Photography and Feminism (here we go again)

If there’s one thing different kinds of feminism can agree upon is their will to “empower women”. But, that’s it; once we get started on the meaning of that “empowerment” the apparent cohesion starts to fall apart.

Some co-called feminists think about themselves in such a way because they applaud and promote women’s confidence towards their body. Maybe these so-called feminists go so far as to actively participate in helping certain women feel good “in their own skin”. I can see the importance of this, of course. No man will ever understand what it is to grow up surrounded by beauty stereotypes and how much it can impact your self-esteem – it’s the models in the magazines, the actresses on film, the pop stars and the barbie look, the tv hostesses, the female porn actresses and their big breasts. It’s overwhelming. Some people will consider that empowering women by helping them feel beautiful and sexy is to be a feminist. And, yes, I disagree 100%. I guess what makes this question so problematic is that one easily looses sight of what the feminist struggle is about and although it can be a lot of different things, what it must definitely is not is an individualist struggle that promotes cliches about the importance of owning one’s own sexuality. Feminism is always about the collective. It really can’t be any different. We fight for equality and my victories and losses will have a direct impact on other women and vice-versa.

Feminism is about inclusion, about gaining back women’s parity (yes, in the so called primitive era things were different, and not everything was worst). For that and many other reasons, in its core to be a feminist is to be anti-capitalist, for, in itself, capitalism promotes an economic treatment of everything and everyone and we know how women rank in that economy… (my) Feminism starts by questioning the dynamics of a society that is built upon a patriarchy. Classes, in such a society, will only survive if women continue to agree to be part of a specific sexual dynamic, namely a monogamist one, in which the man is usually the owner (of land and so forth). It’s understandable that these so-called feminist movements who empower women by helping them feel sexy forget that the very idea of what constitutes “sexy” is the doing of men: men who are stylists, men who work in advertisement, men who are writers, men who are directors, men who are photographers, etc. For many years these men have been responsible for objectifying women’s bodies, to a point that women now fail to understand what that objectification is like. One argument is recurrent in this discussion, namely that if women are in control of their body, one shouldn’t speak about objectification, but empowerment. I’m surprised how we still fall for such a false debate, for the question is definitely more complicated. How can one judge other’s information, knowledge, awareness or conscious in order to decide whether they are or are not in control of their bodies? And how do we then deal with sexual abuse if the “victim” is under-aged and willingly goes to her abuser? Recently, in Portugal, I came across a story in the newspaper about a 13 year old girl who went missing from her family for a week and was then found in a house with a sexual offender. They apparently met online, he seduced her and she went to him. He had done that before, meaning he has already abused young women. What is chocking in this story is that  99% of the online trolls were saying that this man had committed no crime, for she went to him of “her own free will”, because young girls “are not as naive as we think”, because “they know what they’re doing”. See the problem?

We could talk about Hollywood, how Scorsese has a lifetime of denigrating women on screen and still everyone loves him; or how the entertainment community legitimates sexual harassment, but what I think could help shine a light on this dilemma is if we consider the roles some women have been playing on screen and how off screen they consider themselves to be feminists, in the context of that very same idea of empowerment we were talking about – because they’re independent, they’re successful, they’re comfortable in their bodies and in control of their sexuality so on. If a female actress spends her years giving life to characters who are treated as objects in a men’s world, could we really consider such actress to be a feminist in her off-screen life? It’s not a tricky question, the answer is a clear no. The promotion of such dynamics between men and women not only legitimate the sort of abusive relations that describe this era of capitalism, but they also infect visual culture in a very profound way. In fact, one shouldn’t be surprised if a younger generation who only watches american entertainment (be it movies or tv series) had a completely distorted notion about what sex is like. For americans, apparently, it’s about 1 minute in bed and the man reaching an orgasm. The consequences of such a misogynist representation of sexual intimacy is unimaginable. Hopefully they’re still watching some “good porn”.

Often, when one discusses “the empowerment of women” one also comes across expressions such as “strong” and/or “fearless“. What these adjectives hide is that in the process of becoming “strong” and “fearless” one usually compromises one’s own femininity, in order to “be more like a man”, but with a skirt and preferably wearing high heels. There’s even a page on facebook called “Project strong Woman”. As expected, it is about empowering women to become their better selves and then go out and celebrate.

To avoid becoming any more cynical, here’s a photographic approach that challenges the very idea of “the male gaze”.

© Petra Collins, from the project ‘The Teenage Gaze’, 2010-2015.
© Petra Collins, from the project ‘The Teenage Gaze’, 2010-2015.
© Petra Collins, from the project ‘The Teenage Gaze’, 2010-2015.
© Petra Collins, from the project ‘The Teenage Gaze’, 2010-2015.
© Petra Collins, from the project ‘The Teenage Gaze’, 2010-2015.
© Petra Collins, from the project ‘The Teenage Gaze’, 2010-2015.
© Petra Collins, from the project ‘The Teenage Gaze’, 2010-2015.
© Petra Collins, from the project ‘The Teenage Gaze’, 2010-2015.
© Petra Collins, from the project ‘The Teenage Gaze’, 2010-2015.
© Petra Collins, from the project ‘The Teenage Gaze’, 2010-2015.

≡ My two passions ≡

Ana-Teresa-Barboza_07© Ana Teresa Barboza, Untitled (?). Images via ArtNau.

A friend called my attention to Ana Teresa Barboza‘s work (Lima, Peru, 1981). A good friend, I should say, for she knows how I’m drawn to mixed techniques applied to photography, specially when it involves some sort of sewing. Ana Teresa’s work is anything but simple, though the objects and imagery we’re showed in the end are easy to look at, easy to relate to. In a short interview with my homonym from Le Fil Conducteur Ana Teresa says something fundamental to understand the greater value of such a work:

“Both embroidery and crocheting are techniques that require time. I use these techniques in order to make a connection between manual work and the processes of nature; creating thread structures similar to the structures that make a plant for example. My aim is to create pieces of work that simulates experiments, aiming to reconstruct nature, teaching us to have a new and fresh look at it.”

The relation between manual labor and authenticity in art is something I’m very interested in. I’ve written about it in this blog and there’s a beautiful text by Michael Hardt on the topic that is very much worth looking at – Affective Labor (1999). Works that require time, as Ana Teresa says, allow for a very particular connection to develop between the author and the product of his/her creation and the faithfulness of such a relation is of immediate perception. That symbiosis cannot be forged. It is inherently authentic. And why is authenticity such an important value? Because artists are expected to relate to their work in an honest way, to relate to the materials chosen in a way that is sincere to their purpose, their potential and their context. If they do not compromise with the creative process, that will be evident in the product’s lack of “soul” and I’d say these creators should not be called artists but instead image-makers, decorators and so on.

Ana-Teresa-Barboza_02© Ana Teresa Barboza, Untitled (?). Images via ArtNau.

Photography and sewing are my two passions. Although the way they came into my life was quite different from one another, they both relate to the realm of affects. I often question why they mean so much and tend to conclude it has to do with the value of affective labor and how it relates to time, patience, love and death. When applied to photography, embroidery works on an opposite pole, creating a sustainable tension between the two. Photography is flat and it’s about the killing of a moment that is then awaken in the form of a fake representation; embroidery is a work of patience and it’s about bringing things to life, its forms are never determined. Together, they clash in a three-dimensional struggle where the two mediums may or may not flow together in two major aspects: 1) their inherent capacities to function as symbols, either of the object represented or of the subject’s intentions; 2) their materiality.

There’s also a tendency to be reminded of Barthes and Benjamin when looking at these works. The former because of the concept of punctum, the latter because of the (ever changing notion of) aura. Punctum is of the order of pain. Something  like a stinging quality a photograph may or may not have, the way that photography penetrates and hurts you. The aura is an unspoken truth. Something that happens here and now but somehow has to do with the there and then of the memory of the author and our own. So the way sewing acts upon a photograph seems to me like a brutal dialogue, like an attempt to awake the death images by inflicting them with pain. As the needle penetrates the photograph there is potential for an auratic mode to arise. From the continuum of little moments spent between the author and the work to the originality of the photographic imagery created, there is an open field from where autonomous memories emerge.

Ana-Teresa-Barboza_10© Ana Teresa Barboza, Untitled (?). Images via ArtNau.

Ana-Teresa-Barboza_09© Ana Teresa Barboza, Untitled (?). Images via ArtNau.

⁞ The complex task of seeing through Photography: a conversation with Isaac Pereira ⁞

1012600_643410882417254_4043574406647253164_nall images © Isaac Pereira. Courtesy of the artist.

This conversation took place in July 2014, over the virtual space that unites Macau and Lisboa. The original, portuguese version, of this conversation, can be seen HERE.

Sofia: We’re having this conversation mainly because of your exhibition, Tree, now held in Macau. Although I couldn’t be there, I find the way you are imposing installation and performance on the photographic matter very interesting. In an article about the exhibition, published in South China Morning Post, you named what seems to be the keyword for this project: contamination. Tell me about that contamination.

Isaac: The idea of “contamination” in this work, comes due to a problem that has been on my mind about Photography and my own work: Is it still possible today, given the level of profusion of visual information and the speed at which such information circulates, to “retain the look” of the other, and your own look, on the images we create? Let us assume, driven by a mere hypothesis, that is the result of a direct observation, the “act of retention” is close to a breaking point. I call this “the crisis of the look”. So what remains? Or, in other words, in what manner can images, or certain images, survive this crisis? A simple argument, frequently used in this debate, is the argument on the idea of the “strong image”. But, in this context, what is now a “strong image”? My quest is only to ask if, from the point of view of my own practice of photography, and the practice of photography in general, and given the classical definition of Photography as “the act of killing time”, would it be plausible to pass this idea to an installation, in the sense of “an action”. This “act” presupposes the existence of an effective relation between an image and its site specific reading – the space of the installation – a “combat mode” relationship, of a fair challenge between the one lending his eyes to the possibility of another look. Or, alternately, to a look as a vehicle of reflection and thought. For me, this “combat-challenge” is an attempt to, by means of such relation, overcome the “crisis of the look” or, at least, it matches my desire to leave it outside this crisis. Even if it is a paradox, I call “contamination” to the appeal to a mode of survival that is motivated by the experience of thought as a look “over a time that has already lived through its end.”

Sofia: Where you speak of “an action”, I speak of “a doing”, let me explain: in Kant’s Critique of Judgement, he distinguishes between agree and facere, explaining that “to do” is related to the artistic practice – it entails intention and finality; while “to act” relates to nature – a natural effect, with no intention. It seems to me that what you purpose is based on your intentions and ability to act, the spectator is able to do more than contemplate. But in such a context, where through installation you are setting an atmosphere that guides the experience of the spectator, what relevance do the images presented really have?

Isaac: I understand and respect the kantian stand, but here I do not make any distinction between the resolute nature of the categories. Nowadays, the concepts are expanding and acquiring different meanings and in the rhetoric of the aesthetic discourse, “to do-to act” is not that opposed to “to act-to do”.
Let me just add a final consideration about the idea of “contamination” because it pertains to your question. During the creative process, I wanted to embrace that idea in the editing process. I don’t know the exact number, but I must have gone through over 10 thousand negatives, some long forgotten. During that revisitation some images grabbed my thoughts but some failed to have that energy. So I started to separate them. It was like I was looking at something for the first time, something that had already lost the seal of ownership and was free from me. I then decided that in some way this idea should come through in the installation and that the images, though from different times and spaces, should “look at each other”. I thought that contamination, exposed through the installation, should give the spectator the opportunity “to act”. At the same time, I showed the final edition to a couple of creators – a music composer and a filmmaker – and asked them to create their own works parting from that body of images. This idea then culminates with a request to the visitor: that he/she chooses three of his/her photographs – which he/she thinks dialogue with what he/she saw – and “lend” them to this project in order for them to be edited and placed in the installation space where there’s a wall with 25 empty wooden boxes, the end place for the images that will be “lend” and chosen by those visitors wanting to associate with the exhibition.
Now in terms of your question. The relevance of the images chosen for the exhibition is that of having been chosen with the limits I set for myself. During the creative process, I decided these were more connected with the nature of this exhibition and with whom I am as a photographer, but what interests me is that these images are not definitive, they can disappear and be replaced by others. In fact, in a way this can be noticed in the installation. I was interested in some images that had to be left out precisely because they dialogue with each other and with the overall idea of the work. The idea of a work enclosed on itself is frightening. Between a void and an aura, there is a never ending field of action. More than the possibility to look at each of the images in this installation, the spectator has the choice not to see all of them and to interact with them.

Sofia: Meaning, it isn’t the photographs, those photographs, that make the exhibition, but the autonomy you are choosing to give to the work exhibited, in order for it to remain open, in an internal and external dialogue. You call for a very strong image, that of seeing the work being set free from the father, which makes me think of two, somehow conflicting, ideas: firstly, the “death of the author”, given you are suggesting to erase intentions of property and authority and hand in the autonomy to the artwork; on the other side, there is a kind of obsessive control over the format and the selective power, even if the interaction between the spectator and the work can be dynamic. Do you really think that opening the range of possibilities to the spectator will allow him/her an experience that is more suitable for the subject?

Isaac: I wouldn’t go that far. The photographs make the exhibition, but not only them. I would say what makes the exhibition is the relation, full of possibilities, people establish with the images that are integrated in the physiognomy of the space. What I suggest is not really an “effacement” of the author – because the trace is there – but an extension of the way I experienced the installation in the autonomy of the other, given his/her choice not to look at some of the images and appropriate them as a selective, exercise of memory. The possibility to overlook some images and through a range of options establishes new relations. The spectator’s reactions tend to highlight that aspect, meaning: although I’m aware that I am the one who created the images, that is as an original selection and pre-set format. In the end it is very interesting to see the experience of the spectator being able to explore other meanings in his/her relation to the work. My proposal is to further investigate otherness. The door is slightly opened to an interactive proposal that goes beyond a deferred act of looking that is imposed by the totality of the visible.




Sofia: I was trying to avoid making this reference and evoke other names in this conversation, but the way you describe this extension of the space of the author to the space of the spectator and your reflection on otherness make me think of Marina Abramovic’s latest performance in London, at the Serpentine Gallery, where I find that by insisting on the opening of the field of possibilities she is actually imposing control over such field of experiences. I’m not saying your example is the same, what I question is if, instead of offering the world to the spectator, the interactive nature of a work is not a practice that ends up constraining the freedom of the spectator’s aesthetic experience. How are people reacting to your exhibition?

Isaac: My main concern is not to obtain a certain reaction, in that sense I can agree there would be some kind of control force involved. My quest is for the opening of the spectator’s field of action, presenting him/her with a proposition that stands between “yes”, or “no” or a “maybe”. I’m more interested in that “maybe” because, as I’ve said before, it gives the spectator “time and space” to act. This “maybe” or, if you will, I insist, the possibility to find different paths parting from mine, is the way I try to “offer the world” to the spectator (to quote your phrasing) liberating from the more conventional ways to look at an exhibition. In this sense, I confess, the reactions have been surprising. People ask questions such as: How does one see this exhibition? Which section do I start from? My response is that the order is arbitrary. I think this installation – that is accompanied by a “map” – urges, because of something I call “positive provocation”, to repeat the entering process, more than once and in a different way. Because this work has a different psychological time, people are free to start from different “endings” and stop at different “beginnings”. People say they need to come again one more time, preferably on their own, which I think is symptomatic and at the same time gratifying.

Sofia: Some time ago, we exchanged some words about our frustration with the way people are creating and showing art. I was pleasantly surprised by this exhibition, precisely because it proposes something new and you didn’t confine yourself to installing a bunch of photographs on the wall hoping someone can make a more or less linear understanding of them. What was the moment that triggered this exhibition?

Isaac: I’ve been thinking about what Photography means today and what is its role in our contemporary society, a reflection I hope to further develop. I’ve been thinking seriously on my work, or about what it could be. You and me, every one of us, we see lots of things. In museums, galleries, virtual sites. I feel that, in some way, our eyes are tired. Tired of looking, tired of the “photographable”. I only think everything is photographable from the moment the “photographable” wins over the weariness of looking, from the moment there is “a way of looking”. I counteracted the way of looking with “a way to make visible”, because although I’m sure about what this set of images “say”, the look of the other does not necessarily imply the same “references” and the same care, particularly because the images exhibited allude to other significances beyond their apparent meaning. But, today, as a creator, this is not satisfying enough. The excess of the visible has in itself an excess of light that obscures. Maybe, this is what you were previously referring to as “the obsessive control of the format”. I wanted to protect this body of images from that linear reading, from that excess of the visible. I thought, I assume that “yes, I want, wish for people to see this work”; but in order to achieve this, I had to assume a personal rupture with the way I’ve been choosing to make things visible. I think this is the role of the form in Tree. From the conception of the space to the organization and presentation of the images, going through the boxes where people leave their feedback in the form of a word, to the lightning design itself. I wanted that, in the end, people could retain a memory of the way they experienced the exhibition. Altogether, these aspects culminated in a call for intimacy in the experience of the exhibition, and that is the moment you call “the trigger”.



Sofia: That idea of an “intimacy in the experience of the exhibition” is, by itself, an impossible premise when we’re dealing with photography. It seems to me that you are going through a process of reflection that is common to those who mature with photography, for it becomes inevitable to think about the medium, even if the value of auto-referential art is tendentiously instrumental.
With this exhibition you called for the participation of the public, for them to send photographs with which you would then make a new Tree with universal associations. Is that it? I couldn’t help but notice that you mention notions usually assigned to authorship, using words such as “property”, “signature” and “author”. Where does the need for that rhetoric come from?

Isaac: I don’t agree that the fruition of an intimate time with an object such as this exhibition is an impossibility. I’d never thought about what maturing with photography could be. In any case, yes, there will always be a place for a reflection upon the medium that I find important and necessary.
Yes, I’m inviting people to send me photographs that are their property, to work upon them. It’s not a call for photographers, but a shout out for everyone who owns photographs. My proposal is to challenge the readers of these images to locate in them traces of their subjectivity. And after finding those traces, they go to search in their own archive – it looks to me as if today, everyone owns a photographic archive, even if unconsciously – an image that appeals to that relation.
The images within this exhibition don’t demand an enclosed and objective reading. The premise for the invitation is that people authorize me to work on those images, in case I feel the need. The end result will be an open session for the installation of the images received – at least 25 –, in the physical space of the exhibition. I’m asking people to think about the images in terms of memory and their biography. Once again, I associate this idea with the notion of “contamination” we were talking about earlier. On the other hand, when I speak of propriety, authorship, signature, that is not fundamental. I don’t hold that question in terms of a rhetoric on photography. It’s solely a way to say that even the vagrant is left about in the desert for a reason. Someone left it there. And that has a story that I’m interested in. Suddenly, I thought it could be interesting to unite the brunches, those personal stories, to the same trunk, to this tree of Photography, infinite and immense, and see how a dialogue between things coming from such different places and experiences, could work in itself and with me. I’ve already received some images and the results are surprising.

Sofia: I see the idea of this tree as a kind of otherness within you, I mean, the part of the “collective identity” that participates in your “individual identity”. When I speak of the impossibility of an intimate experience in a photography exhibition is not in relation to your show but in general, because it’s my opinion that photography more rapidly deviates than brings closer: it is part of the universe of representation, it is plain and rarely does it survive by appealing to any other sense than the visual one, even if it has a very unique potential to evoke memories. After this collective experience of reuniting stories and the exhibition is over, is there any project in mind?

Isaac: A cultural sociologist, whom I’m very fond of, McLuhan, talks about Photography as being a hot medium. To my knowledge, some contemporary art critique that is less prone to reflect on contemporary Culture, tend to overlook, as I see it unfairly, his thoughts about the media, although McLuhan has only dedicated a small part of his reflection to Photography as a medium. In any way, I still find it his thoughts on the media as an extension of the body relevant, although he only focuses on his “socially structuring” character. I mention this because you referred to as characteristic of Photography. In his book “Understanding Media”, McLuhan defends that Photography is a “hot medium” because it “extends a singular sense and in high definition”, understanding “high definition” as a “state of high saturation of data”. This author says that “visually, a photography is distinguished by its high definition”. I am particularly interested in this issue. It’s worth to notice that the “state of the medium” is not definitive and can be “overheated” or “cooled down”, depending if we’re facing a “hot culture” or a “cold” one. It’s a discussion worth developing.
Some days ago, while visiting the space of the installation, someone was telling me that this exhibition is “a provocation”. I responded that I agreed. In my opinion, what is happening in the Photography domain is an overheating that is maybe tending to a cold cycle. It’s an open question. But here I find a connection with our conversation at the beginning about the need to “retain the look”, very much because of that “data saturation”. I wanted a composer to work on a music score based on the images – music may be a cold medium – in order to make way for that synesthetic experience. We can argue about all of this and that is why I find a need for a necessary discussion. But, of course, further ahead when he refers to Photography as a “Brothel with no Walls”, McLuhan says that “no one can enjoy a photograph on its one” and that the work “The Balcony” by Jean Genet was inspired by Photography. For all we’ve talked about, this is where my provocation, a positive provocation, comes in, because there is a space and time, or it could be, for in a first encounter to enjoy a photograph in solitude, with all that it implies.
I would like to take this work to Portugal and to other places in Asia. To be able to work on this idea and develop it. I don’t think the process is over. I will read and reflect upon the words left behind and the images that were given to me and work on that material, on their stories. Maybe the result will be a “Ode-Manifest-to-Photography”. Perhaps, it will be possible to develop this work in the form of a book. For now, no new exhibitions. Probably in two or three years. I feel the need to look at it again, after some months of absence.

Sofia: I agree this work is provocative, but fortunately that’s not the reason it was born, lives or breaths. And even if some of my questions may reveal my pessimism towards the process of interaction in art, I feel that your questioning can only potentiate change.
Thank you very much for being so prompt and for your patience in accounting for your creative process.
All the best to you Isaac.




٠ ‘one becomes what one is by overcoming the wish to be that which one is not’ ٠

9933b11972e57e1eb6a8b3bfdd259287© Coke Wisdom O’Neal, Jessica Sue Layton, from the series The Box (Manhattan), 2005

e8ce28a4a52fc81758d8e3345a97557c© Coke Wisdom O’Neal, Chris and Mike O’Neal, from the series The Box (Manhattan), 2005



44a5bb8c1b8429a5acfab59aad9979a1© Coke Wisdom O’Neal, Tina, from the series The Box (Cleveland), 2010

d3e6104bd958da150131638a7da49290© Coke Wisdom O’Neal, Harold and Kathleen, from the series The Box (Cleveland), 2010

٠ ‘the real dictatorship of the anyone’ that swallows the authentic Self ٠

17_cu-42-flat-rs-rs© Gregory Michael Hernandez, Circular Mound Altar, Temple of Heaven, Beijing, from The Captive Universe (current work)

17_cu-42-r-01rs-rs© Gregory Michael Hernandez, Circular Mound Altar in Beijing , from The Captive Universe (current work)



24_bw-rs© Gregory Michael Hernandez, Partially Collapsed Homestead:Summer 2009, from Representations of the Homestead (current work)

24_cement-painting-rs© Gregory Michael Hernandez, Painted Shadows on Cement, from Representations of the Homestead (current work)

18_dsc9336-rs2© Gregory Michael Hernandez, Path of Least Resistance #1, from Mapping Perspective (current work)

٠ Eli Craven, pulling the pictures out of the photographs ٠

14_sideswing_6x9© Eli Craven, Smoosh Smaller, from Condolences

10_smooshsmaller© Eli Craven, Side Swing, from Woman Alive

26_sofa© Eli Craven, Sofa, from Screen Lovers

26_hunch© Eli Craven, Hunch, from Screen Lovers

25_white_hair_web© Eli Craven, White Hair, from Folding

25_tuck© Eli Craven, Tuck, from Folding

More of Eli’s work here

٠ Mark (he is) King (maybe) ٠

5666374964_b8eba650f8_b© Mark King, from the series Plastic, 2011-12

mark_king_plastic5© Mark King, from the series Plastic, 2011-12

mark_king_plastic4© Mark King, from the series Plastic, 2011-12

“Back in January I was preparing for a screen printing artist in residency at the Frans Masereel Centre in Kasterlee, Belgium and wanted to go there with a new portrait project already started. One night I ended up shooting a few packs of medium format polaroids and really liked what I got. I later scanned the selects and added color to them in photoshop. The color palette and stoic characters created a new version of the Barbados I was familiar with. Shooting at night under streetlights made for an eerie scene.

Once at the residency, I produced a range of artist’s proofs, adding color to each print piece by piece. The color I add is representative of the local plastic shopping bags. I even traveled to the residency with plastic bags and used them to match with the inks I was laying down. I experimented with and collected many shopping bags for over a year before the residency. They stood out for me as soon as I returned to Barbados. You see them everywhere. Their vibrant colors dominate any environment.”

excerpt from an interview made by Abby Wilcox, from Live Fast Mag

maryam1© Mark King, from the series Plastic, 2011-12

mk_adriana© Mark King, Adriana, from the series Plastic, 2011-12

mk_elena© Mark King, Elena, from the series Plastic, 2011-12

More of Mark’s work here

٠ Simultaneity: art & science coming together to ocupy the brain? ٠

laboratoirecambridge01“The Negation of Time, Prologue” at Le Laboratoire, by William Kentridge with Peter Galison and Philip Miller (Photograph by Phase One Photography)

It’s possible that scientists and artists may have one side of their brain more dominant than the other, with the broadly opposite characteristics of logic and creativity, but the best innovations in both fields tend to come from using the whole mind. In an attempt to instigate such mental dialogues between science and art, a new exhibition and laboratory space called the Lab Cambridge is opening up in Kendall Square in in Cambridge, Massachusetts, next year. via hyperallergic

I have split feelings about this. I’m all for this sort of collaborations and for creating new proposals, expanding the fields and all that. I very much enjoy the results but have one concern, that doesn’t directly relate to art & science coming together but rather concerns how much technology is influencing artists’ ability NOT TO DISPUTE (instead of pushing their ability to dispute). It doesn’t have to be one way or the other, but there should be space for non academic artists, artists not working in communities, artists not working in residencies, artists not studying philosophy, artists not doing yoga, artists not doing transcendental meditation, artists not being vegetarians. There should be space for artists doing TAd’s and ZAD’s, artists doing LSD, artists being self destructive, artists being immediate, artists being figurative, artists being artivists, artists being radically-self-sufficient elms.

Thinking about the possible relations between art & science, I recall Zielinski’s saying about the process of investigation: “True and fruitful collaboration between the arts and sciences can only develop, however, if both sides respect each others different areas of competence and different talents and skills and make them productive.” (2011, p.303)Though they both value the process and discredit the relevance of the object as a commodity, the hybrid art/technology, as its brother art/science takes the risk of having no autonomy, no pulse or language of its own.

Because in our limited sensible capacity, we aren’t able to accompany what technology keeps offering us, we can’t help but be seduced by the city lights, the white noise, even if they have no real eco at the core of our perception because they have no meaning. Processes make us believe that everything is possible. Though there are a lot of good examples of artists using technology to embody ideas (see Haapoja or Bismarck, for example), most of the artists overwhelmed by techne can’t disassociate the technological potential from the megalomaniac dream that enables an overdose of pop culture.

And so the sculpting of a tree naturally gives way to steel walls. And so Photoshop occupies the place of the conventional darkroom. Nowadays, the photographer, sitting at his/her desk, uses a software with which, apparently, he/she can do anything, forgetting that what is out of sight and sound still takes its place in action. The smell of the laboratory, working in the dark, they are part of the work and influence the decision making process. Craft and technology occupy different places and over-comparing them can stop one from analyzing their full potential in what they are by definition, and not by opposition. I see the problem relying in the fact that men and women, with their uncontrollable need of power, use technology the same way they approach urban architecture, as a way to climb, so it is inevitable that sooner or later they levitate and say nature bye bye. text by Sofia Silva

ZIELINSKI, S. (2011) Thinking about Art after the media: Research as practised culture of Experiment. In: Biggs e Karlsoon, (eds.) The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts. London: Routledge. pp.293-312

┐ The hard issue of innocence after Vinterberg └

In the last couple of months I’ve come across the issue of paedophilia for different reasons, all related to my research on art theory and artists’ work. It’s not an easy issue and I’ve found it very difficult to discuss with friends. This post comes about after watching the latest Vinterberg‘s movie The Hunt and feeling that I should try to bring together all those threads that have been on my mind for the last couple of days. There are no answers here, just loose thoughts.

stereotype© Charming Baker, Stereotype Is In The Eye of The Beholder, 2008

It all started with an article about Hakim Bey (aka Peter Lamborn Wilson) and his alleged use of anarchist philosophy to cover his love for kids and so to justify adults sexually taking advantage of children. The article, “Leaving out the ugly part” at, meant to be an exposé by researcher Robert P. Helms. I’m not even going to go there because it is impossible to have anything objective to say about the accusations stated without access to those “alleged facts”. Furthermost, I am one of his readers, very fond of TAZ and his thoughts on new technology and immediacy. For me, the only thing this controversial article does is to highlight the questions of Authority and Autonomy, in all their complexity, and bring forth the unclear lines separating paedophilia, incest, child abuse and the classic homosexual adoration and sexual attraction for boys. Somehow, everyone seems to have amazingly high moral standards and a lot of judgements to make about all this, though it’s clear a lot of people just repeat things they’ve heard throughout their life, without second guessing.

It is clearly farfetched to suggest that Bey/Wilson is advocating sex with pre-pubescent children, as there is nothing in the texts to suggest this. Regarding pederasty, and regardless of one’s own views on the moral legitimacy of such sexual desire, it should also be recognized that Bey is not the first high-profile writer to admit to a sexual attraction towards adolescent boys. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg made no secret of it, yet by and large their readers do not seem to be able to have trouble separating this from their consumption of the work. Instead, the question of sexuality within Bey’s work should be analyzed within the framework of the academic writing Wilson has published under his real name, such as his non-TAZ overview of early pirate utopias.

tumblr_mh3ivmovoP1qzytgqo1_1280© Otto Mühl, perfroming Mama and Papa, in 1964

The next episode happened while researching about the Vienna Action Group, particularly because of Otto Mühl’s history: his beliefs and his practice, following the principles of free sexuality and liberation of the drives, got him arrested several times. In 1991, the Friedrichshof Commune broke up and Otto was sentenced to seven years in prison for “criminal acts against morality” and offenses against the illegal drugs act. He rejects the verdict. Six and a half years later, suffering from Parkinson, Otto was released and moved to the south of Portugal, where he still lives, in a small community.

There’s a curious article about Otto in Frieze, written by Theo Altenberg, that ends up like this: “As a person, Mühl failed spectacularly. But as an artist and visionary, he made an important contribution to widening our concept of freedom.” It makes me smile, for these words are so contradictory. Otto, as Nitsch, Schwarzkogler and Brus, rejected the idea that life and art were separated acts of life, so how come could one fail at one and succeed at another if not because of our narrow judgmental views of what one is or should be and how one should behave. We tend to put ourselves in the place of normality and because the gaze of a defiant countenance confronts us with our fragility, we tend to reject it and find ways to condemn its attitudes. In Otto’s case, his “moral infringements” consisted of unusual sexual behaviors, that is, fucking a lot. He was very successful at challenging notions of art and its commodities, and trying to stage cathartic moments, almost psychoanalytic live acts, questioning liberty, sexual desire, moral beliefs, etc. In his own life, he seemed to do the same. Challenging oneself means you will never be successful. Who would want that anyway, if it’s just a pure aesthetic argument for a superficial lifestyle.

The Huntstill from The Hunt (Jagten), 2012

stoeckel_eekholt_7© Frank Stöckel, Eekholt, 2003-05

We now come to Vinterber’s movie about a man who is accused of harassing his best friend’s young daughter. It’s the kid’s lie and soon after she claims she made it up, but it’s too late. The adults are already caught up it the drama. The movie is called The Hunt, which is a pretty explicit definition of what the main character goes through but is also a metaphor, since it refers to the portrayed ritual of haunting that is “offered” to a boy once he reaches adulthood. In this case, Deers are the preys and their “image” appears both at the beginning and at the end of the movie. I believe this appearance is quite symbolic. Amidst some indigenous cultures, such as the Apange and some Amerindians, the deer is a sacred animal, a sort of primordial element of life. They believe once dead, the human soul passes through them, as if to regenerate itself.

Vinterberg, who lived in a community and is used to having a mind of his own “explains that the idea had been seeded years before by some notes handed to him by a child psychiatrist and that the film’s central interrogation scene (which initially struck me as over-egged and unconvincing) is actually a cleaned-up version of a real transcript. The result, he says, is a film about a witch-hunt and its victims; a story that identifies a new strain of wickedness. Of course abuse happens – I made a film about that already. But I think that there’s this other danger and it demands new sacrifices, new victims. These victims are not only the men – and sometimes women – who are accused of something they haven’t done. But they are also the children who grow up believing they are victims. Those children operate under the grand illusion that something bad has happened to them; they grow up with similar experiences to the children who really did experience it. He draws a breath. It’s rotten, rotten territory.

Morality, is not only subjective as it is abstract. And rightly so. If that wasn’t the case we would go through life overwhelmed by guilt and with zero chance of being free…

┐ Ahmet Ögüt, Mind the System └

I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.”
-Malcolm X

stone9© Ahmet Ögüt, from the project Stones to throw, 2011

stone2© Ahmet Ögüt, from the project Stones to throw, 2011

mts-ahmetogut-strategischschema02© Ahmet Ögüt,Strategic Diagram for Non-hierarchical Participatory Radical Democracy, 2011. In: Mind the System, Find the Gap

More of Ahmet’s work here

┐ Michael Snow and the Photobook that can truely be called an Artist’s Book └

“The book — the first mass-produced object — raises a number of questions concerning its conception and distribution. What do we mean by the expression « artist’s book » ? Is Cover to Cover a book of reproductions of an artist’s « originals » or a hand-crafted book containing illustrations of texts, printed on quality paper, published in voluntarily limited édition ? Like many contemporary artists’ books, Snow’s volume doesn’t really correspond to either of thèse catégories, since the reproduction itself is the « original » art work. […]
Thèse considérations are somewhat tempered by the fact that, in the book, the photographs are part of a greater unit, the séquence. A photographie book has characteristics in common with a still photo-graph, a comic strip and a film. The fact that a group of photographs form a linear séquence adds a temporal dimension — a suggestion of past and future — to a médium which usually exists in a sort of eter-nal présent. This enlarges the basic unit of meaning : like individuals words in a sentence, photographs take on or change their meaning according to their place in the séquence.
Cover to Cover is a photographie narrative relating several events in the day of its main character, the author Michael Snow. Edited like a film in alternating shots, this book consists of 320 pages, one photo per page recto-verso, no margin, no négative space from « cover to cover ». The few texts are integrated completely into the images (e.g. the title page — a sheet of letter paper in a typewriter). Snow’s movements are analysed simultaneously by two photographers whose opposing points of view alternate, cross-cutting, from the front to the back of each page. The story-line is simple : The main character is shown first of ail in a house; he opens the door (the front cover) and enters a room. Two photographers appear, one on the right-hand page, the other on the left. Life-size fingers put a pièce of white paper into a typewriter : the reverse side is a photograph showing one of the photographers. In the following séquence, the main character reappears and puts on a record.”

excerpt of the article The Artiste Book and Photography: The Example of Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover, by Karen O’ROURKE. Continue reading here

┐ Eric Rondepierre └

couplepassant© Eric Rondepierre, Couple, passant, 1996-98

confidence© Eric Rondepierre, Confidence, 1996-98

levoyeur© Eric Rondepierre, Le Voyeur, 1996-98

“That impossible photogram, as Roland Barthes said. An object which is not (even) an object, but at the same time is actually two objects. It doesn’t (really) belong to the cinema or (simply) to photography ; it is more than a photograph yet less than a film. It is, therefore, a sort of axis or fold, the precise crossing point (punctum) between cinema and photography. Eminently paradoxical, the photogram is the touchstone of Eric Rondepierre’s work which is acutely conscious of the delicate balance on the razor’s edge where cinema meets photography in their most intimate specificity.

Eric Rondepierre’s work always starts with a film, or more precisely with the image-matter of a film. Rondepierre is not interested in cinema as the reflection-projection of a film on a screen, in a consumer relation to what is watchable, with its imposed length and speed, uninterrupted flow, impression of movement, perceptive fiction, transitory illusion – in other words the magic of the large cinema-body on the screen. What interests him is the film as actual film strip, a material sequence of fixed images intimately and appropriatively related to its object. Film images that you can not only see but also touch, hold, manipulate and collect.                          

In other words, Rondepierre aims at what is most authentically photographic at the very heart of cinema. This is of course profoundly contradictory. The photogram is an impossible object : it is both film’s condition of existence and its total negation. Obviously a film consists only of photograms, yet seeing a photogram for what it is (the frozen image of a film) necessarily means not seeing the film, which can only exist fully as movement. Seeing a film flow past automatically implies not seeing photograms, nevertheless the very essence of a film since they disappear, absorbed into the projection process. Photograms are the only real images and the only invisible images in a film. This is the ontological paradox which makes photograms into cinema’s blind «spots».

What strikes me most in all this is the principle of texture-filters which seems to me to operate in Rondepierre’s artistic strategy like Freud’s memory screen. It is a question of masks and shifts, in which the accumulated density of textures only reflects downstream the work that the spot principle has already performed upstream : burying and excavating part of what is invisible (part of the unconscious). Just as the concept of photograms revealed by freezeframes can be interpreted as a figure of the revelation of film’s unconscious. Photography and cinema are merely spots and textures. Don’t believe too much in what you can see. Learn to not see what is displayed (and therefore which hides). Learn to see beyond, beside, across and beneath. Look for the spot in the image, texture in the surface, negatives in positives and latent images in the negative ground. Follow once more the route mapped out by the psychicphotographic apparatus, shifting from eye to memory, from appearance to unrepresentable. Dig down through the layers and levels like an archeologist. Photographs are only surfaces, they have no depth, only a fantastic density. Behind it, beneath it or around it, one photo always hides (at least) another photograph, or a film. It is a question of screens, and here you enter in a singular universe, the one of an individual by the name of Eric Rondepierre.

And in this lies one of the possible dimensions of his work – it operates precisely like a psychic apparatus, maybe like Freud’s famous little Wunderblock the « magic notepad » which in 1925 Freud used as the ideal metaphor for the workings of the first topic of the unconscious : a question of levels, of transparent surface area upon which one writes, and a background layer on which the inscriptions are preserved in absentia even when the have been erased from the surface. Photography is the top surface, cinema the background dephts and writing the displaced entity. The « Wunderblock » shifts from one to the other, a link, like the photogram which relates photography to cinema. The deep spot (the invisible, the inconscious, the buried object, the lost text) and the texture which brings it to the surface, visible and conscious (the layered pathway to visibility). Coming and going. Directly or mediated. And starting again from the beginning.”

excerpt of Eric Rondepierre or working with photograms (between spot and texture) by Philippe Dubois in “Eric Rondepierre”, ed. Espace Jules Verne/ Galerie Michèle Chomette, Paris, 1993, pp. 28-35. FULL TEXT here

more of Eric’s work here

┐ Christian Boltanski – death from within └

5498496647_85c3f87a4d_o© Christian Boltanski, Odessa Monument, 1991. Four gelatin silver prints, lights and wiring

“Since the late 1960s, Christian Boltanski (b. 1944, Paris) has worked with photographs collected from ordinary and often ephemeral sources, endowing the commonplace with significance. Rather than taking original photographs to use in his installations, he often finds and rephotographs everyday documents—passport photographs, school portraits, newspaper pictures, and family albums—to memorialize everyday people. Boltanski seeks to create an art that is indistinguishable from life and has said, The fascinating moment for me is when the spectator hasn’t registered the art connection, and the longer I can delay this association the better. By appropriating mementos of other people’s lives and placing them in an art context, Boltanski explores the power of photography to transcend individual identity and to function instead as a witness to collective rituals and shared cultural memories.”

2© Christian Boltanski, Sans Fin, part of installation showed in the 54th Venice Biennial

1© Christian Boltanski, Dog in the street, 1991. Installation, Photograph, gelatin silver photograph, lamp, biscuit box and electrical wires

“While the particular images in this installation represent children and the family dog at play, there is a brooding sadness and sense of threat which suggests that fear of loss which accompanies all our joys. The black-and-white photos are taken from, or simulate, old family snaps and sometimes news-paper images. This style is deliberate: the black-and-white prints feel like a literal trace in a way that colour plates and digital images do not. We seem to be able to sense the process embedded in the materiality of the print that is created when light falls onto silver nitrate and changes its chemical structure. In this way the light that ‘touches’ the object also touches the print. Because of this intimate process, the photo of a loved one is more than a likeness; it is a relic of their having once been there in front of the camera. This process is further enhanced by the dim reading lamp which is attached to a frame and by the old biscuit tin below each photo which suggests the collections of memorabilia that most of us have in some cupboard or shed.2 The boxes in this installation contain snapshots of the families represented in the larger photographs. The effect also suggests the use of photos in ‘ex votos’ and memorials to the departed. (…) Boltanski plays upon the ambiguity of photography and memory by presenting these found photo-graphs from family albums or archives. In re-photographing them he further degrades the likeness and enhances the feeling of distance in time from the event. He exploits our predisposition to accept the authenticity of old black-and-white images as actual records of events yet presents them with deliberate theatrical effect. The atmosphere he creates is like that of a shrine in a cathedral or mausoleum, but it does not feel like mock religiosity – it is more personal than that and at the same time has broader cultural associations.”

docclick image to see a documentary about Christian’s life and work, in UBUWEB