IPhoto50 – Made Together: participating and collaborating in photographic practice
“Anthony Luvera, Baptiste Lignel, Melanie Manchot and Wendy McMurdo: four artists presenting work in London Art Fair 2017’s Photo50 exhibition ‘Gravitas’ discuss the importance of interaction, participation and collaboration between artist and subject in their lens-based practice. Chaired by curator Christiane Monarchi.” (London Art Fair, 2017)
It was so timely for me to see and hear the above artists talk about their work. Following my research for A4 I am far more aware of collaborative work and it fits well my previous training as an actor and interest in ensemble. Baptise Lignel in particular described the process of creating his book Pop Pills, all the problems he came up against, the length of time he took to make it, as well the many people involved, not least of who were the subjects whose lives he followed for several years. Melanie Mancho’s work with her daughter, filming her every month on the same day over a number of years so we can see the process of her growing from a young girl into a young woman was also extremely relevant (Girlhood). I sat with the work after the talk and was incredibly moved by it. Several TV screens of different shapes show the various clips (all black & white and grainy) One of the things I wondered was, what happened on days when her daughter didn’t want to be involved, or had just had an argument with her mother. One clip shows the daughter crying. This is particularly challenging to think about in terms of how an artist appropriates the feelings of others for their work, especially when the feelings are of a child’s and one’s own daughter. I don’t think the answers are easy. Anthony Luvera described an extremely collaborative practice as talked about his work Not Going Shopping. Wendy McMurdo’s work with the school children was relevant too given my own Girlhood work and my interest in social media and how it is impacting on social norms. Something she said stuck in my mind. Wendy McMurdo described how up until the Internet impacted on children’s lives so heavily they were involved in two main institutions, family and school (I’d add the church too although the period she was referring to was by definition in fact quite short-lived since schools as they are now do not had that long a history for the masses, so there is probably only a bit of a cross over). Now social media takes them into a third realm, says Wendy, where they can wander who knows where with who knows who. I appreciate there are many risks associated with social media and young people (and anyone actually), but I would also argue that it has merely reintroduced something children had before society became hyper vigilant and started keeping children far more watched and tethered (I wonder if this is merely an expression and projection of how people themselves feel – imprisoned by society?) Children can now do digitally what they have done throughout most of history, hang out away from the adults with each other as much as possible from a very young age, in groups that are made up of various ages, which in real life allows for some level of responsibility amongst the older ones towards the younger ones. I’m not sure if there is room for, or a culture of, this to take place online. I have been reading The Dialectics of Liberation, a collection of talks given at a conference in 1967, (so highly relevant in terms of the second half of UVC) and there is a description of balanced systems being skewed. (p.39) These systems are either destroyed or they find a way to right themselves. The planet might take eons to rebalance itself once we’ve destroyed ourselves but it is likely to. I often think the Internet is humanity’s way of solving some of the problems that have arisen due to our exponential and sudden population growth. Over the last 300 years, in one view, and 2000 years in another longer one, we have grown so much that we can no longer live in small highly connected groups. That has had an effect on the way we communicate. The symbolic is the only system we trust nowadays. We are far less in touch with less external systems of staying connected. The Internet is an attempt to solve the problems human beings are faced with via this social development. Equally, innate and very human behavior, as far as young people are concerned, has been tampered with so that they are now prevented from getting to know society, themselves, how to relate in groups by recent hyper vigilance. Does Wendy McMurdo’s work shows us the terror we project onto young people as they disappear into a world that adults are not part of .
All of the work has been relevant for me since I was working with adolescents in 2016, as each of these artists have done. But it made me realise that my work is perhaps less about that age groups primarily, and more about gender, the shapes we make in order to meet social expectations, and also language.
Material Matters: On making and the physicality of photography
“Five artist practitioners discuss the importance of materiality in their practice, including the manual creativity of darkroom practice, pinhole cameras, alternative processes, and the physicality and sculptural possibility of the print. Panel artists will include Sophy Rickett, Martin Newth, Almudena Romero, Edouard Taufenbach and Dafna Talmor. Chaired by Kim Shaw, Executive Director of Photofusion.” (London Art Fair, 2017)
Again this was a really relevant piece as I consider how I might make my work mine. Almudena Romero’s appropriated selfies, which she takes from the Internet and then prints on mesh using a tintype method were interesting and I compared them in my mind to Richard Prince’s difficult to process New Portraits. Romero manages to connect history with modern technology and so her ‘taking’ of the images appears as less of a defiant act than Prince’s might seem to be. (How interesting, the use of the word ‘take’ – she didn’t take them herself as in “I will take a photograph of you’, but she did take them off the internet… – here language says exactly what it means. When we photograph someone we are taking them, or at least a moment of their existence and storing it away for as long as the process allows. And yet taking a photograph, taking someone, or at least a moment of their existence, from the internet is associated with something different). I have now begun to view Prince’s work as a performance which is about breaking social mores. He’s a performance artist, and his purloined objects are evidence of such. So was the Ivanka Trump image Prince has since disclaimed ever authentic? Because she asked him to do it? Therefore it was merely a display of vanity, grotesque wealth and the nonsense that pervades the art world. Romero’s work on the hand is complex in other ways, less performative and more of a mediation on the words, process and social references to photography. Edouard Taufenbach’s description about his work was interesting but the most fascinating thing for me is that he never makes more than one edition. It made me think a lot about how artists, photographers in particular, maintain an integrity linked to their objects, about the fact that every one can take photographs nowadays and well too, and also edit them very easily. And about methods of reproduction and the loss of Walter Benjamin’s aura. The democratisation of photography is forcing artists to find new ways to make their work their own. Martin Newth’s installations where the camera (multi lensed objects he builds himself for specific views), the image and the subject are all displayed, was really interesting to see, as was the gaudy aesthetic style some of the work. It was also good to hear Sophie Rickett speak about her current project looking at an archive and I suspect if/when I do Digital Image and Culture I will return to it. I also enjoyed Dafna Talmor’s beautiful repurposed negative landscapes.
Other work I saw
Apart form Lee Machell, who I will return to shortly, I am simply making a list of artists who stood out for me, so I can return to it when their work becomes relevant and I know I’ve recorded it safely.
Hiroyuki Masuyma – After William Turner: A process of layering 100s of images over a Turner original (which is then deleted) to create temporal presentations. Some fascinating details where statues and real people interact in the final image. Really interesting. He believes in time travel and uses his work to recreate a form of time travel as his images seem to move.
Anita Groener – Objects, tiny silhouettes attached to real branches or elsewhere set in shapes, representing migration from an ongoing multimedia project called Citizen. Reminded me of a more delicate William Kentridge trope, who is also looking at the same themes. Powerful and moving, beautiful and thoughtful work.
Redenko Milak and Riman Uranjek – Collaborative collages creating historical representations linking cultural references across the ages, photography, painting, prints, appropriation. Fascinating stuff.
Noe Sendas – Very specific style referencing cinema and photography, female for, surreal, small black and white images of women with shapes ‘turning the subjects into phantasmagorical characters.’ (Carlos Carvalho Arte Contemporanea)
I liked a lot of the work at the fair but none as much as Lee Machell’s. It was so clever, or at any rate the small collection of objects at the stall came together in a way that was incredibly thought-provoking, with just enough to give clear indications about what the conceptual work refers to whilst maintaining subtlety and finesse.
Capital (2013) is a found picture of the book Capital by Carl Marx (of course the John Lancaster book Capital which references Marx, as well as the fact its set in London, the multi-cultural capital (great novel incidentally) also springs to mind). The presence of this object unveils what is being explored in the rest of the work.
As well, there were two match drawings on cartridge paper. These are deceptively simple circular images where the marks are made with the burn of matches rather than pencil or ink or any other material. Machell uses parts of a slide projector as a sort of stencil to create the works. Finally the slide projector itself is employed to project another image of a drawing into the wall, therefore becoming part of the installation, in a similar way to how Martin Newth uses cameras in his own presentations. The projected image is small so you are forced to be close to the projector as well as the image in order to see it, invading its space as it were, but getting you very much nearer than, for example, a person buying an object in London would be to another who might have made the object in China.
The fact the drawing material is so obviously a consequence of fire, as opposed to charcoal simply being used, links to Levi Strauss’ The Raw and The Cooked, and all that contains. The human fascination with fire is deeply embedded in the human psyche and seems to evoke a primitive reaction in all of us. The relationship between what is made, and what is used to make is on show which, coupled with the presence of Capital, leads one to consider Marxist theory surrounding commodity and relations between worker and end-user. I hope I am not thinking too obviously but the Little Match Girl seems to have a been a key cultural figure in literature that we associate with poverty, selling very low value objects, child workers, Victorian capitalism and social injustice. It would seem that a simple match offers a wealth of symbolic reference. The apparent simplicity of the images belies complex ideas relating to structuralism.
I thought Machell’s art engaging, stimulating and incredibly interesting. He is currently doing an MA at the Royal Academy.
London Art Fair 2017. (2017). Event Programme – London Art Fair 2017. [online] Available at: http://www.londonartfair.co.uk/whats-on/event-programme/ [Accessed 20 Jan. 2017].
Liedloff, J. (1985). The continuum concept. 1st ed. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.
Ham, M. (2017). This Artist’s Shot At Ivanka Trump Is All The Narcissism In One Story. [online] The Federalist. Available at: http://thefederalist.com/2017/01/19/this-modern-artists-shot-at-ivanka-trump-is-all-the-narcissism-of-politics-pop-culture-and-protest-in-one-story/ [Accessed 20 Jan. 2017].
Carlos Carvalho Arte Contemporanea, London Art Fair, 2017, A4 sheet
Object-a.co.uk. (2017). OBJECT / A | Artists | Lee Machell. [online] Available at: http://www.object-a.co.uk/artists/lee-machell.htm [Accessed 20 Jan. 2017].
 See description in the The Continuum Concept by Jean Leidloff where children spend most of the day away from the adults in large groups exploring the world and playing, which as we know is a way to learn to function in a social situation. This type of existence and descriptions of it can be found in many more empirical studies across cultures.