Archive for the ‘Art’ Category
Darkened Days, a series of black and white photographs by the Swiss artist Simone Kappeler, is currently being shown at the Douglas Hyde Gallery – a phenomenal space physically located within, though still independent of, Trinity College in Dublin. Gallery visitors dramatically descend into the vast cube-shaped space via a staircase. The concrete ceiling is perhaps more reminiscent of Soviet-era brutalism than it alludes to the academic weight of Ireland’s oldest and most-renowned university above ground.
Kappeler’s photographs are displayed in Gallery 2, a room further back behind the main space. Darkened Days is a series of black and white photographs, perhaps located within the genre of ‘street photography’, taken in Dublin with a square format Diana camera during a four-day period, as the captions matter-of-factly reveal. Kappeler mostly concentrated on photographing people: girls dressed up for a night out, a couple of brave swimmers half-submerged in the water of the Irish Sea at Sandycove, or a child running on the lawn of the Botanical Garden. Apart from being photographed in the same city (Dublin) over the same period of time (four days in October 2011), it is very hard to discern what these images actually have in common. Neither is it clear how they relate to the title of the series Darkened Days. The viewer shall be forgiven for feeling confused about the intended meaning of these photographs.
Similar to the Lomo camera, the Diana is essentially a toy camera which creates images with out-of-focus borders and an overall nostalgic appearance. Indeed, it is the same type of effect that the extremely popular Instagram application creates on smartphones. Yet these are technical details that do not necessarily help in understanding the photographs and their relationship to each other. What do the photographs mean? What do they seek to communicate? What is the artist’s agenda? For the time being, the viewer needs to be satisfied with the banal knowledge that the artist photographed a place in time.
Perhaps the images are meant to be confusing. One could argue that the psychological state of confusion and lack of direction in the photographs relates to the sudden downfall of the Celtic Tiger. The title Darkened Days could be a representation of the gloomy outlook of the Irish economy. The soft focus of the Diana camera could allude to the slightly skewed perspective of an outsider observing Ireland’s social landscape. The black and white images could reference a city steeped in history. Even the square format could be an ironic reference to the increased disequilibrium between the have and the have-nots. Yet any of these interpretations would not be an accurate representation of a series of photographs that appear to be conceptually ungrounded.
Born in 1952, and with a photographic archive that dates back to 1964, Kappeler is best-known for her eclectic and experimental approach to photography: alpine landscapes photographed with an infrared film, washed out Polaroids of nudes, or portraits displayed as colour negatives. In her work Kappeler tests the boundaries of photography. The relationship between child and adulthood, as well as the clash between nature and culture appear to be reoccurring motifs in her previous works. Yet in the absence of a clear motif in Darkened Days, an appreciation of the photographs on display is obscured by an arduous search for meaning.
Rachel Cunningham’s photographs interrogate the political, cultural and religious tensions in Israel and Palestine. While representing the remnants of an eternally complex conflict, her work also questions the role of photography within this quickly shifting environment. Unlike photojournalists or photographers looking for ‘action’, Cunningham photographs are characterised by inaction, metaphorical silence, even vacuity.
In the series Quiet Transfer I & II, Cunningham photographed traces of Palestinian homes that were destroyed in the wake of settlement expansions in East Jerusalem. These traces, poignantly represented as individual pieces of debris, allude to a politics of division and separation in the Middle East. In other words, the debris signifies the tragic impossibility of leaving side by side as neighbours. Instead, one home makes space for another.
The debris is purposefully photographed in individual pieces, each piece occupying the centre of the image, and each image representing the destruction of a home. Lit by artificial light and photographed on a plain black or white background, the images evoke comparisons with a display of archaeological findings. Indeed, by applying the visual language of the museum, the format of the photographs also references the historical dimension in this body of work. The homes were not only destroyed to make way for settlements, but they were also destroyed by the heavy burden of conflicting histories.
Despite this formal approach to image-making, which aesthetically has much in common with a photographic typology, the images also refer to the human cost of the demolitions. Some pieces of debris eerily look like body parts: one piece in particular, Demolition 50, conjures an image a spine, painfully fragmented and twisted. The photographs thus not simply represent destruction, but also, they represent the human cost of the conflict. This reading is supported by the captions of the photographs which includes the names of the families who once occupied these homes.
Importantly, the debris was not photographed in situ, but rather, it was sent to the United Kingdom via mail thus further removing the subject from its original context. Here, Cunningham applies the methodology of famous institutions such as the British Museum, documenting, cataloguing and archiving their inventory for future generations. Reminiscent of contentious collections in the British Museum such as the Elgin Marbles, this process complicates the position of the artist who ‘takes’ an object from one cultural context to another.
By physically removing the pieces of debris and sending it to the UK, Cunningham references the fact that the conflicts in the Middle East are not simply a result of two cultures clashing with each other, but rather, they are a result of a series of complex geopolitical events which dates backs centuries and millennia. Indeed, British rule over Palestine for much of the early to mid 20th century, further implicates the West for the political events presently unfolding in the Middle East.
The still life images of debris are interspersed with four landscape photographs taken from the cardinal points of the old city of Jerusalem. With an emphasis on the formal and aesthetic structure of the land below, these photographs are strongly reminiscent of classical landscape painting, or more specifically, 19th century Orientalist painting. Here again, Cunningham incorporates a European gaze into her body of work as a commentary on the complex geopolitical power dynamics unfolding in this small strip of land.
Other landscape photographs are taken from Arab neighbourhoods, from the exact spots where houses have been demolished, looking outside towards the settlements that surround them. These landscape photographs help to delineate the urban developments, the borders and conflicts within the city itself. In other words, rather than becoming abstractions of a localized conflict, the landscape photographs help to contextualize the photographs of debris and rubble.
Considering the heavy weight of historical and political processes in Israel and Palestine, the debris, photographed in painful detail, turns into micro-monuments of an uncertain and unpredictable future.
All images from rachelcunningham.net.
Joachim Brohm’s exhibition Places & Edges – the artist’s first solo show in the UK – is currently on display at Brancolini Grimaldi in London. It brings together three bodies of work that highlight Brohm’s propensity towards peripheral and quotidian spaces. The works also display a marked shift away from ‘German’ photography most commonly associated with former students of the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Here, instead, the viewer is drawn to seemingly banal views of the everyday, visually characterized by modesty and even restraint. The photographer does not assume the grand role of auteur, but rather, he acts as a quiet observer, standing at the sidelines of a world waiting to be photographed.
The first project Culatra, photographed from 2008 to 2010, brings the viewer to a small island off the coast of Portugal. The physical location of the island on the very periphery of Europe confirms Brohm’s ongoing interest in marginal spaces. Culatra is also characterized by economic marginality as Brohm’s camera depicts the islanders’ weather-beaten shacks – the sand beneath them has the effect of stretching and bending their structures. Brohm emphasizes this topsy-turvy environment, perhaps reminiscent of the recent film Beasts of the Southern Wild, by incorporating crooked telephone poles, lampposts, wires and cables throughout many of the works. Despite the potential messiness of Culatra, the images appear as if Brohm was keen to create order in this environment by focusing on reoccurring motifs such as tractors abandoned in the sand or objects washed up from the sea.
Brohm is probably best known for his project Ohio which he produced while on a Fulbright scholarship in 1983-84. Based in the town Columbus, Brohm photographed the American Midwest as a dispassionate and non-judgmental observer. Nevertheless, many images allude to a dysfunctional environment: a car burning in the driveway of a middle-class house, the shards of a recently destroyed sign strewn on the sidewalk, or the lack of human presence so common in a culture that is dominated by the automobile. One photograph is in fact taken from the viewpoint of a driver, looking through the windscreen towards a railway crossing. Although the work might reference the romanticism of the road as depicted in Jack Kerouac’s literary works, overall the photographs create an ambiguous and slightly uneasy atmosphere.
The last project, Ruhr, was photographed in the industrial heartland of Germany in the years 1980 to 1983. Here too Brohm is essentially exploring peripheral spaces as he navigates the dividing line between nature and civilization. More specifically, Brohm appears to follow loosely defined groups of individuals who seek to encounter the natural in this heavily industrialized part of the world. The clash between nature and industry is all too apparent in many activities depicted in the works: ice skating beneath a gigantic bridge, sunbathing in the vicinity of industrial buildings, or simply trying to demarcate a plot of land in an otherwise heavily populated area. His matter-of-fact depictions of the everyday are aided by consistently seeking an elevated viewpoint and keeping a respectful distance towards his subjects. As a result, his images also appear unusually timeless: they are less documents of an era than they are a representation man’s struggle to define himself in relation to his neighbour. III Originally published on photomonitor.co.uk.
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