Category Archives: Exhibitions, Photographers, artists

Frank Soo by Allan O’Neill showing at the Ort Gallery Member’s Exhibition, Birmingham

ort gallery_-1193-2Caption card for Frank Soo 

During this module I have interacted actively with my peers through the OCA discussion forums and I have begun to see how the photography degree course develops through the various modules and into level 3 which includes the sustaining your practice module.

Through this I have begun to imagine and recognise some of the components that may contribute to being able to eventually practice as an independent artist.

Following my tutor feedback session for assignment 5 I was in an enthusiastic mood and felt that I had finished the course well and I had begun to look around locally for opportunities to show Frank Soo my final submission.

The Ort Gallery is an arts centre in Birmingham which has managed to attract some very interesting artists such as film-maker and artist Kristina Cranfeld and is a gallery I have grown to support. What I also like about the Ort Gallery is it’s accessibility and that it is a location outside of London.

So when the chance arose to submit work for their member’s exhibition I thought that it might present an opportunity to push myself into a whole new experience. I was still surprised but also overjoyed when they informed me that my work had been accepted and I received the appropriate instructions.

The Gallery’s board of Directors were the panel and as part of the acceptance we were advised that they would need details of the actual size of the piece plus our statement and description of the work; and that we should attend a day to be involved in hanging the work and organising the exhibition which was a real learning experience.

ort gallery_-1190-2Organising the exhibition

The first and biggest mistake that I made was to frame the image at the original size that I had submitted to my tutor at 10×8 inches. As soon as I walked into the gallery I realised that I could and should have had a much larger print, possibly an A3 type size. When I was in discussion with the gallery’s founding director Josephine Reichert she also mentioned how much she had enjoyed reading about the project and that she felt that it would work well in a larger format.

This first lesson of focusing on a potential exhibition event and not purely as a student course submission is one that I will take forward and this has helped me to start considering my work from a whole new perspective.

Meeting the other participants was also really interesting as quite a few were Birmingham based practicing artists themselves as well as students and enthusiasts. I received lots of encouragement and useful advice throughout the day and also made several good contacts which hopefully will help as I progress.

ort gallery_-1210-2My model for Frank Soo discussing the experience on opening night

The opening night was a tremendous evening and I was surprised at the number of people that turned up to see the exhibition. Being able to view your own personal work on a gallery wall with the caption plate detailing the project was an experience I had never imagined.

As a student attending exhibitions I have n’t really thought about what the experience is like for the artist but this exercise has opened my eyes massively to the potential that exists and I must admit that I found the whole experience extremely rewarding.

Whilst this is obviously quite a low profile event I do feel that the experience of showing my project was an excellent exercise to conclude this course and provided the chance to meet the ultimate challenge – to put our work out there to be seen and critiqued by people.

I received a brief mention in a review of the exhibition provided by Lisa Williams of ArtsBrum of online Whats on guide to Birmingham.

“But art is something that should be seen, not read about, so i’ll keep it brief and introduce you to just a few pieces that caught my eye.

Have you ever considered how much of history has been airbrushed out of what we know today? Neither had I, until coming across the constructed photography of Allan O’Neill. Next time you’re chatting to a football fan, be sure to ask them if they’ve ever heard of Frank Soo, but first, give yourself some food for thought by going to check out Allan’s piece.” (Williams, L. 2017)

 

The review can be read in full at:

https://artsbrum.com/ort-gallery-schwarmerei-review/

 

The gallery have organised a follow up workshop where all artists can discuss their work and we will receive critical feedback from the directors and I look forward to this event.

Bibliography

More information can be found about the Ort Gallery at

http://ortgallery.co.uk

Joel Sternfeld Colour Photographs 1977 – 1988 exhibition at Beetles and Huxley, London

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Figure 1: Joel Sternfeld, Exhausted Renegade Elephant, Woodland, Washington, June 1979. 

In 1980, as Ronald Reagan was in the process of being elected president, Joel Sternfeld was embarking on one of the many road trips across America he had been making since being awarded a Guggenheim grant in 1978. “The reason I am showing this work now,” he says of his forthcoming exhibition, “is that I remember feeling similar fears back then as I do now. If anything, there is an even stronger sense of apocalypse in the air today.” (O’Hagan, 2017)

Joel Sternfeld was continuing the traditions of Walker Evans and Robert Franks in documenting American life but this time following William Eggleston and Stephen Shore in seeing the country in colour. What resulted from Sternfeld’s road trips was one of the most influential bodies of work American Prospects first exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1987.

Beetles and Huxley describe how Sternfeld was, “photographing scenes rich with implied narrative, which were also distinct in their colour and composition… delicately balanced by subtle irony and humour.

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Figure 2: Joel Sternfeld, McLean, Virgina, December 1978.  

McLean, Virginia, December 1978 shows this perfectly, a fire fighter shopping for a pumpkin at a farm market whilst a house on fire blazes in the background. The scene that Sternfeld had captured was a controlled training exercise, and a fire chief who was able to leave his post when the house was allowed to burn to the ground.” (Beetles and Huxley, 2017).

Along with many others I greatly admire Joel Sternfeld’s work and his ability to capture the beauty of the ordinary and everyday whilst adding that layer of complexity and often an implied narrative, foreseeing what seemed to be happening, behind the facade to America and it’s people.

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Figure 3: Wet ‘N’ Wild Aquatic Theme Park, Orlando, Florida, September 1980.

I just love the cinematic style and presence of his composition, the forensic detail throughout the scene, the saturated colour, the bright skies and the whole familiarity thing yet strange peculiarity of the scenes is just fantastic. Sternfeld called the underlying theme of his work as “The utopian vision of America contrasted with the dystopian one.”

I felt that these prints were works of art that completely encapsulates the twentieth century; through the ubiquity and ambiguity of photography, the distanced familiarity, obsession and spread of American culture, the strange authenticities and ordinariness of the everyday that always seem to hint at a deep lying disappointment over ambitious and failed aspirations.

I have a deep respect for the work of the American colour photographers, Joel Sternfeld and his influences, Stephen Shore, William Eggleston and they offer so many classic lessons to students of photographic art.

Joel Sternfeld I feel took his work to another level by developing those complex ambiguous narratives of America and Americans within what seem to be vast compositions that now seem so familiar in TV, cinema and media. Really brilliant work.

Bibliography

O’Hagan, S. (2017) The drifter: Joel Sternfeld on his sly glimpse of wild America – Seen from the endless highway. In: The Guardian [online] At:

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/jan/11/joel-sternfeld-photographer-america-interview-colour-photographs-1977-88 (accessed 20 February 2017)

Images – All taken from The Guardian [online] At:

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2017/jan/11/joel-sternfeld-visions-of-america-in-pictures (accessed 20 February 2017)

Figure 1: Exhausted Renegade Elephant, Woodland, Washington, June 1978.

Figure 2: McLean, Virgina, December 1978.

Figure 3: Wet ‘N’ Wild Aquatic Theme Park, Orlando, Florida, September 1980.

Exhibition visit: Wendy McMurdo at Photo50 Gravitas, London Art Fair 2017

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Figure 1: From Wendy McMurdo’s Let’s Go to a Place series (2016)

Photo50 Gravitas was the contemporary photography exhibition curated by Christine Monarchi and part of the London Art Fair 2017.

“Gravitas constitutes one of the ancient Roman ‘personal virtues.’ It referred to a depth and seriousness of character, a pre-condition of the youth’s transition to adulthood.” (London Art Fair, 2017). This description was a formal introduction to the exhibition featuring 13 artists producing lens-based work exploring the development from childhood through adolescence and emerging adulthood, tracing the formation and representation of identity and the self, and the influences, pressures and complexities of modern culture.

There was also a great opportunity to listen to four of the participating artists speak about the exhibition and describe their own work during which they also discussed the relationships between the artist and the subject and the processes of interaction, participation and collaboration that form an integral part of their working practices.

I was attracted to the day as it featured my current OCA tutor Wendy McMurdo and as such this presented an interesting opportunity to see a different perspective of her skills, knowledge and experience and how this works and comes together to form an artistic expression and the resultant work.

Wendy McMurdo advised the audience that they should strive to “make work about your life and experience,” and also confirmed that the best work is produced when we consider what motivates us and what draws us to a subject and allows us to find out about ourselves so again it was an interesting dynamic to actually see this in practice.

Wendy’s work has over a number of years explored the influences and impact that the growing ubiquity of computers have had on the development, education and lives of children and within this she discussed an interesting notion of how a child’s life had previously been centred around the family and or school; but since the introduction of the computer, the identity of the child had moved beyond these physical boundaries.

Her current work ‘Let’s Go to a Place’ (2016) is a series of individual portraits of the children that were part of her youngest daughter’s class which was preparing to leave primary school last summer. The project was inspired by the growth of GPS location based Pokemon gaming where a participant reimagines the space around them.

The results are a series of contemporary photographic images in which the faces of the children are sliced into separate pieces and then reformed, replacing the original conventional image of the face.

I remembered a quote from the artist Paul Seawright where he stated that “good art reveals itself slowly,” and this came back to me when I reflected on Wendy’s work; the longer the audience view the images, the more aesthetically pleasing and normal they become whilst communicating an arresting theme of a dual existence that is not obvious but is at the same time beautiful in it’s simplicity.

The images seemed to reference the traditional annual school photo whilst offering a quite beautiful, contemporary and more artistic version; this reference to a traditional cultural convention seems to reflect the change in times and the different influences that impact today’s generation of children.

The discussion which came from the panel about the relationships that develop with their subjects was most interesting and it offered some important and interesting points to consider; in collaborating with subjects, developing and gaining trust and confidence, the importance of genuine interest and empathy in the subject, showing respect and being responsible, being committed and in essence recognising that the camera is not an inanimate tool and as photographers we must be ethical and take responsibility for our actions and consider and recognise the consequences.

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Figure 2: Abbie Traylor-Smith Chelsea from The Big O series (2014)

Wandering around the exhibition there were other artists that caught my eye and in particular I also liked Abbie Traylor-Smith’s series The Big O about childhood obesity, a figure that has reached 1 in 3 for children and adolescents in Britain today. The work explores this startling statistic and modern phenomenon through an intimate study and representation of some of the young individuals who live through the complex psychological implications of this condition.

The portraits of the subjects were placed alongside extracts of personal diaries, exercise and diet plans, post it notes; creating a stark and often poignant representation of the difficulties and complexities that exist in their minds, offering them their own personal identity and voice which was done in a very empathetic and supportive manner and well away from the social stigmas and narratives that have been created by mainstream media and conventional cultural norms.

A very enjoyable day where I left with much to think about in terms of what it actually means to take somebody’s photograph and how deeply we must consider this act.

Exhibition 

Monarchi, C. (2017) Photo50 Gravitas exhibition. London:Business Design Centre.

More information can be seen online at:

http://www.londonartfair.co.uk/whats-on/photo50/ (accessed 2/2/17)

Images    

Figure 1: image taken by Allan O’Neill of a photograph from Wendy McMurdo’s Let’s Go to a Place series (2016)

Figure 2: Abbie Traylor-Smith Chelsea from The Big O series

Assignment 5: Research 3: Visual inspiration; Photography Artist Trish Morrissey and the constructed image

lab-girl

Figure 1: Trish Morrissey. (2016) Fig. 8097GAS (TM) An apparatus for testing the absorption ability of a nappy. 1969 / 2015. Mänttä, Finland taken from Ten People In A Suitcase. 

In order to develop a visual interpretation of my assignment 5 brief I have sought inspiration from an artist that I have taken more from each time that I have considered her work, Trish Morrissey.

I had seen Morrissey’s constructed self-portraiture work previously during this C & N course whilst researching the topic of Masquerades but at that point I had not quite appreciated the significance of the photograph as an image and a constructed reality. However six plus months on and my thinking and appreciation have developed to the point that this concept has been the core foundation of the learning and development gained throughout this year and so it is appropriate that I try to take some of this inspiration into my final assignment.

trish-morrisey-boxer

Figure 2: Trish Morrissey (2016). Fig. 01832KEL (TM) Tapani Kansa sang at Kirstinharju dance pavilion. Departure. 1970 / 2015. Mänttä, Taken from Ten People In A Suitcase.

Trish Morrissey’s latest work Ten People In A Suitcase (2016) is a series of self-portraits made as part of a residency undertaken by the artist where she was called upon to make a response to an archive of 30,000 historical photographs from the 1920s to the 1980s recording the life of a small industrial town of 6,000 people, Mantta in Finland. “These photographs are not re-enactments but rather new photographs that aim to inhabit and re-animate the lives of the original subjects”. (Baylis, G. 2016:31)

This concept of new photographs that can inhabit and re-animate lives which have since passed is central to my thinking for assignment 5 as I attempt to revisit the life of the British born Asian footballer Frank Soo. Morrissey herself says that, “In order to create these new photographs, I had to imagine the events that led up to this moment in the character’s lives, and in doing so, felt closer to the town itself.  The photographs transcend mere re-enactments, they are embodiments of real individuals who are more than just their snap shot.” (Morrissey, T. 2016)

What is most interesting is how the artist recreates a sense of history that seems to take place in the here and now which I think must be and will be very difficult to achieve but if successful creates a very powerful effect.

In her work Morrissey is successful in creating fresh stories and realities and avoids the reduction that so often follows the archiving process, which is described as, “a loss, an abstraction from the original complexity and richness of use, a loss of context.” (Sekula, A.1991)

trish-morrisey-july-22nd-1972

Figure 3: Trish Morrissey, (2001-2004) July 22nd 1972, taken from Seven Years.

Another series of real interest and relevance is Morrissey’s Seven Years (2001-2004) and the title that refers specifically to the seven years age difference between the artist and her elder sister. In order to re-imagine these images from the 1970s and 1980s the artist uses suitable clothing, props and locations to instill the historical time period in question. Morrissey deconstructs and mimics the family photo album and by doing so allows us to re-appraise our history and the impact that this might have had on our lives.
What is really effective in the execution is how the artist seems to draw out the specific personal and psychological tensions that exist in all family relationships. The resultant images create a series of isolated yet exaggerated moments of facade and with them the un-covering or creation of new perspectives.

What I like about Trish Morrissey’s work within these two photographic series is that by exploring and considering how the historical archive and family photo album both work we are allowed and encouraged to revisit, reimagine and reinterpret our sense of social reality and the subsequent sense of history that follows and reflect upon how and why these concepts were constructed in a particular way in the first place. Again these concepts are central to my own aspirations for assignment 5.

By doing so we can reflect upon the impact on these key constructs in the development of our roles and identities and the subsequent direction of our lives. We can often find new evidence, new ideas and develop fresh perspectives enabling us to transcend the dimensions that organise our social existence.

Alison Green (2006) speaks of Trish Morrissey’s photography work as ”her way into the heart of such issues as family experiences and national identities, pastimes and fashion, Irish middle class values, feminine and masculine roles, and relationships between strangers. Her work does not so much define these subjects but uses photography to probe their boundaries, often left intact in every day life.” (Green, A. 2006)

Bibliography

Trish Morrissey artist’s own website can be accessed online at: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/index.html

Baylis, G. (2016) ‘Hidden People’ In: Source The Photographic Review issue 87 pp. 30-39.

Alison Green, (2006). Survey of International Contemporary Photography, London: Phaidon Press

Sekula, A. ESSAY: Reading An Archive Photography between labour and capital (1991) – Taken from The Photography Reader Wells, L (2002) London: Routledge

All Images by Trish Morrissey and accessed from the artists own website 19/12/2016) 

Figure 1: Fig. 8097GAS (TM) An apparatus for testing the absorption ability of a nappy. 1969 / 2015. Mänttä, Finland Taken from Ten People In A Suitcase (2016)

http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/Work-ten/workpg-06.html

Figure 2: Fig. 01832KEL (TM) Tapani Kansa sang at Kirstinharju dance pavilion.

Departure. 1970 / 2015. Mänttä, Taken from Ten People In A Suitcase (2016)

http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/Work-ten/workpg-09.html

Figure 3: July 22nd 1972 Taken from Seven Years (2001-2004)

http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-sy/workpg-01.html

Gregory Halpern’s ZZYZX: photo-book and exhibition held at the Webber Gallery, London

greg-halpern-zzyzx2

Figure 1: Gregory Halpern taken from ZZYZX

I first came across this work through reading Sean O’Hagen’s Guardian article California Dreamin’ in the 21st Century and as a student who appreciates the work of Stephen Shore and William Eggleston I was immediately interested in this contemporary view of the modern America landscape.

Sean O’Hagen sums up the work well when he says, “Halpern has created a California of the mind, a place both real and metaphorical”. Halpern himself says, “My work begins with the notion of documentary but I want it to be more than that…..It is grounded in reality, but it occupies an inbetween space between documentary and a certain sense of mystery. I want to leave room in the pictures for the viewer’s thoughts and projections.” Halpern spent five years on the project travelling from the east of Los Angeles westward until reaching the Pacific Ocean although half of the estimated 1,000 rolls of film were shot in the last year once the artist had obtained a Guggenheim grant allowing him to reside in California.

greg-hal

Figure 2: Gregory Halpern taken from ZZYZX

The images are striking, colourful, a mixture of a mystical past and a dystopian future that happens to be set in the present. The entire book makes a huge visual impact through the originality of the images and striking vibrant colours, contrasts and compositions and not a petrol station in sight! O’Hagen described the work as both real and metaphorical which I certainly agree with but how the artist seems to achieve both simultaneously is the real art.

Halpern’s first title of the work was ‘Babylon and Kingdom’ and this working label perhaps gives up the artist’s personal motives that become more obscured by the final title ZZYZX. This name pronounced Zye-Zix is the name which Curtis Howe Springer the mineral water entrepreneur gave to a small Californian settlement formerly known as Soda Springs in 1944. Springer in his eccentricity renamed the settlement after what he claimed to be the last word in the English dictionary. “The word has a dystopian, futuristic aspect, says Halpern, “even though it came out of a utopian dream Springer had whilst squatting the land for three years….that notion of manifest destiny is still there still in California, but also the sense that it’s the end of the dream.”

halpern-3

Figure 3: Gregory Halpern taken from ZZYZX 

The work isn’t so much as documentary as it is hinting at a fiction but as the artist himself says, “I’m not saying it is fiction, but it has that element of being more beautiful, more ugly, more complicated and contradictory. Like L.A itself in fact.” How he combines such ugliness with such dramatic beauty is an interesting lesson in visual imagery and communication.

Costa Brava -6

 

Figure 4: by Allan O’Neill (2016)

I have previously been drawn to these types of photographic images where bright blue skies collide with the chaos of a constructed culture and society and it is certainly an aesthetic idea that I have previously taken inspiration from in my own work (see here) and as seen above. Also as I have progressed through this course I have begun to recognise the need and importance of balance a visual approach as oppose to endless reading and research resulting in a text led strategy and this work is a very good example to follow.

greg-hally

Figure 5: Gregory Halpern taken from ZZYZX

The above image appears so original to the type of image that I have often seen in this sort of work other than the sense that it’s the sort of image that might be a still from a David Lynch movie.

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Figure 6: Gregory Halpern taken from ZZYZX

Martha W Egg

Figure 7: (Untitled) William Eggleston (circa 1975)

The first image (figure 6) has a similarity to a famous image by William Eggleston (figure 7) right down to the shallow depth of field which draws the attention to the face of the female(s) lying down. The image is almost a modern adaptation of William Eggleston’s original work.

halpern-2

Figure 8: Gregory Halpern taken from ZZYZX

There are lots of images depicting people living destitute existences but these images don’t necessarily conjure up any real sense of a social protest or even exploitation of the subjects; the work appears so other worldly and cinematic you get the sense that the people are almost acting out their parts in a film.

Excellent work and for myself a lesson that photography often works best when it looks good.

Bibliography

Gregory Halpern: ZZYZX appeared online Port Magazine AT:

http://www.port-magazine.com/art-photography/gregory-halpern-zzyzx-california/

Hagen, S. California Dreamin’ in the 21st Century, The Guardian (15/10/16) can be viewed online AT: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/oct/15/gregory-halpern-zzyzx-photography-book-california-los-angeles

 

 

 

 

Exhibition visit: Vasco Araujo’s Decolonial Desire at Autograph ABP, London

vasco-araujo-1

Figure 1: Taken at Decolonial Desire exhibition by Vasco Araujo (2016)

Vasco Araujo is a Portuguese multi-media artist whose first solo exhibition Decolonial Desire explores Portugal’s colonial past in Africa and addresses just how social reality and history are constructed and whose purposes are served.

Having just completed assignment 4 which focussed on an image from the 1970s Feminist Avant Garde movement I am embarking upon part 5 of the C & N course Constructed Realities and the Fabricated Image and with this in mind I have been researching potential interesting exhibitions when Decolonial Desire came to my attention.

Exhibition curator, Mark Sealy describes the artist, “Arajo is part of a generation of contemporary artists who question and critically investigate colonial histories. His work throws an uncomfortable light on the unrelenting violence, that was an inherent part of Europe’s colonial order.” (Sealy, M. 2016)

Vasco Araujo is a white male Portuguese artist undertaking this exploration on behalf of a country which has been slow to examine the full truth of their history but the first exhibit (see figure 1 above) set the tone; two old photography albums mixed into a single installation. 50% of the images are of the native black Africans who are presented as simple objects, exhibited and subjugated. The other 50% are of white Europeans who are clearly enjoying themselves and enjoying the trappings of rule and domination.

The pictures in the installation, a large photo library contained in an old dark wood cabinet, are images of the original photographs and as such appear as the image of the image created by colonisation and spread throughout Europe in order to justify white Europeans’ domination and exploitation of Africa and black Africans. The theme of the old dark wood runs throughout the exhibition and adds a sinister echo of those dark colonial days.

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Figure 2: Taken at Decolonial Desire exhibition by Vasco Araujo (2016)

The second exhibit (see figure 2 above) Botanica (2012-2014) comprised of a combination of two groups of photographs presented in dark wooden frames placed on traditional dark wooden dining tables. One group were photographs of exotic botanical plants taken from the tropical gardens of Lisbon, originally called the Colonial Garden. The second group of images were framed archive photographs taken of the black Africans used in the infamous human zoos that toured European cities during the 19th and 20th centuries where black Africans were essentially exhibited as exotic human specimens, the last show actually took place as late as 1958 in Belgium.

The outcome of Botanica is the creation of an exotic forest containing examples of botanical plants and the human species alike, the artist stated, “I want people to react with emotion. I hope that they not only get passionate, but also feel like they’ve been punched in the stomach. Discomfort, that is what I want, because discomfort provokes internal questioning.” (Vasco Araújo, 2016).

There is no doubt that I felt a deep physical pit in my stomach as I viewed this exhibit where the images of the exotic plants and human individuals are placed alongside each other for show and therefore are seen as equal in status and later on when I read more about the truth of these human zoos.

“These ‘human zoos’ were seen by 1.4 billion people overall – and that they therefore played an important, and so far unacknowledged, part in the development of modern racism……….A view of Africa and its people that is still contemptuous. A certain way in the West of believing oneself superior. Above all the story helps explain how millions of westerners were manipulated into a belief in the inequality of races.” (Schofield, H. 2011)

You can read more by reading the article Human zoos: When real people were exhibits (Schofield, H. 2011) which can be accessed at: URL: At: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16295827 Accessed on: 12 December 2016.

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Figure 3: Taken at Decolonial Desire exhibition by Vasco Araujo (2016)

A final exhibit Capita is a series of self-portraits where the artist masquerades and re-enacts a number of stereotypical racial profiles including the maid, butler, farm worker, musician and dandy gentleman. Araujo attempts to subvert these stereotypes by offering his own version of the powerless objectified gaze of black Africans so often seen in archived colonial photographs. The title of the exhibit Capita relates to the financial purpose of colonialism.

These photographs were turned upside within the gallery and initially I had thought that this exhibit was not quite as successful; originally I had thought that the slightly playful style adopted by the artist (more so in certain images) seemed to conflict and jar with the stark sense of authentic truth and reality that seems to run throughout the rest of the exhibition mainly delivered through it’s use of original imagery. However as I reflected more upon this I think the idea works really well but maybe they did not need to be upside down?!

Final thoughts

What I found most inspiring about this exhibition was to see the artist’s response to an unjustifiable structure of exploitation created by a process of colonialism that has led directly to racial discriminations to the present day.

Also we see clearly how identity, roles and stereotypes are created and become embedded in culture, social reality and eventually history itself; and how this process creates structures of control and domination exerted by those that hold power over those without it.

Reference list

Figures 1-3 All taken by Allan O’Neill at Decolonial Desire by Vasco Araujo (2016)

Vasco Araujo Decolonial Desire exhibition (2016) curated by Mark Sealy, held at Autograph ABP Gallery, London.

http://autograph-abp.co.uk/exhibitions/decolonial-desire

 

 

 

Study visit to the Feminist Avante Garde of the 1970s exhibition

Introduction

The Photographer’s Gallery in London is currently host to this exhibition of 200 major works of art by 48 international artists. In her promotional interview curator Gabriele Schor is very assertive and clear that this exhibition delivers exactly what is stated in the title of the show, Feminist Avant Garde art produced in the 1970s. This interview demonstrates the deep conviction to ensure that this Feminist Art movement of the 1970s is genuinely recognised and accepted for what it is by the wider history of Art.

This was a fantastic day for many different reasons but what I found perhaps most fascinating if not enlightening was to observe and interpret the exhibition as a total working and moving concept within society and I have n’t necessarily had the opportunity or I have been unable to see an artistic concept/body of work/movement in this way – but on this occasion many components fall into place and this experience provided a genuine insight into how our art and society functions from the artist’s first touch to it’s impact and interpretation fifty years on.

Background to the movement

The post-modernism of the late 1960s and 1970s reflected times of great political and social change and the feminist movement joined the civil rights movement, Parisian student riots and the Vietnam War protestors in campaigning for a better world.

The exhibition

This exhibition clearly reflects this period of protest and change and the tone of the art is aggressive, confrontational, frustrated and angry and I could see straight away that the artists were fighting for basic human rights. Any thoughts that an artwork can lose the authentic meaning once it is hung on a gallery wall were certainly dispelled in this exhibition.

The works were loaded with intelligence and cold brutal rationality delivered in a provocative, powerful and violent manner. Deconstructing then tossing back the conventional image and stereotype of the housewife, pornstar, fashion model, wedding cakes, ovens, ironing boards, pornstars – literally the kitchen sink – to an audience and society no doubt in shock at the sight. Part of me felt deflated that 50% of the world’s population were born into this position but the relentless anger at this deeply embedded oppression was also inspiring. I was left wondering why feminism appears so marginalised by mainstream culture as a movement although I think I already know the answer and I will return to this point later.

The exhibition is organised into four broad themes relating to the direction of the art and these are the domestic agenda, sexual objectification, normative beauty and Alter ego/self-representation.

Specific exhibits I particularly enjoyed were:

marta-wilson-hw

Image 1: The Housewife, taken from Martha Wilson’s A Portfolio of Models (1974)

The image was part of a collection of self-portraits by Martha Wilson depicting six categories of womanhood featuring the artist made up in appearance and character of each of the particular roles. Each of the specific images, of the Goddess, the Housewife, the Working Girl, the Professional, the earth Mother and the Lesbian were accompanied by a short text profiling the model. Signing off the six images was a final paragraph reading as follows:

“These are the models society holds out to me: Goddess, Housewife, Working Girl, Professional, Earth Mother, Lesbian. At one time or another, I have tried them all on for size, and none has fit. All that’s left to do is be an artist and point the finger at my own predicament. The artist operates out of the vacuum left when all other values are rejected.”          

Martha Wilson, August 1974

This work serves as a genuinely excellent example of how the combination of imagery and text can serve to provide an extremely powerful message.

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 Image 2: Taken from Karin Mack’s Destruction of an Illusion (1977)

Mack’s work is a photographic series working in a straight linear order with the first image of the contented housewife. The second image reveals that the first image is actually an image of a photograph (an illusion) and so the series continues with this deconstruction until the image has been aggressively attacked and destroyed and the final image shows the final shreds of photographic paper.

This process of active destruction of the photograph serving as a perfect metaphor for a deep anger and frustration, as the destruction of a photograph in such an aggressive manner would be reserved only for such circumstances which could generate a real sense of hate and anger. The metaphorical deconstruction of the image in physical terms another excellent example of how effective the use of metaphors can be if chosen and balanced with the required outcome correctly.

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Image 3:Martha Rosler Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vm5vZaE8Ysc

Martha Rosler’s video (above) Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975) is one of the most famous pieces of feminist art where Rosler demonstrates the use of various kitchen utensils in the order of their place in the alphabet according to the first letter and so A for Apron comes first. Although Rosler calmly ties the apron around herself her actions and expressions gain in intensity and eventually towards their aggressiveness.

The aesthetics of the film parodies the everyday TV cookery programmes based around the female housewife stereotype and their need to be a good cook. Also by using the ‘classroom education‘ style format of these productions the artist essentially gives her audience an education in the place of a woman and a lesson in feminism. The gestures adopted by the artist are strange and tense communicating an underlying frustration and anger which eventually develop into a disturbing but again extremely powerful presentation. A intelligent and rational message communicated in a creative format served with an intertextuality which intensifies and deepens it’s message.

Valie Export, Tapp and Touch Cinema (1968)

Valie Export’s Tapp and Touch Cinema (1968) was a perfect illustration of a performance art produced in the late 60s and 1970s. In this work the artist invites male passers-by to physically reach their hands into a cardboard box (theatre) that Valie Export is wearing over her bare chest. Due to the proximity of the act the artist essentially looks straight ahead at the man as he engages with the performance; “which confronted the pleasure derived from the anonymous act of viewing images of women and demonstrated the violating aspect of the cinematic experience.” I really enjoyed the deep-rooted intelligence of the idea and it’s simple effective execution.

Whilst I have selected only four artists the quality was consistently high and coherent throughout the exhibition and viewing these artworks within the context of the gallery became the perfect platform for revisiting the beliefs and feelings communicated by these artists nearly fifty years ago.

Earlier I mentioned that curator Gabriele Schor spoke of the canonisation of this Feminist Avant Garde art and the importance of this movement being taken seriously and not being subject to marginalisation. Whilst I have reflected on this visit I also searched to see how the exhibition had been reviewed with Schor’s objectives in mind.

The Guardian newspaper actually covered the exhibition over two separate articles; the first titled Feminist Art of the 1970s: knives, nudity and terrified men. The subtitle read, “A new exhibition of Avant Garde works from the 1970s is a fascinating window into the anger that drove the movement – and a reminder of it’s continuing relevance.” (Guner, F. 3/10/16). This article featured in the Woman’s section.

The second titled Weddings, ovens and Jesus in heels: The savage wit of the Avant Garde feminists. The subtitle read, “From the wearable oven to the all female last supper, this hard hitting and hilarious collection of feminist Avant Garde photographs still packs a punch.” (Cosslett, R. 7/10/16) The second article was featured in the Arts and Culture section.

The difference in the language used by the different reporters is noticeable and makes a significant difference to the narrative. Perhaps influenced by the context of where the article appears (Arts and Culture section) R Cosslett by her selective, frivolous and light use of words serves only to undermine the artworks, the artists, the exhibition and on a wider level feminism – by her refusal to take the exhibition seriously. Another noticeable difference in the two articles underlining this view is the number of references made to the word vagina – of course there is a fair degree of nudity in the art works fundamentally due to the feminist protest against the objectification of the female body. In the first article the word vagina isn’t actually used as the term genitalia is used instead, once. However,in R Cosslett’s second article the word vagina is used three times in the first paragraph.

Perhaps I have been a little overly absorbed in the wider perspective but it’s just where I seemed to move with the day and subsequent reflections but there was such a volume of work handling the detail almost became an unachievable task. Anyhow I enjoyed the exhibition so much I’m planning to re-visit before it moves on.

One line of questioning that I still have is, “What does feminist Art by men look like, and is there such a thing, is it possible?” I will look more into this concept.

A final word of thanks go to Dawn Woolley in hosting this study visit in such a enthusiastic, knowledgeable but also friendly manner and to my fellow students for participating in what was a really fantastic day and a great opportunity to meet, discuss and debate ideas and just generally gain some valuable social interaction with likeminded people.

Bibliography

Berger, J (1972)Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin

Cosslett, R. (2016) ‘Weddings, ovens and Jesus in heels: The savage wit of the avant garde feminists.’ The Guardian (online) 7/10/16 (accessed 2/11/16)

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/oct/07/weddings-ovens-jesus-in-heels-savage-wit-avant-garde-feminist-photography

Gunur, F. (2016) ‘Feminist art of the 1970s: knives, nudity and terrified men.’ The Guardian (online) 3/10/16 (accessed 2/11/16)
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2016/oct/03/feminist-art-of-the-1970s-knives-nudity-and-terrified-men

Schor, G (2016) Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s work from the Verbund Collection. London: The Photographer’s Gallery. For more information see:

http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/feminist-avant-garde-of-the-1970s

List of images

Image 1 Martha Wilson The Housewife taken from The Portfolio of Models (1974) accessed (2/11/16) online AT:

http://scma.smith.edu/artmuseum/Collections/Cunningham-Center/Blog-paper-people/Martha-Wilson-A-Portfolio-of-Models

Image 2: Karin Mack taken from The Deconstruction of an Illusion (1977) accessed (2/11/16) online AT:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/feminist-artists-1970s_us_5800dfc1e4b06e0475943918

Image 3: Martha Rosler Semiotics of the Kitchen (1977) accessed (2/11/16) online AT:

http://www.walkerart.org/calendar/2011/disarming-domesticity