Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Today I received in the post a review copy of Ice Blink by Anne Noble, published by Clouds. Although I have seen all the images previously, I got immense satisfaction from seeing them collected in one place, in an anthology. The book is one of those rare exercises, it is a thing well made (thanks to the Muttonbirds for this song lyric). There's contrast between matt and gloss, between the colour plates and the austere black and white text. There is drama and suspense in the large run of colour plates at the beginning of the book, before you get to the colophon and essays sandwiched 2/3rds of the way through the book. All this before I have started reading the text.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
This is an image by Tobias Hegele that I found via the Consientious blog during some of the very earliest research I undertook for Sightseeing. While he is German, Hegel resides in South Africa. Unfortunately the link to Hegele's own website is broken.
This image wasn't used in Sightseeing, but it has been an enduring touch point during research. I am attracted to the contradictions in it: the brightly coloured roses, their delicacy - their thorniness, the cultivated nature of the garden - and the fact that it's shielded by such an abrasive fence. The fence implies a certain no-nonsense approach to security, not just keeping the wilderness at bay.
It was the perfect visual metaphor to symbolise the complexities around what sort of landscapes you might choose to make postcards of. The lighting is right, but the subject matter is, well, it's not typical tourist material.
Later on, a theme developed within the Sightseeing project, about our relationship to borders, centred around the work of Doris Frohnapfel and Eva Leitolf. So this image returned to me. Incidentally Conscientious writer, Joerg Colberg, also writes about Leitolf's work.
The work says a lot about contested land, an idea explored in Mark Adams' works. Emma Bugden created a two part exhibition entitled Land Wars (2008) around similar ideas. Part one is here and Part Two occured in the same year. Wayne Barrar was included in that project, and there is a catalogue that accompanies the show.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
In case you hadn't noticed already there is a story in the May issue of Prodesign on Sightseeing. It features the interview via postcard that has been taking place between Duncan Munro and Jonty Valentine as well as a bit of a Q and A with me.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Maiden Aotearoa at City Gallery uses postcards and the stereotype of the "Dusky Maiden" as the starting point for a conversation about contemporary representations of Maori women. I am visiting Wellington shortly so will have a chance to see the exhibition. It's the second exhibition in as many years that has used postcards as a point of investigation into issues of Maori identity. Coincidence? No. It is interesting because the historical postcard craze in New Zealand corresponds with a moment of intense colonisation and the objectification of Maori culture through photography. Here's an earlier post about a 2009 exhibition at Paul McNamara's Gallery by Murray Lloyd, Maoriland which also used postcards as a starting point. I couldn't help but notice that the Whanganui River, is described as the "Rhine of Maoriland." How very weirdly apt is that, Germany and New Zealand meet again.
Monday, May 16, 2011
I am back from the installation of Sightseeing in Whanganui. The exhibition opened on Friday 06 May at McNamara Gallery Photography, the only dedicated photography space in the country. McNamara is nominally a dealer space, so I pay due credit to Paul McNamara for going out on a limb and hosting a show that may not generate much of a commercial return for the Gallery. Moreover, because the works in the exhibition are mass produced it unseats the role played by vintage prints in the discussion around photography's value in a commercial art market. I like to think that Paul McNamara, the gallery director, is interested in what the exhibition says about photographic practice. Sightseeing talks about what we mean by photography on three levels.
First, it highlights what we mean by a photograph - is is the act of 'taking' the shot (that decisive moment..), does a photograph reside in the negative, or perhaps in the printing of the image, or even in a reproduction of the image?
Second, it highlights how we multiply, reproduce, send and diseminate images in the world.
Third, it highlights how we receive and use images, how we and also artists attach stories to images, and it belies the research process that artists often use.
Exhibitions that allow discussions 'about' photography are few and far between, (we all remember Imposing Narratives) so it it a credit to the Gallery that they create the space for this discussion to occur.
What was the genesis of the project?
There was a group of artists at Massey who were exploring landscape or site through photography and they commissioned me to do some research in this area. It very quickly occurred to me that postcards were an apt vehicle to investigate the relationship between photograph and landscape.
The first picture postcards were made in Germany, so that was a natural conversation that emerged from my early research. This relationship with Germany was reinforced by the traffic of ideas created by the ‘Dusseldorf school’ of photography and a certain typological theme that I went about exploring with this exhibition.
The medium is implicitly mobile, which talks to this very contemporary idea about the mobility of the image in digital culture. New technology tools like blogs and email have really replaced the function of postcards so it seemed like good timing to look at the medium again to see what it might offer. Postcards were really the first mass produced photographs, well postcards and pornography, but I wasn’t asked to look into porn.
How did you chose those to be involved?
I have a special interest in the cross over between art and design culture, which started with the video games exhibition I made back in 2003 Arcadia. Part of the way I work is to involve a designer right from the very beginning of a project, as for me, design is a raw ingredient not just a branding or positioning exercise – it’s a mode of thinking. For Sightseeing, we did an initial tender proposal for the design work to three designers working at the intersection of art and design.
For me, design principles often provide a conceptual framework for an exhibition. A great example of what I mean is navigation – which is a key design question for exhibition and publication formats. Navigation can be linear or a more browsing style, and with Sightseeing, it quickly became obvious that a traditional linear publication wasn’t relevant to the project. Then, during our research, we found great historical examples that reinforced our thinking about the concertina style format.
Did you visualise it as a printed object from the outset (and did that change at all as time went on?)
It was conceived as a printed, mass produced project from the outset. I felt this was the best way to draw out the postcard’s role in the objectification of landscape, their complicit role in shaping destinations and itineraries for touristic consumption. Of course these images are not typical tourist postcard shots, they are landscapes that are often ‘hidden’ or ‘unseen’. For instance, these artists are photographing underground spaces, or parking lots, waiting areas, fake or simulated landscapes. It wouldn’t have been the same exhibition if we had used exhibition prints, the postcards are very much part of the look at feel of the project. You can turn them over and read them. You can post them, it was always very important that they function in that way.
Also, it wouldn’t have been able to travel the way that it has if they had been framed photographs; it has been shipped to the UK, Wellington, Auckland and Wanganui. It was always conceived as an exhibition that could travel, that’s what postcards are all about, mobility. Photography packages landscape for consumption, and postcards disseminate those sites for mass consumption, for tourism.
Has the project changed its format over time?
One thing that surprised me during the course of making the exhibition was considering how the value of postcards has shifted so dramatically. Initially they were collected in albums and highly prized as trading cards. Eventually that gave way to a rather more prosaic existence as a marketing device with an expectation that they should be a free giveaway.
Well, there was a lot of discussion about whether the back of the postcards, the written side, should be artist or designer’s ‘real estate’. In the end, rather than let this become a contest for space, we recognized the need to have flexibility in our approach to the format, ‘one size fits all’ was never going to accommodate 90 images and 15 artists. The exhibition allows those differences to be played out in a quite physical way, in comparison to the frame by frame experience of reading the publication. Certainly you get the effect of mass production right away in the exhibition space, because of the repetition of the images.