“Performing for the camera examines the relationship between photography and performance, from the invention of the photographic medium in the nineteenth century, to digital cameras and social media. The exhibition brings together photographs made to document performance by artists who use the camera as a tool to produce their own performative images. It encompasses serious works of art that deal with identity politics, carefully constructed fantasies, and witty improvised snapshots” (Tate Modern, 2016).
I think overall the exhibition became a victim of itself in that it was overwhelming from a conceptual perspective and ultimately I could n’t really fathom out where or why it started or ended. The specific categories sort of fitted together under what is an all-encompassing banner title but I felt that there was n’t really a genuine flow and I left slightly baffled about what the underlying intention had been. That said with tickets priced at up to £20 the intentions are perfectly obvious.
For this I felt that the photographs on exhibition were overall a little disappointing with at least 25% if not 33% of the exhibition dedicated to black and white images of performance art from the 1960s and 1970s. I got a strange sense of a lack of energy and it seemed as if the exhibition was drawn completely from the Tate’s own collection and the curators were simply moving the deck chairs around.
That said there were plenty of interesting pieces of work such as Yves Klein jumping out of the window, 3 (only) images from Cindy Sherman’s Film Stills work, Francesca Woodman – Just not as much as I would have expected.
A big plus was that I discovered some interesting artists such as Amalia Ulman who as part of her work Excellences and Perfections created a fictional social media character, a young woman who moves to New York and ends up having an emotional breakdown.
As part of the project Ulman makes fictitious posts on Instagram and amasses 89,000 followers in the process. “Instagram is a place where you can be yourself, people love believing in things, and people still think the internet is a place of authenticity, but everyone is selecting, or even fabricating what they post.” (Amalia Ulman, 2015).
I found the work interesting as first and foremost the images look good as they co-opt the form now so recognisable and embedded in images appearing across social media platforms. It also addresses the critical question surrounding the culture of of social (and mass) media and it’s impact on social behaviour which is a broad subject of interest to myself and it was particularly interesting to see an example of work which really examines this subject.
Jimmy DeSana’s Suburban series was also really interesting in that he offers an interpretation of American suburban life. DeSansa’s staged images are of nude bodies in absurd poses intertwined with everyday objects and the scenes operate as metaphors for a suburban existence.
DeSana said, “I don’t really think of that work as erotic. I think of the body almost as an object. I attempted to use the body but without the eroticism that some photographers use frequently. I think I de-eroticized a lot of it. Particularly in that period, but that is the way the suburbs are in a sense.”
Jimmy Desana also concentrates on subject matter which I find interesting and which I have attempted to comment on in my own previous assignment work although not with anything like the artistic fluency and sophistication of DeSana’s work. I particularly liked the surrealist nature of the compositions and the colour schemes used by DeSana.
Hannah Wilke’s poster print Marxism and Art: Beware of Facist Feminism was also exhibited and I liked the black and white poster style form of the image and I liked how she challenged the norms and values of feminism and stood for individualism.
There were plenty of other positives to take from the visit but I could n’t shake off my gut reaction that it should have been better.
Searle, A (2016) Performing for the Camera review – pain, passport photos and genital panic The Guardian 15/02/2016) full article can be read at
Full interview with Amalia Ulman can be seen at
http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/amalia-ulman/#_ (accessed 25/05/2016)
Jimmy DeSana about Suburban
http://aperture.org/shop/desana-suburban-books (accessed 25/05/2016)