Appropriation: a matter of intimacy, not authorship

The other day, while being guided through an exhibition by its own curator, I asked him why a particular work was being showcased as a slideshow when the author in question is exceptional at photographic printing processes. The answer was clear: “I really don’t care about the materiality of the work”. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, for what interests the curator is the photographic discourse, not the authenticity of the works. For me, both as viewer as well as an image-maker, I care about the materiality and the sensuous tone of the work.

The popularity of the photographic discourse is not new and the digital era is not to blame for its success. It may be true that the virtual nature of the images helps promote its lack of material appreciation, but the reasons for the cult of the discourse run deeper, and they affect all the realms of the art.

I found myself thinking about this today because of a particular event that has to do with appropriation. So let me explain: a while back I wrote a post about a project that had won a photographic competition here in Portugal. Today I find myself surprisingly going back to that same competition, but because of another author, who at the time won an honorable mention with a project named Atlas. The author is Flávio Nuno Joaquim. We did our undergraduate course at the same school, though in different years. When the awards came out I didn’t pay much attention to his work, for it doesn’t really interest me, but for chance today I came across a link to his newest book featuring that project and I decided to take a peek.

For my surprise, I found some photographs of me, naked, full frontal, in his book. I did know that Atlas was a collection of images found in the trash in the labs, at the school where we once studied and I now teach. The panels I had seen had scraps from different processual origins, but they mainly alluded to the repetition and methodology at work, when dealing with photographic printing processes.

So when, in the middle of those scraps, I saw these images of an old work of mine I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell where they doing there, and how the hell did he have them. In the presentation text to his work, we can read that his gathering of works started in 2010, something which is not true in the case relating to my work, for I left school earlier than that.

I asked Flávio how he got hold of them and he explained that he found them in the garbage. And, I confess, I am really bothered by this. Not because I “shot” the photographs (I couldn’t care less about proprietary issues), but because my naked self is portrayed in those images. At some point I thought I had the right to decide whether or not I still want to show these images, and I don’t.

The fact that he allegedly found these proofs in the garbage raises another issue, for I wasn’t the one throwing them out. That wouldn’t happen. Whether I’m throwing mine or someone else’s work out, first I tear it apart. I hope this gesture prevents the appropriation of some intimate space one wants to keep to oneself. So apparently (I can’t see how it can be any different) my former teachers were the ones throwing these photographs into the garbage, and Flávio did nothing more that grab them.

Then what goes thru a person’s mind when he/she decides to include an image of someone’s naked body in his/her book without approaching the “owner” of the body herself? Is it that hard to understand that the performer and the person are not two different universes? Is it that hard to understand that a self-portrait is, in fact, a portrait of the self? Has the self lost the right to preserve the interior space that’s his/hers?

Let me repeat: I really don’t give a damn about copyrights and authorship, but I believe in dialogue and in respecting the other. Some time ago an author I had showcased here at Nihilsentimentalgia emailed me asking if I could take down her work, for she no longer recognized herself in that particular series. It really doesn’t matter what I think of her request, what matters is that she reached out to me and the right thing to do is to respect her wishes.

The funny thing about those images Flávio appropriated from me is that they were themselves appropriated. I titled them “After Saudek”, for they were inspired by Jan Saudek’s work. But not only were they born out of this referentiality, they were also a turning point in the way I photograph my body. In those days, I used to tell myself that the body in the picture was not really mine, but a general body, a referent. Having to look at the images for quite some time, for I had to prepare them for an exhibition, I started to see myself in them. In therapy, those images became an issue. I ended up burning the negatives. So, you see, they are part of my interior space, my intimacy and the history of my affections and it’s hard to see them included in a catalogue of repetitions, a catalogue deeply rooted into the photographic discourse, not the work.

The author and the work are not two different things. True it happens when only the artistic discourse it at play. It’s not that in “authentic art” the work mirrors the author or is in some way autobiographical. What happens is that the work of art takes the place of the author. The problem here is Flávio’s ethos, or lack thereof. Because Flávio decided to omit to me that my undressed body would be on display in his Atlas (not for lack of opportunity, one should stress), I am now, once again confronted with those photographs traveling the space of internet, exhibitions and so on.

Fortunately, this is no fatality. Authorship is one question, but privacy is another and it doesn’t really matter who took those photographs of my naked body or if they have copyrights or not, I do have the right to defend my privacy and no one should have the right to appropriate it and turn it into a public object without my consent.

What’s wrong with photography competitions?

Everything’s wrong with this sort of competitions, yet they’re necessary to keep the art market alive. There are very few art prizes in Portugal and they tend to promote the most conceptual approach to contemporary art practices, one of the reasons the results are always controversial.

This week (or the week before, it’s fuzzy) Fnac announced the winners of their Photography competition. They named the prize “Novos Talentos Fnac Fotografia”, (Emerging talents Fnac Photography), and for the past years they’ve been promoting the work of people who are taking their first steps in the artistic field of photography. That is not the case this year and the problems start there. Is it dramatic? I guess not, but it is serious and needs to be addressed.

I need to make a brief declaration of interests and mention that I know this year’s winner, João, so I hesitated before writing this, for I know his intentions are on the right track.

João is not an emerging talent and it is my opinion that the jury* should justify his choice in relation to that point. Him not being an emerging talent has nothing to do with his age (emerging doesn’t equal youngster), but with the fact that he has been active in the artistic field of photography for quite some years. In 2009 we were both considered emerging talents in the biggest festival of Photography in Portugal (Encontros da Imagem), so why is he still considered a newcomer?

In the social networks, this year’s results have given us a lot to read, although very little has been said. However, people are not addressing the fact that he is not an emerging talent, but the quality of the work and the statement that João chose to give to promote the work, so let’s talk about School Affairs:

32_s1
© João Henriques, from the series “School Affairs”.
32_s8-1
© João Henriques, from the series “School Affairs”.
32_sa10
© João Henriques, from the series “School Affairs”.
32_s12-2
© João Henriques, from the series “School Affairs”.

School Affairs is a collection of photographs from the time João spent in Tomar, doing a Master in Photography. João chose to promote these photographs as the result of a middle age crisis which led him back to school. That statement, which I find quite cynical, guides the narrative of this group of images: the skin, the breasts, the shoulder, the invisibility, the gaze… Yet the author’s statement functions as a walking stick: it’s white noise.

School Affairs promotes the so called authenticity of spontaneity, of the snapshot, of the tension that exists between the photographer (as predator) and the object of his desire (the prey), and it would be quite successful if it was a “true doing”. The problem is that I can see the effort, can identify and immediately get stuck in the semicolons that interrupt the work.

School Affairs reflects the impact of the academic milieu, in several dimensions. As the photographs started to circulate, a lot of vicious comments hit the streets of facebook. A photographer and colleague of ours wrote, in João’s defense, that “João Henriques achieved what is expected of a photographer worthy of such a name, namely to promote a dialogue, a narrative and question the observers, to the point they get angry and rebel!

As expected, I contest this interpretation of what a photographer “worthy of such a name” needs to achieve. Is art about communication? Does it have to be about an intellectual understanding of things? As far as I see it, the answer is no. If that was the case, it wouldn’t matter what the so called artist actually produces. It is my opinion that what has the potential to be transformative and permanent needs to be about the qualities of the work, qualities that are a clear extension of the way the artist creates, and “that way” is existential, psychological ethical, metaphysical and so on.

So, to wrap up this argument, the reason I don’t think of School Affairs as a successful work is precisely because I find no other way in except to conceptualize it, because it lacks originality, for the photographs don’t attain the self-sufficiency and aesthetic qualities that would “come to them” if they weren’t chosen to abide by a too conceptual premise.

Interestingly enough, the controversy keeps on escalating. João’s most commercially appealing photograph (of course this is debatable) in School Affairs is the photograph of a public outdoor depicting one portuguese actress. The original photograph is by another portuguese photographer. I think for most of us who live immersed in the visual arts field, we don’t even think of this as an issue, but rather as something that came to be part of our visual language: to appropriate public discourses, public strategies of seduction and consumption appeal.

But as we are often remembered, a big part of the observers don’t feel the same way and think of reproduction as appropriation and then equate appropriation with theft. It’s easy to call out these observers for their lack of knowledge of cultural discourses, but where does it lead us? Isn’t it more fruitful to actually reflect upon this huge gap?

The actress called out João’s work on facebook, saying he “had won the prize […] with a photograph of [her] person, taken by photographer André Brito in 2013”. Most of the comments that followed are pure gems. People insult the photographer, the jury, revealing the fussiness that exists between the commercial and the artistic world of photography. The language is the same, scaffolded on semiotics, but the aim is very different. Commercial photography is only successful if its finality is achieved, and once that is done, the photograph consumes itself, it dies. On the other hand, artistic photography need to rely on its aesthetic qualities and on its power to trigger the viewer’s imagination. Does João’s photographs do the former, the latter or both?

I rest my case for now. Hopefully the controversial will pass on and he will go on to address the photographic specificities that interest us.

* This year’s jury comprised the following personalities:
Margarida Medeiros, author and lecturer; Augusto Brázio
, photographer; Mário Teixeira da Silva, owner at Módulo; Sérgio B. Gomes, jornalist and editor for the blog Arte Photographica.
João’s work can be seen here.

٠ Adrienne Doig and the Cliché ٠

Big_FeministCliche 2013© Adrienne Doig, Feminist Cliché (Dresden Plate), 2012. Patchwork, appliqué and embroidery on linen, 99 x 77 cm.

excerpts from Lynn Berger‘s SNAPSHOTS, or: Visual Culture’s Clichés, published in Photographies Vol.4, No.2, September 2011, pp.175–190.

“We use the word “cliché” advisedly. As it happens, the genealogies of the cliché — an “expression or idea that has lost its originality or force through overuse” (American Heritage Dictionary) — and the snapshot go back to the same point of origin: the printing workshops of nineteenth century France. There, cliché was the name of the metal plate or mould on the printing press “from which reproductions of print or design could be made in unending quantity”. Under this mechanical definition the cliché moved into the English language, where it first appeared — or so the Oxford English Dictionary informs us — in Charles Babbage’s 1832 Economy of Machinery and Manufactures. Thus intimately tied to the printed word, its use was later expanded to denote the negative in photography. From the start, then, the cliché was an emblem of the “age of mechanical reproduction” (Benjamin).
[…]

In the nineteenth century, “a growing awareness of mass production in word and thought” (Flaubert) coincided with Romantic pre-occupations with originality and creativity, and in this context the cliché was seen as the linguistic denial of such individual attributes — indeed, as the very antithesis of original thought. According to historian Walter Ong, a “strong disapproval of the cliché is a regular concomitant of the romantic state of mind… subconsciously convinced that what is already known does not require repetition because what is known is stored in books whereas art is necessarily a venture into the unknown.”
[…]

So, here is the parallel: at the end of the nineteenth century, the cliché had become for language what the amateur snapshot would shortly represent for photography: a symbol of the lowest common denominator, an emblem of the boring, the repetitive, and the formulaic.

The cliché is a cultural product of a technological change, with middle-class connotations. The amateur snapshot is the exact same thing. Both are associated with the common man, indeed, both are commonplace. Clichés may vary slightly from one to the next (and to be sure “some variability in the standardization does not disqualify the expression as formulary so long as the expression retains its effective identity”, as Walter Ong has written: Rhetoric, Romance 288), and the same is true of snapshot photographs: “each [snapshot] captures a unique pose, even if that pose obediently repeats million other, very similar poses. They are all the same, but they are all also just slightly different from each other”, Geoffrey Batchen has observed (“Snapshots” 125).
[…]

The cliché is a political phenomenon. Terms like “containers for memory” and “mnemonic devices” may suggest a mere instrumentality and passivity, but clichés and snapshots in turn influence consciousness and perception as well.”

big8© Adrienne Doig, AD Libitum, 2012. Embroidery on tapestry, 45 x 46.5 cm.

٠ Maurizio Anzeri and the problem with labelling and expectations ٠

maurizio_anzeri_rebecca© Maurizio Anzeri, Rebecca, 2009

20110701033135_maurizio_anzeri_Rita300© Maurizio Anzeri, Rita, 2011

I came across Maurizio’s work through an unusual root – Bric-à-brac -, a section of the electronic journal Sans Soleil, specialized in issues related to Art Brut and self-taught art. Not only because of that but also (1) because embroidery is a very common medium within the world of art brut, and (2) because it is also fairly common to encounter appropriations of portraits that authors then re-work – in a sort of manifestation of the complexity of any identity notion or even as a symbolic expression of transcendental ego features -, I “was lead” to believe that Maurizio was not an academically trained artist, nor was he in a conventional circuit.

Anyway, my instinctual mode of association came into place and I found myself thinking of spontaneous art. It was only when I looked for more of Maurizio’s work on the internet that I realized it was framed in a completely different world, though that didn’t change the fact that I really enjoy his embroidery work. The problems that arose have little to do with the work itself, instead they pertain to the artist and the machine around him, which he is undoubtedly responsible for. There’s no sign of bad faith in Maurizio’s statement about his work. In fact, he meets my expectations, in part created by the qualities of the work itself, and speaks of something alike affective labor: “I work with sewing, embroidery and drawing to explore the essence of signs in their physical manifestation. I take inspiration from my own personal experience and observation of how, in other cultures, bodies themselves are treated as living graphic symbols. I then use sewing and embroidery in a further attempt to re-signify, and mark the space with a man-made sign, a trace. The intimate human action of embroidery is a ritual of making and reshaping stories and history of these people. I am interested in the relation between intimacy and the outer world.”

There is no denying that his work is sculptural. I don’t understand the need to label it as photographic, since the photographs are either found, archival or collected in flea markets and the medium that defines his artistry is embroidery, not photography. While googling for his work I came across a description in Vitrine Gallery where it says that Maurizio invent[ed] the term: ‘photo-sculpture’ and I can’t help but laugh. I don’t know who’s responsible for this slip or if this is just bad marketing, but it doesn’t help him in anyway to “sell” him as a surrealist or an avant-garde artist from the 70’s, especially because he was born in Italy in 1969 which would lead to biographic discrepancies.

20-maurizio-anzeri-zelda-1941_2009© Maurizio Anzeri, Zelda, 2009

Maurizio Anzeri's La Famiglia (2013)© Maurizio Anzeri, A stitch in time… La Famiglia, 2013

Tri-dimensional photography, collages, photo-montages and so on, are part of the history of contemporary photography. With surrealism, dadaism and constructivism these techniques were already building their one symbolic field but with the advent of digital photography there was a new boom. The nostalgia, nothingness and apathy that led artists to turn to archives (not only but also) as a way to react to digital manipulation and bring back analogue deconstruction of the one-layered idea that photography is an amalgamate of signs that “were really there”, also sprouted the discussion about the photographic support and its potential to be something else.

Questions about what defines one’s identity in the 21st century merged with questions about what defines the photographic medium and with it portraiture gained a new light. There are several examples of collages, montages and embroidered portraits, most of them recognized and awarded in the last few years and I’ve been posting some of them here – an example is Julie Cockburn. This is the ground Maurizio walks on. There is not a single problem with not having invented the wheel. This lack of originality doesn’t define the work in absolute, only in relation to its culture. In an intimate relation, the work is free to become whatever one needs it to be. The problem is with lying and bad faith, which ruins expectations of an authentic creation.

Sean O’Hagan, from the Guardian, states Anzeri creates something new and surprising by applying an old-fashioned craft to old-fashioned artefacts. I keep questioning the need to adjectivize this as new, specially since the works-of-art are good enough on their own without the help of ‘new-technological’ or ‘ground-breaking’ add. There are also other descriptions which, without being false, are just over embellished – there are far too many adjectives and no critic of the art on display. It’s part of the problem with art criticism in general, too complex, so let’s see another example.

maurizio_anzeri_roundmidnight© Maurizio Anzeri, Round Midnight, 2009

I can’t say who worte it, for there is no signature, but in Maurizio’s portfolio in The Saatchi Gallery one can read that Anzeri’s delicately stitched veil recasts the figure with an uncomfortable modesty, overlaying a past generation’s cross-cultural anxieties with an allusion to our own. My problem with this sort of statement is that it is pretentious and naïf at the same time: it is arrogant to the point that it suggests that what the work communicates should be contained (within a subject and its culture); and it is ingenuous in the sense that it presupposes that there is one understanding for the notion of ‘cross-cultural anxieties’, which means the spectator bust be either the colonizer or the colonized.

I’ll finish with another of Maurizio’s statement, since they are the most honest to his work: “I’ve been collecting old photographs for a long time. A few years ago I was doing ink drawings with them and out of curiosity I stitched into one. I work a lot with threads and hand stitching, and the link to photography was a natural progression. I put tracing paper over the photo and draw on the face until it develops. Sometimes the image comes straight away, suggested by a detail on a dress or in the background, but with the majority of them I spend a lot of time drawing. Once the drawing is done, I pierce the photo with a set of needle-like tools I invented and take the paper away; the holes are obsessively paced at the same distance to convey an idea of geometry. When I begin the stitching something else happens, drawing will never do what thread will – the light changes, and at some points you can lose the face, and at others you can still see under it.

text by Sofia Silva

┐ She-wolf, a needle in the pile └

0_9240_5Pilar_Albarracin,_She-Wolf,_2006© Pilar Albarracín, She-wolf, 2006

“in She-wolf (2006), where she revisits Joseph Beuys’ I Like America and America Likes Me (1974). In this work she proposes a very special relationship between the wild, untamed, an imal and its “greatest predator”, man. The approach to the she-wolf is staged by Albarracín as a picnic where the viewer acts as a witness. As Donna Haraway says, when drinking wine and sharing the raw meat with the she- wolf, the taming that coexistence entails takes place.”

┐ Jane Hammond └

© Jane Hammond, Self-Portrait with Twin, 2011

© Jane Hammond, Face Facts, 2006

© Jane Hammond, The Touch-Up, 2009

© Jane Hammond, Cabrito, 2007

© Jane Hammond, Chai Wan Three, 2008 all selenium toned silver gelatin prints

“The photographs grew out of the scrapbooks, also. I began collecting photos to put in them, and quickly became obsessed with all the different depictions of the same thing. Soon, I had hundreds of snowmen pictures. I began collecting many more snapshots, other peoples pictures, and soon borrowed lots of my family’s own pictures. I began to think about them and in my mind’s eye I saw pictures, photographs with the appearance of photographs, that I didn’t actually possess. As you might have a dream which combines several otherwise incompatible aspects of your waking life, I saw photographs that were combinatorial and wove together things from different times and spaces.


I set out to make these photographs which were in my head. I sought the advice of many technical experts and created a way to make silver gelatin prints “actual photographs” of something that never happened.” Jane’s statement, 2007

More of Jane’s amazing body of work here

┐ Deborah Bohnert └

© Deborah Bohnert, Untitled, from the series Bohnert and Bohnert, 2005

© Deborah Bohnert, Untitled, from the series Bohnert and Bohnert, 2005

© Deborah Bohnert, Untitled, from the series The Little People, 2009

© Deborah Bohnert, Untitled, from the series The Little People, 2009

“…Dada had long operated according to the principle of instability, blurring distinctions between art and mass media (in photomontage), art and mass production (in the readymade), and intention and reception (in public provocations and spectacles). In 1921, Roman Jakobson characterized the movement as “transrational”—an indulgence in sheer relativity and paradox—citing Tristan Tzara as support: “I am against all systems, the most acceptable system is to have no system at all.” Framed by flou, Man Ray’s equivocations—photography is not art/photography can be art/art is not photography—strike one as a form of discursive repurposing that recalls the readymade, or at the very least, a cultivation of irrationality commensurate with automatic writing. What appears at first to be a show of dogmatic inconsistency is in fact an instance of Dada blur and flux, activated by a form of crit ical recycling that would later come to be called détournement—not a negation, precisely, but an intervention or interleaving of new forms into old that is put in play to expose conventional demarcations as redundant. “And yet you still paint?” “Yes . . . to persuade me of its inanity.”

(…)

The photographic medium further underscores the references to mass media: like the newspaper, it is itself a form of technological reproduction, and like the news, it is valued for its immediacy. Instantly obsolescent, all bear the double intimation of a frozen present, simultaneously past. Likewise, photographs prove to be the perfect analog to the automatic text in its relation to unconscious processes: inclusive of all that appears in the camera’s viewfinder, mechanically made “memory-records” constituted by visual residue. Deserved or not, photography’s reputation is still that of being an unmediated print—a myth that is foregrounded by the relative directness of the photogram process. The absent camera is replaced by mechanical actions: picking up trash at random on the street, drawing newspaper fragments from a bag . . . or, in Man Ray’s case, absent-mindedly misplacing objects in a developing tray.” excerpt from the article Flou: Rayographs and the Dada Automatic, by Susan Laxton, published in OCTOBER 127, Winter 2009, pp. 25–48.

more of Bohnert‘s work here

┐ Pauline Fouché └

© Pauline Fouché, from the series Cassures (Cracks), 2002

© Pauline Fouché, from the series Cassures (Cracks), 2002

© Pauline Fouché, from the series Cassures (Cracks), 2002

The Cassures materialize an event-image abundant in the newspapers by reapropriation through the gesture and the image. Abused and reduced to the fragility of their appearance as well as that of their medium, these images attempt to reveal spaces other than those represented, where the subject disconnects itself from its direct relationship to the news, expressing as such a distance between the event and its representation.

« Pauline Fouché works with the relationship we might have to the news images (and particularly those of war and human drama) through the gesture-motif of the Cassures. Through the photographic reproduction of a crumpled up newspaper, an image that cannot be taken by its backside, beyond representation is produced. It is simultaneously a crevice and an invagination. We can almost hear the sound of a clash where time-lines are anarchically broken : tragedy of an event, factuality of media treatment, concussion of the glance. »

Morad Montazami

More of Pauline’s work here

┐ Carrie May Weems └

© Carrie May Weems, Untitled, from African Jewels, 2009

© Carrie May Weems, Untitled, from African Jewels, 2009

installation view from African Jewels, 2009

Carrie’s web home here

┐ Michal Heiman └



CRITICAL IMAGE: MICHAL HEIMAN, By Dr. Ariella Azoulay

Michal Heiman chose the position of the spectator looking at someone else’s photographs taken by someone else, in which someone else is photographed, which someone else collected. Heiman turns this quintessential position of spectator (in a museum, but not only) into her own, elaboration and giving it back to it to spectator, whom she transforms not only into the subject of the artistic image but also into the subject of the psychological image. This is the spectator who is asked, on several levels, to assume Heiman’s position and to reproduce it. When Heiman looks at these photographs of her mother-in-law, she is following classifications which are latent in the family album, acting within the framework of the restrictions and advantages of her family relations with the photographed (her mother-in-law), attuned to the route she traced on her meticulously planned journeys as well as in random rambles. Though Heiman does this without relinquishing essential activities of the subject’s position, such as sorting, selecting, classifying, etc, she performs these activities as an accumulative sum of activities familiar from two institutions and practices – the musial and the psychological. The images she presents to the “subject” of her “test” are mediated through these two institution/ practices. They are presented in a “test” box by an “examiner”, who also duplicates Heiman’s positioning, obviously without the possibility of identity between the two of them, between them and the photographed, or between them and the “subject” of the “test”. These relations of similarity and difference between the personae/ positions dissolve the established hierarchical relations which institutions/ practices such as the museum and the psychology apparatus seek to preserve, and point to their fluidity. Heiman is attracted to these two systems, seduced by one and functioning within the other, but at the same time she criticizes them, especially by turning one against the other. She bypasses the museal apparatus by way of the psychological apparatus. Within the framework f the museum institution she develops exchange relations borrowed from the psychological apparatus, rather than those practiced in the museum I which the boundaries of the subject are predetermined by the way he or she is placed in front of the artistic object. The relations of replacement that Heiman proposes are those existing in the psychoanalytical situation, with one crucial difference: they are not continuous in time, and the analyst cannot gain knowledge relating to the analysand and take an active part in subjectivizing her. Thus the therapeutic situation is divested of its characteristic power relations. The activating of the general patterns of the structure of the therapeutic situation in a museum setting through the “test” mode of the M.H.T., provides an opportunity to disrupt the museum order. This order is based on complex relations of silence, both on the part of the museum object and on the part of the museum subject, and on the distinction between the different subject of art – -the artist and the spectator. The museum spectator is invited to induce the mute object to speak, but only later, and outside the boundaries of the site. Heiman’s spectator is invited to induce the scene to speak at the site itself. The existence of the images Heiman offers for viewing and voicing violates the standard norms of presentation, and serves as a point of departure for unexpected encounters with conveyor of parallel, contradictory, other images, encounters in which she finds herself being led no less than leading.

Michal Heiman’s “test” is intended for women. It suggests that they look at a number of pictures of a woman-a mother figure and her own mother-in-law – and a few pictures of women who were inscribed in a history which is not only theirs. The first photographed figure is like a magnified stereotype of the (Jewish) mother figure. She is more (and less) than a citizen of the (Jewish) state. She doesn’t tour like a tourist, looking rather like the proprietress who comes to collect the rent or to be nice to the tenants and improve their conditions of living. She embodies much of what is repressed in that State, and precisely the close relationship to her presents an opportunity to take a straight look and see how it “really” looks. How the overbearingness, excessiveness, and unusefulness of this figure looks. She has herself photographed incessantly, in any place, on any occasion. She is always ready with the camera “just in case”- this may be the decisive moment, so she had better have proofs, evidence, in her hands. For one mustn’t let destiny rule the world alone. Together with her, in the same box, there are seven other women. These are women whose “decisive moment” indeed caught up with them. Each of them experienced a “crucial” moment, performed an act, and this actually justified a portrait, an image, an immortalization, but there was no camera to immortalize the moment. The portrait that they bequeathed is thus a portrait which does not bear witness to the incisive moment but keeps manifesting the decisive relation between them and the social order they disturbed and whose rules they sought to suspend. It thus constitutes a double portrait- a portrait of them and of the social order they challenged. The first one is of the three (surviving) quintuplets the Dionne sister, who having been put on public display as children together with their two other sisters, eventually broke the silence to bring this glaring abuse of a child’s body to light (and to claim damages for themselves). The second is of Ulrike Meinhof, leader of the Baader Meinhof group, from whose portrait it is always possible to revert to the boundaries of the rules of the game of the democratic state, a game in which everything is negotiable, except the rules of the game and so allowing the exclusion o any player attempting to put those rules I question. The third photograph is of Leila Khaled, the Palestinian freedom fighter who became famous for skyjacking in which she was involved. Khaled expropriated the time of the flight passengers to point to the time and the place of which her people, the Palestinian people, had been robbed. The fourth portrait, of Eva Hesse, an artist who put her body in the center of her art long before the artistic discourse could have contained such a manifestation, evidenced an apparatus saturated with violence and the tensions between an individual, a body, and a position from which to see, speak out, and act, and the last portrait, of Kochava Levy, who found herself in a hotel that was occupied by terrorists, and masterfully played – with her unprecedented feat of conducting negotiations with the terrorists – the role assigned to her by history.

(Dr. Ariella Azoulay, D’Israel: Barry Frydlender, Michal Heiman, Efrat Shvily, and Dana & Boaz Zonshine, Le Qartier, Center of Contemporary Art, Quimper, 1999 [pp. 33-34] )

More of Michal’s work here

┐ Burkhard von Harder └

@ Burkhard von Harder, untitled, from the project Cold war in a trash bag

@ Burkhard von Harder, untitled, from the project Cold war in a trash bag

@ Burkhard von Harder, untitled, from the project Cold war in a trash bag

Cold War in a Trash Bag is based on recently found anonymous Cold War photographic footage from the Ukraine. In the summer of 2010 thousands of abandoned black and white negatives were discovered in Vinnitsa, a place only 250 km away from Chernobyl. In miserable condition, the ripped, scratched and torn filmstrips obviously had been completely forgotten and left decaying through the first 20 years of the country’s independence. They could be saved from disposal and taken abroad where 5000 of them were put through a painstaking scanning process so far. The results show solarisation processes and other signs of deterioration leading to new imagery – more publications on the subject to follow.

More of Burkhard’s work here and a preview of the book “Cold War in a Trash Bag” here

┐ Farhad Ahrarnia └

© Farhad Ahrarnia, ballet pars no.3
HAND EMBROIDERY ON DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY PRINTED ON CANVAS
SILK & COTTON THREAD AND NEEDLES, 2008-10

© Farhad Ahrarnia, beautiful is the silence of ruins II
photography on canvas and embroidery, 2011

More of Farhad’s work here

┐ Vincent Cordebard └

© Vincent Cordebard, Untitled, from Etudes pour Les attentats à la pudeur

© Vincent Cordebard, Untitled, from Etudes pour Les attentats à la pudeur

© Vincent Cordebard, Untitled, from Etudes pour Les attentats à la pudeur

It’s one of those rare, and thus special occasions, when I find a body of work I completely connect to in a rational, emotional, intellectual and intuitive level. Here’s a first post about his work and I foresee making more about it once I have the time to take the plunge.

What follows is an excerpt of a text written by Béatrice Han:

“Vincent Cordebard steals other peoples photographs and reworks them with ink, fountain pen, and water. He makes dark blotches; his faces-blind and mute, corroded and obstructed-reveal the pain of bruised interiority, the place where humanity’s nocturnal attributes make their brutal appearance-the dark side where, according to Georges Bataille, transgression, eroticism, and death occur. Outside of accepted morality, these mutilated photos present themselves to the viewer as if they were meditations on inhumanity, on the theoretical and ethical scandal of beauty that emerges from horror. This is what the profanation of the face and the human values it symbolizes reveals to us. This expressivities, which cannot be apprehended except as a paradoxical form of thwarted integrity, and the human features through which it is revealed, are the subject of the intense questioning which Cordebard’s strange and difficult faces bring to light, a questioning undertaken with such intensity that the spectator’s vision is challenged by the violence of which he is the willing witness. Is this a kind of voyeurism, a fascination with an obscure, inhuman, yet twin dimension, which human relationships hide under the familiarity of the everyday, like the obverse of the reverse side of the medal? If, as Levinas wrote, the face “rends apart what is sensitive1”, what do we see when the wound becomes the face and, inversely, the face becomes the wound?

(…)

The child is thus twice deprived of life: as agisant which death has emptied of its individuality, he is also, in the symbolic order, divested of his face, which no longer exists except as a fragile skin carefully sewn onto meat. Yet, although it is no longer capable of representing its humanity, this abused face does not become a thing among other things. Annihilated subject and impossible object, the face of this dead child’s still, by its very structure, the paradoxical and fleeting place of a desperate cry of protest, the cry of an abolished individuality whose features dehumanize it, of a person who has become his, her own negation. Thus, in a final reversal, the face’s refusal to become an object continues to bear witness, within the very process that seeks to destroy it, to the tenuous but incomes-table presence of a humanity which can only express itself as resistance. A negative medium, surely, but all the more forceful, like the naked and desperate violence in Auschwitz which Hannah Arendt describes7 as an affirmation of an ultimate revolt, a testimony given by a person in extremis when all other means of expression have been taken away. “I reveal faces, ” affirms Cordebard, even as he mutilates them. The epiphanic structure of a face is reversed one last time. The positive revelation of the humanas person, then of the inhuman as destruction, finally brings these two aspects to a paroxysm which is all the more tragic for its lack of catharsis. We are given a vision that is nearly unbearable to contemplate, but which is never-the less “unpardonably beautiful”… This is why, finally, the picture’s context is ethical and its request, imperious: whether beauty can redeem the scandal which gave it life, and whether, measured by the compassion and respect a human face deserves, the act of cruelty which attempts to destroy it merits any justification besides the aesthetic. An acutely painful question, doomed to remain unanswered, and which it is to Cordebard’s credit to have dared to ask.”

Vincent Cordebard’s work here

║ Aneta Grzeszykowska ║

nr 21

© Aneta Grzeszykowska, Untitled #21, from the series Untitled Film Stills, 2006

nr 30

© Aneta Grzeszykowska, Untitled #30, from the series Untitled Film Stills, 2006

“A precise, and truly Warsaw, remake of Cindy Sherman’s seventies classic “Untitled Film Stills” starring Aneta Grzeszykowska. In contrast to the original, Grzeszykowska’s photographs are in color. The initial composition and makeup has been strictly observed, while the props, clothes and setting has been chosen by the artist according to the modern standards and local possibilities. The restaging of all 70 photographs took one year. The role-play has reached its peak – effacing her own personality yet another time, Grzeszykowska returns it to Cindy Sherman, and at the same time imitates the both American artist and her fictitious film personifications.”

Source: Raster Gallery

To see more of Aneta’s work click here