At Arles 2015 it was often the smaller and quieter exhibitions that were the most compelling and memorable.
‘North Korea, A Life Between Propaganda and Reality’, a show by Dutch artist Alice Wielinga, was a multi media exhibition in a beautiful derelict church on the edge of town. North Korea or The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is one of the most remote, controlled and isolated countries in the world. Citizens are not allowed to travel, there is no internet connection beyond the nationally controlled intranet and the flow of all information is government controlled.
The emerging artist has created highly politically engaged and yet beautiful work using official imagery distributed by the government as part of her photo composites. Many of the works consist of 20-50 photographic images, drawn from the traditional utopian propaganda and her own documentary images which show the reality of extreme poverty, hard labour and barren landscapes.
The work explores the reality of people’s lives and living conditions against the idealised vision as the exhibition de-constructs and represents documentary photography in a powerful multimedia installation.
‘Vernacular’ three series of photographs from the Jean-Marie Donat Collection was also cleverly exhibited in a small church. Donat has collected over 10,000 photographs, scouring the world for the curious, repetitive and often bizarre photographs that tell a story or history.
The Polar Bears featured in one series in the exhibition provide a snap shot of German history as Germans pose with fake polar bears. The bears themselves are odd but once you see the 200+ photographs side by side it is the characters hugging them that become our focus. Holiday makers, party goers, children, families and Nazi soldiers amongst them.
Also shown in the same venue were ‘Blackface’, a series that shine a spotlight on American history of the early 1900s featuring white men, women and children with black faces and ‘Predator’ a series featuring the looming shadow of the photographer. These photographs are not about the subject but the histories that in repeating and retelling in quantities signify something other than themselves. The series become disturbing and disconcerting. The photographs exhibited are almost all fictional and yet the way in which they are displayed and the quantity makes us question this.
Thierry Bouet’s ‘Personal Affairs’ was exhibited in the main arena of the railway sheds. A portrait photographer who is based in Paris in this project he shows a different type of reality. Found through researching and trawling the French version of ebay the photographer makes work featuring the object for sale and the seller as vignettes. The sellers are not so much looking to make a profit or recoup investment but are seeking to find someone who will love what they once loved. The photographs show a sincere and poignant attachment between the rare objects and the people selling them.
The photographs as an exhibition have a sense of community and are collaborative. They have a sadness, an unfulfilled desire, disappointment and an insight into the seller’s lives and lifestyles. The sellers pose with objects including an unused family coffin, a handmade plane, a horse, a pair of skis, a folding caravan and dog trophies. This is a comment on sentimental connections with objects and real life eccentricity not on materialism.