Friday, 15 May 2009

"A photograph is not created by a photographer. What they do is just to open a little window and capture it. The world then writes itself on the film. The act of the photographer is closer to reading than it is to writing. They are the readers of the world."

Ferdinando Scianna Magnum member

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Paul Graham wins the 2009 Deutsche Borse Photography Prize

Now in its thirteenth year, this annual Prize of £30,000 rewards a living photographer, of any nationality, who has made the most significant contribution to photography in Europe, through either an exhibition or publication, over the past year. Paul Graham was selected by the Jury for his publication, a shimmer of possibility (steidlMACK, October 2007). This publication comprises 12 books of the same size but with different coloured covers. I think it is unfortunate that the photographers Gallery could not display the books in such a way that the viewer could leaf through them because the prints on the gallery wall did not do Graham or his books justice.

A shimmer of possibility is based on Chekhov's short stories which I have never read but are known for Chekhov's economy of writing. His writing is sparse and a few words develop a character or scene and this is what Paul has done with his books. He calls them 'filmic haikus'. The twelve books are all alike but vary in length and the number of photographs included. Each presents a different implied ‘short story’ with the less is more approach. Some do so with many images over the course of a book, and one book suffices with only the inclusion of one single image. I heard Graham talk about his work at the Photographer's Gallery last week. The images of individuals he showed in his talk and which appear in the books are about the flow of their life for small amounts of time which are not defined by a neat and tidy beginning, middle and an end. They are open ended moments where we pause to notice and experience these subjects, and as they move on in their own direction and continuum, we move on our way too. In some way his work relates to what I am trying to achieve with my work.

I had not thought of it before but the last 3 major works he has done define the three principle variables of photography: Focus, Aperture and Shutter. End of an Age used focus - sharp/blurry. American Night used exposure - light/dark, and the new one Shimmer of Possibility uses time - fixed/flowing.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Zurbaran - Saint Francis in Meditation (1635-1639)

I find this painting of a Saint lost in his devotional ritual utterly captivating. The contrast of light and shadow both reveals and hides elements of the portrait. You cannot quite make out all of his features and I feel drawn towards the depths of the blackness of his cowl. The austere and reclusive monastic life is in an instant overshadowed by the powerful and overriding emotion of divine ecstasy. What I find particularly effective about this painting is that it is so contemporary. Replace the Saint with a hooded youth and you have a snapshot of modern inner city culture.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Mythologies at Haunch of Venison
Mat Collishaw 'Insectisides' 2009

The Haunch Of Venison has moved to the old Museum of Mankind building and fittingly the opening show references ethnographic collections. Over 16 years ago my ex-husband took me on our second or third date to see an extraordinary and unforgettable exhibition here on the
Mexican Day of the Dead. As the current exhibition heavily alludes to it I am won over despite some bizarre exhibits and unexpected and disappointing artist pairings. Mythologies explores the stories we tell about the world in order to understand it. It addresses a set of themes which were the subject of exhibitions at the Museum of Mankind: beginnings and endings, rites and ritual, religion, magic and material culture.

The image above is of an exploding butterfly
by Matt Collishaw. His images of exploding insects are impossible to eradicate from my mind because they are fascinating in their shocking beauty. His juxtaposition of cruelty and beauty creates a visual experience that tests the viewer's resolve and sensibility. I am seduced but equally repulsed by the hyper-realistic large scale images of such alluring beauty. Mat writes of his work: "I'm interested in the way imagery hits me subliminally... Whether I like it or not, there are mechanisms within us that are primed to respond to all kinds of visual material, leaving us with no real say over what we happen to find stimulating".

Video is not my preferred form of art but Bill Viola is the exception to this rule. His 2008 video piece 'Incarnations' is one of my favourites.

The video evokes Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is a cyclical progession of Adam & Eve walking towards and discovering paradise only to realise that it is not all that it is set out to be and hastily retreating. It points also to the intersection between life and death and between awareness and unconsiousness. The grainy monotone hue of the footage is hypnotic and contrasted with the clarity of the moment when Adam & Eve pass through the wall of water in full glorious saturated colour and detail.

Burlington Gardens is a large exhibition space and I find myself racing through some of the galleries, not in an attempt to get round it but because some of the galleries are impenetrable. I particularly loath Damien Hirst's crystal skull which appears here as a gigantic double painting spanning one whole wall of a gallery. Fittingly, a gaggle of Chinese tourists snap each other in front of the paintings. A move on smugly to encounter Christian Boltanski's theatre of quivering shadows which dance menacingly on the walls and remind me of my visit to the Mexican Day of the Dead show many years ago. His work also makes me wonder why I bother with photography at all when a light projector, the object itself and a shadow can say far more than a flat 2-dimensional fixed surface ever can.

Roni Horn aka Roni Horn at Tate Modern

Roni Horn's exhibition at Tate Modern is a masterpiece. The meaning of her work is founded on the viewer's experience of it and for the viewer to play an active role as their experiences unfold. The complexity of her work only really sinks in on a second or even third visit. The layout is generous with two to three artworks per gallery. Her paintings, photographs and sculptures are frequently paired or doubled. As you wander through the rooms you see a couple of identical drawings or photographs appearing side by side or you might see a drawing coupled with another artwork only to then chance upon the same drawing in a later gallery. She uses this sense of pairing throughout and it is particularly evident with her sculpture. It heightens the encounter with her works because it creates a sense of space and flowing movement through which the viewer passes and interacts. You are unable to see them both at once but recognise the second whist recalling the first. It also reminds me of Barthes' concept of punctum as time in that a photograph for example can capture many tenses. It seems to me that Roni's use of pairing and doubling has a similar effect. I am reminded of the first drawing or sculpture I saw minutes earlier in a previus gallery whilst simultaneously appreciating the identical artwork in the present gallery.

Roni says daylight is important to her and this could not be more evident in this show with the huge Tate windows for once uncharacteristically allowing sunlight to pour and filter through the gallery space. In particular, the 'Paired Gold Mats for Ross and Relix" shimmer with a warm glow from the reflected light bouncing off the Thames. It comprises two sheets of gold foil placed one above the other and the interior space between the two sheets glistens alien-like with a golden aura as sunlight passes over the sheets. I find myself wanting to get down on my hands and knees in order to poke my finger between the sheets and check whether Roni has furtively placed an arteficial light between them. But no the exhibition guide says that the glowing light is entirely natural. The pairing of the mats is also a metaphor for intimacy, eroticism, splendour and mythology of gold.

Her early drawings are a mesmerising example of deconstructionism as she slices and reconfigures her drawings. I have, since seeing these drawings, started reading Deleuze and Guattari's ' A Thousand Plateaus' in which they advocate a non-hierarchical and non-linear way of thought and organisation. Her drawings fill my mind as a read the introductory text on rhizome. The drawings are non-linear, fragmented, shifting and indeterminate allowing for endless permutations of possibilities and improbabilities. She says drawing is important to her, her daily activity, her primary force. Drawing has no edges you can go anywhere with it. It is not idiom or material specific and is never right or wrong. You are just moving in with drawing, focusing, registering, and recognising. A gradual effort towards a final position. Her photography and sculpture flow from her drawing.

Her photographic portraiture such as the 'Cabinet of 2001' offers a series of blurred close up portraits of a clown's face performing different emotions. The blurriness of the head shots prevents any detailed analysis of the face. This in turn prevents any proper comparison of one emotion against another. It is unsettling as you scan the multiple repetitive features for visual clues and find none.

This is the first time I have encountered Roni Horn's work and it has changed the way I think and feel about conceptual art and the use of multiple media to achieve a common goal.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Paul Graham writes in the Guardian that the traditional definition of 'a great shot' is the antithesis of what this image is about. This photograph is about appreciating the flow of the moment, the rhythm and currents and eddies of life, rather than neatly packaging the world into perfectly formed little jewels. This photo was taken in Pittsburg and is one of a sequence of photos of this man mowing a lawn outside the motel where Graham was staying. Graham selected this image as his 'best shot' because if confers a nobility and dignity to what the man is doing. He continues to say: "Many moments are mundane and seem worthless but they shape our lives. They are quite different from the Herculean labours and extraordinary moments that photographers are addicted to."

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Medici Gallery in London have chosen the above image of mine for publication as a greeting card for worldwide distribution. This image was taken in Hyde Park on a foggy morning in January 2008.