors posed for the photographer in tableaux-vivants-like arrangements using additional light. The resultant static and apparently artificial compositions mirroring the performative staging process are typical of this kind of photographs. Still photographers drew inspiration from works of art for their mise-en-scène. The anonymous photographer in charge of the stills for Henrik Galeen’s The Student of Prague (1926) quotes the Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich’s works in his theatrical presentation of an atmospheric landscape. Horst von Harbou, who frequently worked with the director Fritz Lang, drew on Carl Otto Czeschka’s Jugendstil [Art Noveau] illustrations from 1908 for his stills accompanying the first part of Die Nibelungen (1924). Harbou translated ornamental motifs into two-dimensional pictures, as Czeschka had done before him. Presenting their pictures in exhibitions and providing fine-art prints, still photographers positioned their works as artistically independent achievements.

 

Anonymous. Werner Krauss in 'The Student of Prague' 1926

 

Anonymous
Werner Krauss in The Student of Prague
1926
Gelatin silver print
Austrian Theatre Museum

 

Anonymous. Werner Krauss in 'The Student of Prague' 1926 (detail)

 

Anonymous
Werner Krauss in The Student of Prague (detail)
1926
Gelatin silver print
Austrian Theatre Museum

 

 

Intermediate pictures

The difficulty in capturing the scene of a movie in a still lies in the difference between the two media of (moving) film and (static) photograph. Still photographers employ intermedia strategies which facilitate a reading of the still in analogy to the experience of the film. Snapshots evoking the dynamics of the movie are as exemplary of this approach as are series of pictures rendering a sequence in the form of the movement’s individual phases captured at short intervals. Panorama pictures are also related to the film’s spatial and temporal dimensions, since a series of motifs resembling the chronological order of films successively “unwinds” in reading them. Informed by the interwar avant-garde, the photo montages for Walter Ruttmann’s experimental film Berlin – Symphony of a Great City (1927) show an extraordinary solution. They congenially transform the subjective modern filmic point of view by relating the motifs of the film to each other through illogical perspectives and proportions. Some of Horst von Harbou’s stills for Metropolis (1927) were produced as transparent foils and elaborately coloured by hand. Presented in backlight illumination, they established a self-reflexive reference to the cinema as films also reveal their ephemeral quality in their projection.

 

Anonymous. 'Berlin - Symphony of a Great City' 1927

 

Anonymous
Berlin – Symphony of a Great City
1927
Director: Walther Ruttmann
Gelatin silver print
© Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin

 

 

Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis (German: Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt) is a 1927 German film directed by Walter Ruttmann, co-written by Carl Mayer and Karl Freund.

The film is an example of the city symphony film genre. A musical score for an orchestra to accompany the silent film was written by Edmund Meisel. As a “city symphony” film, it portrays the life of a city, mainly through visual impressions in a semi-documentary style, without the narrative content of more mainstream films, though the sequencing of events can imply a kind of loose theme or impression of the city’s daily life…

The film displays the filmmaker’s knowledge of Soviet montage theory. Some socialist political sympathies, or identification with the underclass can be inferred from a few of the edits in the film, though critics have suggested that either Ruttmann avoided a strong position, or else he pursued his aesthetic interests to the extent that they diminished the potential for political content. Ruttmann’s own description of the film suggests that his motives were predominantly aesthetic: “Since I began in the cinema, I had the idea of making something out of life, of creating a symphonic film out of the millions of energies that comprise the life of a big city.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis poster

 

Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis poster

 

Horst von Harbou. Brigitte Helm in 'Metropolis' 1927

 

Horst von Harbou
Brigitte Helm in Metropolis
1927
Director: Fritz Lang
Gelatin silver print
Austrian Theatre Museum
© Horst von Harbou – Deutsche Kinemathek

 

Horst von Harbou. 'Metropolis' 1927

 

Horst von Harbou
Metropolis
1927
Director: Fritz Lang
Coloured transparent nitrocellulose film
Austrian Theatre Museum
© Horst von Harbou – Deutsche Kinemathek

 

 

Meta-pictures

Some directors supported the production of stills that put characteristic aspects of their films into a new perspective. In his masterpiece Persona (1966) Ingmar Bergman reflects the support material of film by showing the film strip crack and burn up during the projection. This self-referentiality of the medium was visualised by adding perforations to the photographs so that they resembled film frames. The perforations only served to quote the film as a medium; the motifs were actually mounted in black frames afterwards. Elaborate montages not to be seen in the film were also produced for Alfred Hitchcock’s movies. Rear Window (1954) confronts us with a photographer who watches a man whom he suspects of having committed a murder with binoculars and through a long-focus lens. By mounting pictures of the persons in the lens whom Stewart watches from his window in the film, the still photographer emphasised the issue of voyeurism as a central subject of the movie. The Austrian silent movie director Erich von Stroheim used film stills for visualising contents of his films that were regarded as problematic. Because of their length and supposedly questionable sexual passages Stroheim’s movies were regularly cut down by censorship authorities and production companies. This is why stills continuing the movie were planned in advance. The sexual allusions in a scene of Foolish Wives (1922) in which Stroheim embodies a Don Juan figure about to indecently assault a sleeping woman, for example, manifested themselves in a still in which we see him kissing the sleeping woman’s foot.

 

Anonymous. James Stewart in 'Rear Window' 1954

 

Anonymous
James Stewart in Rear Window
1954
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Gelatin silver print
© BFI National Archive: London

 

Anonymous. James Stewart in 'Rear Window' 1954 (detail)

 

Anonymous
James Stewart in Rear Window (detail)
1954
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Gelatin silver print
© BFI National Archive: London

 

Anonymous. Liv Ullman in 'Persona' (detail) 1966

 

Anonymous
Liv Ullman in Persona (detail)
1966
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Silver gelatin print

 

 

Persona is a 1966 Swedish psychological drama film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann. Persona’s story revolves around a young nurse named Alma (Andersson) and her patient, a well-known stage actress named Elisabet Vogler (Ullmann), who has suddenly ceased to speak. The two move to a cottage, where Alma cares for and talks to Elisabet about intimate secrets, and becomes troubled distinguishing herself from her.

Bergman wrote the film with Ullmann and Andersson in mind for the lead parts, and some idea of exploring their identities, and shot the film in Stockholm and Fårö. Often categorised as a psychological horror, Persona deals with themes of duality, insanity, and personal identity…

Persona has lent itself to a variety of interpretations, with Professor Thomas Elsaesser remarking it “has been for film critics and scholars what climbing Everest is for mountaineers: the ultimate professional challenge. Besides Citizen Kane, it is probably the most written-about film in the canon.” Much of the focus has been on the resemblance of the characters, demonstrated in shots of overlapping faces, and the possibility that the two characters are one. If they are one person, there is a question if Alma is fantasising about the actress she admires, or if Elisabet is examining her psyche, or if the boy is trying to understand who his mother is. In a question of duality, Alma represents soul while Elisabet represents a stern goddess. Susan Sontag suggests that Persona is constructed as a series of variations on a theme of “doubling”. The subject of the film, Sontag proposes, is “violence of the spirit”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

'Persona' 1966 Swedish B1 Poster

 

Persona 1966 Swedish B1 Poster

 

Anonymous. Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullman in 'Persona' (detail) 1966

 

Anonymous
Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullman in Persona (detail)
1966
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Silver gelatin print

 

 

Key pictures

Stills precede the presentation of a film, decisively informing the expectations held by the public at the time of its release. What is important for a movie’s later success (or failure) is presenting visually enticing pictures rather than conveying an authentic picture of the movie. The most famous example in this regard is Sam Shaw’s still showing a scene of Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch (1955). Shaw highlighted the moment in which Marilyn Monroe stands on a subway grating far more pointedly than Wilder in the film, which neither shows the actress’s whole figure nor the dress billowing so clearly above her waist. The production company did its best for the promotion of the scene in the media: launching an elaborate publicity campaign, it fixed a special date for reporters and journalists to capture the sequence themselves. Such key images become characteristic signatures of a film with their dissemination by the media, sometimes inscribing themselves more deeply into the collective memory than the actual film scenes because of their iconic recognition value.

 

Anonymous. Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt and Lil Dagover in 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' 1919

 

Anonymous
Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt and Lil Dagover in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
1919
Director: Robert Wiene
Gelatin silver print
Austrian Theatre Museum

 

Anonymous. Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt and Lil Dagover in 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' 1919 (detail)

 

Anonymous
Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt and Lil Dagover in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (detail)
1919
Director: Robert Wiene
Gelatin silver print
Austrian Theatre Museum

 

 

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (German: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari) is a 1920 German silent horror film, directed by Robert Wiene and written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. Considered the quintessential work of German Expressionist cinema, it tells the story of an insane hypnotist (Werner Krauss) who uses a somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) to commit murders. The film features a dark and twisted visual style, with sharp-pointed forms, oblique and curving lines, structures and landscapes that lean and twist in unusual angles, and shadows and streaks of light painted directly onto the sets…

The film presents themes on brutal and irrational authority; Dr. Caligari represents the German war government, and Cesare is symbolic of the common man conditioned, like soldiers, to kill. In his influential book From Caligari to Hitler, Siegfried Kracauer says the film reflects a subconscious need in German society for a tyrant, and it is an example of Germany’s obedience to authority and unwillingness to rebel against deranged authority. He says the film is a premonition of the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, and says the addition of the frame story turns an otherwise “revolutionary” film into a “conformist” one. Other themes of the film include the destabilised contrast between insanity and sanity, the subjective perception of reality, and the duality of human nature.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari poster (1919)

 

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari poster (1919)

 

Sam Shaw. Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell in 'The Seven Year Itch' 1954

 

Sam Shaw
Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell in The Seven Year Itch
1954
Director: Billy Wilder
Gelatin silver print
© Sam Shaw Inc.- licensed by Shaw Family Archives, Private collection

 

Sam Shaw. Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell in 'The Seven Year Itch' 1954 (detail)

 

Sam Shaw
Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell in The Seven Year Itch (detail)
1954
Director: Billy Wilder
Gelatin silver print
© Sam Shaw Inc.- licensed by Shaw Family Archives, Private collection

 

 

Auteur pictures

The European auteur cinema of the 1950s and 1960s produced films outside the rigid studio system that had been the rule until then. Formal means such as editing and montage were used in an experimental way, and handy cameras made the shooting process more spontaneous. The changes in the production of films went hand in hand with new conditions for still photographers. As the photographers did not belong to the staff of the companies’ promotion departments like their US colleagues, most of their names are known. Whereas Hollywood photographers relied on large-format plate cameras, small-format cameras were used in Europe during the shooting of the film or directly before or after it. This resulted in spontaneous snapshots alongside traditional tableau-like stills. In the wake of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment, the constitutive act lay in the choice of the right moment. Still photographers such as Raymond Cauchetier and Angelo Novi had already tested this approach as photojournalists in reportages and documentaries before they started working on the set.

 

Georges Pierre. Anna Karina in 'Pierrot le fou' 1965

 

Georges Pierre
Anna Karina in Pierrot le fou
1965
Director: Jean Luc Godard
Gelatin silver print
Private collection
© Georges Pierre

 

Poster for La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) 1959

 

Poster for La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) 1959

 

Pierluigi Praturlon. Anita Ekberg as Sylvia in 'La Dolce Vita' (The Sweet Life) 1959

 

Pierluigi Praturlon
Anita Ekberg as Sylvia in La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life)
1959
Director: Federico Fellini
Gelatin silver print
Private Collection

 

 

La Dolce Vita (Italian for “the sweet life” or “the good life”) is a 1960 Italian comedy-drama film directed and co-written by Federico Fellini. The film follows Marcello Rubini, a journalist writing for gossip magazines, over seven days and nights on his journey through the “sweet life” of Rome in a fruitless search for love and happiness. La Dolce Vita won the Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival and the Oscar for Best Costumes, and remains one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time.

Based on the most common interpretation of the storyline, the film can be divided into a prologue, seven major episodes interrupted by an intermezzo, and an epilogue. If the evenings of each episode were joined with the morning of the respective preceding episode together as a day, they would form seven consecutive days, which may not necessarily be the case.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Hans Natge

Born in Berlin, Hans Natge began his career as a theatre photographer. In the 1920s, he turned to still photography. Taking pictures of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s Faust (1926), he came to test a new photographic approach which he called “snapshot photography,” which was to revolutionise the tradition of static and artificial film stills. Using small-format cameras and doing without additional light, Natge photographed during the shooting of the film right next to the cameraman, which permitted him to produce spontaneous and dynamic pictures. As this form of still photography still resulted in blurred pictures and sometimes captured the actors to their disadvantage at that time, Natge also took conventional stills in the case of Faust.

 

Hans Natge Still from the film 'Faust' 1926

 

Hans Natge
Still from the film Faust
1926
Director: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Albertina
Albertinaplatz 1
1010 Vienna, Austria
T: +43 (0)1 534 83-0

Opening hours:
Daily 10 am – 6 pm
Wednesday 10 am – 9 pm

Albertina website

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23
Nov
14

Review: ‘Polixeni Papapetrou: Lost Psyche’ at Stills Gallery, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 29th October – 29th November 2014

 

 

“Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.”

.
Paul Klee. Creative Credo [Schöpferische Konfession] 1920

 

When “facing” adversity, it is a measure of a person’s character how they hold themselves, what face they show to the world, and how their art represents them in that world. So it is with Polixeni Papapetrou. The courage of this artist, her consistency of vision and insightful commentary on life even while life itself is in the balance, are inspiring to all those that know her.

Papapetrou has always created her own language, integrating the temporal dissemination of the historical “case” into a two-dimensional space of simultaneity and tabulation (the various archetypes and ancient characters), into an outline against a ground of Cartesian coordinates.1 In her construction, in her observation and under her act of surveillance, Papapetrou moves towards a well-made description of the states of the body in the tables and classification of the psychological landscape. Her tableaux (the French tableau signifies painting and scene (as in tableau vivant), but also table (as in a table used to organize data)) are a classification and tabulation that is an exact “portrait” of “the” illness, the lost psyche of the title. Her images lay out, in a very visible way, the double makeover: of the outer and inner landscape.

These narratives are above all self-portraits. The idea that image, archetype and artist might somehow be one and the same is a potent idea in Papapetrou’s work. What is “rendered” visible in her art is her own spirit, for these visionary works are nothing less than concise, intimate, focused self-portraits. They speak through the mask of the commedia dell’ arte of a face half turned to the world, half immersed in imaginary worlds. The double skin (as though human soul, the psyche, is erupting from within, forcing a face-off) and triple skin (evidenced in the lack of depth of field of the landscape tableaux) propose an opening up, a revealing of self in which the anatomy (anatemnein: to tear, to open a body, to dissect) of the living is revealed. The images become an autopsy on the living and the dead: “a series of images, that would crystallize and memorize for everyone the whole time of an inquiry and, beyond that, the time of a history.”2

Papapetrou’s images become the “true retina” of seeing, close to a scientific description of a character placed on a two dimensional background (notice how the stylised clouds in The Antiquarian, 2014 match the fur hat trim). In the sense of evidence, the artist’s archetypes proffer a Type that is balanced on the edge of longing, poetry, desire and death, one that the objectivity of photography seeks to fix and stabilise. These images serve the fantasy of a memory: of a masked archetype in a made over landscape captured “exact and sincere” by the apparatus of the camera. A faithful memory of a tableau in which Type is condensed into a unique image: the visage fixed to the regime of representation,3 the universal become singular. This Type is named through the incorporated Text, the Legend: I am Day Dreamer, Immigrant, Merchant, Poet, Storyteller.

But even as these photographs seek to fix the Type, “even as the object of knowledge is photographically detained for observation, fixed to objectivity,”4 the paradox is that this kind of knowledge slips away from itself, because photography is always an uncertain technique, unstable and chaotic, as ever the psyche. In the cutting-up of bodies, cutting-up on stage, a staging aimed at knowledge – the facticity of the masked, obscured, erupting face; the corporeal surface of the body, landscape, photograph – the image makes visible something of the movements of the soul. In these heterotopic images, sites that relate to more stable sites, “but in such a way as to suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror or reflect,”5 Papapetrou’s psyche, “creates the chain of tradition which passes a happening on from generation to generation.”6 In her commedia dell’ arte, an improvised comedy of craft, of artisans (a worker in a skilled trade), the artist fashions the raw material of experience in a unique way.7 We, the audience, intuitively recognise the type of person being represented in the story, through their half masks, their clothing and context and through the skilful dissemination of collective memory and experience.

Through her storytelling Papapetrou moves towards a social and spiritual transformation, one that unhinges the lost psyche. Her landscape narratives are a narrative of a recognisable, challenging, unstable non-linear art, an art practice that embraces “the speculative mystery of ancient roles…  They’re all souls with divided emotions, torn between dream and reality, who like us, converge on the collective stage that is the world.” They are archetype as self-portrait: portraits of a searching, erupting, questioning soul, brave and courageous in a time of peril. And the work is for the children (of the world), for without art and family, extinction.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

Footnotes

1. Adapted from Didi-Huberman, Georges. Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere (trans. Alisa Hartz). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003, p. 24-25. I am indebted to the ideas of Georges Didi-Huberman for his analysis of the ‘facies’ and the experiments of Jean-Martin Charcot on hysteria at the Hôpital Salpêtrière in Paris in the 1880s.
2.
Ibid., p. 48
3. Ibid., p. 49
4. Ibid., p. 59
5. Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces,” in Diacritics Spring 1986, p. 24 quoted in Fisher, Jean. “Witness for the Prosecution: The Writings of Coco Fusco,” in Fusco, Coco. The Bodies That Were Not Ours. London: Routledge, 2001, pp. 226-227
6. Fisher, Ibid., p. 227-228
7. “One can go on and ask oneself whether the relationship of the storyteller to his material, human life, is not in itself a craftsman’s relationship, whether it is not his very task to fashion the raw material of experience, his own and that of others, in a solid, useful, and unique way.”
Benjamin
, Walter. Illuminations (trans. by Harry Zohn; edited by Hannah Arendt). New York: Schocken Books, 1968 (2007), p. 108

 

Many thankx to Polixeni Papapetrou and Stills Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All images copyright of the artist.

 

 

“For her, history indicates a view of culture that is more congruent with mortality, with the biological swell of great things arising and perishing, brilliant and melancholy, august and yet brittle. Without judgement, she reorients history as phenomenology: it contains a bracing dimension of loss which is congruent with that fatal sentiment lodged in our unconscious, that our very being – our psyche – is ultimately lost…

Lost Psyche is always about lost cultural innocence, where culture gets too smart and ends by messing with an earlier equilibrium. Papapetrou identifies these moments not to promote gloom but to recognize all the parallels that make for redemption. Parts of the psyche are undoubtedly lost; but Papapetrou proposes and proves that they can still be poetically contacted.”

.
Robert Nelson 2014

 

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Day Dreamer' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Day Dreamer
2014
Pigment print
100 x 150 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Immigrant' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Immigrant
2014
Pigment print
100 x 150 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Merchant' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Merchant
2014
Pigment print
100 x 150 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Orientalist' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Orientalist
2014
Pigment print
100 x 150 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Poet' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Poet
2014
Pigment print
100 x 150 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Storyteller' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Storyteller
2014
Pigment print
100 x 150 cm

 

 

“In Lost Psyche, Polixeni Papapetrou portrays emblematic figures that have come to the end of their tradition, their rationale, their place in the world. These intriguing and charismatic characters – the poet, the tourist, the immigrant, among others – bring to life antique Victorian paper masks. Yet, despite being cast beyond our immediate reality, their costumes harking back to earlier times, their settings to fantastical places, these archetypal figures live on in the cultural imagination.

Internationally celebrated for an oeuvre that has consistently tested the boundaries of performance and photography, reality and fantasy, childhood and adulthood, Lost Psyche marks a significant return for Papapetrou. Having extensively explored the Australian landscape as a stage for her photographic fictions, and working in response to the natural and historical dramas of our country, this series takes us back into her studio and the expansive scope of imaginary worlds.

Expressive, luscious and knowingly naïve, the painted backdrops bring to mind the simple seduction of children’s storybooks. At the same time, they reference the painting heavyweights and photographic forerunners that are celebrated within art history. Papapetrou’s image The Duchess, for instance, echoes Goya’s commanding oil painting of the Duchess of Alba (1797). Yet, in this newly imagined version, the ‘role’ of Duchess is playfully acted not endured, and like the melodrama of theatre, the dark sky and downcast actor are softened to become illustrative and symbolic – a scene in a universal story. So too, The Orientalist evokes Felix Beato’s 19th Century photographic forays in Japan, recalling his hand-colouring techniques and depictions of social ‘types’.

Consciously foregrounding this ever-present potential for art to present stereotyped representations, Papapetrou reminds us how these social roles and ‘masks’ play out within our souls and psyche’s just as they do on the cultural stage. As a metaphor for the loss of childhood, a time in which we openly switch between characters, identities and roles, this work evokes the persistence of that imagination, as it lives on within the adult world.

In Lost Psyche, the speculative mystery of ancient roles enjoys a fantastical and touching afterlife. In the contemporary world we may also entertain the inner poet, the storyteller, the clown, the connoisseur, the courtesan, the day dreamer or the dispossessed. They’re all souls with divided emotions, torn between dream and reality, who like us, converge on the collective stage that is the world.

Polixeni Papapetrou is an internationally acclaimed artist. Her works feature in significant curated exhibitions, including recently the 13th Dong Gang International Photo Festival, Korea, the TarraWarra Biennale, VIC, Remain in Light, Museum of Contemporary Art, and Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria. She exhibits worldwide, including in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Seoul, Athens and Berlin. Recent solo exhibitions include Under My Skin, Northern Centre for Contemporary Art, 2014, Between Worlds in Fotogràfica Bogotá, 2013, and A Performative Paradox, Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2013. Her work is held in numerous institutional collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Monash Gallery of Art, Artbank, Fotomuseo, Colombia, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Florida, USA.”

Press release from Stills Gallery

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Antiquarian' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Antiquarian
2014
Pigment print
150 x 100 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Duchess' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Duchess
2014
Pigment print
150 x 100 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Summer Clown' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Summer Clown
2014
Pigment print
150 x 100 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Troubadour' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Troubadour
2014
Pigment print
150 x 100 cm

 

 

Stills Gallery
36 Gosbell Street
Paddington NSW 2021
Australia
T: 61 2 9331 7775

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 11.00 am – 6.00 pm

Stills Gallery website

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08
Sep
14

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

Exhibition dates: 6th June – 4th September 2014

 

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #93' 1981

 

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

 

Cindy Sherman. Untitled #122 1983

 

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

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #129' 1983

 

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

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #146' 1985

 

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

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #153' 1985

 

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

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #170' 1987

 

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

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #216' 1989

 

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

 

 

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

THE THREATENING HEART OF UNTITLED HORRORS

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

110 WORKS IN TOTAL

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

Text from the Kunsthaus Zürich website

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #235' 1987-1991

 

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

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #304' 1994

 

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

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #324' 1996

 

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

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #348' 1999

 

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

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #352' 2000

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #420' 2004

 

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

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #458' 2007-2008

 

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

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #544' 2010 / 2012

 

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

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #549-C' 2010

 

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

 

 

Kunsthaus Zürich
Heimplatz 1
CH–8001 Zurich

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

Kunsthaus Zürich website

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04
Feb
14

Exhibition: ‘The Weak Sex – How Art Pictures the New Male’ at Kunstmuseum Bern

Exhibition dates: 18th October 2013 – 9th February 2014

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The Cult of Muscularity

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“… muscularity is a key term in appraising men’s bodies … this comes from men themselves. Muscularity is the sign of power – natural, achieved, phallic.”

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Richard Dyer. Only Entertainment. London: Routledge, 1992, p.114

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“The formation of ‘The Cult of Muscularity’ (Elliott Gorn. The Manly Art. London: Robson Books, 1986) in the last decade of the 19th century was a reaction to the perceived effeminisation of heterosexual masculinity. The position of the active, heroic hetero-male was under attack from the passivity of industrialisation, from the expansion of women’s rights and their ability to become breadwinners, and through the naming of deviant sexualities that were seen as a threat to the stability of society. By naming deviant sexualities they became visible to the general public for the first time, creating apprehension in the minds of men gazing upon the bodies of other men lest they be thought of as ‘pansies’. (Remember that it was in this decade the trials of Oscar Wilde had taken place in England after he was accused of being a sodomite by The Marquis of Queensbury. It is perhaps no coincidence that the rules that governed boxing, a very masculine sport in which a man could become a popular hero, were named after his accuser. By all accounts he was a brute of a man who despised and beat his son Lord Alfred Douglas and sought revenge on his partner, Oscar Wilde, for their sexual adventures). Muscles became the sign of heterosexual power, prowess, and virility. A man had control over his body and his physical world. His appearance affected how he interacted with this world, how he saw himself, and was seen by others, and how closely he matched the male physical ‘ideal’ impacted on his own levels of self-esteem. The gymnasium became a meeting point for exercise, for health, for male bonding, and to show off your undoubted ‘masculinity’…”

The development of ‘The Cult of Muscularity’ may also have parallels in other social environments which were evolving at the turn of the century. For example, I think that the construction of the muscular mesomorphic body can be linked to the appearance of the first skyscrapers in cities in the United States of America. Skyscrapers were a way increasing visibility and surface area within the limited space of a crowded city. One of the benefits of owning a skyscraper like the Chrysler Building in New York, with its increased surface area, was that it got the company noticed. The same can be said of the muscular body. Living and interacting in the city, the body itself is inscribed by social interaction with its environment, its systems of regulation and its memories and historicities (his-tor-i-city, ‘tor’ being a large hill or formation of rocks). Like a skyscraper, the muscular body has more surface area, is more visible, attracts more attention to its owner and is more admired. The owner of this body is desired because of his external appearance which may give him a feeling of superiority and power over others. However this body image may also lead to low self-esteem and heightened body dissatisfaction in the owner (causing anxiety and insecurity in his identity) as he constantly strives to maintain and enhance his body to fulfil expectations he has of himself.

Of course, body image is never a static concept for the power of muscular images of the male body resides in their perceived value as a commodity. This value is reinforced through social and moral values, through fluid personal interactions, and through the desire of self and others for a particular type of body image; it is a hierarchical system of valuation. It relies on what type of body is seen as socially desirable and ‘beautiful’ in a collective sense, even though physical attractiveness is very much a personal choice.”

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Dr Marcus Bunyan. Excerpt from “Bench Press,” in Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male, PhD thesis, RMIT Univesity, Melbourne, 2001.

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

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

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Alexis Hunter. 'Approach to Fear: XVII: Masculinisation of Society - exorcise' 1977

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Alexis Hunter (born Epsom, New Zealand, 1948)
Approach to Fear: XVII: Masculinisation of Society – exorcise
1977
10 Color photographs, mounted on two panels, both 25 x 101 cm
Courtesy of Richard Saltoun Gallery
© 2013 ProLitteris, Zürich
(From the section Experiments)

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Ugo Rondinone. 'I Don't Live Here Anymore' 1998

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Ugo Rondinone (born Brunnen, Switzerland, 1962)
I Don’t Live Here Anymore
1998
C-prints between Alucobond and Plexiglas
Each 180 × 125 cm
Kunstmuseum Bern, purchased with the donation of an Art Lover
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Digitally manipulates photos of women depicted in various suggestive poses, replacing their features with his own in a sufficiently consistent way for the image to retain its erotic content. By slipping into different bodies, he tests his own body and appearance, and he raises the issue of reality. The artist can only offer his own, man-made version.

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Lynda Benglis. 'Artforum Advertisement in: Artforum, November 1974, Vol. 13, No. 3, S. 3-4' 1974

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Lynda Benglis (born Lake Charles, Louisiana, USA, 1941)
Artforum Advertisement in: Artforum, November 1974, Vol. 13, No. 3, S. 3-4
1974
26.7 × 26.5 × 0.5 cm
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München
(From the section Experiments)

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Peter Land. 'Peter Land d. 5. maj 1994' 1994

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Peter Land (born Aarhus, Denmark, 1966)
Peter Land d. 5. maj 1994
1994
Colour video
Time, 25 Min.
Courtesy Galleri Nicolai Wallner
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Ursula Palla. 'balance' 2012

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Ursula Palla (born Chur, Switzerland, 1961)
balance
2012
Colour video installation
Time, 8 Min.
Courtesy the artist
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Masculinity under scrutiny

“This themed group exhibition is our contribution to the discussion on new role definitions of the male gender, a topic that has long been on the agenda of academia and popular culture. Works by artists of both sexes will address the issue of how contemporary art stages male role models and masculinity, critically scrutinizing the content of the same.

Who or what makes a man? How do men define themselves in art since feminism; how do they reflect on their gender and the portrayal thereof? Whereas the preferred angle of engaging with female artists is still today via “gender”, this is still a novel angle for looking at male artists. And as feminist art has finally become an established entity in major institutions, it is time to take a closer look at the art produced by men about men. The Sexual Revolution as well as the feminist and gay movements did not have only one side to them: they likewise impacted the roles of men and transformed images of masculinity. The exhibition therefore explores how contemporary Western artists of both sexes have, since the 1960s, invented new notions of masculinity or shattered existing ones. It does this with some 45 installations, some of which are large and extensive.

With this exhibition, the Kunstmuseum Bern is addressing a topic that, until now, has hardly been tackled in a museum context: the “normal” white heterosexual male, hitherto the ultimate measure for everything we consider characteristically human, is now facing a crisis. The exhibition and catalogue draw on the reflections and insights gained from masculinities studies to throw light on the consequences of the contemporary male crisis and how it is reflected in art, making the extent of the crisis visually palpable.

The works selected for the show have been divided up into six sections. These sections explore what “normal” might be and what the new nuances inherent in being “male” are today. The prescribed tour of the exhibition begins with the chapter on “Strong Weaknesses” and then proceeds through the sections focusing thematically on “Experiments”, “Emotions”, “Eroticism”, “Critique and Crisis”, and “Masculinity as Masquerade”. This route follows, at the same time, a roughly chronological order. The show is accompanied by a rich fund of educational programs with tours of the exhibition, discussions of artworks with invited guests, as well as a film program in collaboration with the cinema Kino Kunstmuseum, and not least, workshops for schools.

Participating artists: Vito Acconci / Bas Jan Ader / Luc Andrié / Lynda Benglis / Luciano Castelli / Martin Disler / VALIE EXPORT and Peter Weibel / Gelitin / Pascal Häusermann / Alexis Hunter / Cathy Joritz / Jesper Just / Jürgen Klauke / Frantiček Klossner / Elke Silvia Krystufek / Marie-Jo Lafontaine / Peter Land / Littlewhitehead / Sarah Lucas / Urs Lüthi / Manon / Paul McCarthy / Tracey Moffatt / Josef Felix Müller / Ursula Palla / Adrian Piper / Anne-Julie Raccoursier / Ugo Rondinone / Carole Roussopoulos / Rico Scagliola and Michael Meier / Sylvia Sleigh / Nedko Solakov / Megan Francis Sullivan / Sam Taylor-Johnson / Costa Vece / William Wegman / Silvie Zürcher.

Text from the Kunstmuseum Bern website

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Tracey Moffat. 'Heaven' (still) 1997

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Tracey Moffat. 'Heaven' (still) 1997

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Tracey Moffat. 'Heaven' (still) 1997

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Tracey Moffat (born Brisbane, Australia, 1960)
Heaven (3 stills)
1997
Colour video
Time, 28 Min.
© 2013 ProLitteris, Zürich
(From the section Eroticism)

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Male to the Hilt: Images of Men

“The exhibition The Weak Sex – How Art Pictures the New Male zeroes in on the evolution of male identity since the 1960s. On view are works by 40 artists regardless of gender who question masculinity and stage it anew. The Kunstmuseum Bern seeks to foster dialogue in the exhibition and is therefore increasing its focus on social media. For the first time our visitors can respond to issues raised by an exhibition immediately on location…

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The whole spectrum of art media and male images

The exhibition is presenting works that cover the entire range of media used by artists, including paintings, drawings, photographs, films, videos, sculptures and performance-installations. Artists of all ages are represented in the exhibition, enabling it to highlight images of men in all age groups. Each of the artworks questions social norms, who or what a man is, while orchestrating masculinity in novel ways and reflecting on what it means to be a “man”. The artworks in the show take up the theme of masculinity or male emotions – as discussed in society in general or as openly demonstrated by men today: as weeping sport heroes, the disadvantaged position of divorced fathers, overstrained top managers or criminal youths.

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Of strong weaknesses, eroticism and the male in crisis

The exhibition is divided into six sections that explore key aspects of masculinity studies and thus simultaneously follow a loose art-historical chronological thread. The introductory section takes up the theme of “Strong Weaknesses” with representations of men weeping or expressing fear. The second section “Experiments” scrutinizes the exciting events that took place in conjunction with the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The section “Emotions” presents male emotionality in intensely stirring artistic orchestrations. The section “Eroticism” take us through a selection of artworks that investigate men as objects of desire. The last two sections of the exhibition “Crisis and Critique” and “Masculinity as Masquerade” investigate traditional male images and give us an account of the potential of new gender orientations.”

Press release from the Kunstmuseum Bern website

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Bas Jan Ader. 'I'm Too Sad to Tell You' 1970/71

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Bas Jan Ader (born Winschoten, Netherlands, 1942, died 1975 presumably on the high seas. Lived in California, USA, as of 1963)
I’m Too Sad to Tell You
1970/71
16mm, s/w
Time, 3:34 Min.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
(From the section Strong Weaknesses)

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Sylvia Sleigh. 'Paul Rosano in Jacobson Chair' 1971

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Sylvia Sleigh (born Llandudno, Wales, Great Britain, 1916; died New York, USA, 2010)
Paul Rosano in Jacobson Chair
1971
Oil on canvas
131 x 142 cm
Courtesy The Estate of Sylvia Sleigh & Freymond-Guth Fine Arts Zürich
(From the section Eroticism)

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Peter Weibel with Valie EXPORT. 'Peter Weibel Aus der Mappe der Hundigkeit' (Peter Weibel From the Underdog File) 1969

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Peter Weibel with Valie EXPORT
Peter Weibel Aus der Mappe der Hundigkeit (Peter Weibel From the Underdog File)
1969
Documentation of the action
5 s/w photographs, 40.4 x 50 cm / 50 x 40.4 cm
Sammlung Generali Foundation
Wien Foto: Josef Tandl
© Generali Foundation © 2013 ProLitteris, Zürich
(From the section Experiments)

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Gelitin. 'Ständerfotos - Nudes' (Standing Photos - Nudes) 2000

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Gelitin
Ständerfotos – Nudes (Standing Photos – Nudes)
2000
Series of 15 Lambda prints
Various dimensions
(From the section Eroticism)

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Gelitin. 'Ständerfotos - Nudes' (Standing Photos - Nudes) 2000

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Gelitin
Ständerfotos – Nudes (Standing Photos – Nudes)
2000
Series of 15 Lambda prints
Various dimensions
(From the section Eroticism)

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Austrian artists’ collective with Wolfgang Gantner, Ali Janka, Florian Reither, and Tobias Urban. Apparently became acquainted at a summer camp in 1978. Changed their name from Gelatin to Gelitin in 2005.

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“Those who lived through their childhood and youth as members of the baby-boomer generation in the period of the late nineteen-fifties to the mid-seventies, as we did, received a clear view of the world along the way. It was the Cold War. There were precise dividing lines, and it was possible to completely separate good and evil, right and wrong, from one other. The division of roles between men and women was regulated in a way that was just as self-evident. For many children of this time, it was natural that the father earned the money while the mother was at home around the clock and, depending on her social position, went shopping and took careof the laundry herself, or left the housework to employees in order to be able to dedicate herself to “nobler” tasks such as, for instance, beauty care. Family and social duties were clearly distributed between husband and wife: the “strong” sex was responsible for the material basics of existence and for the social identity of the family. The “weak” or also fair sex, in contrast, was responsible for the “soft” factors inside: children, housekeeping, and the beautification of the home. The year 1968 did away with bourgeois concepts of life. Feminism and emancipation anchored the equality of men and women in law. And since the nineteen-sixties, art has also dealt intensively and combatively with feminism and gender questions.

Since VALIE EXPORT walked her partner Peter Weibel on a leash like a dog in their public action that unsettled the public in 1968, legions of creators of art, primarily of the female sex, have questioned the correlations between the genders and undertaken radical reassessments. The formerly “strong” gender has thus long since become a “weak” one. Nevertheless, the exhibition The Weak Sex: How Art Pictures the New Male is not dedicated first and foremost to the battlefield of the genders. Nor is the gender question, which has so frequently been dealt with, posited in the foreground. The Weak Sex is instead dedicated to man as object of research. In what state does he find himself now that his classical role has been invalidated? How does he behave after the shift from representative external appearance to work within the family unit? And where does he stand in the meantime in the midstof so many strong women? What has become of the proud and self-assured man who once signed the school report cards with praise or reproach as head of the family? What has become of the XY species since then is presented – insightfully, sarcastically, and wittily – in the exhibition by Kathleen Bühler.”

Part of the Preface to the exhibition by Matthias Frehner, Director of the Kunstmuseum Bern and Klaus Vogel, Director of the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden

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Sam Taylor-Johnson. 'Steve Buscemi' 2004

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Sam Taylor-Johnson (born London (UK), 1967)
Steve Buscemi
2004
From the series: Crying Men, 2002-2004
C-Print
99.2 x 99.2 cm framed
Courtesy White Cube
© Sam Taylor-Johnson
(From the section Strong Weaknesses)

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Sam Taylor-Johnson. 'Gabriel Byrne' 2002

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Sam Taylor-Johnson (born London (UK), 1967)
Gabriel Byrne
2002
From the series: Crying Men, 2002-2004
C-Print
86.2 x 86.2 cm framed
Courtesy White Cube
© Sam Taylor-Johnson
(From the section Strong Weaknesses)

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Costa Vece. 'Me as a Revolutionary, Dictator, Guerilla, Freedom Fighter, Terrorist, Jesus Christ' 2007

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Costa Vece (born Herisau, Switzerland, 1969)
Me as a Revolutionary, Dictator, Guerilla, Freedom Fighter, Terrorist, Jesus Christ
2007
Ultrachrome – Digitalprint
106 × 80 cm
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Ugo Rondinone. 'I Don't Live Here Anymore' 1998

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Ugo Rondinone (born Brunnen, Switzerland, 1962)
I Don’t Live Here Anymore
1998
C-print between Alucobond and Plexiglas
180 × 125 cm
Kunstmuseum Bern, purchased with the donation of an Art Lover
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Rico-Scagliola-&-Michael-Meier-Nude-Leaves-and-Harp-WEB

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Rico Scagliola & Michael Meier (born Zurich, Switzerland, 1985; born Chur, Switzerland, 1982)
Nude, Leaves and Harp
2012
Floor Installation, HD Digital Print on Novilux traffic, dimensions variable
Ed. 1/5

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Jürgen Klauke. 'Rot' 1974

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Jürgen Klauke (born Kliding, Germany, 1943)
Rot
1974
Series of 7 photographs
Each 40 × 30 cm
Kunstmuseum Bern
(From the section Experiments)

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Stronger and Weaker Sexes: Remarks on the Exhibition

Kathleen Bühler Curator Kunstmuseum Bern

In 1908, the Genevan politician and essayist William Vogt wrote the book Sexe faible (The Weak Sex), in which he examines the “natural” weaknesses and inabilities of the female gender. Intended as a “response to absurd exaggerations and feminist utopias,”1 since then the catchy title has shaped the battle of the sexes as a dictum. Like Otto Weininger’s misogynistic study Geschlecht und Charakter (Sex and Character, 1903), Sexe faible is one of the texts from the turn of the previous century that justified the legal, political, and social subordination of women based on their anatomical and, according to the opinion of the author, thus also intellectual inferiority in comparison with men.2 The perception of women as the “weak sex” persisted tenaciously. It is first in recent years that this ascription has slowly been shifted to men, as for instance in the report by neurobiologist Gerald Huther called Das schwache Geschlecht und sein Gehirn (The Weak Sex and His Brain) published in 2009.

Polemics has long since yielded to statistics, and the most recent biological discoveries are gaining currency, such as the fact that male babies are already at risk in the womb because they lack a second X chromosome.3 This genetic “weakness” would apparently lead seamlessly to a social weakness, since males more frequently have problems in school, turn criminal, and die earlier.4 In addition to the findings on biologically based weaknesses also comes the social, economic, and political challenge, which has for some years been discussed as a “crisis of masculinity.” With this metaphor, “an attempt is made to apprehend all the changes that contribute to the fact that the dominance of the male gender, which was formerly consolidated to a large extent, … has lost the obviousness of being self-evident.”5 Nothing therefore demonstrates the transience of gender stereotypes more clearly, and one might rightly ask whether the earlier “weaknesses” might long since have come to be considered new “strengths.” The exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Bern takes up the thread that was already spun by the small but noteworthy exhibition in Switzerland Helden Heute (Heroes Today) in 2005.6 At that time, the focus was put on hero images in contemporary art and on society’s current need for strong men in art and politics.7 The current exhibition in Bern, in contrast, argues quite differently that specifically images of “weak” men best represent the social and cultural liberation movements of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The fact that men today are allowed to express their feelings publicly, as is shown for instance by the example of the exceptional Swiss athlete Roger Federer, or that they are staged by female artists as object of desire and no longer as subject of desire is a crucial innovation in the visualization of gender identities. After various exhibitions in recent years were dedicated to gender relations, gender imprinting, or the social latitude in performative stagings of gender,8 the exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Bern focuses exclusively on men in contemporary art for the first time.9 It brings together the points of view of male and female artists who deal either with their own experiences with men and/or being a man, or with an examination of the images of men that are available. This exhibition has been long overdue.

Nonetheless, what first needs to be overcome is the perception that “gender” themes are a woman’s matter and that only marginalized positions have addressed their social gender. Hegemonic male types – thus men who, according to general opinion, embody the dominant masculine ideal most convincingly – have only been reflected in public through media for a relatively short time, even though the male gender is also a sociocultural construct, just like that of women, transgender, or inter-gender individuals.10 What comes to be expressed here is the invisibility of norms. As is generally known, it is those social groups that hold the most power that actually expose their own status the least. In Western cultural tradition, these are physically sound, white heterosexual men.11 They remain the norm unchallenged as a “blind spot” without their position of power and their power to make decisions ever becoming a focus. The masculine-heterosexual dominance succeeds in “remaining out of the question itself,” as the art historian Irit Rogoff has criticized, by subordinating all representations of the “other” to their own norm, including women, individuals with a different sexual orientation, and non-whites.12

The fact that male bodies are becoming visible today in the most unexpected places is demonstrated in a striking way by the work Nude, Leaves and Harp (2012) by Rico Scagliola and Michael Meier, which graces the entrance area to the exhibition in Bern. The artist duo incorporated detailed images of their naked, sculpted bodies into a palm and marble decor on the floor. The path to the exhibition literally leads over their nakedness. Two exhibitions in Austria were also recently dedicated to this new presence of the naked man,13 with numerous works documenting “the deconstruction of hegemonic models of masculinity – the look of desire at the male body as well as body cult and exploitation,” which is also a focus of the exhibition in Bern.14 However, while those responsible in Linz and Vienna assumed a distanced, art-historical perspective by taking an iconographic approach based on the selection of motifs or a chronological approach according to epoch, the exhibition in Bern favors a different perspective. It focuses on representations of masculinity in art since the nineteen-sixties while simultaneously taking the historical conditions of being a man into consideration by utilizing central issues in masculinity research as a guide. What thus results is a logical division of the exhibition and this publication into six chapters.

The introductory chapter “Strong Weaknesses” revolves around the change in gender virtues and considers this based on the example of the weeping and fearful man. The chapter “Experiments” presents eccentric artistic stagings and sociocritical actions that were influenced by the sexual revolution. The chapter “Emotions” highlights the point in time at which men themselves increasingly cast aside the image of the successful and unflinching hero and explore men’s emotionality through doing so. The chapter “Eroticism” describes the change in gaze and position from the male subject to object of desire. The final two chapters “Crisis and Criticism” and “Masculinity as Masquerade,” in contrast, are dedicated to a younger generation of artists who deal out criticism of their “fathers” and also discover the arsenal of gender stagings and their utopian potential anew.”

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Footnotes

1 Une riposte aux exagérations, aux absurdités et aux utopies du féminisme is the subtitle.

2 Otto Weininger, Geschlecht und Charakter, 19th ed. (Leipzig and Vienna, 1920), p. 390. Both Weininger’s book and Vogt’s pamphlet, which saw signs of cultural decay in the women’s movement, are considered to be expressions of a growing antifeminism. The often-used term “weak sex” then also provided the title of a theater piece by Edouard Bourdet in 1929, which was even filmed in 1933.

3 “Männer – Das schwache Geschlecht und sein Gehirn: Peter Schipek im Gespräch mit Prof. Dr. Gerald Hüther,”
http://www.sinn-stiftung.eu/downloads/interview_maenner_das-schwache-geschlecht.pdf, p. 2 (accessed July 2013).

4 Carmen Sadowski, “Der Mann: das schwache Geschlecht,” Express.de,
http://www.express.de/living/studien-belegen-der-mann—das-schwache-geschlecht,2484,1190404.html (accessed July 14, 2013).

5 Michael Meuser and Sylka Scholz, “Krise oder Strukturwandel hegemonialer Männlichkeit?,” in In der Krise? Männlichkeiten im 21. Jahrhundert, ed. Mechthild Bereswill and Anke Neuber (Münster, 2011), p. 56. See also the text by Michael Meuser in this book.

6 Helden Heute: Das Heldenbild in der zeitgenössischen Kunst, Centre Pasquart, Biel, 2005.

7 Sociologists interpret this as a sign of need in times of social upheaval. See Dolores Denaro, in Helden Heute: Das Heldenbild in der zeitgenössischen Kunst, ed. Dolores Denaro, exh. cat. Centre Pasquart (Biel, 2005), p. 20.

8 Oh boy! It’s a Girl, Kunstverein München, 1994; Féminin – Masculin, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1995; Rosa für Jungs: Hellblau für Mädchen, Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, Berlin, 1999; Das achte Feld, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 2006; to name but a few.

9 To date, this has occurred only in smaller exhibition spaces, above all during the nineteen-eighties and nineties, and has remained practically undocumented. An exception in this respect was the exhibition Women’s Images of Men (1984) at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, organized by Joyce Agee, Catherine Elwes, Jacqueline Morreau, and Pat Whiteread.

10 Inge Stephan, “Im toten Winkel: Die Neuentdeckung des ‘ersten Geschlechts’ durch men’s studies und Männlichkeitsforschung,” in Männlichkeit als Maskerade: Kulturelle Inszenierungen vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart, ed. Claudia Benthien and Inge Stephan (Cologne et al., 2003), p. 13.

11 Richard Dyer, “Introduction,” in The Matter of Images: Essays on Representation, ed. Richard Dyer (London and New York, 1993), p. 4.

12 Irit Rogoff, “Er selbst: Konfigurationen von Männlichkeit und Autorität in der Deutschen Moderne,” in Blick-Wechsel: Konstruktionen von Männlichkeit und Weiblichkeit in Kunst und Kunstge-schichte, ed. Ines Lindner et al. (Berlin, 1989), p. 141.

13 Nude Men, Leopold Museum, Vienna, 2012-13; The Naked Man, Lentos Museum, Linz, 2012-13.

14 Barnabàs Bencsik and Stella Rollig, “Vorwort,” in Der nackte Mann: Texte, exh. cat. Lentos Kun-stmuseum Linz and Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art (Budapest, 2012), p. 7.

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Urs Lüthi. 'Lüthi weint auch für Sie' (Lüthi also cries for you) 1970

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Urs Lüthi (born Kriens, Switzerland, 1947)
Lüthi weint auch für Sie (Lüthi also cries for you)
1970
Offset printing on paper
85,5 x 58,6 cm
Ed. 15/100
Kunstmuseum Bern Sammlung Toni Gerber (Schenkung 1983)
© Urs Lüthi
(From the section Experiments)

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Luciano Castelli. 'Lucille, Straps Attractive' 1973

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Luciano Castelli (born Lucerne, Switzerland, 1951)
Lucille, Straps Attractive
1973
Collage on cardboard
100 x 70 cm
Kunstmuseum St. Gallen
© 2013 ProLitteris, Zürich
(From the section Experiments)

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littlewhitehead. 'The Overman' 2012

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littlewhitehead (Craig Little, born Glasgow (UK), 1980. Blake Whitehead, born Lanark (UK), 1985)
The Overman
2012
Mannequin, towels, Boxing Glove, wooden base
120 x 120 x 120cm
Saatchi Collection, London Courtesy of the artist/Sumarria Lunn Gallery/Saatchi Collection
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Pascal Häusermann. 'Megalomania, No. 8' 2009

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Pascal Häusermann (born Chur, Switzerland, 1973)
Megalomania, No. 8
2009
Monotype, oil paint, shellac
43 x 29 cm
Private Collection, Courtesy the artist
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Sarah Lucas. 'Self Portrait with Knickers' 1999

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Sarah Lucas (born London (GB), 1962)
Self Portrait with Knickers
1999
From Self Portraits 1990-1999
1999
Iris print on watercolour paper
80 x 60 cm
© Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Sarah Lucas. 'Self Portrait With Skull' 1996

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Sarah Lucas (born London (GB), 1962)
Self Portrait With Skull
1996
From Self Portraits 1990-1999
1999
Iris print on watercolour paper
80 x 60 cm
© Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Sarah Lucas. 'Smoking' 1998

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Sarah Lucas (born London (GB), 1962)
Smoking
1998
From Self Portraits 1990-1999
1999
Iris print on watercolour paper
80 x 60 cm
© Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Silvie Zürcher. 'Blue Shorts' 2005/6

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Silvie Zürcher (born Zurich, Switzerland, 1977)
Blue Shorts
2005/6
From the series I Wanna Be a Son
Collage
31.5 x 24.4 cm
Courtesy Silvie Zürcher
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Kunstmuseum Bern
Hodlerstrasse 12
3000 Bern 7
T: +41 31 328 09 44
E: info@kunstmuseumbern.ch

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 10h – 21h
Wednesday to Sunday: 10h – 17h
Mondays: closed

Kunstmuseum Bern website

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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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16
Jul
13

Review: ‘Anne Ferran: Box of Birds’ at Stills Gallery, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 26th June – 27th July 2013

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tar·ant·ism [tar-uhn-tiz-uhm]
noun
a mania characterized by an uncontrollable impulse to dance, especially as prevalent in southern Italy from the 15th to the 17th century, popularly attributed to the bite of the tarantula.

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I have never been a great fan of Anne Ferran’s exhumations. Her digging into the ground of history and restoring, reviving (after neglect or a period of forgetting) traces of life and bringing them into light (through photography) – bringing them back to light – has resulted in images that are paradoxically pretty, lifeless. For example, photographs of patches of grass in Lost to Worlds (2008) are given great import as contemporary evidence of the site of a female convict prison, near the small village of Ross, Tasmania as Ferran, “continues to play with the invisibility of this specific history, using large-scale photographs to show what little remains today, and to collectively reflect on the difficulty of grasping a ruined and fragmented past.”

And… so… what else?

These photographs really mean very little, another example of an artist picking at the scab of history to what end, what purpose, other than to dig up deleted histories that are past their use by date. Move on, move on, nothing to see here!

And there is literally nothing to see, except patches of grass that are given import by the contextualisation of the artist, the “look at this, I think it is important because I have seen it, because I have researched it, because I am an artist, because I am aware” – when the interrogation actually means very little. It is like the prevalence of contemporary photographs of empty, abandoned spaces – abandoned petrol stations, hospitals, insane asylums – that are supposed to impart great poetry and narrative to the spaces. Ruin porn as Dan Rule termed it recently.

Thankfully, these latest photographs are of a different taxonomic order – they are vital, alive, full of swirling tarantism that beautifully expresses the trapped energy that Ferran saw in a 1940s photographic archive of 38 unidentified women who were patients of a Sydney psychiatric hospital. In their formalist abstraction the artist has perfectly captured the unquiet spirit of the women and – here is the crux of the matter for me – these photographs allow me to go further into the subject, they take me to a different place and don’t just leave me on the surface of the image/history. They speak to me, they n/trance in multiple ways like little of Ferran’s work has done before for I feel this work, this hidden narrative, in the artist’s performative shaping of reality. Suddenly these women, trapped in a space (of the photograph, of the archive) and place (of the hospital), can spread their wings and anonymously shake their feathers (their spirit) with declamatory enthusiasm. As an artist friend of mine Julie Clarke observed, “I was captured by the amount of folds in the fabric Ferran has used. Her emphasis on ‘felt’ as felt emotion and the feeling associated with those almost absent bodies is intriguing.” And how that felt emotion relates to the work of Joseph Beuys and his use of felt as insulation, warmth and a kind of comfort, here represented in institutional form (I am reminded by the markings on the felt of the arrows of prison garments).

As the text for the exhibition states, “This new series marks a significant shift in approach, as Ferran harnesses photography and performance in an endeavour to manifest the archive’s continuing power in the present. Ferran’s performers conceal their identities behind lengths and swathes of painted felt, in some cases creating strange and outlandish figures in a disorder of material, bodies and space.”

It is a welcome shift in approach. Ferran’s mental, material dis/order produces significantly more memorable images than what has “passed” before, imaging as they do a conflation of past, present and future rather than relying on the death of the historical archive evidenced in the deathly photograph.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Stills Gallery 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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Anne Ferran. 'Agitated thrush' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Agitated thrush
2013
from Box of Birds series
Pigment print
72 x 48 cm
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Clamorous shrike' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Clamorous shrike
2013
from Box of Birds series
Pigment print
72 x 48 cm
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Conspicuous kite' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Conspicuous kite
2013
from Box of Birds series
Pigment print
72 x 48 cm
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Night whistler' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Night whistler
2013
from Box of Birds series
Pigment print
72 x 48 cm
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Pale-headed flycatcher' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Pale-headed flycatcher
2013
from Box of Birds series
Pigment print
72 x 48 cm
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Slender-throated warbler' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Slender-throated warbler
2013
from Box of Birds series
Pigment print
72 x 48 cm
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Stonebird' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Stonebird
2013
from Box of Birds series
Pigment print
72 x 48 cm
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Tricoloured sylph' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Tricoloured sylph
2013
from Box of Birds series
Pigment print
72 x 48 cm
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Feathered Emissary' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Feathered Emissary
2013
from Box of Birds series
Pigment print
60 x 80 cm
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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“Over the past 20 years Anne Ferran has worked with the residues of Australia and New Zealand’s colonial histories, probing them for gaps and silences. She has been especially drawn to the lives of anonymous women and children, seeking to shed light on their presence, and absence, in museum collections, photographic archives and historic sites. It is characteristic of Ferran’s images that the subject is not what is seen but rather what haunts it, something only partially visible. Intellectually and emotionally engaging, her photographs have explored episodes of incarceration in prisons, asylums, hospitals and nurseries, giving voice to the spectres of the lost and unseen.

Box of Birds returns to the subject matter of her previous works INSULA and 1-38: 1940s photographs of 38 unidentified women who were patients of a Sydney psychiatric hospital. In a significant shift of approach, rather than exhuming traces of the past, Ferran harnesses photography and performance in an endeavour to manifest its continuing power in the present.

Ferran’s process alternated between the considered and the uncontrollable. Female performers were instructed to hold pieces of felt up to her camera, the 38 lengths of dyed and painted fabric recalling the crumpled clothes worn by the women in the original photographic archive. Other images were wholly improvised, the performers creating strange and outlandish figures out of a disorder of material, bodies and space.

In a deliberate departure from the 1940s archive, Ferran’s performers conceal their identities behind lengths and swathes of fabric, raising ethical questions about photography’s role in recognition, representation and expression.

All the work in Box of Birds aims to elicit the energy Ferran saw trapped in those 1940s photographs, their unquiet spirit.”

Press release from the Stills Gallery website

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Anne Ferran. 'Chorus No.1' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Chorus No.1
2013
from Box of Birds series
38 Pigment prints
60 x 42 cm each
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Chorus No.2' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Chorus No.2
2013
from Box of Birds series
38 Pigment prints
60 x 42 cm each
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Chorus No.3' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Chorus No.3
2013
from Box of Birds series
38 Pigment prints
60 x 42 cm each
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Chorus No.4' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Chorus No.4
2013
from Box of Birds series
38 Pigment prints
60 x 42 cm each
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Chorus No.5' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Chorus No.5
2013
from Box of Birds series
38 Pigment prints
60 x 42 cm each
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Stills Gallery
36 Gosbell Street
Paddington NSW 2021
Australia
T: 61 2 9331 7775

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 11.00 am – 6.00 pm

Stills Gallery website

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17
Jun
13

Review: ‘Johsel Namkung: A Retrospective’ published by Cosgrove Editions, 2013

Published by Cosgrove Editions, Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective is a collection of one hundred exquisite images selected from a remarkable career in photography spanning six decades.

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“I like to give my viewers questions, not answers. Let them find beauty in the most mundane things, like roadside wildflowers and tumbled weeds.”

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Johsel Namkung

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“When we can find the abstract in nature we find the deepest art.”

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Mark Tobey

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“Photographs give us information; it seems that they give us information that is very packaged and they give us the information that we are already prepared to recognize obviously. It’s as if the words don’t have the weight they should have, so that one of the statements being made by any photograph is: “This really exists.” The photograph is a kind of job for the imagination to do something that we should have been able to do if we were not so disturbed by so many different kinds of information that are not really absorbed. Photographs have this authority of being testimony, but almost as if you have some direct contact with the thing, or as if the photograph is a piece of the thing; even though it’s an image, it really is the thing.”

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Susan Sontag. Excerpt from a speech, Wellesley College photographic symposium, April 21, 1975

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This is a superlative book by Cosgrove Editions that celebrates the sixty-year life in photography of the now 94-year-old Johsel Namkung. Rather than a retrospective I see this book as testimony to Johsel Namkung’s vision as an artist and the photographs, as Susan Sontag observes above, as testaments that allow the viewer to have some direct contact with the things that Johsel photographed, to see and feel with him the places that he visited and the things that he saw.

Some of the photographs in this book take your breath away. Taken with a large format camera Johsel’s compositions are heavily influenced by music and are almost fugue-like in their structure. They vibrate and sing like few other landscape photographs that I have ever seen. There is the absence of a horizon, so that his photographs seem to agree with the picture-plane rather than with the world at large.1 Rather, Johsel lets his images flow and in that flow he creates patterning that distinctly creates layers of landscape. The juxtaposing of lines on the landscape is reinforced in the sequencing of the book, where binary opposites are paired on facing pages: feminine / masculine, yang / ying, macro / micro. For example Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989 is printed opposite Picture Lake, Mount Baker, Washington July 1979 (feminine / masculine); Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989 is printed opposite Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991 (yang / ying); and the vast Denali National Park, Alaska September, 1987 is printed opposite the almost Japanese-like delicacy of Arrigetch, Alaska September, 1980 (macro / micro). Although there are links to Abstract Expressionist painters such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Toby and photographers Ansel Adams, Minor White and Eliot Porter this work is wholly Johsel’s in its compositional structure – the position that the photographer puts himself in, both physically and mentally, to obtain these most beautiful of images.

Johsel has a love of small triangular shapes within the pictorial frame. They act like small punctum or pizzicato in musical terms and these given details are intended as such by the photographer. The little punctum in Johsel’s individual works become an accumulation of small punctum that resonate throughout the whole testimony of his work – through the placement of rocks and twigs, the use of triangles and layers whose presence Johsel so loves within the photograph. In this sense (that the photograph is written by the photographer), these are photographs of the mind as much as they are of the landscape. Working in the manner of Minor White (photographing in meditation, creating a pathway from the self to the object, from the object through the camera and back to the self, forming a circle), harmonising all elements (visual, physical, elemental, spiritual), Johsel exposes himself as much as the landscape he is photographing. This is his spirit in relation to the land, to the cosmos, even. Like Monet’s paintings of water lilies these photographs are a “small dreaming” of his spirit with a section of the land not necessarily, as in Aboriginal art, a dreaming and connection to the whole land.

As Minor White observes of the “recognition” of such dreaming when working with the view camera,

“First, there is a store of images, experience, ego problems, ideals, fears, which the man brings to his seeing at the start. Second, during the activity of seeing they are matched against the images in the visual world, like matching colors. This is done with some conscious effort and a great deal of unconscious participation. At the moment of matching or “recognition” there is a feeling of important at least, and sometimes a merciless impact. This in turn is secured by exposure – like a sudden gust of wind drops a ripe apple. So we can say “recognition” is the trigger of exposure. In view camera work the lapse between recognition and exposure may be relatively long. There is time for analysis and criticism of image and idea, and exposure sums up the entire experience.”2

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Like the sudden gust of wind drops the ripe apple.

Oh the joy Johsel must have found when he recognised such invocations, by being aware of his surroundings and his relationship to the earth. I know from my own experience that when you find such a place and recognise it for what it is, it is then an entirely different matter to capture it on film for the camera imparts its own perspective. It is almost as if Johsel and the camera are one, and that the camera itself has disappeared into the landscape (I like the way that you can nearly see his camera but it is actually hidden in the photograph at the bottom of the posting). I get the feeling that Johsel is quite consciously working within an adopted aesthetic – sort of like a tea ceremony – and just making things purposefully and having faith that it is some sort “of way” of doing things. At no point is there any sense of difficulty here – it has all been removed. Yet there was so much physical effort: climbing, walking, waiting, patience, no trace of it. What a heroic act this is!

Johsel approaches a metaphysics of the Real, creating authentic visualisations of the world – an idealised, abstracted Real tending towards a (mental) s(t)imulation. In other words, he photographs the world not to reveal a specific place but a particular state of mind. Is the link to indexicality broken? No, but there is no ultimate truth or origin here, for his is an art of transformation (theatricality) through structure (modernism) which is the essence of aesthetic arts.

“This strategy rejects the search for an origin or ultimate Truth and instead interprets reality as composed, contingent and intersubjective; reality is, therefore, theatrical… Theatricality is made of this endless play and of these continuous displacements of the position of desire, in other words, of the position of the subject in process with an imaginary constructive space.”3

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In Johsel’s photographs desire is displaced, ego is removed and his photographs become images of the mind as much as they are of the landscape. This is Johsel at play recognising, becoming these imaginary, constructive spaces. He is in the zone, he becomes the zone, even. Finally we can say: his photographs and his life are transformational; his imagination is the representation of possibility; his work is testimony to that representation.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Johsel Namkung, Dick Busher and Cosgrove Editions for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Dick Busher allowed me to pick the photographs that I wanted to illustrate this posting and for that I am most grateful. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

The book has recently taken top honors in two different award competitions among independent publishers for photography books: The Independent Book Publishers Association’s Benny Awards, and the Independent Publishers IPPY Awards.

PS. I think that photographer is very aware of: “Let the subject generate its own composition” (MW) – coming from Weston’s “Composition is the strongest way of seeing.”

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 Johsel Namkung. 'Big Meadow, Washington Pass, Washington September, 2000' 2000

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Johsel Namkung
Big Meadow, Washington Pass, Washington September, 2000
2000

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 Johsel Namkung. 'Cougar Lake, Oregon June 1991' 1991

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Johsel Namkung
Cougar Lake, Oregon June 1991
1991

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Johsel Namkung. 'Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989' 1989

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Johsel Namkung
Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989
1989

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Johsel Namkung. 'Picture Lake, Mount Baker, Washington July 1979' 1979

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Johsel Namkung
Picture Lake, Mount Baker, Washington July 1979
1979

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“In his photography Johsel brings attention and importance to elements of nature that most people pass by on their way to the grand vistas. One of my favorite locations in Washington is the Palouse as seen from Steptoe Butte; Johsel’s interpretations of the undulating wheat fields just greening with new growth are sensuous and impressionistic. One feels the slope of the earth, the texture of the tilled fields rather than seeing it. The sophisticated simplicity of his vision is highlighted in a simple composition of a dark pond surface, afloat with delicate grasses; the fine lines flowing this way and that give a sense of constant movement, yet it is a still photograph. In a twig reaching out of the snow, the subtle reflection on a pond in late afternoon light, delicate frozen ripples of ice clinging to river rock, the geometric chaos of tree branches covered in snow, the rich patina of weather-beaten stone, Johsel celebrates the minute in a grand way; it becomes the symbol for the greater whole. Textures, rhythm of line and movement become the foremost elements in his work. Some of Johsel’s images are quiet and abstract, singing a single note, while others are full-out symphonies in a celebration of the rhythms. In particular I find his Korean landscapes extraordinary. In winter the alpine hillsides bare their architecture; ridge after ridge, speckled with leafless birch and pyramidal conifers, they overlap in a crescendo of natural beauty.”

Art Wolfe, Introduction to Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective

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Johsel Namkung. 'Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989' 1989

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Johsel Namkung
Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989
1989

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Johsel Namkung. 'Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991' 1991

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Johsel Namkung
Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991
1991

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Johsel Namkung. 'Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1977' 1977

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Johsel Namkung
Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1977
1977

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Johsel Namkung. 'Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1983' 1983

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Johsel Namkung
Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1983
1983

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Johsel Namkung. 'Denali National Park, Alaska  September, 1987' 1987

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Johsel Namkung
Denali National Park, Alaska September, 1987
1987

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Johsel Namkung. 'Arrigetch, Alaska September, 1980' 1980

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Johsel Namkung
Arrigetch, Alaska September, 1980
1980

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“Photography as a medium is still relatively young. Introduced publicly in 1839, its definition has remained complicated in discourse and practice, oscillating between practical application – whether scientific illustration, family record, or aid to commerce – and aesthetic or expressive concerns. Debates that arose shortly after its invention, contesting whether photography could be an artistic medium, remained heated a century later and beyond, resolving only after Photoshop and other types of photographic manipulation became commonplace. Questions about the role of the photographer, the relative merits of color versus black-and-white, truth to the original shot versus darkroom manipulation, investigations about canon, hierarchy, and genre have continued to multiply, as have the social organizations – art schools, technical assistance and supplies, professional and amateur societies, regular shows and publications – that foster photographic work. Becoming a photographer in the middle of the twentieth century, Johsel Namkung emerged at the intersection of all these social and conceptual shifts. Taking advantage of this opening, he made several unconventional choices: deciding to work in color although it was black and white that signified art photography until the 1970s or later; working abstractly, but hewing to the dictates of straight photography: available light, no darkroom manipulation, print the full negative.

From the acquisition of his first camera, Namkung developed high standards for his photographic practice, recalling to interviewer Alan Lau, “I always had a confidence in myself… I had a sort of a vision toward my photographic future. I knew I was going to be something.”1 Trained first as a musician, from the beginning Namkung defined photography in abstract terms, approaching his motifs in terms of rhythms, tonal relationships, pattern, and texture. Individual works reveal specific affinities. The calligraphic grasses in Lizzard Lake, Stampede Pass, WA, August 1976 suggests Harry Callahan’s images of reeds, which are associated with Abstract Expressionist photography. The lichen-covered stone in Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, WA, September 1976 resembles Jackson Pollock or the famed White Paintings of Namkung’s friend Mark Tobey. The screen of regular tree trunks in Sherman Pass, WA, August 1993, recalls the hatched lines representing driving rain in modern Japanese printmaking. Like limpid watercolor strokes, the rolling hills of the Palouse – distinct in each version of Steptoe Butte, of 1976, 1977, and 1983 – allude to Morris Louis’s color field paintings.

Namkung’s preface here recounts how successive unusual jobs supplied him with professional training as a photographer. Seattle in the postwar boom years also provided a rich and supportive context for his art. Skilled artists from the ranks of first- and second-generation immigrants, from Japan, China, Korea, and the Philippines, gathered in the International District but worked and showed farther afield. Art photography had a popular following and many innovative practitioners; Pictorialism – promoted by annual exhibitions like those organized by the Seattle Camera Club – encouraged aesthetic and technical exploration with cameras. The so-called Northwest Mystics represented only one of several artistic communities exploring abstraction, some emphasizing its expressive potential, others seeking formal invention. Creativity was equally celebrated beyond fine art. Rarefied technical challenges were tackled and mastered at The Boeing Company as well as the scientific laboratories of the University of Washington. The richness of this cultural ecology fostered the unique development of Namkung’s career. In return, his thoughtful production has nourished local and international audiences for over four decades.”

Elizabeth Brown, Former Chief Curator, Henry Art Gallery, Introduction to Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective

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1 Alan Chong Lau interview of Johsel Namkung conducted in Seattle, Washington, on October 5, 1989, for the Archives of American Art Northwest Asian American Project.

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Johsel Namkung. 'Shi Shi Beach Buoy, Olympic National Park, Washington August, 1981' 1981

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Johsel Namkung
Shi Shi Beach Buoy, Olympic National Park, Washington August, 1981
1981

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Johsel Namkung. 'Bissell, Washington December, 1981' 1981

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Johsel Namkung
Bissell, Washington December, 1981
1981

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Johsel Namkung. 'Alaska Lichens, Date Unknown' Nd

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Johsel Namkung
Alaska Lichens, Date Unknown
Nd

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Johsel Namkung. 'Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, Washington September, 1976' 1976

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Johsel Namkung
Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, Washington September, 1976
1976

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Johsel Namkung. 'Weston Beach, Point Lobos, California May, 1988' 1988

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Johsel Namkung
Weston Beach, Point Lobos, California May, 1988
1988

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Johsel Namkung. 'Frenchman Coulee, Washington May, 2002' 2002

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Johsel Namkung
Frenchman Coulee, Washington May, 2002
2002

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Johsel Namkung. 'Kalaloch Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington October, 1984' 1984

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Johsel Namkung
Kalaloch Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington October, 1984
1984

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joshel-camera

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Joshel Namkung on Hurricane Ridge, photographed by his friend Ken Levine

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1. Adapted from Robert Nelson commenting on the painting of Monet. “Impressionist’s ode to beauty trips into light fantastic,” The Age newspaper, Wednesday May 22nd 2013, p.42.

2. White, Minor. “Exploratory Camera,” 1949 in Bunnell, Peter C. (ed.,). Aperture Magazine Anthology – The Minor White Years 1952-1976. Aperture, 2013, p.64.

3. Féral, Josette. “Performance and Theatricality: The Subject Demystified,” in Modern Drama 25 (March) 1982, p.177.

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Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective website

Cosgrove Editions website

Cosgrove Editions is an independent publisher of books on photography. We also provide production and printing assistance for artists who self publish their work. Many of our projects have won some of the highest international awards for printing quality.

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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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