Gallery visit and photographer’s talk: Tate Modern & TPG 17/05/2016

Yesterday, I revisited Performing for the Camera at Tate Modern and although won’t say much more as have already spoken about some of the work there, I did want to mention two things that I came away with.

Seeing performance art photographed made me very excited about the possibilities I see for my own practise and I can’t wait to start developing some of the ideas that I’ve already been playing with. Thinking about photography as a medium for expressing the ideas I’ve carried around for 20/30 years is thrilling at times.  It’s such a fluid, expressive and accessible way of communicating.

The other thing that I thought as I left, which is really something I’ve been getting to grips with for a few weeks or maybe even months, is that the the term ‘appropriation art’ can really be considered tautological.  All art surely references previous work and or scenes/objects/concepts from the everyday.  True, there are some more audacious examples of copying that make you stop and wonder what on earth it might be about – a simple ‘stealing’ or a comment.  But there doesn’t seem to be any art that doesn’t ‘appropriate’ from somewhere or other.  I’ve not yet been to the V&A to look at Botticelli Reimagined but intend to – that exhibition covers all the work that has been influenced by The Birth of Venus since it was first made, either directly or simply in reference to it. I also saw the first example of photographic-related copyright contested at Tate Britain the other day when a stereoscope image  called the The Death of Chatterton was copied exactly by a second photographer.

The other thing I did was go to a talk at The Photographer’s Gallery and listen to Tobias Zielony and Danny Sriskandarajah in conversation.  I won’t discuss it fully just yet as have not seen the exhibition relating to it, since I was too busy chatting beforehand. (It was lovely to have an opportunity to meet fellow UVC student Madalina who is visiting the UK at the moment.) But I will return soon.  However, before I forget – a couple of thoughts struck me as important. Both speakers were concerned about stepping back from the usual and predictable view, and  one which I am guilty of, that the refugees we see in the press are ‘victims’.  Yes, they are victims in one sense of course, and often in order to receive support they need to allow themselves to be cast in the role of victim when arriving in European countries, as suggested by Sriskandarajah. But it’s too easy for us to romantacise our perception, believing the people portrayed by media are defenceless, weak souls, in need if our ‘superior’ western help. That way of viewing the situation feeds into an assumption that the people coming here will be a burden on an already overstretched system. When in fact, often the people who have escaped dangerous and oppressive regimes are doing so because they are resourceful, strong, expressive individuals forced to leave their homes because they questioned the status quo, stood up for themselves and refused to be victims, and at enormous risk. Additionally they may have gone to great lengths to escape bad situations and travelled under precarious circumstances, and it might be that such individuals are really the kind of people who have much to offer any community they arrive in. I really thought that that narrative turned the one we usually succumb to on its head and was very interested in it, especially when thinking about the work I started in Calais but have left for a while, not really knowing where best to go with it.

The other thing that was interesting for me came out of a question I asked at the end – i.e. groups of people are famous for being rubbish about relating to other groups – history is littered with examples; we are tribal and may well have evolved that way for good reason; that being the case, how do they (the speakers) envisage attitudes towards refugees changing anytime soon? Both answered that they disagreed that people are inherently ‘groupish’ (I refrained from suggesting they read E.O. Wilson because it didn’t feel right to start lecturing them – in fact, I felt my myself go bright red as I asked the question in the first place.) But they did say something with I found interesting; that borders, passports, the closed way in which we arrange our world is relatively modern. And that that trend is not an innate situation which we should take for granted. Earlier they had made an interesting point; as it becomes easier, and much faster for images to travel (along with goods and capital), it becomes harder for people to – especially those with certain citizenships, or no citizenship at all.




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