So much has been said about Leif Sandberg‘s project Endingthat words fail me. Still, the quality of his work and the importance it has for those, like me, who embrace photography both as a means of artistic expression, but also as a therapeutic tool, brought me here.
At Lenscratch, Aline chooses to stick to Leif Sandberg’s description of his project, and, for starters, so will I:
The Ending project is my first major photo project, with its roots in panic anxiety and the fear of growing old. After surgery for possible pancreas cancer 2007, followed by a year’s convalescence, I was faced with the inevitable question of what to do with the rest of my life. A second chance. An interest in art and photography has followed me since my teens, although that was not my choice in life. Until now.
Death becomes palpable when it approaches, and the pictures contain questions of fear and uncertainty, but simultaneously the joy of aging together with a life partner. The pictures have grown over a five-year period. Often a photo session with an original idea inspired new pictures created in the moment and the plan had to give way for intuition and guts feeling. Possibly a way to get close to who you and exploring your inner self. – Leif Sandberg 2017-03-01
Leif Sandberg’s “Ending” arrived in the mail with no mention preceding its arrival. Upon opening the package a feather and an anvil fell onto my groin. I have carried them since like a pebble in my shoe that I refuse to set aside or extract. The cover of the book is a stark and compliant set of suture stiches from a surgical embrace that I had gathered would be the nexus for my introduction within. And within the pages things would expand. Throughout the book, death and near death lay prostrate as illustrated by photographs of Leif and presumably his wife in various invocations between the slippage of time and the way in which light illuminates its half-steps of failure to recognize a insoluble self. Leif lies prone on cold wooded Swedish forests. Dirt covers his back, but his limbs refuse to stop their dancing. Saint Vitus speaks highly of Leif looking over the edge of a looming finitude. There is a rage within. A rage for a near miss, the brush with death like that pebble in the shoe that Leif retaliates against. The images are not grim, they are opposing. They oppose the inevitable. They express what it means to understand the value of life and its continuance. Leif has cheated the boney grip and is celebrating the severed tentacles wishing to charge him with a sentence of entropy’s gain.
Ending is all that I love in photography. It’s authentic, it’s dark, dynamic and sincere. It’s a part of the author’s life and energy that otherwise wouldn’t exist. It’s not like this life wouldn’t have been materialized if not for these photographs. It wouldn’t exist in the first place, for art happens in its making and another I (the only I that is an author) appears in the process. It’ refreshing to see. Although I do recognize some of the influences, I feel like I’m also offered an unique dimension, maybe that of Leif Sanberg’s passion for art and life. Thank you Leif!
excerpt from CLAUDE CAHUN: The Extreme Point of the Needle in: Michael Löwy’s MORNING STAR: surrealism, marxism, anarchism, situationism, utopia
During 1936, Claude Cahun took an active part in Surrealist activities: she was present at the Surrealist exhibitions in Paris and London and signed the collective appeal “No Freedom for the Enemies of Freedom” (written by Henri Pastoureau and Leo Malet), which denounced the Fascist coup in Spain and the passive atti-tude of the French Popular Front government. However, in July 1937 she and her companion, Suzanne Malherbe, decided to leave Paris and live on the Channel Island of Jersey. She did not sever her connections with the Surrealist group, and in 1938 she joined the International Federation for an Independent Revolutionary Art (FIARI). In June 1939 she signed the last declaration of the
FIARI, “A bas les lettres de cachet! A bas la terreur grise!,” which was also the last collective manifestation of the Surrealists before the war and the dispersal of the group. In 1940, with the beginning of World War II and the occupation of the Channel Islands by the Th ird Reich, a new chapter in Claude Cahun’s political and intellectual life began, perhaps the most astonishing and impressive of all: anti-Fascist Resistance.
When the German troops arrived, Cahun’s first impulse was to shoot the Kommandant; she took a small revolver and went to the woods to do target practice. However, she was too inexperienced, and Suzanne convinced her that she would miss her target. They decided to start a subversive activity addressed to German soldiers to incite them to insubordination.
From 1941 to 1944, for four years, they issued, mainly in German (Suzanne translated), thousands of anti-Fascist leaflets, posters, and fliers aimed at sowing trouble and demoralization among the occupiers. Claude Cahun also produced photomontages using images cut from the Nazi magazine Signal and sometimes took her inspiration from John Hartzfeld’s well-known anti-Fascist works, which had been exhibited in Paris in 1935. Humor, play, allegory, nostalgia, absurdity, the marvelous, and irony were their main weapons in this unequal struggle against the most powerful war machine of Europe.
Their fliers contained anti-Nazi and antimilitarist slogans, such as “Liebknecht-Frieden-Freiheit,” uncensored information, songs, manifestoes, theatrical dialogues, images, and wordplay and were usually signed the “Nameless Soldier.” One of their fliers, which enraged the occupying authorities, directly called on the soldiers to rebel and to desert and advised them that if their officers at-tempted to stop them, to shoot their officers. Some of the material was handwritten on cardboard cigarette paper wrappers. They also wrote “Down with War” on French money. Usually, however, Cahun made twelve carbon copies of each fl ier with her Underwood typewriter and illustrated them with images made of typewriter letters and graphic signs. Th en they attached the fliers to walls, doors, barbed wire, and parked cars or hid them inside newspapers and magazines on the newsstands or left them in mailboxes, churches, and houses used by the Nazis.
Their daring behavior, right under the noses of the Gestapo and the occupying forces, can best be described by the Yiddish word chutzpa, insolence. Summarizing the spirit of her struggle, she wrote after the war, “I committed myself to revolutionary defeatism, trying to convince the German soldiers to turn against their officers. We fought for a rainbow of values stretching from the ultraromantic black to the flaming red. We fought for the Germans against Nazi Germany. We fought as Surrealist writers with weapons of chance.”
And in a letter from 1950 she explains that what stimulated her to resist was her leftist, pacifist, Surrealist, and even “Communist (historical materialism)” ideas as well as the need to defend particular values, “such as freedom of expression and sexual freedom [liberté des moeurs] that were of personal concern to me.” During those four years the angry, frustrated Gestapo agents searched in vain for the dangerous “Nameless Soldier,” who sabotaged the morale of the troops and preached rebellion in every corner of the small island.
Finally, someone, probably the shopkeeper who sold them the cigarette papers, denounced the two women, and on July 25, 1944, they were arrested. Trying to save her friend, Claude Cahun told the Gestapo officers, “I’m the only one responsible. I did the photomontages and wrote the fliers. Moreover, I’m Jewish on my father’s side.” As soon as they were jailed, both women tried to commit suicide by swallowing Gardenal pills they kept with them for just such an eventuality. Th e attempt failed, but they were seriously ill for some time, and this probably saved them from being deported to Germany.
At fi rst, the Nazi secret police could not believe these two kind, middle-aged ladies were the fi rebrands responsible for all the subversive agitation and thought they were agents of some “foreign” power. When they at last became convinced, after searching their house and finding all the materials, they convened a military court. The German prosecutor, Major Sarmser, argued that they were illegal partisan fighters, using spiritual weapons that were more dangerous than guns. He also insisted that their flier calling on the German soldiers to rid themselves of their officers was “incitement to murder.”
The military court predictably sentenced them both to death. The two women were to be sent to Germany to be beheaded with an axe, the Third Reich’s treatment for dangerous anti-Fascist enemies whose death they intended to serve as an example. However, due to the liberation of France in the summer of 1944 the Channel Islands were cut off from Germany, and the deportation could not take place.
Seeing that the war was lost, the local commanders were afraid of reprisals and did not want to take the responsibility for an odious execution on the island itself. They told the two women that if they wrote to the German authorities asking to be pardoned, they could save their heads, thanks to the merciful policy of the Third Reich. To their dismay and surprise, Claude Cahun and Suzanne Malherbe obstinately refused to sign an appeal for pardon: they considered it dishonorable to ask favors of the Third Reich! The embarrassed local commanders were then forced to sign the appeal themselves, and the two proud anti-Fascist resisters were “pardoned” and sentenced to life imprisonment. During their time in the military prison they discovered that many German soldiers were jailed for trying to desert or for insubordination, a situation they attributed, at least in part, to their antiwar propaganda. Finally, on the last day of the war, May 8, 1945, they were liberated, in poor health but alive.
A portrait of me taken by my 5 years old niece forced me into this theme. As I stared into the photograph I wondered “do I really look like that”? The question is as simple as it is complex. I’m aware that the word “really” in this sentence is just a figure of speech, so to deconstruct the question means to think about the significance of the “look” and the “that”.
Regarding the “look”: when one uses the word “look”, usually a comparison is implied. One usually means that something looks like something else. But what astonishes me here? For once the fact that I look older than I think I do; but most importantly the fact that the shape of my face reminds me of a specific head sculpture, one by Messerschmidt*, which just goes to show… well… nothing but that our imagination plays a key role in the way we go thru life.
Regarding the “that”: I struggle to conclude whether there are universal properties in the “that” or whether I’m unable to interpret the photographic me without letting all my subjectivity take over. What I can say, with a certain degree of objectivity, is that this photograph depicts someone who seems to be experiencing a special moment; her eyes are joyful and tender and she looks extremely wrinkly, maybe tired. Apart from that, the “air” that feels this photograph is a mixture of two things (pretty much straightforward): how the photographer (my niece) sees the portrayed (me) and how the object wants and lets the subject see it/her/me.
*Taking a short detour through Messerschmidt’s sculptures: the particular one I have in mind came to be known as “A Strong Man” and, as with many of his other sculptures, its traces and expressiveness mimic those of a clown, and a la folie moment, I must add.
Both my niece and I love clowns. I love dressing like a clown and have a darkish-looking clown tattooed, which my niece also photographed the same day. Is this proof of the power of perception? Is the “aura” of the clown-like tender happiness what establishes the intentionality of this portray, i.e., the relation between the subject and the object? It is possible that the reason I first fell in love with Messerschmidt’s heads was because they resembled the sort of expressions I thought characterized me?
Back to the issue at hand – How those who love us photograph us – I went back to my archive and searched for portraits taken by friends and family and came to the conclusion, now apparently easy to attain, that when comparing those portraits with my self-portraits (which I used to do quite a lot), they are the ones that seem to be more authentic, meaning that their ethos, their way of being and becoming is more truthful.
In a recent post, I shared a portrait taken by my boyfriend which surprised me for very similar reasons: for being able to capture a sort of expressiveness of my body and face that I was always unable to shoot. Looking at some of the portraits he has done of me (and I usually turn my back on the lens) again I recognized a high level of authenticity, meaning a truthful intention and an honest relation between the subject and the object: no purpose at all besides the playfulness and proximity of that relation.
In the process of looking at the portraits others had taken of me, I went back to my comfort zone: phototherapy. I realized that, by comparison, those portraits allowed me to think about my relationships with those who stood behind the lens. Won’t go into detail here, but it is clear that my persona has a sort of different photosensitive form depending on who’s looking at me. With some people I’m more present and open and with others I’m almost not there. Is it possible that by letting our loved ones photograph us we could get a clearer perspective on the sort of relations we get ourselves into?
Description: Session II (Ibid.) Rejecting the mother’s milk, perhaps the ‘feed’ is poisonous or unpalatable – yet what is rejected is full of light. (Eb., II. xx.) A triptych, religious-looking but based on a very non-sacred, commonplace piece of furniture. A dressing table, where a woman made themselves up, brushing hair, perfuming, covering up their blemishes, smells of sweat and whatever else. But instead of privately getting ready, this is a very public undressing with us as an audience. (Db., II. iv.)
excerpt of Spencer Rowell’s Externalise Me, Internalise You, as read in Uncertain States.
“As much as psychoanalysis is concerned with the interaction between the outer world and its relationship with an inner world (how we take in and make sense of external events and how we put our inner thoughts and understandings back out into this outer world), my research documents a process by which, through the production of self-portraits and their assessment by psychotherapists, photographs may form a representation of an inner world of the artist and its relationship to external objects. Through practice, moving from a position of being psychically hidden, to a place of being observed; and through the production of these photographs and their exhibition, a way of gaining awareness of inner states. The process may be viewed as an artist’s emergence from this place of psychic retreat to a position of awareness and through this use of the camera combined with the mediation of the viewer, to be seen as a form of therapeutic process.
Each individual image offers a snapshot into these inner worlds and when these lost object representations are viewed as a whole, in sequence, over time, the narrative of an internal world may become more real to the artist and the viewer. The external world now becomes portrayed as a narrative of internal objects, vividly brought into reality through interpretation and exhibition. It is in the bringing together of these part objects, that a more complete image can emerge; to be seen in one light so-to-speak. Is this therapeutic work simply a form of self-imposed fragmentation followed by reparation, or is it, through the inevitable temporary loss of inner self, a form of diffusion and re-identity, or do I display my images, because of my incapacity to differentiate subject (the photograph) and object (internally me), from reality (externally me as the print) and phantasy of the image, (what it is/I am about?).
Description: Session VIII (Ibid.) And there could be an eye on the right, in the hair – this makes you reassess which part of the head you are looking at, the front or the back. Nothing is certain or clear or straightforward. (Eb., VIII. viii.) There are not there. (Db., VIII. ii.)
In psychoanalytical terms, Projection and Introjection are seen as representing opposite sides of this same coin; an unconscious form of communication and the basis of art appreciation and interpretation. In this context I will suggest that Projection and Introjection, used in this mature way, is more than simply an opportunity to appreciate and gain another level of understanding between the artist and the photograph but the photograph and the assessor/viewer, an opportunity to understand something of the inner and outer worlds of both artist and viewer; It is a place where ideas can merge and interrelate.
This process has its roots in early infant – mother relations; the infant cannot say how he feels, he simply makes his mother experience the same feeling. This communication is seen as them connecting in a deep and unconscious way, the mother will react, this will facilitate the infant’s psychic growth; the same happens in the therapeutic setting between analyst and analysand. Projection takes aspects of one’s internal world and puts them onto external subjects; an unconscious process of excretion and expulsion. I am also interested in how this relates to the reverse enactment; where the internal world of the viewer is incorporated into the image being viewed, It is this ‘output’ from the viewers’ internal world (the viewers’ own projections) presented as the written report, which can be seen as ‘input’ into the final assessment. Projection and Introjection is an intercommunicative process of shared understanding, it becomes a creative interplay of shared experience. This process as it occurs in child development can be dissected into three phases (Ogden, 1982), where the child as projector, ridding himself of unwanted bits, deposits into (not just onto) the receiver and recovers a modified version of these projections; without this third phase, the process is not of therapeutic help to the projector. This concept also parallels that which is undertaken by this project, where the photographer deposits into an image un-resolved, un-differentiated parts of his pre-verbal past, these messages are presented via a print for assessment and finally the artist recovers a modified version in the form of language. From this third phase the photographer seeks more awareness which is subsequently incorporated into art practice.
To look at Projection in theoretical terms, we see it along with Introjection as an organising structure; a process by which there is a constant interplay across shared boundaries. A bringing together of un-differentiated differences, it is the way the artist sees his world and how the viewer, in phantasy perceives that same world – that together they have the capacity to bring this shared experience together. Through this process we describe the world in subjective terms, by playing, inherently organising and continually unconsciously reflecting on the individuals internal world. Without Projection and Introjection there would be no comparison, no feedback, even in phantasy. Creativity is the inhabiting of these cross-borders, it is the art of playing within a shared experience. Any creative development comes from the constant interplay of Projective and Introjective structures; in this shared environment, communication of internal objects and their relationship with the outside world is experienced. The viewers’ interpretation of mywork is a process of formulating these internal boundaries. When confronted by an image, an unconscious personal representation is called for, a boundary is set; ‘this is I’ and ‘that is he’. A disidentification process, where the ego says, ‘I distinguish between self and object, I will create a boundary’. (Sandler, J. 1988). By instigating the notion of play the viewers’ boundaries become merged and temporally suspended with the image. Here the viewer brings life experience to the engagement and there is a sense of the artist analysing the viewer. This process is what Sandler calls ‘sorting out’, where ‘aspects of the object–representation are incorporated into the selfrepresentation and vice-versa.’ (1988) p26. This process is the basis for empathy in the consulting room.
But in context of the analysts’ interpretation of these photographic images, it is the reaching beneath the surface into what is the subterranean world of the artist in combination with the viewer, that is this shared experience. The ‘sorting out’ from which we want to gain knowledge, the shared world of artist and viewer, it is this externalisation of the work and expectations of a response that is described as creative interaction.”
Description: Session XVII (Ibid.) In Picture 1, no-one was looking out to sea, I don’t think, but that is happening here. As if the focus has changed from the past or present, to the present or future. Or the other way round. Either way, there has been a change. (Eb., XVII. ii.)
When I tested positive for HIV and was diagnosed with AIDS, I had an extreme physical reaction whenever I thought about having to tell my friends and family. Looking at this reaction more closely, I realized that it was the same reaction I had as a kid whenever I had to disclose something uncomfortable to my parents, fearing rejection or even abandonment if larger secrets were revealed.
It occurred to me that it might be possible to overcome this paralyzing fear by photographing my friends as I told them about my diagnosis. I invited each friend to come to my studio to have their picture taken, a simple head shot for a new project. They weren’t given any other information. For a backdrop I used the curtains from the living room of the house I grew up in. I put everyone through the same routine, creating a formal process that proved to be transformative. At the beginning of each shoot I would start by saying, “I have something to tell you”.
Each sitter’s reaction was unique depending upon their own experience of loss, illness and death, creating a portrait of unguarded, unsettling honesty. As a collective, the body of work speaks to the universal experience. The phrase “I have something to tell you” is often the preface for life-altering disclosures: pregnancies, deaths, love affairs, illnesses of all kinds, winning the lottery. The phrase becomes a kind of mile-marker in a life, delineating what came before from what comes after.
In 2000 I decided that I would return to where I grew up, to photographically document what it was like in to live in a small town in South Florida at the turn of the millennium. After shooting for a month, deeply disturbing memories from my childhood began to surface, which triggered a nervous breakdown. When I returned home I went into therapy. It occurred to me that if I could make a photographic representation of these specific events from my childhood, I could own them outside of myself as an object and that these memories would no longer hold a shadowy power over my subconscious.
From 2001 to 2011 I returned to Florida at least once a year to make images with friends and family. I would either recreate specific events or I would stay present in my process for images to arise that could hold the emotional weight of memories that remained half shrouded. In the end what I remembered was my resilience and defiance as a child in the face of an overwhelmingly large and seemingly unsafe world. What that came to mean for me as an adult, was the realization that the spectres of my past had no real substance, as if they were only made up of vapor and light.
What follows is a selection of photographs from this year shortlisted photographers for one of the most coherent photo-festivals in Europe: Hyères. As is made very clear by the following selection, this prize is also an elegy to the long lasting love affair between photography ans sculpture, with a particular emphasis on the fusion between subject and object (or should I say ‘the crisis of identity’), that has been growing for the past couple of years and ends up being materialized in the form of a mask.
“In Character Recognition, artist Myra Greene explores issues of the Female body, historical trauma and dismemberment and the healing power of memory. By using the antique photo process called wet collodion these pieces evoke a forgone era where slavery and colonialism reigned.
Introduced in the 1850’s, a glass plate was coated with collodion and then sensitized by dipping it into a bath of silver nitrate, while still wet the plate was placed in the camera and an exposure was made. The plate was then immediately developed, while still wet, to form the negative. In this work Myra has replaced the traditional transparent glass with black glass creating a unique positive image.
It is no coincidence that the five senses are represented here. This is meant to be a sensory experience. The most potent triggers of memories can be as subtle as smell, taste, sound, sight and touch. They take us inward on an excavation of shared histories/ memories. These are sites without artifacts only the stories etched in the DNA of our grandmothers. Make no mistake, Character Recognition is not meant to speak for any particular race, gender, or generation. This is a specific tale one that seeks a re/ memory, a re/ turn, a re/ telling, and re/knowing in the work of Myra Greene.
These images, however reminiscent, are not merely rooted in the pre-Civil War portraits of the enslaved and colonized. They are as current as the faces of the women of Darfur and Rwanda, the dismemberment as fresh as the missing limbs in Sierra Leone. They are as dark as the faces of the displaced in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. However there is a reluctant beauty to these self-portraits, to these fragments. The full lips, the teeth, the eyes, the nose and the ears are isolated and seemingly dismembered from the rest of the body. Dark and lush they are a re/clamation, a re/membering and a re/ cognition born of a re-memory.”
A beautiful news-piece in the Guardian about the story of Scottish photographer Graham MacIndoe and his documentation of his own heroin addiction, with the particularity of it being written by his partner. It’s still a perspective on what the process of consumption is like, but if we take a closer look at these photographs, we quickly realize Graham is not merely taking snapshots, he is thinking about composition and light and how to best convey the emotional status he goes thru. From that point of view, this is a success, for intentions and results are a match.
I am not a casual observer of these images; after Graham and I broke up because of his drug use, I found 342 self-portraits – images he had not meant for me to see. “In some way, this is exactly what I’d been curious to see,” I wrote at the time. “All those close-ups of the needle going into a vein, his expression during and after, the rooms and stairwells I never saw… Maybe the point is, ‘So you wanted to see? Here it all is.’ And then we’re supposed to feel sick over our voyeurism, because maybe we didn’t need to see that after all.”
Now I think we do need to see it, and try to understand addiction from the inside, as Graham describes what he wanted to show. Not the view of an outsider, but a first-person account of the isolating, all-consuming nature of addiction. No one else is in the pictures; drugs have replaced everyone and everything that used to matter.
“[…] there are a few bloggers whom I know only from their blogs. These are blogs I follow because I stumbled onto them, usually by clicking on a link in someone else’s blog. What keeps me coming back is the sheer quality of their online work, and whatever feeling I begin to develop for the personality behind the work. Like a teenage girl following the latest antics of Justin Bieber or Lindsay Lohan, I have devoted a small but significant amount of brain space to these strangers, on a daily or at least weekly basis. And just as that teenage girl thinks of Justin Bieber or Lindsay Lohan as someone she knows on some strange level, these bloggers don’t feel like strangers to me either. Actually, they feel like celebrities—because, as with performers and politicians and athletes, all I know about them are their public faces, the faces they present through their blogs. So meet my personal Internet celebrity.[Traci Matlock]”
“[…] JL: Something that fascinates me is the difference between a photo-blog, or at least a good photo-blog, and a photo album on Facebook. Tracy Matlock: Right. [Laughs] JL: That you’re constructing, and you’re curating, and what you don’t show is as important as what you do show. TM: Oh, yes, I definitely agree with that. Not just for me, but I feel that all the time when I look at other people’s work online—especially with photographs, because we see them so often. Now with social networking, we’re inundated by photographs people think are good photographs or attractive photographs or interesting photographs in subject matter. However … JL: Do you get judgmental about other people’s photos? TM: Oh, yeah, probably, but in the opposite way that you perhaps are asking. I love other people’s photographs. I’m a sucker. I could stare at other people’s snapshots, and just Facebook photos, for hours. I think that they’re—they’re magic. I mean, I wish that I could make just half of what these random people online accidentally make.
[…] JL: There are a couple of themes that you return to again and again. Can I tick them off, and you can tell me what draws you to them? I notice you’ve been taking more photos, or publishing more photos, of strangers, especially from the back. TM: Yeah, I’m fascinated by it. I absolutely believe it stems from asking people to show themselves to me from the front—that now, I’m really curious as to how they show themselves to me from the back, whether they know it or not. JL: [How about] shots from the front seat of a car? Is that just because you live in Houston? TM: I’m utter freedom in a car. It’s so chaotic. I just feel like I exist in a higher plane when I’m in a car, whether I’m driving or not. It’s so fast, and you have absolutely no idea when someone is going to change lanes, or step on the brakes, or … I think it’s extremely beautiful. And I live in a city that allows you to have your windows rolled down all the time. It’s all of that combined. And it’s window light. You’re in this space that is literally surrounded by window light, which is the most beautiful light in existence. JL: And frames. TM: Yes! All the time! Your back window, your windshield, your mirror—you have three mirrors in a car; it’s the
very least that you can see at all times. JL: And, of course, mirrors are also something that come up again and again in your work. Especially yourself in the mirror—but not always yourself. TM: That’s true, and I think mostly that’s because I really do miss photographing other people. [Laughs] … It’s not the only reason, obviously, but it is something I think about almost every time.
[…] JL: Another one that’s come up again and again is people viewed through water, people in water. What does water mean to you? That’s like the stupidest question in the world, but it clearly does mean something. TM: Oh, no, no! I mean, I do think about symbolically what it means, in a lot of ways, but mostly I love the refractions of it. I just love the distortion of the body in any way … I think it’s exquisite. I mean, their figure changes, and morphs into this totally unrecognizable part of themselves, which is more themselves. The refractions of water are tantalizing. JL: When you say the distortion of the body, that’s something else that comes up. Scars, bruises, striations, often on your own extremities… I feel I owe you a debt of thanks, because you’ve helped me to see as beautiful something that I did not always see as beautiful.
[…] JL: Do you ever look at a photo, even a self-portrait, and think of yourself as an object? TM: I try to! I think that’s a really interesting way to think about it, and I try to think about the photos from both angles. I mean, on the same note, I also try to think of photos of other people as the subject, and me as the object, but as the creator, the purveyor of sorts. I do see sometimes the photos that I share of me, and I do see me in them sometimes as the object. I mean, I think it’s necessary sometimes to share work in that way. And it’s fun! I don’t think there’s absolutely anything that I shouldn’t be able to do. JL: You don’t seem to have a lot of vanity in the way you portray yourself. You’ll show yourself looking puffy, which even famous photographers who are famous for their self-portraits don’t often do. TM: The photos of me that I share where I’m not … the typical idea of attractive, or held together, or showing myself in a good light—those to me are the most beautiful. The photos of me crying, when my face is swollen, are the photos of me that look the most like me, to me. And I glorify those, not just to glorify my appreciation of those mental states, but also because I think that in those times in which we are kind of ugly, quote-unquote physically ugly, those are the times in which our faces take on this really extraordinary and new dimension. We see ourselves in this way that we don’t get to see people all the time. It’s so intimate, and vulgar-seeming, that it’s really beautiful. My favorite time to see my face is right when I get up in the morning, when my eyes are almost swollen shut, and my nose is all swollen, and my skin color is kind of off … I mean, I swear, when I get up in the morning, and I see my face all swollen, I wish that I could see myself like that for the rest of the day. And I know that it’s because I don’t get to see myself like that very often that that’s my favorite. I’m not used to that gaze, and therefore it’s constantly surprising me, and constantly awakening new senses, and firing new neurons in my head.
excerpts from “Big Giant Red Beating Heart For Chaos: Photo-blogger Traci Matlock” an interview between Jack Lechner and Traci Malock, published in Photography & Culture Volume 4—Issue 3 November 2011 pp. 335–354
“…when I deal with art after the media I do not mean art that can exist without media. Such art is no longer conceivable for me. Rather, I refer to artistic praxis that has passed through the media, but in a specific manner has left them far behind. The effect that the media had when they were still an attraction no longer plays an important role. The technical and media aspects of such artistic praxis are not the essence of its attraction. Media are utilized as a matter of course by artists; they are no longer the actual sensation.
In this perspective. the work of a young Korean artist is even more radical. Initially Yunchul Kim studied electronic music at Chugye University in Seoul. He is a programmer, computer and video artist, has created numerous performances with computer-generated music, and realized many installations that utilize the most advanced technology. Self-portrait.jpg is one of Kim’s most unusual works in that at first sight it disappoints all expectations that we entertain of the work of an artist working with advanced media. On a large sheet of finest white Japanese paper measuring 83 X 134 em curious signs have been written, or rather painted, with great precision in black drawing ink. Closer inspection reveals that these are not just any signs, but the character set of the ASCII code. If one were to count the characters, one would arrive at the impressive number 58,806. In a meditation exercise that lasted three and a half months Yunchul Kim painted the characters on the paper. Every time he made a mistake he had to start again from the beginning. The result of this almost Sisyphean task is a work with a high aesthetic appeal and a special bonus: when the characters are scanned into a computer that can read them and then sent to a printer, what is printed out is a portrait of the artist. However, this is just a second level on which the work exists and is perceived. The decisive factor in the idea of art after the media is that in this case, for example, the artist is a young man who passed through the advanced technical media in the course of his socialization. Self- portrait.jpg succeeds as art in any case, irrespective of technology-based art. It does not need electronics to be performed; it simply hangs on the walL That I know about the work’s technological side enriches my reception of it, but is not a precondition for its aesthetic enjoyment.”
excerpt of AFTER THE MEDIA: RESEARCH AS PRACTISED CULTURE OF EXPERIMENT, by Siegfried Zielinski
Thus began the conscious decision to gather large quantities of objects, often undesirable items, placed in dilapidated environments and old containers. In Dark Mass, I want to visually portray the fine line between serious collecting and obsessing over a collection to the point where it controls one’s life. I search for the atypical, whether it is the accumulation of the article itself (hairnets, fingernails, and shredded books are not what one would hoard as precious objects), its placement (bicycles resting on their sides, photographs standing at attention, upside down doll feet), or its environment (globes and birdcages piled at the foot of a ladder leading nowhere). Most of the objects are fragile, poised to disintegrate into their surroundings.
Growing up in a house with 225 balloon-tire bicycles, thousands of bottles, telephone pole insulators, soda paraphernalia, rooms filled with cardboard boxes, golden age comic books, trunks of advertising material and endless amounts of artwork, I was convinced to live a life with minimal possessions. Suddenly the realization that I was collecting (never mind the fact that the object in question was trash) was unsettling.
For my 1999 installation, Fear of Schizophrenia, I collected nearly two thousand cigarette packs to understand my great-aunt’s obsessive behavior and paranoid schizophrenia. She collected paper, wrapping her possessions in Kleenex and storing them in sacks. She smoked incessantly, saving the foil of the cigarette pack to use as stationery and the cellophane as wallets. These filthy packages were an important feature of the installation. One year after reinstalling the exhibition and unable to depart from the packs, I kept them boxed in the backyard storage shed, elevated to keep the rain from seeping through the cardboard.
I heard of a darkness, descending upon the old archive of words
And the muffled whispers of the elders drowning in the midst of the long rows of obedience
This you must know to be true brother: we are the dead.
The weeping past and his wretched son soon will be victims of their own doing
All else follows
And when all is done and the night is purified of all these thoughts, I will sell you as you sold me
All else follows
It’s by death I am your brother
And it’s by death I do exist
And it’s by death that I owe allegiance to this darkness that undid all my thoughts
Rejoice, brothers and sisters! Rejoice, brothers and sisters, we are the dead…
So I tilted my head back and held on to what I knew to be true: the relief of nothingness
And reason my dear brother will not suffice.
These vast and silent glass eyed armies and their mirror shaped minds seek but virtue.
But I am corrupt. I am corrupt to the core.
It’s by death I am your brother
And it’s by death I do exist
And it’s by death that I owe allegiance to this darkness that undid all my thoughts
Yes, we’re the dead, brothers and sisters, we’re the dead
I heard of a darkness brothers and sisters, falling down on what remained of whom we were.
And it’s with whispers that our lives have become within a measurable distance of an end
What will become of dreams my dear enemy?
When this delightful destruction of words has rendered its means
When all is done and the night is purified of all these thoughts, I will sell you as you sold me
It’s by death I am your brother
And it’s by death I do exist
And it’s by death that I owe allegiance to this darkness that undid all my thoughts
It’s only by death that you own me
I heard of a darkness sliding down the streets
Tearing apart limbs and all their deeds
and reconstructing these new men, not out of hope, but of love and sorrow
All else follows
Because it’s by death that all these confessions have become my truth.
“My discovery of Rondinone dates back to a sexy picture I noticed in Flash Art in the mid-1990s, of what I took to be a seductive model revealing a glimpse of appealing cleavage. I hadn’t actually meant to stop at the image, but biology had taken over, as it does. But wait a second. There was something weird about this girl. Why was she so swarthy? And wasn’t that a moustache on her upper lip? Someone had digitally transferred his head onto a photograph of an alluring model and seamlessly confused the two to create an unsettling self-portrait that wobbled between masculinity and femininity as frantically as a woofer.
So that was Ugo Rondinone. Except it wasn’t. A few months later, in Flash Art, he had another show. This time, what stopped me was a gorgeous set of abstract paintings, circles of coloured fog of such exciting brightness that the page seemed to throb. They reminded me of Kenneth Noland’s work: Rothko in the round. Who did these, I wondered? They’re fabulous. It was Rondinone.
Except, of course, it wasn’t. A few Flash Art issues later, I noticed some mad-looking drawings, skilfully achieved with Indian ink, of knotted trees, tossing and turning in the landscape as if they couldn’t get to sleep; and forest clearings writhing with unease, like an angler’s worms. An installation shot showed them to be wall-sized. Weird, I thought. Who did them? Oh, no. It was Rondinone.
As the years wore on, and the 20th century seeped into the 21st, it kept happening. Something in Flash Art would catch my eye, and it would turn out to be by Ugo Rondinone. It was never the same thing twice. Video, photography, painting, sculpture, sound pieces, projections, performance, comic stuff, serious stuff, things with him in them, things with nobody in them — you just couldn’t tell.
So the news that this one-man studio of artists was finally getting a British showing at the Whitechapel came as a blessed relief. I had expected to be put out of my confusion, and finally to be able to grasp who and what Rondinone was. But I was being optimistic.
The Whitechapel show is called Zero Built a Nest in My Navel, which is not a title that gives much away. The line is taken from one of the haikus that Rondinone apparently writes every day, and which take the place of a diary for him.
A few examples are scattered about the walls of his Whitechapel installation, written in white on old bits of wood, of the sort you find washed up on beaches. Here’s an example: Fold back/my love/as you did/my sheets.
Here’s another: Air gets/into everything/even nothing.
While you’re solving these etymological sudokus (clue: there is no solution), I will run a few pertinent biographical facts past you. Rondinone was born in Switzerland in 1964, of Italian parents, so flexibility was his birthright. He studied in Vienna and spent his early career collaborating with the notorious Austrian performance artist Hermann Nitsch, who is probably the most gory artist there has ever been. Nitsch showered himself in blood as if it were bath water. From him, Rondinone would have learnt that life is messy, red, angry, scary, wet and violent. We can safely assume that everything he has done since should be viewed as an attempt to get over the trauma of Nitsch.” excerpt of the article Painter? Poet? Photographer?, by Waldemar Januszczak. continue reading here
“When trying to describe physical feelings of any kind, we find ourselves shortchanged by language. I arrived at this conclusion after several, always hopelessly crude attempts to describe
fundamental moments in Hannah Villiger’s oeuvre. The public-at-large is quite capable of registering feelings of repulsion or extreme empathy when blood flows in the movies, when some-one is cut or surgery is performed, or when faced with eroticism, vertigo on a lookout tower or sports—all points on a scale that are clearly designated and defined. But in between lie immense micro-regions, dead lands, where words fail. This is the territory that Hannah Villiger explores. With a well-honed consciousness she masterfully negotiates the overall system of obstruction (of hindrance and enfeeblement). When communication is constantly kept in check, metaphor comes to the rescue. Perhaps this is why Hannah Villiger’s work seems so womanly and so strong.
It is conceivable that the vertigo caused by verticals (at the edge of the abyss) has a gentle partner in horizontals. A kind of window feeling. When it is very intense, you feel it in your nostrils, your ears, your chest or (in connection with speed) your bottom. The fixed point is not the abyss but the horizon. When I was a child and we went for a drive on Sundays, I would sit in the backseat and imagine—especially in fast curves—that I was riding a bicycle because I was never given one. Hannah Villiger can do it without a bicycle. That’s what I have to think of when I see her photographs of gushing water, swift birds or colliding boccie balls. And there is also the mute, squat airship, suspended in the sky, or the burning palm leaf thrown into the air. Here pleasurable and extremely subtle use is made of the potential of empathy, which in turn makes us aware of our own potential and position as part of a greater whole.
Hannah Villiger’s much enlarged color Polaroids no longer record the vehemence of directly transmitted physical sensations; they have quieted down. “He had teeth like luxury hotels on the beach in Florida and when he closed his mouth, there was a big scar.” (Laurie Anderson) These color photographs, usually one meter square, gradually turn into boxes the longer you look at them. Boxes into which you poke your head very, very slowly without noticing, because the pull is so gentle. And damp fog, pointed palm leaves, skin or gazes brush against us, passing by. But there are also pictures whose energy is directed outwards, pictures that radiate, so that we already notice from afar that we are being kept at bay. These are the cold pictures, like the eye with a razor-sharp gaze. Once you have stood in front of them, you know that the format of these photographs is incontestable.
Sometimes the subject matter of a picture ignites feelings; other times it is a vessel or a catchment for them. In memory such distinctions are often utterly irrelevant. For this reason, Hannah Villiger’s wooden or plexiglas objects crop up again in her photo works. Is Hannah Villiger the fog creeping around the mountain, or is the fog enveloping her? Movement back and forth, sudden clashes and leaps, simultaneous flowing and flying flit through Hannah Villiger’s work until a compact whole emerges—like her name HANNAH…” HANNAH and the Horizon, by Bice Curiger