Typifying: is this scientific approach revealing?

I once wrote a brief post about the effects of the Düsseldorf school, following Grant Scott‘s article Has the Düsseldorf school killed photography? (which I can no longer find available online).

At the time, I hadn’t given much thought to the scientific nature of photography, because I tend to deviate from that approach. However, as I’m accompanying a friend’s PhD about the archival nature of photography, I ended up having a lot of discussions about typifying, cataloging, archiving, stereotyping, etc. In a couple of weeks (or months), I’ll be able to write about his work, properly. For now, just some very brief considerations that came to mind while observing author Yorgos Efthymiadis‘ project Domesticated.

© Yorgos Efthymiadis, ‘untitled’, from the series ‘Domesticated’.

I came across one of Yorgos’ photographs from Domesticated @ Lenscratch and a strangely familiar feeling was immediately awaken: I wanted to curse the photographer’s temptation to typify!. Maybe what happens is that 1) there’s an idea – in this case how guns can be embellished to reveal only (or mainly) their function as decorative objects or ornaments; 2) the author may think that the repetition of a given formula (composition, etc) will be able to highlight the “true nature” of the project and accentuate its idiosyncrasies; 3) as the observer gets accustomed to the author’s style, he/she legitimates his/her doing.

I want to suggest that behind this process lies one of the paradigms of photography – that her nature is to kill, not to reveal. In that sense, maybe what really happens is that 1) there’s an idea – the idea is not good enough for a project (there’s nothing fundamentally original about it), but still the author insists; 2) as the formula repeats itself, instead of helping reveal the “true nature” of the object – the gun -, that repetition destroys the aesthetic dynamics of the singular image; 3) while the author intent may be to level, to particularize the object and universalize the subject, what happens is that the leveling and the repetition exposes the fragility of the initial idea

printscreen from Yorgos’ website.

Aline Smithson comments that Yorgos project is about exploring “the charged subject of gun ownership” and in order to do that, he photographs the “collector’s prized possession in juxtaposition to a woven backdrop from the collector’s home”. Apparently, what this strategy amounts to is to reveal how guns, apart from their destructive nature, can be “just beautiful objects”, full of history. However, does this strategy of erasing the ethical nature of the process of creating art can help reveal a scientific true? Or, instead, is this just not about art?

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

┐ Susan Boafo, organic photography └

susan-boafo-organs-of-extreme-pe-133775© Susan Boafo, Organs of Extreme Perfection, 2011

susan-boafo-endless-forms-most-b-133750© Susan Boafo, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, 2009

“Photosynthesis by microscopic organisms produces the majority of the life supporting oxygen that is required by all living things. In return, our reciprocal relationship provides them with carbon dioxide.

The photograph is created by millions of these organisms as they carryout photosynthesis. When photographic negatives are placed in front of the organisms, they move towards the varying degrees of light and form eerie, temporary images. They seek out the light they need for photosynthesis and leave behind a haunting trace of this life-giving process.”

8392383924© Susan Boafo, Speaking with the Sun, 2008

“Video still; green algae drawn towards sunlight during photosynthesis. Letters and symbols were created by thousands of microscopic, single celled algae as they moved towards light. Each letter took around fifteen minutes to form. The algae ‘spell out’ the scientific formula for photosynthesis; the process through which they provide most of the Earth”s oxygen.”

More of Susan’s work can be seen here

┐ Sonja Bäumel, growing a second skin └

01 copy© Sonja Bäumel, Embroidered Tattoo, 2007

The embroidered tattoo is part of the fashion collection “Slow down…”. Latex layers
have been revived, reinterpreted and transformed into a skin. A skin embroidered with
local tradition.

sy_baeumel_cro_memb© Sonja Bäumel, Crocheted Membrane, 2008/09

“Our skin has a second layer of skin. A layer full of life, which serves as a membrane for exchange. This body membrane is made from the same substance as the world. The human body does not end at the skin, but invisibly expands into space. The hidden membrane exists between our body and our surroundings. We can enter this invisible micro level with a microscope; we enter and magnify the micro world. What happens if we make the micro world of the human body perceivable? I want to confront people with the fact that our body plays host to countless bacteria and that a balanced perception of the body is closely linked to a balanced perception of the self.” via Deezen magazine

0108sonja baeumel_expanded self1_0tumblr_mdf6ohXgLz1qeqxnz© Sonja Bäumel, Expanded Self, 2012

“Sonja Bäumel, supported by the bacteriologist Erich Schopf, has found a unique way of visualizing the invisible surface of the human body. She uses a gigantic petri dish as canvas and the bacteria living on her own body as colour. She develops and speaks a language combining art and science and thus creates a biologically living whole-body picture.
After the application of the invisible bacteria colour on the body, the body is imprinted on agar, the nutritive substance for bacteria, which is first filled into a huge petri dish (210cmx 80 cm). After a few days, a living landscape is growing there. It consists of a unique mixture of life forms on Sonja Bäumel’s body on a certain day, in a certain Viennese area. With this project, she wants to highlight the existing invisible infrastructure in order to understand and make use of it.”

Sonja’s website here

┐ Lena Amuat & Zoë Meyer, a thing for scientif design └

mathe_modellnr5_© Lena Amuat & Zoë Meyer, Mathematisches Modell Nr.5, 2010

zoe%26lena_9zoe%26lena_3zoe%26lena_5© Lena Amuat & Zoë Meyer, Artefakte und Modelle, 2009-12

“Lena Amuat and Zoë Meyer have won the Swiss Federal Design Award for their project ‘Artefakte und Modelle’. As the title suggests, in this project the two photographers look at scientific models through the lens of art. These are models conceived as a way of arriving at new insights by varying the method of visualisation or by reshaping or using a different type of measurement. The artists are interested in the images of reality conveyed by the models and in the extent to which aesthetic processes are involved in the creation of knowledge.

The capture of reality through mimicry, reproduction, conservation and measurement, and the opposition between reality and fiction: these are the themes that interest Lena Amuat and Zoë Meyer in this project. The process of investigation and the play of perceptions are also at its centre. Viewers of these mostly large-format photographs find themselves confronted with a puzzle. What do the pictures represent? Do they show real objects, or abstract forms? Were they created by computer, or painted with a brush? Is the background really there, or was it added in afterwards?

The two photographers use various media to modify the pictures, trying to rethink the scientific angles from an artistic point of view. They see their work as a subjective pictorial archive that is constantly being expanded. It is always given a site-specific spatial arrangement and presentation concept.

An older work by Lena Amuat and Zoë Meyer is concerned with objects confiscated by Swiss customs. They use their precise pictorial vocabulary to reproduce illegal souvenirs in the form of stuffed animal heads, occult masks and fur coats. These photographs are also part of the two artists’ image archive and are presented alongside the artworks from ‘Artefakte und Modelle’ (in a presentation that varies depending on the exhibition location). The result: multifaceted installations whose quiet motifs absorb and touch the viewer.” source: Swiss Federal Design Awards

Their work can be seen here

┐ Andrea Polli, memories as possessions in virtual space └

25676492© Andrea Polli, Appetite 4, installation detail, Here Space, NY, 1995

3© Andrea Polli, Appetite 4, detail from installation WWW site showing a studio photograph of objects on a plate, 1995

1© Andrea Polli, Fetish, screen shot of detail of installation at the Ctrl show, Name Gallery, Chicago, 1996

“Research into the concept of appetite led me to consider my personal appetite for possessions. It became clear to me that I (like many others) have multiple layers of possessions. We have possessions that exist in physical space, as well as possessions in virtual space: images, sounds and texts stored in analog and digital media. My work, entitled Appetite 4, consisted of 32 porcelain dinner plates suspended on the walls of a small space and containing actual materials symbolic of my personal desires. A cellular phone, for example, symbolized my need for protection-i.e. the idea of being untouchable or unlocatable; keys referred to power and control. I photographed the material on each of the plates in its “ideal” state-lit to resemble a commercial product. Objects of desire in the virtual world exist in a visually heightened state to compensate for the lack of physicality. Remote visitors could access the desires in the virtual world through the World Wide Web (WWW) at <http:// homepage.interaccess.com/-apolli/ appetite.htm>.
The idea of possessions in virtual space, which I explored in the Appetite exhibition, led me to the conscious realization that virtual possessions are actually an integral part of non-digital life. Every human being has a storage bank of virtual possessions: memories. In fact, the computer storage bank is understood in human terms only through a metaphor of memory.

Fetish, part of Command-Shift-Ctrl exhibition in May 1996 at NAME Gallery, Chicago, explored the issue of memory in virtual and physical space. The installation consisted of 12 objects suspended on glass panels acting as a drop ceiling over the heads of the viewers. A computer in the space provided a virtual replication of the objects. In positioning the objects, I attempted to create a metaphor for the act of remembering. There are physical correlations to many emotional states-for example, joy is experienced as a physical buoyancy, and, in contrast, grief is experienced as physical weight. When trying to remember, humans often will move their eyes up and to the side (Color Plate B No. 1).

I lit each object with a dramatic spotlight, which created exaggerated shadows on the walls of the space. As in Appetite 4, lighting served to give the objects a larger-than-life presence in the space. I wanted to create a physical space that would refer to the mind’s virtual space during the act of remembering events and objects. Certain events have prominence in the mind, and the physical metaphor of size in relation to importance importance is utilized in the space through oversized shadows-foggy reproductions of actual events/objects. I selected the objects as signifiers of personal experiences related to past relationships.”

excerpt from “Polli, Virtual Space and the Construction of Memory”, in Leonardo, Vol.31, 1998

┐ Terike Haapoja – mind over matter over mind └

MG_3413-640x400MG_3419-640x400© Terike Haapoja, Anatomy of Landscape, Durational images, 2 parts, 2008 Glass, plywood, live plants, light, electronic, water, 150 cm x 90 cm x 20 cm

When one stands before a landscape, two lines of thought appear. One treats the landscape as a framed fragment of our field of vision, distanced plane of forms and tones, structured by our viewpoint. The other, in contrast, follows the grass from underneath our feet to the distance, hears the resonance of the wind in our ears, smells the soil, synchronizes the pulses of the body with the life inside the view. Abstractions, mathematization and objectification of nature emerge from the first line of thought, just as theories of perception, duration and experience from the second. But still they exist as parts of the same view.

It has been estimated, that if we would have to build all that which the earth provides for us now for free, the number would exceed all measurements. The great machine is, it seems, economic by nature.

ANATOMY OF LANDSCAPE consists of two large, painting-like landscape images. As the viewer comes closer to the painting, it becomes visible that the image consists of live plants and real soil. Automatic watering-, ventilation-, heating- and light system, necessary for sustaining life inside the painting, is visible from the other side of the frame. The lights change accoording to the daytime from sunrise to sunset.

databaseworks2WC3000L2jpg-700x400-11_15_13© Terike Haapoja, In and Out of Time, 2005. Video diptych, duration 4,5h, mute. Size of the projection 180x4000cm.

When a creature dies, it’s inner time ceases. It does not experience time, but becomes an object in the flows of the other’s times. This is why photographic time is always ponting out to the viewer: the absence of the other, revealed by photography, makes the viewer painfully concious of her or his own presence. Photographing a dead body, as the early photographers did on battlefields and graveyeards, doubles this absence. The other is dead, and in the photograph even the death itself has passed away.

Still, death as absence of time is just one point of view. Time does not cease – instead, vivid life continues inside the corpse. The community of microbes live on, interaction with the surrounding world continues as gazes and organic compounds are relesead from the body. The transition from subjectivity to an object is a proces much longer then the moment of dying. The ritual of a wake besides the dead body has served as a way to live thought this phase of transition.

The video installation IN AND OUT OF TIME shows a diptych of a calf, that has just passed away. The image on the left shows a recording of the calf as seen with an ordinary video camera. The image on the right shows the same calf, as seen with an infrared camera. The video’s are in synchrony: as the body of the calf cools down, it’s image slowly vanishes from the infrared image. The original recording time of 7 hours is visible as a time code in the video. The duration of the projection is 4,5 hours

3COMMUNITY2COMMUNITY© Terike Haapoja, Community, 2007. 5-channel video installation, 5-channel sound

Terike’s amazing body of work can be “seen” here

┐ Robbie Nolan └

© Robbie Nolan, Untitled, from Trees

© Robbie Nolan, Untitled, from Trees

“The poet Keats spoke of how the ‘cold philosophy’ of science would, by explaining the mechanics of the physical world “unweave a rainbow”. In a sense the aim of this series of photographs was to display the falsity of this claim when related to colour. Colour is often thought of as something solid, immutable and objective. Certainly objective colour exists as measured in wavelengths of light, but this does not mean humans are able to view it objectively. The physiology of human sight is one easily susceptible to outside influence, and all manner of environmental factors can affect our perception of colour. In fact recent discoveries made by molecular biologists have found that miniscule differences in the amino acids of eye can occur between individuals, and as a consequence there is the potential for us all to perceive colour slightly differently. Colour as we perceive it has no physical reality of it’s own, instead it exists solely within the neural pathways of our brains.

It is this idea of colour as a liminal space on the threshold of existence which interested me. Inspired by early spirit photographers, with their use of slow shutter speeds and double exposures to create apparitions of the deceased, in these images I have created ‘ghostly’ shapes using coloured fabric and a prism filter to break the light into it’s constuent spectral colours, with no post-production editing. In doing so I have tried to use the camera to pin down the idea of colour as bridge between tangible and intangible, subjective and objective. Despite Keat’s claims against science the very nature of colour means it will always remain an essentially unknowable world – something I have tried to reflect in the work.”

Robbie’s statement

More of Robbie’s work here