Conceptual Art In Britain 1964 – 1979

The exhibition at Tate Britain traces the course of Conceptual Art in Britain from 1964 to 1979 with its unique, sometimes complex and always, experimental and anti-aesthetic characteristics.  This is not an archetypal Tate Britain show but is pared down, perhaps how the artists would have intended it, rather than curated for the audience’s enjoyment or fulfilment.  It is fun, political and fascinating and shows how pioneering and influential this group of artists were on future generations.   The exhibition includes installations, documents, magazines, photography, journals and lots of ephemeral works in vitrines.

Conceptual Art In Britain 1964-1979
Conceptual Art In Britain 1964-1979
Conceptual Art In Britain 1964-1979
Conceptual Art In Britain 1964-1979

 

 

 

 

 

The most notable photography comes from Keith Arnatt and Richard Long, challenging the notion of what art and photography are and using their artform to document an act, performance or idea.  Long’s work is the document of the remnants of his act of walking, undermining the traditional view of authorship and object and rejecting the artwork.   Arnatt’s Self Burial similarly is not the elevated, precious self portrait but the death of the artist, a grainy photographic document, nine images, of him slowly disappearing into the earth.  Arnatt playfully questioned what constitutes an artwork and famously questioned Tate’s stance on photography in the 80s as they stipulated they only collected photographs made by artists and not by photographers.  His conceptual photography, was and is highly influential in his documentary of the banal, mundane and detritus, influencing later Conceptualists and fine art photographers and those that today utilise social media for their deadpan images.

Art as an Act of Retraction, Keith Arnatt
Art as an Act of Retraction, Keith Arnatt
Self Burial, Keith Arnatt
Self Burial, Keith Arnatt
A Line Made by Walking, Richard Long
A Line Made by Walking, Richard Long

Paul Strand: Photography & Film for the 20th Century

This exhibition, seen at the Victoria & Albert Museum, provided a special opportunity to see a large number of works by one of the greatest and most influential photographers of the twentieth century.  The influence of Strand’s work on both fine art and documentary photography that followed is on view as we see work that covered periods of monumental change in politics, society, economics and foreign policy.

The exhibition is presented chronologically and covers his life works including the pictorial studies, the uncompromising New York street portraits, the images of architectural and urban modernism, his work in Mexico, France and the Outer Hebrides.  The exhibition also covers his commitment and innovative approach to photo books.  Strand’s demand for objectivity in photography and pioneering modernism can clearly be seen in the first galleries, his honesty then sometimes turning into anti-modern romanticism followed by his search for a new realism in the remote.

Wall Street
Wall Street
Blind Woman
Blind Woman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing the urban metropolis and machine age image that is Wall Street is a treat for the eyes and the iconic Blind Woman is staggering in its strength, artistic realism and almost brutalism.  The Blind Woman questions Strand’s stance on honesty, his hidden camera, with this portrait and those like it taken without the knowledge or consent of the subject, his need for honesty and objectivity.   But is the subject really blind?  And is there truth in this documentary practice?  It is one of a number of New York types in the exhibition which are poignant and compelling as images of poverty amongst the thriving metropolis.

The two art film documentaries by Strand that are exhibited and the photographs from Mexico present his work most strongly in a wider ideological context and it is here we most clearly see the connections between his politics and work.  The work in Mexico is transitional and from here Strand went on to photograph more remote and hidden areas of Europe including Britain.   The work made in the Outer Hebrides, over three months in 1954, and published in the photo book The Land of Bent Grass is a beautiful, fascinating series showing a new realism and organic connection with the people land and sea.

Outer Hebrides
Outer Hebrides
Croft, Outer Hebrides
Croft, Outer Hebrides

Photo London 2016

Eighty of the world’s leading galleries showing photography, a public programme including talks, symposia, book signings, exhibitions and installations, all taking place at the magnificent Somerset House made Photo London an essential, vibrant and engaging event.  Works on display ranged from nineteenth century masters through to conceptual installation works by emerging artists.  Large numbers of visitors made their way through the stunning architectural surroundings to see galleries from Paris, Lisbon, Tokyo, New York, Berlin and further afield as well as a strong representation from the London galleries.   Spaces that were particularly notable included;

Analog, a small project space, showing Richard Nicholson’s documentary photographs of London’s fast disappearing dark rooms made in 2005/6.  Since that time there has been a resurgence in these spaces and Nicholson has now turned his attention to the cinema projectionist’s rooms.

Analog
Analog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Between Bridges, a  commission by Wolfgang Tillman installed in the courtyard of Somerset House next to the pavilions, was particularly engaging and attracted crowds who were interested in his take on the European referendum and Brexit.  His artwork was a striking call to audiences.

Between Bridges
Between Bridges

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works from Christina De Middel’s new project Antipodes (2016) were shown by Dillon Gallery (NY).   The photographic works went beyond the landscape, map and document and did not look at the classical representation or beauty of the most exotic and unusual locations but instead showed an inverted world.   The gallery also showed works from her series Jan Mayes (2014).  This body of work takes the remarkable story of a group of wealthy British and German scientists who in 1911 decided to re-discover a remote island between Greenland and Iceland.  Their expedition failed but the photographer among them convinced them to stage a landing on an Icelandic beach to cover up their failure.  Middel travelled to the Isle of Skye and using the detailed journals of the scientists (provided by the Archive of Modern Conflict) she recreated the hoax.  Her project includes her coloured photographs, historical documents and recreated documentary style photography.

Antipodes
Antipodes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jan Mayes
Jan Mayes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twelve by Craigie Horsfield, curated by the Wilson Centre for Photography, was a highlight of the event.   The exhibition clearly showed how the artist contributes to how we experience and understand the photograph.  The large, unique portraits of the artist’s friends, family and associates made over a period of 50 years (from the 1970s and created in London, Bath, Rotterdam and Barcelona) are striking in their intensity.  The exhibition shows the portrait as a collaborative process between the artist and the sitter and also remarks on the position and experience of the viewer.

Twelve
Twelve

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also notable was the Don McCullin exhibition featuring his works that look at conflict both on the streets of 1960s London as well as during major wars like Vietnam.  The exhibition clearly demonstrated why McCullin is the best British photographer of conflict, war and divergence.

McCullin
McCullin

The Airport: John Akomfrah

A new work by Akomfrah The Airport is a three-screen film installation which recalls the work of two filmmakers:  Stanley Kubrick and Theo Angelopolous.  The work is epic, beautiful and transcendental and a visit to see it at the marvellous Lisson Gallery, London, is a revelation.  His work is given the space it deserves and requires, the screens and seating areas are appropriate to the scale of the work.   The poetic and politically charged work grapples with race, politics, identity and postcolonial attitudes.  Filmed in the Southern Greek landscape, within an abandoned airfield, the narrative, complete with a wandering and meandering astronaut and a prowling and stalking gorilla, contemplates the significance of empire.

The Airport

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The film has a flexible and expandable sense of time, like much of Akomfrah’s work, where characters from different eras encounter one another.  In so doing the artist creates ghosts which linger in our consciousness, both physically through the architectural ruins and metaphorically through the traces and histories of the previous generations.

The Airport2

The Tropikos: John Akomfrah

The film installation, shown at Lisson Gallery, is an experimental costume drama set in the sixteenth century.  The film was made in Plymouth and the Tamar Valley, locations which have significant connections with the expansion of European power and darker history of the river.  The artist’s starting point was the connection between the waterways of the south west and the slave trade.   In the film we see the first British encounters with people from Africa.  The fictional narrative reflects on the global seafaring power and the bleak history of the British Empire.

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The film draws on the writings of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Shakespeare’s The Tempest, stories of seafarers, and loosely on Bertolt Brecht’s notion of ‘epic theatre’.  The actors in the film, in sixteenth century period costumes, appear in a series of tableauxs where African and European landscapes and characters overlap.

Akomfrah

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a powerful work, where we feel quite stranded and distressed.  It is not costume drama but the presentation of history.   I am sure it will have many parallels with the artist’s Vertigo Sea, fresh from the Venice Biennale, this film installation is now touring the UK, including venues in Bristol and Manchester.

 

Rio-Montevideo: Rosangela Renno

The first UK solo exhibition by the Brazilian artist is shown at The Photographers Gallery where she presents slides salvaged from the archives of photo journalist Aurelio Gonzalez.

The images were made between 1957 and 1973, for the Uruguayan Communist newspaper El Popular, in anticipation of the ensuing military coup.  Gonzalez hid the archive in a wall cavity for thirty years, only going to retrieve them at a time he felt safe to do so.  This story is remarkable in itself and the archive offers a rare visual record of that time, showing scenes of unrest, poverty and decline preceding the coup.

Rio Montevideo

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beautiful, dramatic and yet simple installation harnesses the power, sound and temperament of 20 vintage analogue projectors.  Adding to the atmosphere the installation clicks, whirs and thuds away using these handsome machines that were sourced from South America and date back to the time that the images were made.  The audience are free to press the go button to show the slide as they move around the interactive installation.

The exhibition highlights the overlooked narratives during this time of great upheaval.  The work explores suppressed memory and the collective memory loss that perpetuates South America’s twentieth century history.

Gathered Leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth

The artist’s photographs of contemporary America and Americans are visually stunning and tell a story of the eccentric, overlooked, lost, obsessed, disorientated, poor and hopeful.   The work at the Media Space, Science Museum exhibition is brought together from his four books Sleeping by the Mississippi, Niagara, Broken Manual and Songbook. Within the exhibition there are portraits, landscapes and interiors, presented with vitrines containing letters from those photographed, notes by the artist and other research material.

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The subject matter ranges from waterfalls to bearded men clutching model planes to new families and love lost.  Through these subjects the artist bears witness to the less-seen, obscure America.  The series Broken Manual, featuring men who have abandoned the modern world and civilisation for a life of woods, caves and hermits is the most compelling.

alec soth

 

 

 

 

 

 

The exhibition is somehow very silent and modest, the photographs do not judge and yet we the viewers often do.  This exhibition is deeply compelling and intelligent.

Burden of Proof: The Construction of Visual Evidence

This haunting, intriguing and memorable exhibition at The Photographers Gallery provided a forensic and research based presentation of how photography has been used as evidence of crime, from violent street crimes to war crimes.

Burden of Proof 1

 

 

 

 

 

The exhibition is presented in a number of sections starting with the 19th century invention of ‘metric’ photography in crime scenes, to the use of digital technologies in drone attacks in Pakistan in 2012.  Less a photography exhibition and more an exploration of the way in which researchers, historians and other experts have used photography as evidence of crimes or violence.  Photography records and validates and so its use has been essential in the service of the law and justice.  This exhibition asks how much does a photograph reveal and conceal and mislead and what part of the clues are presented or constructed.   It is a powerful display of imagery, accompanied by information and research, to examine who makes these images and who presents them and why as well as their capacity to be used as evidence of fact or proof.

 

Photo Saint-Germain

Created in 2010 Photo Saint-Germain is an annual festival that takes place in November in Paris.  It sees small galleries, studios, institutions and book shops collaborating to create more than 40 photography exhibitions and events.  There is no theme just a celebration of photography and lens based media.  In this small area of Paris, a network of picturesque streets, there are photographs in almost every window and on every corner.  From the Musee d’Orsay to La Petite Galerie the exhibitions are broad in range, histories, genres and curation.

‘Enter as Fiction’ work by Kourtney Roy at the Galerie Catherine & Andre Hug was a well conceived exhibition.  The self-portraits create an imaginary world, with her alone like a silver screen heroine.  She becomes part of her surroundings, here route 66, embedded in the landscape and under the glowing sunshine.

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In contrast, and as good as it should be, was a small exhibition of photographs by Mario Giacomelli, at Galerie Berthet-Aittouares.  Mainly known for the Seminarians playing in the snow or the famous Scanno Boy, considered as one of the most important pictures in the history of the medium, here were examples of his personal ‘theatre’.  Here are fables and a made up world of symbols.

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‘California California’ another exhibition, just around the corner featured the work of British artist and photographer Chris Shaw, exhibiting alongside Nicholas Silberfaden, curated by Inès de Bordas & Laure Flammarion.   Shaw captures a dark and spectacular vision of the Californian desert during the summer of 2013 while on a residency in Joshua Tree National Park.  In this bold and striking series of photographs, the joshua trees and various desert cacti are transformed into haunting anthropomorphic figures and dancing icons. The prints themselves bear the marks of the ad-hoc printing process, with bleeding edges, fingerprints, off-kilter frames and Shaw’s signature hand-written titles.

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At Galerie Antoine Laurentin there was an intriguing and beautiful exhibition of works by Benjamin Renoux that with reflections and icons associated with the mythological and historical dimension of photography.  Here there was a range of media as the artist explored his own relationship with the image.  Playing with effects of absence  the photographs, videos and sculptures are troubling, constantly engendering the double movement of mirroring reality and transforming this reality at the same time. His works deal with our relationship to photography through a critique of the fetish that the photographic object or image represent.

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Paris Photo

Paris Photo, in its 19th year and presented at the atmospheric and prestigious Grand Palais, was as we know cut short by the most horrific attacks that took place in November 2015 in Paris.  As with many of the guests and visitors I attended the fair for one day and spent the remaining two days deeply moved by the solidarity and bravery of the French people.

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Paris Photo is the most significant gathering of key players, photographers, curators, gallerists and collectors.   Over 147 galleries from 34 countries exhibited at the fair showing historical and contemporary photography.  To spend at the Gagosian, Little Big Man, Flowers, East Wing and Ben Brown galleries is always a treat as was seeing the London galleries James Hyman, featuring works by John Blakemore, Paul Hill, Martin Parr, Ken Grant and other British notaries; and Richard Saltoun featuring Jo Spence and Helen Chadwick.  Another strong area was the photo books space with publishers and dealers displaying and selling rare and iconic books and launching new publications.

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Paris Photo also provided the opportunity to see magnificent works by the masters including Stephen Shore and Bernd and Hilla Becher.  To see these photographs in the melting pot and hustle and bustle of Paris Photo and alongside the most contemporary works adds another important dynamic.

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Two galleries that impressed with their curated spaces of contemporary photography were Galerie Christophe Gaillard and Galerie Suzanne Tarasieve.   Both relatively young Paris based galleries they made statements at the fair with the works they chose to show and the presentation of their stands.  The former shows critically engaged fine art, has a strong reputation for its women artists and supports emerging practitioners.  I particularly liked the work and presentation of Rachel De Joode’s photo sculptures.  These are works that question form and content in the making of the image.

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Galerie Suzanne Tarasieve showed intriguing and exciting series including by Delphine Balley from ‘L Album de Famille’.  Her own family is the subject of this series of photographs, a continuation of a family saga.  It shows her parents, her friends and relations and her own self in pictures recording the blue-ribbon events of a family circle: baptisms, weddings, get-together, funerals. The scenes are meticulously organised, taking place in confined settings where everything is  symbolic, suggesting a world of obscure events known only to the protagonists.

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