Landscape symposium, RAMM, Exeter
“Collecting regions – Photography and a sense of place.”
When: 18th September, 2019
With: OCA photography students and fellow photographers.
Why: Since finishing my recent L3 body of work, I have been very aware of how various photographers have tried to capture a sense of place. Mine was through images of paintings using dyes made from plant and mineral materials found in a specific place at a specific time.
When the symposium at RAMM in Exeter was advertised, I made sure that I signed up for it particularly as it had Liz Wells as the first keynote speaker.
My highlights of the day:
- Liz Wells’ talk: Land, landscape and regional identity. Liz asked What is the Devon landscape? It is agrarian, botanical and geological. She referred to Marlene Creates, an environmental artist and poet who works with photography, video, scientific and vernacular knowledge, walking and collaborative site-specific performance in Canada. For Creates, the emphasis is on process involving memory, multiple narratives and ecology.
- She spoke about the work of Anna Atkins, Susan Derges and Robert Adams for whom beauty and form are significant.
- Jem Southam whose seminal work The shape of time, 2002, and ‘What is a River’ has influenced so many other photographers.
- Susan Collins whose work Woolacombe and Wembury 2016 reflects the changing landscape by projecting 2 images in which 1 pixel at a time changes over a day thus re-enacting the time-space of changes.
- Ravilious had to be part of this as his work is seminal in social and agricultural records of North Devon. Again, reference was made to the dating of the black and white images which many people feel reference the region in the 1940’s rather than the 1970’s when they were made.
- Deborah Bright: “Whatever its aesthetic merits every representation of landscape is also a record of human values and actions imposed on the land over time.” (1989) = an enquiry into the cultural meanings of landscape photography. In the social use of land, contextualisation is crucial.
Part 2 of the day was interesting from a social point of view:
- Brendan Barry introduced his review of his summer school. He insisted that you need to stay in a spot and let it talk to you.
- Jo Bradford spoke physically about her year’s daily shots of Dartmoor where she lives which shot her to fame. She was approached by a publisher to make a ‘how to’ book on using phone cameras. Because she developed such a following, she was trapped on Dartmoor to satisfy her followers’ expectations of another fix of Dartmoor landscape. This has spurred me on to make a daily image using my iPhone microscope lens and uploading it to Instagram. Because it is my first image of the day, it is not site-specific.
The afternoon session started with a very long introduction by Garry Fabian Miller whose work I saw when I was on the Landscape and Poetry residential week at Dartington in 2016.
What the day meant for me:
- It was excellent to see that it was so well supported with over 200 delegates.
- I was surprised that I could follow Liz Wells’ presentation because I find her writing very difficult to get into.
- It was good to hear from Jo Bradford – how animated she is about her work.
- It was good to be introduced to the work of Susan Collins and the writing of Deborah Bright, both of whom I shall investigate further.
Joan Fontcuberta workshop April 10th 2019
When this was originally advertised, I thought that the price was too high and that I would rather go to the talk in the evening.
Five days before the event, a reminder came round that there were a few places left. Fontcuberta’s book ‘Camera lucida’ is one that I can read over and over again because it is so dense with ideas, observations and insights. My favourite is ‘The lens has become incidental to the capturing of an image.’ (Fontcuberta p 8). What I mainly love about the man is his humour both in his writing and his ideas – and that is quite rare in photographers. Thinking that I would never have the opportunity to hear and ask questions of him again, I signed up. I left just after 7 o’clock & travelled to Bristol where I joined 3 other OCA students in the morning and a further 3 in the evening talk.
The main points I listed from his workshop were the following:
- How we communicate our ideas is crucial to our practice.
- We are simultaneously consumers and producers of images which are crucial in all facets of our lives and therefore images are central to all we do.
- We have a responsibility to consider that we are adding to the masses of images already out there. Are images in an age of post-photography becoming trivial? Whereas in the age of photography, they had a value , both cultural and economic whereas today, their commercial / commodity value is negligible.
- Memory was an obsession vis-a-vis photos but that is no longer the case and images are purely indexical.
- Photography can be seen in terms of the dichotomy of writing as opposed to language: writing is in the hands of the experts, whereas language is natural and spontaneous. I am not sure I agree with this view because there are degrees of writing and language: they are both expressive but they also have degrees of expression: is JF saying that complex writing is valued more than complex language? He was saying that the ontological nature of photography today is different from what it was pre-1990.
- He compared the life of the photo to a living thing because it has a birth, a maturing period, a dying and a re-starting. It is processed and seen in different places: a PC, a wallet, a book, a building or an album, and it takes on a different role depending on where it is seen, and its significance is determined by the architectural or cultural environment. The same photo in different contexts has different meanings & the final result of each image is determined by the context in which it sits.
- Photos never stand alone: the audience finishes / completes the work. The institutional platforms on which they stand also influence their impact. In the 1950s, for example, photography imposed truths – they assumed an inalienable authority.
- To JF, failures are more important than successful projects because you learn from them.
- Traumatised / damaged photographs: not of traumas but photographs which had sustained trauma – either through environmental or physical damage. To JF it is arrogance to think that we can capture history or a moment in time for an eternity through photographs: photographs are traumatised and therefore no longer capture that moment in time – they undergo changes. Capturing beauty in a traumatised image can be seen as a failure.
- Fraud vs Fake: a fake educates people on fraud. JF’s work, Fauna, for example, made up of constructed animals, tests the credulity of people when they see images in certain contexts.
A super romp through his methods and methodology – great fun.
Two sessions on taking an image, applying 5 different narratives to it and adding other images – which we had chosen, to complete the narrative. The second workshop involved taking 2 of his images, adding others to them and devising another narrative.
This was a fun exercise, particularly the second one which saw us paired up with people we did not know & coming up with a story. Our group made up a narrative on transmogrification & the general consensus was that it was a very successful story and combination of ideas.
Showing our work:
We had a chance during the workshops to present our work for JF to comment on. Having just come back from a very concentrated time of reviews in Format, I could not go through it all again, so I made up my own surreal image made up from the flotsam and jetsam I had collected on the beach the previous evening:
I tried to make it in the style of JF. It made him smile.
Books by JF I would like to access: Herbarium; Fauna. I would also like to investigate the Japanese photographer Araki.
The evening talk:
After having heard the evening talk, I was very glad I had attended the morning’s workshop as the one hour merely gave him the chance to go through 4 fo his projects and there was not much scope for anything else. I was very pleased that I had not made the 4hour trip just to hear that.
The one element I picked up from his talk which I had not done in the morning was his conclusion of how fragile interpretations can be of individual as well as group photographs. How much can influence how we receive images depending on where we are.
Personal reflection on the day:
+ It was great to reconcile the living person with his writing, style and imaginative projects.
+ I loved developing a narrative from the images because I can then apply the thinking to my image making.
Martha Rosler: touching on representation in art today (2014).
In the interview with Isabel Capeloa Gil, Rosler touches on many very pertinent points which made me think about my current project and about the book I am reading on BritArt called ‘Artrage!’.
The interview started with a very convoluted question which fortunately came to a timely end with the word ‘timely’ in it or I would not have deciphered what it was all about. The early part of the response which struck me was:
“The art world, particularly the non-artists in it, prefer art that does not direct their attention to the now … mostly because people prefer to see art that helps them to move away from concerns of the everyday and many people, particularly those who are engaged in showing or are buying work are interested in something that makes them feel they don’t really have to worry about daily events.”
My first question was how does she know that? Is there a study on it? Knowing that why does she still make ‘political’ art? It makes you question the production / creation of art at its most fundamental level and it certainly makes me question why am I doing the work that I am doing. Views of prisons and prisoners are very much part of our socio-political landscape and very much ‘now’. So is Rosler saying that I am engaged in a futile project called One Year which is to exhibit art of ‘the now’ which the non-artists and the buyers are respectively neither going to enjoy or buy? Perhaps responses at my July exhibition will tell.
2. Rosler goes on to say
“I believe that art now has the obligation to speak to people about the conditions of every day life, not necessarily to make them feel that it is insuperable but the opposite, to remind them that they are engaged as citizens.”
Has my art met that obligation? I embarked on my project because I was presented with 2 different realities: the one presented in the mass media through what has come to be termed “prison photography’, and a reality lived by a friend in prison and presented through his letters to me.
My images, I believe, present a different ‘prison photography”: one in which there is light (through colour), hope (through images representing nature renewing itself over time), and vitality/ new life (the plants growing at LandWorks, a charity which provides an extension of the therapeutic activities offered in prisons all over Britain).
3. “From the perspective that the visual impacts upon and affects our self-understanding I think, speaking particularly as a woman, it would be wonderful if my work plays a rôle in that conversation about the visualisation of identity and personhood and national identification. “
How I wish I could include my fault line series and my splodges series in my One Year project!!! As it stands, I have been advised to remove the splodges series as it is one layer too many.
4. ” On the other hand I would say that I’m very interested in the non-visual, in the auditory, and the merely conceptual because I think that most people conjure up pictures of what the work evokes based on the richness of our visual culture.”
I have a series of very short videos depicting the passage of time which I will show using my wonderful gift, that digital projector, in the cell adjacent to the quilt cell depicting images from the LandWorks visits.
5. “… I think it’s problematic for a visual artist like me to be stuck always in the visual, so yes, I think that art of necessity intervenes in the flow of representations of ourselves and others – this is critical but not necessarily always by visual means.”
What I took away from the video about the interview:
Rosler is very aware of what she wants to do with her art. She is aware of the changing priorities in the art world: she talks about the differences between the 1970’s and 2014: in the ’70s she didn’t worry about getting her work shown because there were so many ways to exhibit work “without the usual institutional gatekeepers and i didn’t care about market values” In 2014, artists have to be very aware of market values & “artists are interested in being successful in the world that’s driven by gallerists … and there’s an avid market for artists being successful.”
Suddenly it’s all about the commodification of art – which, I suppose has always been there but in a different guise: gone are the days of patrons employing artists to work on their mausoleums, on their chapel ceilings, on their family portraits. The 1970’s ushered in a self-gratifying artist and the emergence of a different patron in the mould of Charles Saatchi.
Do I want to be commodified? Do I want my work seen? Yes, I do because it is a different visualisation of prison photography.
What I took away from the video about me:
I need to find out, somehow, how to gauge what non-artists and gallerists want in order to find a place for my work.
In the middle of all my reflections comes this post on my Facebook page:
I’m not sure I would express it quite so forcefully but there is a very valuable point there: people have said there are too many layers in my work. I like it as it is but value their opinions. What do I do?
FULLERTON,E. 2016.ARTRAGE!: THE STORY OF THE BRITART REVOLUTION.THAMES AND HUDSON.
Following on from our OCA SW day with Michele Whiting, I bought the recommended Hans Ulrich Obrist book “Ways of curating”. What struck me before I started reading it and after having heard Michele Whiting’s talk and subsequent discussion at our SW meeting, was that many things are being ‘curated’: magazines, radio presentations, digital files, food, experiences … not just exhibitions which was the concept I started with, so I went to the Cambridge online dictionary to see how ‘curation’ is currently being used:
UK /kjʊəˈreɪ.ʃən/ US /kjʊˈreɪ.ʃən/
From this gem of a book which has short, dedicated chapters, I have made some notes which appealed to me at the time of reading. I will draw my random thoughts together in a conclusion.
Curating, Exhibitions and the Gesamtkunstwerk.
P. 23: We make aesthetic choices in the everyday: where to eat, what to wear or do.
P. 24: “Today we are awash in cheaply produced objects to a degree that would have been difficult to imagine a century ago. The result has been a shift in the ratio of the importance between making new objects and choosing from what is already there.”
This is particularly so in photography where, as Erik Kessells demonstrated with his mountain of photos printed in one day at the Rencontres d’Arles 2013, we produce billions of images on a daily basis with all the image capturing technology available today.
“for artists like French artist Dominique Gonzales-Foster, exhibitions are a way to resist the pressure towards an ever more uniform experience of of time and space by keeping the visitor in the art moment a little longer ”
P. 25: to curate ” comes from the latin curare meaning cultivating, growing, pruning and trying to help people and their shared contexts to thrive.”
When we consider that today, the functions of a curator involve preserving the heritage of a nation in order to tell its story; collecting new work to add to the national legacy ; contributing to a body of academic research into the artworks of the period; and displaying and exhibiting work.
Obrist argues that a new word is needed for a curator since the original meaning has so diverged from its current usage a curator as exhibition maker rather than caretaker.
P.28: In the salon style exhibitions which had images very close to one another, artists started to make their pictures stand out by giving it a different, perhaps more lavish frame. The emergence of the white cube and a reduced number of images on the walls gave rise to the single piece on a wall to itself. As I was going through London recently, I looked at the wall-to-wall skyscrapers and wondered how, apart from giving a distinctive shape like The Shark, The Gherkin, or The Cheese grater, buildings could make themselves be noticed. I took a few images which reminded me of the framing on an over-crowded wall:
P. 31: Curator Harald Szeemann, writing about the 1983 exhibition ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ that “the space presented different ‘worlds inside the world’ like a Russian matryoshka doll, … (its intention was) to create a self-contained world” in which one object would relate to another and so on.
P. 32: “The very idea of an exhibition is that we live in a world with each other, in which it is possible to make arrangements, associations, connections and wordless gestures, and, through this mise en scène, to speak.” This speaks to me of our OCA SW Osmosisexhibition greatly because we have come together as a group and our work develops as a direct result of the communication between us and it speaks to me of the bond that we have created amongst us. Yet it is all different in terms of expression, subject, background and origins.
P. 33: “Artists and their works must not be used to illustrate a curatorial proposal or premise to which they are subordinated. Instead, exhibitions are best generated through conversations and collaborations with artists, whose input could steer the process from the beginning. … Today, exhibitions are marked by a collaboration between multiple curators.”
“As artists themselves have moved beyond the simple production of art objects, and towards assembling or arranging installations that galvanise an entire exhibition space, their activity has in many cases become more consonant with the older idea of the curator as someone who arranges objects into a display. … this has “given rise to an impression that curators are competing with artists for primacy in the production of meaning or aesthetic value. Some theorists argue that curators are now secularised artists in all but name… My belief is that curators follow artists, not the other way round.””Curating changes with the change in art”
P. 34: “That said, the role of the exhibition-maker is one sometimes played by creative artists themselves.” = the artist-curator.
I love the description of the seemingly farcical situation in 2006 when Jean-Luc Goddard curated a show on the history of film at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. The exhibition curation broke all the rules: it sent out a disclaimer saying that it was not suitable for all audiences and that children were not allowed in the last room; the title of the exhibition kept changing; he fired the curator working with him; he refused to allow a press release; the final show was never final as it kept changing throughout its duration: there were cables lying around and other installation elements kept changing so that the show always looked unfinished; visitors entered through pleated & heavy plastic curtains. “It was chaosmotic” to use Felix Guattari’s word for an experience of osmosis in an environment of constant change ”
P. 35: The show was an imaginary space of past and present coming together, as an exhibition should be.”
Courbet, Manet and Whistler
P. 36:”Between 1759 and 1781, Denis Diderot had published a set of newsletters reviewing each of the salon exhibitions. These writings marked the beginning of the understanding of exhibitions as publicly received events whose contents could be assessed in terms of newness, originality and vitality.” By the 19th C, Baudelaire and Zola were assessing the importance of the salons in terms of the painters they saw there.
P. 42: The museum in antiquity was a place consecrated to the muses.
P. 52: An exhibition maker produces meaning in an exhibition.
P. 55: 1994: The man who inspired Obrist dies and “with him a way of making connections.”
P. 57: “producing exhibitions represents the current crop of a curator’s practice, while writing books is equivalent to preserving the harvest of the past. … Conversations, meanwhile, are obviously archival, but they are also a form of creating fertile soil for future projects. For this reason I began to ask everyone I interviewed a very future-oriented question: what is your unrealised project, your dream?”
Obrist interviewed Eric Hobsbawm who saw history as “a protest against forgetting” But recollection is a zone of contact between past, present and future. Memory is not a simple record of events but a dynamic process that always transforms what it dredges up from its depths, and the conversation has become my way to investigate such a process.”
P. 58: “Curating, after all, produces ephemeral constellations with their own limited career span. there is relatively little literature on exhibitions, and there is also an extraordinary amnesia about exhibition history.
“Most of curatorial history is oral history; it’s very much a story that can only be told because it’s not yet been written.”
Night trains and other rituals
P. 76: Speaking to Cy Twombly in 1989, Obrist realised that the link between art and poetry was something the 20th C avant gardens had in common: yet in the late 20th & early 21st Cs don’t have that (except in our OCA SW exhibition!!)
P. 124: Cedric Price would often about the concept of the exhibition as a learning system with a potentially complex and dynamic series of of feedback loops that can be brought into other contexts, and that eventually can have an impact on political circles
P. 129: Biennials can form a bridge between the local and the global. By definition, a bridge has two ends, and as Huang Long Ping points out:’Normally we think a person should have only one standpoint, but when you become a bridge you have to have two.’
P. 143: “Exhibitions, I have noted, always plant seeds. Maybe in five or ten years a young artist will emerge whose talents were triggered by that show.”
P. 154: The curator has to bridge gaps and build bridges between artists, the public, institutions and other types of communities.”
P. 171: We are already starting to witness visionary acts of digital curating, and curating will surely change as a generation native to digital tools begins to develop new formats.”
Conclusions and reflections drawn from the reading:
- We need to find a new word for curating / curator because the concept has changed and it encompasses different modalities than it did in the Paris Salons, for example, to see what was new and original. Today we curate for an exhibition or event rather than to preserve an aspect of our cultural heritage. Curators select work which they feel needs to be brought to the awareness of a wider public and not just for the sake of marking a new phase in our social history.
- Artists do not just create work, they see how the individual pieces of their work relate to one another in an installation and so become artist-curators.
- By bringing together disparate practitioners for an exhibition, a curator becomes a membrane through which artists connect with one another, learn from one another, see the world through different eyes. Together, they all speak to their audiences.
- Exhibitions may have multiple curators so whose voice do we hear? Does this make the voice of the artists come out louder? Will anyone else break all curatorially respected practices like Jean-Luc Goddard did? Did he or his exhibition inspire artists / curators after him?
- Where will digital tools take the practice in the future?
- Exhibitions can inspire artists of the future.
- Biennials can bridge cultural divides in which those exhibiting have to be aware of the standpoints of different artists and see where / if their practices meet.
- I like the idea that poetry and art need to connect more than they do at the moment.
- There is no written history of curatorial practice.
- In an exhibition, the curator/s bring the past and present together.
- In an exhibition, who is more prominent in creating meaning or aesthetic value the artist or the curator?
- How does the curator ensure that the viewer stays with the artwork a little longer?
- Obrist speaks from very much a theoretical standpoint and does not get into details of exhibition practices. For example, do curators make maquette of the hang before they actually see the work in situ?
How does this relate to my practice?
I have curated several exhibitions, the most recent of which were the OCA SW exhibitions of 2017 and 2018.
In the recent (2018) OCA South West exhibition, one other student wished to co-curate so we have been having Skype meetings to collate our ideas and suggest alternatives.
In both 2017 and 2018 exhibitions, I asked each artist exhibiting to send me measurements and photos of their work as well as how they would like their work to be hung. I then made a maquette to a scale of 1:20 of the exhibition space and the images so that I could see how the work could hang together in this order of priority: a) colour; b) size; c) subject. As the exhibition is cross-discipline, I tried to present a mix of disciplines rather than putting all the photographs together, all the textiles together etc.
In 2017 we had 3 distinct spaces and several tutors . I was conscious of not putting all the tutors’ work together or prioritising one person’s work over another. Fortunately two distinct themes emerged in the work submitted: the human condition and Nature so having two rooms to house each theme was a treat. The third room was dedicated to a work which required a lot of space and had a lot of equipment so it was handy to have it all together.
In 2018, we have one very cavernous space and a smaller space best suited to a film projection which e have so that’s that problem sorted.Once I had seen the space, I was afraid that we would have problems filling it. Fortunately, the exhibitors kept coming and we now have 61 pieces and each piece has its own space. We also have very large as well as very small pieces. having the maquette has been very useful in deciding ahead of the hanging what goes where.
I was very concerned about how I was going to reconcile the title of the exhibition which had been chosen as a result of our exercise in drawing up a manifesto for our group, the expression of the presentation of the disparate pieces of work and the publicity material which had been done by an extremely talented student:
Having found the definition of Osmosis, (the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc.) and having recently visited the Anni Albers exhibition where the walls were made of hessian which seemed to link the spaces together, I suddenly had an image of the membrane which simultaneously separates and connects those ideas / knowledge, so I decided that I would create a screen on either side of which will be arranged 2 pieces from 2 different learning pathways: the first screen will have poetry and photography on either side; the second will separate/connect sculptural photography and painting, while the third one which is actually a complete piece in itself, has history of art on one side and textiles on the other.
Would I use a digital curation piece of software to create a virtual maquette and would that be easier to manage than a physical one? How would I present the virtual exhibition to a visual audience? How would I get the feedback I need? How would visitors interact physically in the virtual space with the exhibits?
We have a digital presence in our 2018 exhibition in a piece which is digitally projected onto a wall. The projector is set close to the floor so that people, in passing across it will momentarily interrupt that projection and become part of the work itself.
The ideas which are reflected in my personal exhibition in July 2019 contain some of these ideas. I have not co-curated it but have drawn my ideas from the many exhibitions I have visited. My main aim is to provide as wide an experience of my project as possible for the viewers so it will comprise an installation, sound and photography, and will be split up over 3 spaces. More of this later.
Obrist, H.U. 2015. Ways of Curating. Penguin Books.
Online article: Rodney Harris – ‘A Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales, with part of Scotland, Ireland, France’ by Ellen Wilkinson, 2017.
Rodney Harris and a connection to rocks
Fellow SW student, Liz Nunn, sent me various links to an artist, Rodney Harris, who mapped out the geological map of, inter alia, England and Wales using crushed rocks of the region. This was based on the first geological map of England, Wales and southern Scotland, made by William Smith in 1815.
I loved this image most of all because of its subtleties in the changing layers which you cannot see at first glance:
I could use rocks found near my geological fault lines, crush them and make a dye using them and local flora based on my experience on the Environment and Art study days over the weekend of 28th & 29th July, 2018.
“The pigments in Harris’s print are made from rock, collected by him from all of the areas depicted in Smith’s original map, then ground and mixed with linseed oil to form a printable ink.” 1.
I am particularly interested in Harris’s process described as a Richard Serra -like verb list (1967 -8) ” walking, searching, collecting, drying, smashing, grinding, sieving, mixing, rolling, printing; physical actions that result in ‘discovering’ the colours that appear on the paper.”
In addition to that, author of the essay on Harris, Ellen Wilkinson states:
“In transforming rock into pigment, its solidity and opacity become tentative, the translucent printed ink seeming to question the stability of the substance it originated from.” (Idem) This ties in with my reason for using rock faults in my extended BoW project: rocks, like human beings, are the product of life’s forces around them.
“The simple act of digging reveals what is beneath, beyond that which the eye sees, and by booting a spade into soil it is possible to literally cut through time, through its accumulated layers.” (idem)
“The mineral tones of Harris’s map shimmer with emotional resonance, quietly reminding us that our most precious asset – and the one that requires the most protection – is Earth.” (Idem)