Contextual Research

Wes Anderson // Vehicles


Aphex Twin is my Inspiration

Sean O'Hagan writes about Daisuke Yokota and his musical inspiration...

Mapping - Eric Fischer

I was killing time between prints and spotted this via Flickr:

Looks good...


Work Primer

I’ve got a copy of Lewis Bush’s War Primer 3: Work Primer. As he says himself in the linked blog post, it is itself a copy of Bloomberg & Chagrin’s War Primer 2 (I have the PDF version, available free), a reworking of Kriegsfibel by Bertolt Brecht. It all appears in my essay on appropriation art, not in any great detail, but still.


This Charming Charlie

Many thanks again to Tanya for highlighting This Charming Charlie - a simply wonderful little Tumblr, and a poke in the eye of the corporate giants (Universal Music) after a takedown notice was rescinded following Mozzer's note of support. The premise is a simple one, Lauren LoPrete has created a mash-up of Charles Shulz's Peanuts comic strip, featuring Charlie brown and Snoopy, with lyrics from The Smiths (something of a favourite band of my youth - I was perhaps the not-so-proud owner of a fairly unique yellow Meat is Murder t-shirt after my mother washed it with a duster...). Arguments of fair use abound, and LoPrete has handily included her legal documentation on the Tumblr too.


Daisuke Yokota

Daisuke Yokota / UNTITLED / Unseen Amsterdam / Sept 2013 from GOLIGA on Vimeo.


John Stezaker's Blind

I’ve just found out about this, and it might drive a slight tweak to my essay - it’s probably worth a mention and certainly seems relevant in the context of my own work with movies.


America By Car

Lee Friedlander’s America by Car - a book I have looked at more than once...


Rencontre avec David Campany / Road Trips: Voyages photographiques à travers l’Amérique

Courtesy of Bal Books - bookshop at Le Bal, Paris. (The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip)


Gluten Free

I came across the Gluten Free Museum the other day, the Tumblr of Arthur Coulet who detournes well known popular imagery (from art, cinema and advertising) to remove the gluten, i.e. any grain based foods or the grains themselves. Whilst much of the work he has updated (using Photoshop - he teaches image manipulation) will be in the public domain, the paintings especially, not all of it will be. I'm specifically thinking the Disney image from Lady and the Tramp. I don't know if this work is sold in any way, or if it's just a light hearted project highlighting coeliac disease. Would it make a difference if he did?

T4 : The great American road trip

The American road trip has been something creatives have returned to over the years. There's the gasoline stations painted by Hopper and Ruscha and the photographs of many others (see this post), there's movies like It happened one night, Easy Rider and Thelma and Louise and then there's (Get your kicks on) Route 66 from Nat King Cole (and covered by others) and of course Jack Kerouac's On the Road. In terms of photography, we can actually go beyond the gas stations and see that the road trip is almost a rite of passage. The road trip seems to be as American as apple pie (not sure how American this actually is, in real terms). There's even companies set up to make your own American road trip something of an easier proposition to organise. I've fancied it myself for many a year; the California coast road, a tour of New England and yes, Route 66 (or what's left of it). Of those photographers that have done the road trip thing (and there are too many to mention them all), the following are a few I'm aware of.

Robert Frank's seminal book Les Americains (The Americans) is up there as one of the most widely known photobooks ever produced, it's been an inspiration to many artists including the likes of Martin Parr. The project he proposed was to travel the country freely and produce a visual study of the people that took 8 months in the mid-1950s. Almost 800 rolls of film showed "popular culture, music, religion, the hollow mass media, racial tensions, class tensions, and the all encompassing obsession with the automobile." (Campany, p42). It's not really about the road, it's about the people, but it was only possible because of the road.

Frank 2
Robert Frank, Drive in Movie, Detroit (The Americans)

Frank 1
Robert Frank, US285, New Mexico (The Americans)

An interesting contemporary riff on Frank's book was recently done by
Mishka Henner; in Less Americains he has removed much of the content from the photographs to produce "less"... Perhaps a little to extreme for my taste, but a truly interesting concept and body of work.

Less Americains
Mishka Henner,
Less Americains

Stephen Shore will perhaps be primarily known for being one of the colour innovators. He once said that America was "made for long trips", and I guess that means it's a big old place. England isn't made for long trips, well, not very long ones anyway. For me, Shore's use of colour (along with a couple of others) is something that now represents America in the 70s, although I never saw it first hand the period has a certain 'feel' to it, the light has a certain quality. Shore also tends to capture something of the distance and openness in his photographs that I like and seek for myself. An early project, Uncommon Places, features about 700 photographs shot over 11 years, which were edited down to 49 (often but not exclusively intersections and roadsides) for the exhibition in 1982.

Shore 2
Stephen Shore, Sutter Street and Crestline Road, Fort Worth, Texas, June 3, 1976 (Uncommon Places)

Shore 1
Stephen Shore, US2, Ironwood, Michigan, July 9, 1973 (Uncommon Places)

There is something I really like in
Todd Hido's A Road Divided. They're incredibly poetic for a start, bringing to mind many experiences of being in a car, the windscreen covered in condensation. Other than the condensation, they're ostensibly of "nothing", that thing that I like to photograph myself, nothing except a nondescript piece of road, a hint of a tree or some road furniture. It's minimal, muted and above all it captures that sort of soft light that seems to be Hido's "thing". This is all about the space between the gasoline stations, the motels and all of the other things that appear to be the subject of the other photographers that work the road trip.

Hido 2
Todd Hido, A Road Divided

Todd Hido, #7557 (A Road Divided)

Other photographs of the American road trip include:

Alec Soth

Soth 1
Alec Soth,
Cadillac Motel, 2006 (From here to there: Alec Soth's America)

Soth 2
Alec Soth,
Harper's Ferry, 2002 (L) Cemetery, Fountain Way, Wisconsin, 2002 (R) (From here to there: Alec Soth's America)

Soth 3
Alec Soth,
Thirty-Three theatres and a Funeral Home, 2006 (From here to there: Alec Soth's America)

Lee Friedlander

Friedlander 1
Lee Friedlander, America by Car

Friedlander 2
Lee Friedlander,
untitled (America by Car)

Joel Sternfield

Joel Sternfeld, After a flash flood, Rancho Mirage, California, July 1979 (The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip)

Christian Patterson

Patterson 1
Christian Patterson, Untitled (Redheaded Peckerwood)

Patterson 2
Christian Patterson, Untitled (Redheaded Peckerwood)

Shinya Fujiwara

Shinya Fujiwara, Untitled (The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip)

One of my favourite road trip books actually comes from Japan; Yutaka Takahashi's Toshi-e (Towards the City).

Takanashi 1
Yutaka Takanashi, Toshi-e (Towards the City)

takanashi 2
Yutaka Takanashi,
Untitled (Toshi-e)

In England, there's shorter versions - Paul Graham's The Great North Road, or Simon Roberts' We English for example. I'll maybe add something about these at a later date.


Campany, D (2014)
The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip. New York. Aperture Foundation.

Frank, R (2008)
The Americans. Göttingen. Steidl.

Friedlander, L (2010)
America by Car. New York. Distributed Art Publishers, Inc.

Hido, T (2010)
A Road Divided. Portland. Nazraeli Press LLC.

Patterson, C (2011)
Redheaded Peckerwood. London. Mack

Shore, S (2004)
Uncommon Places: The complete works. 2008 edition. London. Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Soth, A (2010)
From here to there: Alec Soth's America. Minneapolis. Walker Art Center.

Takanashi, Y (2010)
Toshi-e (Towards the City). New York. Errata Editions

Mishka Henner -


T4 : Jeff Brouws comes through

I received a response from Jeff Brouws, so I can now complete my project:

Hi Rob:

No problem at all in terms of contacting me...we're all brothers here.
I can't say why we made the determination we diid, but we went with the building that was at 3500 North Broadway. I felt that the buildings in the background to the right could have been the same ones in Ruscha's photo, but modified since Ruscha's took the picture.
Not certain however. Hope this helps. It's a burrito / taco stand now. We ate was great.
I realized after the fact that MM had done a "best guess" in certaini towns and that was fine.
I believe I did locate Rimmy Jimmy's in AZ...there was a definite foundation there and the owner of the present gas station there had a picture of the former Rimmy Jimmy's hanging on the wall and knew where the original location had been.
Exit 233, to the slight SE behind the gas station.



And here is the assumed site of Bob's Service - a little in contradiction from what Möll stated in his e-mail, but it is the place he photographed back in 2009.

untitled (1 of 1)-Edit-Edit
Bob's Service, Los Angeles, California [Sep 2014]


T4 : Some progress perhaps...

Some progress on a number of counts this week…

Firstly, I’ve completed the first draft of the essay. It will change in some way, the conclusion isn’t right and I need to get it tighter, but I think I’ll let it lie for a week first (not too long though)

MA1 Essay DRAFT1 (password protected - e-mail me if you want to read it)

Secondly, I have had a response from Martin Möll about the location of Bob’s Service in LA. As it happens, he’s not actually sure, but he sent me some information anyway:

Hi Rob,

Thank you for your e-mail. I’m glad to hear that my work has been a great help so far for your own project.
To be honest, Bob’s Service in L.A. is one of the few sites I can’t with a 100% certainty say that I am right with my choice.

Here’s what I wrote down for my own purposes after visiting L.A. in 2009:

“The Los Angeles Central Library downtown has the
1962 yellow pages on micro fiche. After two hours
going through listings of service stations, gasoline
companies, automobile repairs and services as well as
restaurants, the following information was found:

– There are no listings for Bob‘s Seaside Service, there
were a few Seaside Service Stations, but not one near
Route 66 at that time. There were four Bob‘s Service.
Two of them are too far off from Route 66, one is on
3500 North Broadway (Route 66 from 1926 until 1931)
and one is four blocks south of Santa Monica Boulevard
(Route 66 from 1953 until 1964).”

Since Ruscha photographed each of the sites in 1962, I chose to photograph the former place of the Seaside Service south of Santa Monica Boulevard.

However, it is possible that Jeff Brouws could provide you with a different information, since he revisited the sites only last year. Together we work on the project to revisit the revisited.

I’m interested to hear more about your project and would appreciate it if you could tell me in more detail about it.

And I hope my information is of any help to you.

Kind regards

I was aware of a Bob’s Air Service on Wilshire Blvd, which is south of Santa Monica Blvd (not sure what constitutes a “block” in America…) I’m really not sure this is the place though. I have now contacted Jeff Brouws, hopefully he will get back to me soon with something more definitive. I’ve not heard from the others I’ve contacted (from Road to Ruscha, etc.)

The other thing that I think is quite positive is the effect putting diesel has had on my test prints. This came through as an idea following discussions with Lisa Barnard, and initially it didn’t look like it was doing anything – I was hoping it would affect the image, but I experimented anyway, using a spare commercial digital lab print I had, together with a few different papers through my inkjet. The commercial print didn’t really do much, but I did get an interesting effect from a matte paper as the diesel makes it largely translucent if you hold it to the light. It also makes them smell, but that’s another issue. The photo below is just a test print, but I like what it has done after about 2 weeks – it mirrors the fact that the gasoline stations have largely disappeared (there’s maybe just the Jackrabbit one that is still operational, but I can’t really tell). If you lay it down, it feels much more like a “normal” print though.

Whiting Bros, near Ludlow, California [Jul 2012]

This leads me to wonder whether light boxes would be the way to go (or is it a fire hazard, bearing in mind they’re soaked in diesel!)? And do they stand up in isolation and therefore not need the local works in juxtaposition? Something to discuss over the next few weeks in the group crit and tutorial, see what others see in there.

The above is just a 15x10cm print, so I’ve done some a little larger (limited by size of my diesel tray) and will see how we get on after a week – time is running out I guess, so if I can squeeze the soaking time, it would help.


Art & Appropriation

A useful video...

Gasoline and the American Temple

I’m in the midst of writing a prolonged journal entry on the American road trip and photography to follow up the one the other day about the gasoline station. As a result of digging around on the subject, the other day I ordered a copy of David Campany’s Gasoline, which is about that very thing, and today I saw a tweet from ASX about it…

ASX: Gasoline and the American Temple

The book’s not arrived yet, but it should be good…


T4 : Gasoline Stations in the arts

Ruscha is not alone in choosing the gasoline station as his subject matter. They have featured in the works of a number of artists, whether working in paint of photographs (or, I dare say, other media too). In looking at them as subject matter, I suppose a logical place to start (ignoring Ruscha for the moment - I'll write some more on him in a dedicated post) would be with another Ed - Hopper. Before I looked at Hopper in any detail (not a great deal of detail, just more than a cursory glance), there were two paintings that I was more aware of. One was Nighthawks 1942, the other Gas 1940. This taps into something that screams "AMERICANA" to me.  The white wooden-board walls, the old red petrol pumps, the proximity to nature (here it's woodlands rather than desert plains - maybe the north-east rather than the south west?). It's heavy with iconography, an idea of America that was exported heavily after the war through Hollywood and the American dream. Gas isn't his only petrol pump painting, there's Four Lane Road 1956 too, and probably others...

Edward Hopper: Gas 1942
(located at accessed 17/3/2015)

Drifting back to my own medium and photography, Robert Adams is a photographer I've long appreciated. Working in Colorado and the south-west, there is a similar feel to Ruscha's photographs - lots of space, but also civilisation. His book The New West points to the decline of the "wild west" and the encroachment of man into those natural spaces, a recurring theme for Adams the conservationist. In this collection there are 5 gas stations; Along Interstate 25 (p19), Sheridan Blvd (p69), Federal Blvd (p77), Golden (p93) and Pikes Peak (p105)

Alec Soth crossed America in From Here to There and to be honest there are surprisingly few gas stations included, but they do feature. Cemetery, Fountain City, Wisconsin 2002 is typical of the contemporary approach. A record of what was there, but filled with a sense of melancholy and detachment. I'll likely be talking some more about Soth in a future post on the road trip I plan to write.

Soth 2
Alec Soth - spread from The Open Road (Cemetery, Fountain City, Wisconsin 2002 on right)

Stephen Shore is another, Beverly Boulevard is classic Shore style. Cars, motel interiors and food are what normally come to mind when I think of his work. The road trip and what he eats on his trip. The petrol station is inexorably linked to the road trip, you really can't have one without the other... There are two photographs he took at the corner of Beverly Blvd and La Brea Ave in June 1975 (on different days, for some reason - maybe it just wasn't "so"). From these two we can see Chevron, Texaco, Gulf and Exxon, one on each corner. A reason that the petrol station is such an enduring topic perhaps? Or is it just because of the road trip?

Stephen Shore: Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, California, June 21, 1975
(located at accessed 17/3/2015)

It's not just the Americans either, Robert Frank has photographed them in The Americans. And Iñaki BergeraIt has too, he's a Spanish architect and photographer who I've found whilst researching this Ruscha based project (his website is here).  "Foreigners", but still they photograph American gasoline station though.

One of the more contemporary photographers I've seen photographing petrol stations (albeit in passing) is Kyler Zeleny. His Out West is perhaps more of a documentary on small town America than anything purporting to be about the road, but they're still featuring.
There's numerous others too, as you can see if you just Google the subject. True, not everything that comes to light that way is from an "artist" photographer, there's plenty that are just on Tumblr, Flickr and the other social media image sharing sites. But there's plenty to get to grips with going forward. Plenty to contextualise with. And probably most importantly, plenty of proof that this is a viable subject, that interests people and can go the distance for me.


An essay title

OK, so the provisional essay title is To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It's a quote from Susan Sontag's On Photography (from page 4) and it seems pretty relevant since I'm planning to be looking at appropriation, and photography. I've been toying with appropriation with the series of "film stills" I was working with in Tasks 1 and 2, something I wanted to take further but now feel that discretion is the better course following a couple of instances that have made the news in recent months (the Top Gun incident, Luc Tuyman's painting and Blurred Lines, amongst others). Of course, the likes of Richard Prince and Jeff Koons will likely get a mention too, although my approach will be more from a photography perspective (both appropriate photographs though), and I plan to bring in elements of visual culture too. I was also considering bringing in something about "Pop" sensibilities and the mundane but to be honest, it's only 2000 words so I think this would be too much.

Principal reference material will be drawn from a book of essays and interviews called
Appropriation edited by David Evans, but there will also be something from Sontag, Barthes and the rest of the "visual culture" crowd where they are necessary:
Evans, D (ed) (2009). 
Appropriation. London. Whitechapel Gallery.
Sontag, S (1977) 
On Photography. London. Penguin Books.

Marc Feustel talks about the metamorphosis of Japan.

Wednesday night was spent in the company of Marc Feustel (eyecurious and papercuts) as talked about the current exhibition on Japanese photography taking place at Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool. The content of the exhibition, which is based on his book Japan: self portrait covers the period from the war to the Tokyo Olympics, thus representing what was happening before the start of the "Provoke" period which garners much of the interest in the nations photography from the Western world.

Marc Feustel talking at the Open Eye Gallery, 25/2/15

Marc is clearly a knowledgable chap on the subject, and he spoke of the radical change in the country, socially, economically and photographically, as they transitioned from Pictorialism through Surrealism in the pre-war period to a more documentary approach of social realism (Ken Domon's "unstated snapshot"). Damon's vision was for a very pure documentary aesthetic - nothing to artful, but rather providing a direct window into difficult situations and subjects (homelessness and beggars for example, but not in the same way as the "beggar photography" that swept America).

After Domon, there was a shift towards more of a French Humanist approach with Hamaya and Kimura, featuring more of HCB's "decisive moment" and generally with a more positive outlook - a different way of working, with a greater scope although remaining documentary in nature. Subject matter tended towards questions of "what is Japan?", covering the folklore and rural areas that were not so devastated by the war (these areas had always known hardship, and had avoided the bombing as they were not of military significance).

From 1956, there was a wave of newer photographers who had not been active during the war (Ishimoto for example). These photographers sought to break away from the past - the "old ways" were no longer really applicable as things had changed so much. Again, there was an increasing influence from outside of Japan, Ishimoto for example studied with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind in America at what was considered to be the "new Bauhaus" school (Chicago Institute of Design). The compositions were becoming very meticulous, and a long way from Domon's approach.

Eikoh Hosoe produced what might be considered his signature work in the 1960s, with 
Barakei, Kamaitachi and Man and Woman. The work can still be considered as documentary, although not in the traditional sense as he is documenting a collaboration with other creatives - he's documenting ideas or movements rather than the day to day. (This work is particularly stunning...)

Also in the 60s, the photography began to take on an unsettled air and a darker edge, as can be seen in the photographs of Shomei Tomatsu and Kikuji Kawada, who both revisited the scenes of the bomb, Kawada in Hiroshima and Tomatsu in Nagasaki. Kawada's
Chizu (one of the ultimate photobooks as objects) provided a collective memory in order to try and comprehend the incomprehensible, with the well known image of the trampled flag representing the state of the nation in the aftermath of the war. Tomatsu was more symbolic as he photographed items from the peace museum, such as the watch that was forever stopped at 11:02, the time of the bombing and also the title of his book on the subject.

The photographic style was also becoming more visually chaotic, leaving the idea that documentary needed distance, poise and neutrality. Instead of blending into the background and being "invisible", he was coming more to the fore, putting himself within the scene, even if not directly within the frame. The photographer is becoming part of the world. From here. the path to Provoke is clear...
Whilst much of this is something I was aware of from my own interest in the subject and writing the essay as part of the degree, it was really good to hear someone talking about it, reconfirming my own ideas and actually adding extra bits of detail from his own research, talking to the photographers themselves and his own interpretation of the subject. It was also interesting to hear his view (albeit briefly) on the contemporary scene. Yes, he mentioned the well known names (Kawauchi, Homma, Araki, etc.) but also others that were beginning to make their mark - Daisuke Yokota, Go Itami, Nagoya Hatakeyama and Lieko Shiga. Yes, I know the first two (I have books by both), but the latter are potentially new to me (I may have seen them in passing, but not registered their names).


Listening @ The Bluecoat

The current exhibitions at The Bluecoat in Liverpool go by the name of "Listening". Having had both eardrums rebuilt (one 20 years ago, the other 6 months due to a tissue eating infection), I entered with a certain amount of trepidation. I can't hear all frequencies of sound, and the stereo balance isn't perhaps what it should be, but I do like music so I thought it might be worth a punt, and Laurie Anderson appears on the list of exhibitors. However, it didn't really work for me, probably for the obvious reasons. Yeah, I liked Mikhail Karikis' SeaWomen, perhaps as this wasn't so subtle (a video accompanied by sounds of the sea and the Haenyeo making their distinctive shrieking noise), but some of the other things... I found Imogen Stidwokrthy's The Whisper Heard a little uncomfortable to experience - disorienting and confusing, probably because of the projected sounds end up where I don't expect them, either by design or through my hearing, I'm not sure which.

Still, at least I know not to expect too much from this type of thing in future, and the trip to Liverpool was actually for Marc Feustel's talk on Japanese photography at the Open Eye Gallery...

Discourse Analysis II

Continuing with a brief overview of what I managed to take from Rose's chapters on discourse analysis, the second type concerns institutions and power/control. This starts off with a mention of the archive and Tonkiss and Sekula:

“archives are not neutral; they embody the power inherent in accumulation, collection and hoarding as well as that power inherent in the command of the lexicon and rules of a language...” (Sekula, from Rose, p228)

There is also talk of Bentham's 
Panopticon, the power that invokes and how the subject becomes self-regulating through knowledge of surveillance: "visibility is a trap" (Foucault, from Rose, p230). Something like the panopticon would be an Institutional apparatus, whereas the blinds in the windows of the panopticon's observation "core" might be termed an Institutional technology. So what? I'm not really sure. Tagg and Sekula are referenced as discussing the inherent "truth" of photography. I was quite shocked to see the dates they were writing and still assuming the photography is a truthful media, but then this is put down to the institutional use of photography. So for the moment, lets put aside any idea that photography might be art. "Visual images and visualities are for them articulations of institutional power" says Rose (p233).

There is much said about the apparatus of the gallery and museum, institutions that allow the general public to have access to items of historical significance, culture and art in order to reshape social behaviour, much in the same way that the panopticon was designed to do (and by extension, the network of security cameras that pop up everywhere). How? Well, at a vulgar, top level approximation, art used to be something the bourgeoisie would enjoy, not the hoi polloi, so giving access (limited of course) to the great unwashed will be "uplifting". The architectural side of things can also be imposing - the façade of the building being important in letting the viewer know they're about to enter somewhere that has cultural power (this then also both inspires and controls - we whisper in libraries, we don't touch in museums...). Whatever you might think about this, the gallery (and museum) needs to attract people these days, so there must be something going on here - maybe it's because more and more are ascending to the ranks of
la petite bourgeoisie as more and more of Europe moves from a manufacturing to service based economy? It doesn't matter, the fact is that they're more accessible. And for me, herein lies much of the power as the decide what is available to view, how it is viewed, in what order and with what else around it for context, together with a set of notes on what it all means. 

The technologies in play are becoming more and more "considered", for the better or the worse. Museum's have their dioramas and display cases, more galleries are introducing "accessible" statements and guidelines for the viewer, at the danger of putting off the more educated clientele who might see it as "dumbing down". Then there's the "Americanisation" of the gallery context, with white walls and a row of images; it's different at the Louvre, which is weighted down with the history of art for many, many years and seems less concerned with these American minimalist/modernist ideas and the ability to consider things in isolation.

There's the labels and captions, panels and catalogues (all subject of the asynchronous discussions at the moment), aiming to provide knowledge about the art on show. As a personal preference, I'd opt for a panel and then, if necessary, a minimal label. A label providing the artists name might be construed as elevating the artist above the art, commodifying the creator rather than what has been created. Seems wrong to me, but then that name will also provide a degree of context as we would look at the art within the artists wider cannon... Maybe it is appropriate after all, or maybe this information should be on the panel? Context needs to be considered, just don't make it too prescriptive and/or reductive. Another aspect of the signage and leaflets is that which guides the viewer around, herding them to the highlights during a snatched lunchtime visit or whatever. It all seems quite obvious really, but then I'm not sure about it, about the discourse analysis and the research... Maybe I just need to discover that little spark that will make it all make sense. I feel like I’m losing my way a little.

Line (Tate Modern)

Rose, G (2012) 
Visual Methodologies. 3rd Edition. London. Sage Publications Ltd.


Discourse Analysis I

Reading about and then later discussing "discourse analysis" hasn't really helped me. I've no real idea why we were asked to read Rose rather than just delving directly into Foucault, which to be honest I think I would have preferred (I've done a little of this already). Well, strictly speaking, there's the "research" element, but I found the meaning I took from the reading was more about the context within which Foucault was writing - intertextuality and iconography for 'I', and power and the institution in 'II'. I'm not going to dwell on my uncertainties, instead I'll discuss the main themes I took from the reading, whether they relate to the idea of research or not.

Iconography is important, no, it's absolutely central, to how we read images from a structural semiotic standpoint, whether these be photographs, paintings or even sculpture and such. Obviously, figurative representations are more easy to read as we can see the iconography and it will have either historical or contemporary relevance. Rose gives a number of examples, the first being Jan van Eyck's 
The Arnolfini Wedding Portrait, 1434, in which specific meanings are handed to the presence of the dog (marital fidelity), a statue of St Margaret (childbirth) and the holding of hands (catholic marriage). Not knowing these signs and what they signify means that I missed much of the implied meaning - the painting is approaching being empty from an historical point of view. Coming from the moment, reading the caption it's a "wedding portrait", but the woman looks to me to be pregnant (resting a hand on the top of her belly is a sign I read...), so is this a last minute thing to cover up an "indiscretion" and avoid the child being born out of wedlock? Where are the Christian virtues in this case (the candle representing the light of Christ, the fruit of the "purity of humankind before the Fall" - p203)? A different view coming from a different set of meanings for the icons presented

Jan van Eyck, The Arnolfini Wedding Portrait, 1434
(source:, accessed 21/2/15)

Another example comes with the series of images of prostitutes in the East End of London, part of the residuum Rose keeps on referring to throughout the section on Discourse Analysis I. The fact they are prostitutes is not immediately apparent to me - the first image is from The Bridge of Sighs, 1878 (Gustave Dore) and shows a woman being pulled from a river by three men, another has a body of a woman being looked at by two policemen (W Gray's Found, c1870), or a woman standing on a river's edge (Hablot K Browne's The River) or simply alone and dead on the bank (George Frederick Watts' Found Drowned, 1848-50). Only one image shows a woman that is more easily identified as a prostitute to me (perhaps I'm naive), that's Lost which is presumably the precursor to Gray's Found, and shows a woman in heeled boots and showing her petticoat outside a licenced premises whilst being observed by policemen in the shadows... At least, it's an easier but still bold assumption to make - if we were to look for provocative actions such as showing one's underskirt as being a sign of prostitution in a contemporary town or city on a Friday evening, then pretty much all women could be deemed prostitutes! (Dougie Wallace and Mariej Dakowicz are worth looking at here). The series of images apparently drives home the fact that prostitutes from the "residuum" all ended up dead in the Thames after having committed suicide. Having been told this, how is it then possible to "read them and look at the with fresh eyes" (p210)? An interpretation has been presented to me and it's logical, so why expend energy and effort coming up with something different? OK, there was a "ripper" prowling the East End in those times, preying on women. Were these his victims? Oh, but they were prostitutes too, so were all women in the region prostitutes...? Obviously not (as is the contemporary case presented by Wallace and Dakowicz, just before anyone thinks that I think that way), and I guess that's where some of the research comes in. And also the ability to detach oneself for the contemporary and apply the natural, conventional and symbolic codes of the time and the region to what is being looked at.

The other thing this mini-set of images brings to the fore is the intertextuality element. Ignore the iconography for a moment (if that's actually possible), but by displaying 5 images in which one is perhaps more clearly a prostitute, then the series is about prostitutes. And the fact that in three the women are dead at the side of the river, under a bridge then it's fair to assume that the woman standing at the riverside, watched by two men in the background, is about to stride out into the waters to her death as she is ashamed of her actions... Together, a narrative forms that might not be the same if viewed in isolation, or at least without viewing the others with them - as Foucault discusses, we bring the weight of all the other images we have seen to bear when we look at the current one. And what would be the assumption if there was an image of a "royal carriage" included instead of one of the others? Adding more and more images can muddy the waters if not controlled, and it has to be acknowledged that when performing a Foucauldian analysis that his other works include 
What is an author?, something I need to return to before long. Therein lies the theory I have in a way been demonstrating, that it is not the author (or painter, or maker) that decides what things mean, but the reader (or viewer). True, a point of view can be presented and strengthened by the way that it hangs together, but cover too much ground and it all becomes too much and what might once have been more concise suddenly grows a "sore thumb" that piques at the reader and sends them off on their own tangent. Horses, water and drink.
Rose, G (2012) 
Visual Methodologies. 3rd Edition. London. Sage Publications Ltd.


There's other stuff at the Tate Modern too...

…or how to pass an hour on the cheap before heading off to the train station.

Actually, I seriously thought about heading into the Sigmar Polke exhibition, but to be honest I don’t know who he is (was?), so I was attracted to the free exhibitions which were featuring some of the artists we’d been discussing recently: Louise Bourgeois, Joseph Beuys, Nam June Paik and Richard Serra. There was also some Surrealism to see, so a quick refuel on sandwiches and coffee after the Conflict collection and it was around a few of them.

Bourgeois was first. I saw her spider (
Maman) in Paris years ago, before I’d really paid much attention to the name, but here at the Tate Modern, the current exhibition is some sketches, some gouache on wet paper, an embroidered book and others. My first thoughts, which I’m absolutely positive will be controversial, is that she couldn’t draw for toffee. I know, I know. Not everyone will draw in the same way, and that there are different styles of drawing, but I found her sketches incredibly child like and primitive. Not innocent, not at all, but just… in what I consider to be the style of a 7-year old. It really, really isn’t my thing. But that’s ok. I wasn’t a huge fan of her gouache work either, although it was what I would declare as being slightly more interesting than the sketches…
Louise Bourgeois @ Tate
Gouache work

The book works I did actually have some interest in. Whether that was because it was a book or because there were words juxtaposed with the images I’m not sure, maybe it was both… I have started wondering how I can work something into a book form. I’ll find a way but it won’t be embroidered – it’s not my “thing” even if it is interesting to see other forms. All grist for the mill, as they say.
Louise Bourgeois @ Tate
Ode A La Bievre

I’m not sure what I really expected with Nam June Paik, I guess I was associating him with Fluxus and the neo-avant grade of the 60s like we covered in the video lecture. But no, it was (amongst other things) a robot made of transistor radios… The sci-fi geek was momentarily enthralled, but I suppose as is the case with modern gadgetry (!), the moment passed. Whilst it would’t have been the same, I think it might have carried more retro kitsch and appealed more without the little LCD screens (although…)
Nam June Paik @ Tate

Richard Serra’s
Trip Hammer (1998) was seen at the entrance to another group exhibit – maybe it’s just me, but the balancing act is quite impressive (not as impressive as the self supporting rocks later), but is it “art”? Ha, I’m not going there…! Something else I really liked the idea of was Giuseppe Panone’s Tree of 12 metres (1980-2) – Alberi di 12 metri. Taking a square-cut sawn timber as recovering the shape of the younger tree… there’s something, I don’t know, warming about it? Maybe there is hope…
Giuseppe Panone @ Tate
Tree of 12 Metres

Of the rest – Twombly, Picasso, Baer, etc. – I didn’t really stop and consider for too long, although I did take some reference shots of the gallery context (with my iPhone – schoolboy error in the morning meant that the memory card of my little X100 was still in the computer). I think the gallery context could be a project to do more fully at some point, acknowledging that Thomas Struth (and probably others) has already done it. It’s something I do find quite interesting though – how people interact with the work…
Cy Twombly @ Tate

Pablo Picasso @ Tate

Jo Baer @ Tate

In reality, an hour wasn’t enough time to go around the number of exhibitions I did and reflect in any depth, but it was still worthwhile seeing some of the work we had been discussing, even if only fleetingly. I’m not sure when I’ll be down in London next, and we don’t really have much in the way of big galleries locally – that’s the trouble with countryside living; all the sheep you want to see, but not so much in the way of mainstream art…

Conflict. Time. Photography @ Tate Modern

The current exhibition of “conflict” photography at the Tate is something I shall describe as “interesting”. I can see the point of the curatorial concept, which deals with the passing of time since the conflict and the changing ways that photographers deal with the conflict. Or the aftermath of the conflict at least. I’m not sure it particularly hangs together well though – it’s disjointed and random in my eyes, despite the applied logic of the groupings. I’m sure others will disagree with me, but that’s simply my overall thought.

At the start, there’s Luc Delaheye’s 
US Bombing on Taliban positions (2001), printed large as I expected it to be (and was, if truth be told, slightly disappointed with as it was quite “soft”), next to Toshio Fukada’s The Mushroom Cloud – Less than twenty minutes after the explosion (1945) and Don McCullin’s iconic Shell-Shocked US Marine, Vietnam, Hué (1968). Three differing images (although there were 4 of the atomic bomb) , grouped together that perhaps should have been the way forward, even if this would then certainly match my “random and disjointed” opinion even more than the actual exhibition! But what you actually get is a little body of work here, another different one there, lots of images, a couple of images, something else… chop-change groups. Enough to pause and appreciate the body of work, but then the next wall was something different, time to reset the mind and recalibrate the visual receptors in my brain.
US Bombing on Taliban Positions (2001) Luc Delahaye

Having said that, if I approach it as a lot of individual exhibitions and try and ignore the time thing, there were a number of them that were a joy to view, for varying reasons. Jumping straight to the one that I enjoyed viewing the most, Kikuji Kawada’s Chizu (1965) – The Map – featured the work in 4 different sections, reproductions from the book form, together with a copy of the book (I didn’t check, but presumably from the somewhat impressive collection of Martin Parr – the other Japanese books on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were his), a small number of large prints that were also featured in the Metamorphosis exhibition in Liverpool, a copy of each image from the book displayed in a large grid and a number of large book-like reproductions of the patina from the walls of what is now the Atomic Bomb Dome that was metres from the hypocentre of the Hiroshima bomb. As with what appears to be the majority of Japanese photobook images from this era, there are rich, dark and inky blacks that draw my eye deep into the photograph. The subject matter is all relating to the war, memorial and defeat – bedraggled flags, photographs of fallen soldiers and the destruction of the city. There is nothing celebratory here, and the depth of the images is entirely appropriate and sombre. Seeing the “ultimate photobook-as-object” was a thrill, even though flicking through the pages was not a possibility. The one interesting curatorial juxtaposition was walking from this room of deep blacks to Ursula Schulz-Dornburg’s low contrast, New Topographics inspired Kurchatov – Architecture of a Nuclear Test Site (2012). Differing styles, but perhaps also a differing outlook, with Kawada (and Japan in general) heavily affected by the death of circa 185000 people in the two bombings.
Chizu (1965) Kikuji Kawada

Kurchatov – Architecture of a Nuclear Test Site (2012) Ursula Schulz-Dornburg

Another room I was impressed with was Sophie Ristelhueber’s Fait (1992). Individually, there weren’t many images that would have captured my imagination, other than for any possible connections with mapping that comes from the aerial viewpoint of many of the images. As an installation which dominates the room with yet another grid of large images, some black and white, others colour but all predominantly monochromatic (grey or sandy brown), the effect is mesmerising. Sitting down and looking up to take in the full effect, there are multiple juxtapositions going on – the colours for one, but also of scale, with some aerial shots, others close-up. Some of the images are individually interesting, others less so. Some images sparse in detail, others not. It’s confusing amidst the simplicity of the images, but I think that’s why it works. The sum of parts – an holistic installation that I sat for a while to take in.

Simon Norfolk’s set of images are a
sublime depiction of the aftermath of war and might potentially be considered controversial. Is it the “right thing” to do, making what would be considered beautiful images if you took the conflict nature away from them? The colour of the skies, if over a more traditional landscape, might feasibly adorn the walls of “normal” living rooms across the country (as opposed to those of collectors), but above bullet riddled walls and controlled explosions, does it give a wrong impression? Or does it make people stop and think again after years of media saturation? Well worth viewing, and a potential for buying in book form at some point.

Broomberg and Chanarin make a couple of appearances in the exhibition, firstly with 
The Press Conference, June 9, 2008, The Day Nobody Died and later with People in Trouble Laughing Pushed to the Ground (2011). Both are really quite conceptual, with The Day Nobody Died being totally abstract and I guess it will appeal to some. People in Trouble is altogether more interesting to me; small details of images previously hidden under stickers in the Belfast Exposed archive of “the Troubles”. Displaced from their original context, the images (yet again arranged in a large grid – this year’s standard layout?) provide a series of port-holes into scenes we can only really guess at – random details of people fighting, abstract arrangements of furniture and body parts. Alongside this was a single large photograph of some kind of street battle with milk, and image that tickled me once I saw the four pints of milk, caught mid-flight…
People in Trouble Laughing Pushed to the Ground (2011) Broomberg and Chanarin–Chanarin–005.jpg

The last set of images I will discuss is Chloe Dewe Mathews Shot at Dawn. The last room of the exhibition has four of her images; they could be anywhere in Europe (and possibly further afield too), mundane snippets of landscape photographed in the early morning light which infuses them with an air of melancholy and, once the context is known and understood, of silent remembrance of soldiers executed for suffering the psychological of warfare and watching their closest friends being killed in action. Thankfully these photographs were also printed large, with a bench before them to allow the viewer to sit, take in all four at once and contemplate. So impressive were these that I bought the book of the collection in the gallery shop.

There were some that didn’t work for me, or at least asked a different type of question. Why were some of the large images printed so large? Was it to make them “feel” like art that should’ve been in a gallery (some of the black & white images in particular)? There also seemed to be a few too many that seemed to follow the style of the New Topographics, although to be fair, some of these might have been due to when the images were taken. There were also some prints in glass clip frames, which struck me as being odd, although it did allow for the images to be unbroken in their stream from one to the next – something to consider perhaps?

As a final point, on leaving the exhibition there’s a large McCullin landscape of the Somme on the wall of the rest area next to the coffee shop and bookshop. It’s dark and grainy, it carries all the weight of McCullin’s experiences as a war photographer within it. A fitting closure.

The Battlefields of the Somme, France (2000) Don McCullin

Metamorphosis of Japan... @Open Eye


Anyone that knows me and my ‘likes’ as far as photography goes will know that Japanese photography ranks high on the scale of things that get me buzzing, so it was a certain amount of excitement that I headed off to Liverpool last Wednesday for opening night, even if my “thing” is more centred around the (admittedly more predictable) Provoke era, the exhibition includes the work of some of those that went on to form the short-lived Vivo collective (after Fukushima’s Junin-no-Me, or Eyes of Ten exhibition in 1957). I do tend to like most of the stuff that’s come out of Japan though, from the really early to the contemporary. Something to do with their way of seeing I suppose. It’s not necessarily tied to the Western art practice, although it does feature from time to time (I’me thinking Yasumasa Morimura here).

Looking around the exhibition, there’s a good mix of work there; 11 different photographers according to the little catalogue, from Ken Domon to Yasuhiro Ishimoto, through Eikoh Hosoe and Shomei Tomatsu, amongst others. Much of the work can be considered to be in a social documentary vein, and that’s exactly what it is. However, whilst the work is effectively documenting the tumultuous post-war years from the A-bomb and occupation to becoming an economical power-house, it also represents a shift from a realism movement (Domon) to a more humanist style of photography, inspired by HCB and Doisneau…


There is much to enjoy, but a particular pleasure was seeing a wall of Eikoh Hosoe’s photographs, from Man and Woman, Kamaitachi and Barakei. These are much more ‘artistic’ than many of the others, in Kamaitachi, Hosoe photographed Tatsumi Hijikata performing the role of the titular “weasel-demon” in a butoh dance, so is deviating from the mantra of Domon and the “absolutely unstaged snapshot” (Vartanian et al, p21). I’m really captivated by the depth of the blacks in the image from Barakei (leftmost in the image above), it drew me into it. I have Kamaitachi in book form, together with others in a compilation, and whilst the book form is really nice, the “problem” when compared to the gallery print is that the image is rotated and spread across two pages. The gallery print is also much better quality, although it has to be said my copy is a reprint and I can’t comment on the original, those original artists books are something to behold.

There were also some prints from Kikuji Kawada’s
Chizu (The Map), a photobook of considerable reputation; it’s regard it as the “ultimate photobook-as-object” (Parr and Badger, p286 ). Here, Kawada looks at the aftermath of the war, the bombs and the American occupation. He uses the camera and the contrast in the black and white printing to introduce a level of abstraction in the documentary – it’s really effective at what it does.

An excellent collection of images – I’ll be going back to the exhibition at least once before it’s ended, I’ve booked into a talk by Marc Feustel and I’m thinking about the book-binding course as well…
Parr, M and Badger, G (2004) 
The Photobook: A History volume I. 2010 reprint. London. Phaidon Press Limited.
Vartanian, I, Hatanaka A and Kambayashi, Y (2006) 
Setting Sun: writings by Japanese photographers. New York. Aperture Foundation Books.


Postmodernism and globalisation


What are we looking at?

Sometimes, it feels like looking at postmodern art (and the theory behind it) is something like looking at the world through the code of the Matrix. It doesn’t make sense until you start to pick up the patterns. I still feel like a novice at this, even though I’ve been reading around the subject for a little while now. Gerald Deslandes third lecture was a quick dip into the world of postmodernism, and of globalisation. Again, it was quick and quite superficial because of the time constraints (90 minutes again, or thereabouts), but despite this it was still interesting.
In the 80’s and 90’s, art became “cool”, travel became easier and media was rammed down our throats. And then there’s digitisation and computers. Postmodernism seemed maybe like a logical way to go after two world wars and two atomic bombs… Something a little more playful. Something confusing. Something made up.

Looking at the first 40-ish slides on postmodernism, there were some artists I didn’t know and there were some I did. The Dusseldorf school (The Bechers, Gursky and Struth) got a mention – I’d not actually considered them to be postmodernists, but on reflection I can see the case for Gursky and Struth, a little less for the Bechers. Are their trademark typographies playful? Are they signs referring to other signs? No, but there is an element of “the end of the machine”. I’d not identified this as being part of postmodernism, but sure enough, a quick Google and you find “Postmodernists rue the unfulfilled promises of science, technology, government, and religion” ( – these buildings are the remains of a bygone technology…

The work of John Kippin may be worth a more detailed look. I’d not heard of Kippin, but both images appealed to some degree.

Futureland, by John Kippin

Other key ideas highlighted were detournement and appropriation (Sherrie Levine and Richard Prince), Gerhardt Richter’s paintings, especially that of Gudrun Ensslin of the Red Army Faction (called Ulrike Meinhof in the presentation).

Gudrun Ensslin, by Gerhard Richter

With the globalisation presentation, artwork from beyond the West was introduced. Ai Weiwei was there obviously, with his sesame seeds (mass produced like things are in China, but will cultural implications as they’re made from ceramics, and of course it is representing food and abundance…) Other artists mimic “native” or “tribal” artefacts and iconography, with some exhibitions displaying the two side by side (“what are we looking at?” comes to mind again), and also non-Westerners realign their practice to gain advantage from globalisation – the example was given of Cyprien Tokoudagba, a shaman from Benin who made work to help people becoming an artist and selling the same works as art.
Certainly food for thought, and a great foil for the postmodern theory I’d been reading of late – good to see some of it actually appear as artwork of one kind or another.


Notes from around a few books...

Some time ago, I started reading various books, making notes and highlighting things. For some reason, (life, work, apathy…) I haven’t done anything with these notes until right now, when I’ve been trying to tidy the chaos of my desk. The thing is, they might not actually mean too much to me now although with a bit more time and revisiting the context they were made in I’m sure they will. They notes will all have been made with my current work in mind, so in some instances they do make sense… Anyway – here’s the original notes and where I can, some indication of why it mean something to me.

Eleanor Heartney, 
Art & Today.
Link between high & low culture. Kitsch. (look @ Clement Greenberg?) 
With the high/low culture I will have been thinking about my appropriation of film, itself a form of “low culture” and how that might be promoted to high culture by representing the frames I have captured as art in a gallery setting. Not sure where the kitsch was coming from… probably the “barbaric hordes!”

Deformation of consciousness brought about by life in the “information age”. (p16) 
Heartney was talking about Warhol, about decisions being made that affect freedom and individualism by others, in effect meaning that we’re not free or individuals (repetition, homogenisation and materialism). I was taking this in a slightly different context, as it applies to one of the reasons I am making the work at the moment – the fact that people’s understandings of military history is being shaped by Hollywood, the perception-transforming power of mass media and the slant that they wish to put on things, rather than any particular factual basis. We also have to bear in mind those “facts” that do exist will in turn be coloured by whether the person recounting them was there or not, was victor or vanquished, their politics and, of course, their skill at retelling past events…

Television, cinema and advertising have transformed our consciousness (p21)
 again, Heartney was talking about Warhol but again, I took it as being an applicable statement to my own work, for the reasons I mentioned above. It also brings in some of the ideas of the spectacle, simulacrum and such that will no doubt be mentioned in the next of Gerald Deslandes’ lectures which is on the subject of Postmodernism. This then leads on to the next thing I scribbled down and “second-hand spectacle is more real than our own experiences”. At this point I was beginning to convince myself I was a Postmodernist at heart, it all means something to me…

An artwork is an object that physically embodies some superimposed meaning  (p40)
more Warhol, although this time in the words of Arthur Danto, and relates to something Gerald was saying in the last lecture (Language and Consumerism), he referred to Jasper Johns Flag and how it was a pattern, but also how it carried so many cultural connotations because we know what that particular pattern was. It also ties in with the intention of the artist, ideas of the readymade, etc. and Haim Steinbeck who maintained “the key issue in art-making was not making, but choice” (p41)
Postmodernism: A very short introduction
“The postmodernist period is one of the extraordinary dominance of the work of academics over that of artists” (ch.1) 
An intriguing idea when it is first read, that the artist is secondary in the creation of the artwork, but it shouldn’t really be a surprise when both Foucault and Barthes spoke of the death of the author, and how the reader takes pole positioning in providing meaning to the artwork as they read it from within their own sphere of experience.

“There is a sense in which French postmodernism is a true successor the the surrealist movement, which also tried to disrupt supposedly ‘normal’ ways of seeing things.” (ch.1) 
is this why I feel some kind of connection with postmodernism? Surrealism was the first movement in art I really became aware of at school, and whilst it was difficult to get to grips with (did I ever really get to grips with it?) it does appeal to me at some level.

“‘books always speak of other books, and every story that has already been told’. This view ends up in a kind of textual idealism, because all texts are seen as perpetually referring to other ones, 
rather than to any external reality. No text ever finally establishes anything about the world outside itself.” (ch.2) the quote is itself from Umberto Eco’s The name of the rose, and it also came up in Gerald’s presentation, although he introduced it via Foucault’s theories of how we understand images through their relationship to other images. We cannot unseen what we have seen, so we will always draw some form of relationship within our own minds with what resides in there already. Obvious really. Many more of the sections from the book continue in this vein, and it seems pointless to put them all here.

“As Munslow points out, the 1944 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is not equally appropriately narrated, and therefore well interpreted, if it is seen as romance, as farce, and as tragedy. The best we can have is a debate about the nature and meaning of past events, and postmodernists (and plenty of others) say that this debate should be kept as open and as rigorous as possible. The penalty of a lack of vigilance is that some ‘official version’ may come to represent for us a true and final account of the past. It may also thus come to form part of an unjustifiable, because clearly distorting, ‘dominant ideology’ within its receiving society, as seems to have happened to both sides in the period of the Cold War” (ch.2) 
Here my interest was piqued by the ‘official version’, which is something I’m sort of working with in my current project. Another example of the power of the media has come to light recently following the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo when terrorism consultant, Steven Emerson, declared on Fox News that “There are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim, where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in.” (see here). Yes, he’s apologised, but do all those Americans who heard his declaration but not the apology now actually believe that Birmingham is a non-Muslim no-go zone? 

“How many people believe that Oliver Stone’s film JFK, which presents us with a New Orleans attorney heroically confronting those in the military establishment who conspired to assassinate Kennedy in order to keep the United States fighting in Vietnam, is not the fiction it is, but the truth?” (ch.5) 
sums up my thoughts on what I’ve been doing, although whether I’ve succeeded in asking the right questions yet is another matter…

I’ll not claim that there wasn’t much in the book that didn’t make obvious sense, but as it’s trying to de-mystify something built on the idea of myth by that obscure genre of people collectively known as French philosophers, it’s always going to leave something awry in my brain. However, there was one quote from this book that really brought a smile to my face. It was not so much about the theory of postmodernism, but a comment about Jacques Derrida. I’d tried to get to grips with some of Derrida’s theories a few years ago, eventually giving up as I generally found it too obscure and convoluted (although I did get a little from it). Anyway, the passage from chapter 1 of the book was:

“Michel Foucault once characterised Derrida’s prose style to me as ‘obscurantisme terroriste’. The text is written so obscurely that you can’t figure out exactly what the thesis is (hence ‘obscurantisme’) and then when one criticises this, the author says, ‘Vous m’avez mal compris; vous êtes idiot’ (hence ‘terroriste’).”

Makes me feel like I wasn’t a complete failure when I consigned him to the ‘not for me’ pile…
Butler, C (2002) 
Postmodernism: A very short introduction. Oxford. Oxford University Press. (e-book version)
Heartney, E (2008) 
Art & Today. Paperback edition. London. Phaidon Press Inc

Language & Consumerism

After missing the first of Gerald Deslandes three lectures, I was keen to see the second which was on the subject of Language & Consumerism. I’d touched on a few of these concepts when I studied the Understanding Visual Culture module a few years ago and was keen to see what was added here. There were some good points made, things worth noting but to be honest, 90 minutes and 90 slides meant it was pretty much a whistle stop tour of the subject.

Ferdinand de Saussure was introduced, with his linguistic framework of ‘la langue” and “la parole”, and how words are interpreted and understood within the framework. Michel Foucault was there too, with his theory of how a single image is understood within the context a a wider set of images. Aspects of Modernism were raised, with the example of how the statues “squareness” or “blockiness” reflects the nature of the stone it’s carved from (and hence, representative of Modernism) whilst also being interpreted from within a larger canon of similar sculptures, with the Aztec Chacmool figure.

Aztec/Henry Moore
from Language and Consumerism, by Gerald Deslandes

Douglas Gordon was mentioned, and I highlighted his name for further investigation (which I’ve not done yet). What peaked my interest was his appropriation of film by stretching them out to a 24h duration, the slow motion changes them to something meaningless, defined only by what we take from it. Something perhaps worth exploring with the work I’ve been doing? Yes, certainly someone to take a further look at when the opportunity comes.

Lots of other stuff reinforced what I’d previously covered; Barthes Panzani advert and “Italianicity” and the connotations it brings of freshness, abundance and yes, Italianicity  through the red, white and green colours matching the Italian flag (even though Panzani is a French company).

(from accessed 17/1/15)

There was talk about consumerism (Manet) and availability (Koons), and how Pop Art was very astute about the nature of images, how they become empty of meaning after constant reproduction, or at least they start to take on other meanings and empty of their original meaning. There was mention about how meanings change with the time, or at least how aspirations change, from “get married” to “got a girl”…

All in all, a lot to take in, not a lot of time to take it in in, but interesting nonetheless…


VL 4 : The Neo Avant-Garde - the 1960s and beyond

The fourth video lecture is given by Graham Whitham and covers the Neo Avant-Garde. The named periods and movements have often left me slightly befuddled. I know many of the names, but not necessarily what they equate to, what they encapsulate. The Avant-Garde is a term that probably means more to me in terms of film, especially with the French experimental films of the 60s, things like La Jetée, although even this is not something that is especially relevant to me (yes, I have La Jetée and Sans Soleil on DVD, but that's about it... does Easy Rider count as Avant-Garde well?)

The introduction to the Avant-Garde was useful, from Henri de Saint-Simon and his original meaning within the realms of Socialism and the painting of Gustave Courbet, which took art from the normal cadre of high art, the aristocracy and social standing and into representation of the working classes (something that would become more popular with "beggar photography" and representations of the "Other" - a different reason of taking on the subject matter).

untitled (16 of 44)
Gustave Courbet, The Stonebreakers, 1849
from VL 4

untitled (17 of 44)
Paul Cezanne, Grounds of the Chateau Noir, 1900-04
from VL 4

Later however, Avant-Garde began to mean "modern", epitomised by unconventional techniques rather than any social sense as was once the case (as with Cezanne and The Grounds of Chateau Noir). Between the wars these radical methods accrued a political slant as might be epitomised by movements such as Dada, and the anti-war collage being created at the time. Also in the inter-war period, there was Surrealism which further questioned conventions of form and the controlling systems. Works such as Dali's Rainy Day Taxi can be seen as precursors to contemporary installation art.

untitled (21 of 44)
Salvador Dali, Rainy Taxi, 1938
from VL 4

That's the Avant-Garde, but what of the "Neo" bit? It is thought the term was first coined retrospectively in the 70s to describe work where the subject dominates (as opposed to the concepts of Modernism) and has some political reason, such as being critical of the institutions, etc. The Neo Avant-Garde rallies against Greenberg's thinkings that paintings are paintings, and sculptures are sculptures, and that these high art objects are for the gallery.

untitled (24 of 44)
Mark Rothko, Black and Maroon, 1958
from VL 4

I looked at Fluxus briefly whilst studying for my photography degree (part of a module on visual culture), specifically Mieko Shiomi's Disappearing Music for Face featuring Yoko Ono. Other "happenings", such as Shigeko Kubota's feminist performances are a pastiche of Jackson Pollock, whose work was deemed to be very masculine. This pastiche element is something that recurs, with other artists also parodying the modus operandi of the conventional (Modernist) arts, such as Nam June Paik’s
Zen for Head, Piero Marzoni's eggs with thumb prints as signature, or Bruce McLean's transitory sculpture.

untitled (34 of 44)
Nam June Paik, Zen for Head, 1962
from VL 4

untitled (36 of 44)
Bruce McClean, Pose for Plinths 3, 1971
from VL 4

Film and video is another medium that is utilised, not like the Avant-Garde films I mentioned earlier, but in very much an anti-Hollywood vein, with artists such as Martha Rosler producing the fixed camera position video that works against the conventions and aesthetics of film making and providing a comment against the traditional view of a woman's place within the home in Semiotics of the Kitchen

Another theme that appears repeatedly within the Neo Avant-Garde is destruction. However, does this really adhere to the intentions of pushing the boundaries and challenging the system? Yes, it is shocking, but then we become more used to being shocked with the proliferation of media of varying types; the shocking nature of the work becomes accepted as being part of the establishment and therefore in order to push the boundaries and be a challenge, the work needs to be be more shocking, more destructive. Whilst Yoko Ono's Cut Piece might once have been really quite something to behold, today in order to be "shocking" it's not clothes that are cut, but the body itself as was seen with the work of Franko B in the previous Video Lecture.

The political leanings of the movement seem very left wing/communist in nature, with the language of the Fluxus manifesto making statements like "Purge the world of bourgeois sickness... Promote a revolutionary flood and tide in art... Fuse the cadre of cultural, social & political revolutionaries into united front & action." This in many ways reflects the times, with the anti-(Vietnam) war movement, the marches in London, riots in France and the shooting of the likes of Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Martha Rosler received a second mention in the lecture, this time with the anti-war collages of Bringing the War Home, in many ways a return to the Dada principles with collage and political commentary as she juxtaposed the weekly images of war from Life magazine with lifestyle and luxury.

Martha Rosler, Cleaning the Drapes, 1967-72 [photomontage]

Whitham calls on the writings of Peter Burger and his book The Theory of the Avant-Garde to propose that the Neo Avant-Garde may be thought of as having failed as they perpetuated and repeated what they were trying to challenge and their critique of the political and cultural elites. If Neo Avant-Garde is to be thought of as being "anti-establishment", then what of Yves Klein's Anthropometries? The work was made as a "happening", a (high art style?) performance in front of an exclusive audience and featured the painting of naked models with Klein's trademark blue paint before being directed to the canvas. These works, if the video below is to be believed, were then sold for 40000 French francs to collectors, and have been exhibited in museums. Hardly pushing against the art establishment, rather perpetuating them as Burger suggested.

Returning to Rosler, her Bringing the War Home series was originally conceived as agitational works and distributed via the underground press. However, as described in an essay by Susan Stoops (Martha Rosler: Bringing the War Home (1967-2004)) contained within David Evans' book Appropriation, the images entered the art world in the 1990s, when Rosler noted that if they were to enter art history, they would have to be "somehow normalised", thus bringing them "fully into the postmodern discourse Rosler's practice had helped shape" (Evans, p59). Whilst in this case the work was not intended to be sold and exhibited, 20 years after they were created, this was indeed what has happened. Is this, and other similar cases, symptomatic of "selling out" to the establishment in some way?

Is it still selling out if artists sell their "work" as a comment on the art system? The example given in the lecture is Marzoni's Artist Shit - canned excrement sold at the same price, pound for pound, as gold. And is it art? Well, anyone can be an artist, and anything the artist "produces" can be thought of as art if that is the artist's intention. Who am I to argue, but I know I wouldn't be even remotely interested in seeing the "work", never mind buying it. Something like this does indeed challenge the theory that art is a pursuit of aesthetic harmony though, and I suppose in that respect it is successful.

There was some further mention of the feminist practice within the Neo Avant-Garde, with Hannah Wilke's Through the Large Glass, a performance and video piece featuring Duchamp's work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Harrison, Kelly and Hunt's sociological study of women in the workplace (lower wages in the workplace and then more work for free when at home). There was also Jo Spence and the Hackney Flashers, similarly focussing on women's contribution to the economy.

The final section of the lecture covered the Artist's Placement Group that sought to put artists into industry, a form of residency, whereby the artist would be paid as a member of the workforce but rather than do the work, they would produce some artwork relevant to the residency. Stuart Brisley produced a somewhat Modernist sculpture from the frames of chairs, but Ian Breakwell's video was cited as being the one that pushed the establishment in the most useful way; the video and accompanying report drove change at the Rampton Institute for the Criminally Insane. A return to the social meaning of the first Avant-Garde.

untitled (43 of 44)
Ian Breakwell, The Institution, 1978
from VL 4

In some respects, the Neo Avant-Garde has opened the gateway for some of the more controversial work of those that came after the movement ended in the 70s. I can't help but wonder what the YBA would have been like without the Neo Avant-Grade having gone first - in many respects, they are standing on the shoulders of those who went before. It's the same with previous movements though, with everything building on or reacting to earlier histories in some way. Would Casey Jenkins have done her 28 day knitting performance Casting Off My Womb without some of the earlier mentioned works, such as Kubota's painting having passed first? And where does the K-foundation's burning of £1m figure?

Gustave Courbet, The Stonebreakers, 1849 (from VL 4)
Paul Cézanne, The Grounds of Chateau Noir, 1900-04 (from VL 4)
Salvador Dali, Rainy Taxi, 1938 (from VL 4)
Mark Rothko, Black and Maroon, 1958 (from VL 4)
Naim June Paik, Zen for Head, 1962 (from VL 4)
Bruce McClean, Pose for Plinths 3, 1971 (from VL 4)
Martha Rosler, Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975
Yoko Ono, Cut Piece, 1965
Martha Rosler, Cleaning the Drapes, 1967-72
Yves Klein, Anthropemetries, 1962
Ian Breakwell, The Institution, 1978 (from VL 4)

The Neo Avant-Garde - the 1960s and Beyond, Video Lecture 4. Unknown. [Video Streaming] Graham Whitham. Open College of the Arts

Evans, D (ed) 2009.
Appropriation. Whitechapel Gallery. London


Robert Heinecken @ Open Eye

After viewing Warhol and co at the Tate Liverpool, I walked the few hundred metres to the Open Eye, a photography gallery I've visited a number of times since it moved to the Docks a few years ago. They put some really interesting stuff on, and this was no exception, thought provoking and really quite relevant for me at the moment.

I suppose the main component of the exhibition was Robert Heinecken’s
Lessons in Posing Subjects, a rather tongue in cheek selection of images - Polaroids presented in sets of 8 or 10 with accompanying text that describes the posing of the subjects; the right and wrong way of posing models in certain situations - wearing animal print clothing, or hand on hip, etc. As the gallery blurb indicates, the fact that the text is typed gives a degree of didactic authenticity to the work, I feel this is because of the era it hails from, as a modern take on this would lose this to some extent due to the prevalence of easy DTP.

Robert Heineken, Lessons in Posing subjects

As a photographer, I suppose I had a certain expectation these Polaroid images were from commercial shoots, that he had models posing for him in certain ways for each of the images, models responding to the directions to illustrate the points he detailed in the captions ("Removing one fist from the hip and placing it in contact with another part of the body" - from "Fist Errors"), but no. Heinecken isn't a photographer (he called himself a "paraphotographer") and he hasn't. Instead he has used his Polaroid SX-70 camera to re-frame and re-photograph magazine images to decontextualise them from their original consumer purpose to his own, sarcastic and subversive ends.

The work dates from the early 80s, and you can tell. The style of the photographs that have been rephotographed, the clothes being worn, the make-up (where there is a head actually visible), and the theatricality of the poses (some of them at least). Whilst I would have been young at this point, I can still imagine the original works (I have three older sisters too...), the types of magazines they were from, and the version of "America" they would represent. It's all about power-dressing American consumerism, at least that is the major thing I get from them. They correspond to an America I experienced through Hollywood films and the early days of VHS, or maybe that was actually a bit later in the decade but it all blurs now.

At the time they were produced, there was probably something of a feminist backlash too, although maybe this has tempered over time (or maybe not - it's a shame I'll be missing the lecture on feminism, it's something I'm weak on). There's a certain objectification of women on show, although as this is a re-contextualised objectification, there may also be an objection to the original use of the photographs, a form of appellation to the woman reader to look good for her man... Would the fact that Heinecken is parodying this carry any weight with the feminists? Does the fact that he is highlighting the exploitation of women mean he is working in this sphere, or does his overarching style and frequent use of pornographic material in his other work mean that he remains on the "outside"? How does this compare with the work of Sarah Lucas?

In the second room and upstairs is more of his work, now getting more... shall we say “risqué”? Some involves images from "girlie" magazines, fashion magazines and similar, but not in quite the same vein as the "Posing" series, although still as a comment on consumerism. There's collage on show, subverting the main image from lingerie adverts with the inclusion of others from the likes of Hustler to prove a point that "sex sells".

Upstairs, the work returns to Polaroids, but this time I believe they are of "real people" rather than of magazines, he has returned to a more traditional use of the camera... The images are again juxtaposed with text, and through their content they are highly sexualised. There was a video on show too, an interesting insight into the artist and whilst “Lessons” was the main reason for coming, it all added up to an enjoyable and thought inducing visit, and what I would imagine will be a springboard into a deeper look into his work.

After Heinecken, I also went briefly to DaDaFest, but I didn't really connect with what I was seeing. I can't actually remember very much either, so I won't say anything more.


Warhol @ The Tate

A rare day to look around galleries in Liverpool took me to the Tate, Open Eye Gallery and The Bluecoat. Fitting three galleries in was always going to be dangerous, especially on my own, as there would be a danger of image fatigue setting in. There’s also the lack of people to bounce thoughts back from; see something, comment, response, new train of thought….

Warhol was first and walking through the door I was confronted with both the familiar and the unfamiliar. There was Monroe, there was soup and Brillo boxes, and there was some dance steps and other things.
Dance Diagram, 1962 on the floor as you walk in was something I hadn’t seen before, or at least not remembered seeing before. The transference from the (almost) everyday item to art is classic Warhol ideology, and whilst these dance steps maybe a thing of the past, here is a snippet of one preserved as art. Maybe the obscurity of this source material on the truly contemporary stage diminishes it somewhat, or maybe it’s just my view on things, but this wasn’t that interesting for me, thankfully there was more.

A lot could be said about the well known works, I’ve already mentioned the Campbell soup tins, of which there was a selection, the Brillo boxes and, of course, the iconic portrait series of Marilyn Monroe. A pleasure to see for real (although I’d already seen some a few years ago – MoMA I think) but a suppose a certain familiarity with them meant I felt an urge to look at some of the other things. Electric Chair was far more intriguing. It was new to me, and it made me think about my own work.

Andy Warhol. Electric Chair, 1971 [screen print on paper]

As might be expected, there was a series of these images too, the same but in different colours. The repetition of the images might be thought of as desensitising the viewer to the subject matter, much as the constant flood of media in general can do, and the colours, do they serve to mask the subject matter? (an instrument of death at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York State) Perhaps the purple version above is still quite dark, but the yellow? I’m undecided on this, but it did resonate with me in terms of some of my own work on the war films, the colours they have are, in some instances, quite ‘pleasing” which can work in contrast to the subject matter.

Other work triggered thoughts. A pair of images of snub-nosed revolvers (
Gun, 1981) also triggered (groan) thoughts of my own work, with the images overlapping / out of register being visually similar in some ways to the movement blur I’ve been capturing. Am I moving towards Pop Art with this current project? Maybe I am, I’ve bought a book about the subject from the gallery shop…

The next room was noisy, too many people, all chatting and I couldn’t hear the various videos and whatnot. Off to the other annex of the exhibition and an artist I hadn’t actually heard of but I did know some of her work; Gretchen Bender worked with video, some of which as I say, I knew (REM for a start). There wasn’t a lot here, but it was definitely worth the look, and in many respects brought me back to the video I watched on Sonic Outlaws

Gretchen Bender

After sitting and watching the multi screen presentation (above), I moved back in to Warhol, and his large video room and The Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Now this I really liked – wrap around video, music from Velvet Underground and really quite immersive. The video from YouTube doesn’t come across as the same thing – the audio is shocking (it wasn’t at the Tate), an you really don’t get the same feeling of being in the middle. No-one was dancing at the Tate either.

This was worth the admission on its own.


Les Bicknell

The visiting lecturer, Les Bicknell, brought a monster slide presentation. 146 slides in total. Professionally speaking (and I mean as an engineer) this is dangerous; in the investigation into the death of the crew of a Nimrod aircraft over Afghanistan, powerpoint overload was listed as a contributing factor. Show people too many slides and they will drift off and not pay the right level of attention. They will miss things. Now, I know there is a world of difference between aircraft safety and the arts - people don't usually die if you drift off during a presentation about art. I'll hold my hand up and admit that, on occasion during the 2 hours of Les' presentation, I did begin to drift off, thinking about how earlier slides might apply to me, reactions to this, that and the other. Les did keep bringing me back in though, so not too much of a problem I think.

The thrust of the presentation was twofold, both being related to research within your practice. On the one hand he gave some clues as to the nature of research: asking yourself questions such as "what do you like doing?" or "who is your audience?", your contextual framework, relationships to practice and the iterative ways of working that we will all go through, consciously or sub-consciously. On the other hand (the other "thrust") he also spoke about "bookness" and how that has worked itself into his practice.

Because I treat my art as a way of escaping from the regimental side of my work life, I do get deflated when I see art reduced to a process. Yes, I know that in reality we go through these processes, these iterations of the work before coming to the end product, seeing it described as a process is disheartening. Still, Les had some good ideas about working out what it is you do, and this is something I will have a go at these things soon (something for the Christmas break perhaps?).

Bookness is something else altogether.

Bookness (From Les' slides)

This sounds fairly straightforward, there's hardbacks, paperbacks and even e-books... made of paper pages or similar, bound together in some way so that they are read sequentially. Actually, bookness doesn't really have much to do with that, well, it does as an absolute starting point, but it keeps on going beyond the logical and into the... realms of fantasy? The roof of a house has "bookness" in that the shape looks like the cover of a half open book

Roof (from Les' slides)

If the roof is the book cover, then the walls, the bricks, the rooms are the pages, and yes, all will tell a story of some sort. Calling this "fantasy" is a bit harsh, there is some form of fantastical logic about his train of thought though, with ploughed fields displaying bookness (the furrows being like the pages of the book), or anything displaying text being akin to a book, or... or... or...... There were times when this was reigned in though, when comparing a sculpture to a book, he was told by it's creator it was a sculpture, not a book. You can't win them all...

Personally, this sort of thing isn't for me, although I do understand the nature of interconnectedness and relationships, etc. Of how one thing can lead to another. Having said that (and I do believe I'm too logical for it), I do like surrealism - am I actually to logical for that too? Whatever. I'm afraid I haven't taken a great deal from this one as for as bookness goes, although maybe the research section might prove to be of use once I get around to working through some of his questions to ask ourselves.


Copyright Issues

Tanya recently e-mailed me a link to a BBC article from earlier this year that reported Paramount Pictures taking down the Twitter account of someone who was tweeting the film Top Gun, frame by frame. In reading the article, alarm bells rang because of the nature of my current project which using war films as source material for a comment on war as entertainment. In particular, there is one paragraph in the BBC reporting:

She said: "In terms of the law, it is even the frames, so even a photograph of a film is classed as a film in law, rather than as a stand-alone photograph."

From this, the inference could be that I could fall foul of the law, but when looking at what @555uhz was actually doing, the two projects are clearly different. Whilst the twitter feed is transformative as a whole (it transforms from cinematic film to individual frames in a Twitter feed), the work could be (sort of) reconstructed and, apart from missing frames, it would be the same (less the audio...). I'm not sure the 
meaning of the work is changing though - it's still Top Gun as a piece of entertainment. Nothing has been added. The flow is similar, and there's a good sized piece of the work that would have been appropriated.

My own work cannot be reconstructed. The work has been transformed; elements have been added such as the representation of the grid imposed by the physical act of projecting it and the text. The visual representation has been changed, in terms of the colours (I apply a filter, there will be something coming through from the projection surface which is not a neutral white), the framing (the images are cropped to some degree, and all have become a standard 16:9 format, regardless of the original) and perhaps most importantly, it's intended as a piece of artwork which provides commentary on the cinematic representation of war, obfuscation of the truth, etc. It's not intended to be the film in stills form.

I've just bought a book on appropriation whilst in Liverpool looking at the work of Heineken and Warhol (I'll write some notes when I get the chance), so maybe this will give me something else to ease my mind (or not), but for the moment I think I'm confident enough to continue.


The title of Emma’s e-mail with her wonderfully illustrated art map was “timeline” and this reminded me of something I’d created to go with an essay I’d written on Japanese photography – an historical timeline. Whilst it’s not “pretty”, merely functional, it does help put one of my favourite subjects into some form of context.

Japanese Photography Timeline

The essay Shashin can be found here.
And now I also feel the need to revisit the map I produced and do something better, if I can find the time…


200 words in response to...

… Jonathan Jones.
On the 13th of November, the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones published a blog post about photography that provoked something of a reaction within the photography community. His article (which is
here) takes offence to the fact that at this moment in time, photography appears to have gained in popularity and is being exhibited in galleries. After viewing the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, the Taylor-Wessing Prize and some scientific images taken by a robot, his assertion is that only painting is good enough to be framed and exhibited, and that all photography should only be seen on an iPad or some journal. I’ve already posted something about this, but as part of the writing workshop, this had to be pared down to 200 words, so that is what I have done below:

I have a problem with Jonathan Jones’ comparison between photography and painting, with his assertion that photography cannot be art but merely “flat, soulless and stupid”. One second he talks about photography on the gallery walls, the next about some robot beaming images from a comet thousands of miles away. They’re different products for different purposes. I can make a similar comparison between his beloved Caravaggio and my lounge; both are painted, so by these (clearly flawed) guidelines, the same.

For a so-called critic, his observations are incredibly short-sighted, generic and, let’s face it, wrong. Art is not simply about the craft of a painter, but the communication forged with his audience, his “art” aspirations and the manner in which it is intended to be viewed. It would appear that Jones fails to appreciate the evolution from the Baroque, through an age of mechanical reproduction and the “flatness” of the Modernists painters and Post-Post-Modernism, etc. Photography is currently in ascendancy, perhaps at painting’s expense, and will no doubt fall away too, replaced by something else. At the moment though, photography is where it is, and there’s not a lot Jones can do to take it from those gallery walls.
To be fair to Jones, if you look at the fact that he mentions the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, then here we have a more “scientific” form of photography. Many of the photographs will not have been intended to have been viewed on the gallery wall as “art”, but then is that what they’re being touted as? It will be a photography exhibition, not an art exhibition. Where he does overstep the mark, at least in my reading of the piece, is the broad brush approach he takes to all photography. He would be outraged if someone was to do the same with all painting, to lump Caravaggio in with Pollock or Reinhardt’s black squares that were mentioned in another recent post of mine. They’re not the same, so similarly Philae’s photographs from the far side of the galaxy are not the same as a Hockney joiner or one of Crewdson’s composite images, or any number of other photographs intended to be viewed as art. A huge oversight in my view. So yes, I will agree to disagree with him.

Art Map

After reading the first chapter of Stories of Art, we’ve been asked to create an “art map”. I suppose the expected way of doing this might be something abstract, as per the examples in the book (see below), but I figured I’m far to “logical” to do that, so have opted for something else.

Stories of Art
Plate 1: The history of art imagined as a field of stars (J Elkins)

Instead of this, and I might be going off on one here, I’ve done a caricature of the world, with bits that mean more to me bigger in size, and a few photographers and artists listed on there. Obviously, I like my Japanese photography, so that features larger. I like Surrealism, both in terms of painting and photography, so that’s there. Dusseldorf school – check. And American colour photography… Yep, present and correct. Nothing from Italy? Not really, although of course there will be things that resonate with me from that neck of the woods. China? Nobody jumped out at me…


Now, in terms of putting names in places, I know there are a couple of anomalies, but this is where there work is made, or at least what they’re better known for… i know it’s not great, but it’s something we can maybe launch a discussion from and I might update it later.
Elkins, J (2002)
Stories of Art. New York. Routledge (MA1)


Critical Reading/Writing Workshop II

I missed the first reading and writing workshop, and whilst I did get to see the material that was discussed in the hangout, it wasn't really a great help without the context of the discussions. This time, I took part.

The first thing discussed was a piece of writing by Christopher French about Ad Reinhardt's proposition that "Art is Art and Everything Else is Everything Else". He starts of in his introduction that he is against the proposition: "As much as I admire him, I am here to argue against one of Reinhardt's more famous pronouncements...". A clear statement of intent, but one I didn't feel was followed up in what came next. He spoke about Reinhardt's work, about a catalogue of black canvases that would work as a flip book, albeit one that needs to be seen only through first hand experience (contradictory?), and some work presented as a series of 2000 slides so boring that parts of the audience left. There's no direct talk about art being art, or not.

The language being used is sometimes self indulgent, featuring long sentences of long words, or at least a complex vocabulary not normally constituting an inherent component of the common parlance, and arranged within a convoluted syntax (see, I can do it too, and it doesn't make it "good"). His sentence "I think his image bank provided the evidentiary underpinnings that allowed him the freedom to generate the cruciform geometries that infuse and enliven the otherwise too-severe reductiveness of his black paintings." is an example of this. Yes, it makes sense once you've worked you way around the mental gymnastics involved in deciphering it, but is it really necessary to write in that way?

I guess the answer to that will depend largely on your audience. French was writing for 
The Brooklyn Rail: Critical Perspectives on Arts, Politics and Culture, so there may actually be an expectance for this sort of writing. His audience will also be a reason for not including any direct reference/illustrations to Reinhardt's work. Personally I don't know it. I've never heard of the artist, and I can't say I'm particularly "aware" of a large number of painters. Actually, I may have seen one of these black paintings - I recall a visit to MoMA in New York about 6 years ago when I spent some time trying to work out if there was anything specifically within a solid black square painting. I don't believe there was, but I've no idea who painted it either, so this little anecdote carries no weight. The point I was trying to make before it was that I didn't connect with his writing at all, I felt nothing. I suppose I could've gone and researched Reinhardt, but I didn't feel a burning desire to. Plain black images that need to be seen first hand and a series of photographs that are so boring, his audience left. No, I'm not hooked into further looking.

And after all this, he finally returns to his point, to the raison d'être for the piece, and his objection to the proposition. Rather than anything else, he "argues" (or should that be "simply states"?) that the proposition "was a provocative act of misdirection ... what continues to make Ad Reinhardt such an able role model for navigating the ever-more complicated waters of art and life." Personally, I don't see it, but then I don't really know what he's talking about...

Post from
The Brooklyn Rail: Critical Perspectives on Arts, Politics and Culture January 16th 2014 (located at by Christopher French, painter and writer, and President of AICA-USA.

The second part of the session was somewhat thrown upon us with no preparation or warning - we had to write 100 words about an experience with a piece of art, writing in the present tense. I chose to write about the first time I saw some Daido Moriyama prints on a gallery wall, at Polka in Paris a few years ago.

“Seeing Daido Moriyama's photographs first hand for the fist time, I am surprised. The print is so large (about 1.5m across) and very different to anything I've seen of him before in books or the computer screen. There is still the grain and the movement - the 
are, bure, boke - but now there is a previously unknown sense of size. I'm conflicted. The images used to be intimate but now that has changed irrevocably. Here is something that can also be immersive, something bigger. But is it better?”

89 words written in less than 10 minutes with no preparation, slightly under the target but ok. It was a tough ask, especially as we had to read it out to the rest of the group. I think it's ok though. If we hadn't run out of time, the next part of the task would've been to pare it down by about 30%, to 66 words. I'll try that now:

“Seeing Moriyama's photographs first hand for the fist time, I'm surprised. The print is large (about 1.5m across) and different to anything I've seen before. There is still the 
are, bure, boke, but now there is a sense of size. I'm conflicted. The images used to be intimate but now that has changed. Now it can also be immersive, it's bigger. But is it better?”

I've managed to remove 25 words, but added a couple too, so it still makes sense. Which is better? I'm not sure there's a great difference at this point, other than making it fit in a 66 word limit, something that might be useful when it comes to filling in submissions for exhibitions, awards and whatnot... (and the academic essay that will no doubt be coming soon)

Lisa Barnard

Today’s visiting lecturer was Lisa Barnard, a photographic artist who deals with subjects such as politics and war.

Unfortunately, I missed the introductions and the preamble, turning up as she was discussing some photographs taken with a large format, first exploring the psychological aesthetics of the relationship between mother and daughter (
Ps<>D) then those of children engrossed in theatre (the Unicorn Theatre). Whilst these images are shot on a 5×4 camera, they’re not overloaded with the minute of detail that some make use of the format to produce, rather they’re so much more suggestive rather than purely representative, either through the use of tilt/shift or due to the low light conditions that they were shot under. Nice, but portraits aren’t really my “thing”…

Having said that, I did like the presentation from 
Polska by the Sea, with the front/back portrait pairing in the train station in Eastbourne. Maybe not the way I would have done it, I’d have gone down the obvious route and done 180° rotations. Actually, no, I wouldn’t have done it at all, but I may have done something like postcards that formed a kind of juxtaposition with the portraits, being iconography of the idea of Polish-ness and in some ways of life in Britain (Union Flag toilet seats and Lady Di). These postcards featured poems written by a collaborator (I didn’t catch a name) who wrote whilst the photographs were being taken, an interesting MO although maybe not one I’d be comfortable adopting (the idea of collaboration scares me).

Blue Star Moms was another project intertwining portraiture with an element of typology (and indeed, the portraits are also typology of a sort). Again, it was the non-portraiture that I found more interesting – the duality of the Care Packages only really becoming apparent when you are “in the know”. Many of the items seem mundane (and indeed are), however they have added value in a war zone, with cotton buds being used for cleaning equipment rather than ears (which they shouldn’t be used for anyway!!), or sanitary towels used to absorb sweat when added to a helmet lining. These items also serve their normal use as well; a little bit of normality in an un-normal situation. In many ways, this reminded me of Olivia Hollamby (or Robinson – she’s now married and I don’t know which is correct) who worked with her husband in making images from the Gulf (he is a British soldier), but she concentrated on some of the domestic elements, although not in a typographic manner.

Another project with a decidedly blue theme was 
32 Smiths Square, the one time home of the Conservative Party. During the time the photographs were taken, the offices were closed and had been (virtually) emptied, with anything of any value having been auctioned off. All that remained was things with no perceived financial worth, but with interest, notably the series of photographs of Margaret Thatcher that had been affected by the passage of time. Blown up and exhibited in a poll booth type of installation, there was an added depth to the images, all different but so similar – as if the iron lady had an iron façade, unchanging.

The remainder of the work was again centred about the US Army, although no more directly than with the 
Blue Star Moms. Drones form one part of the projects, as is the use of virtual reality. In some ways, it’s quite closely tied into some of my own current work, with the blend of the military, gaming and such. Lisa spoke of Baudrilliard, and his Gulf War trilogy is something I’ve been reading recently, together with other pieces on war as entertainment and the military sublime (Stallabrass). I’ve written a few notes about this, but I’ve also ordered Lisa’s book Hyenas of the Battlefield, so before adding much more I think I will wait for the book to arrive and look in further detail at the work.

All in all, an enjoyable, interesting and informative lecture about a highly relevant subject- Lisa was an interesting talker and put up with me chipping in with typed comments and questions as the session progressed. Yes, thoroughly enjoyed.

Bart Michiels

Just a quick post to highlight Bart Michiels’ project The Course of History, the approach of which will be something similar to what I was planning to do later in the course, and to which I was alerted when I posted some images from my recent visit to France on Flickr. I’ll take a look at the content of the site in the coming days and post some thoughts on here.

Screen grab from Bart Michiels website (Source:


The Hay Wain at war

Since watching the BBC video on Paul Nash, I’ve started taking some tentative steps into looking at war art other than photography, mostly paintings but with some other media too. I had also hoped to get to a gallery in Brittany whilst I was there that was showing some paintings on WWI from local artists (i.e. Breton ones), I failed in that respect but I do hope to get to the Tate show Conflict, Time, Photography when it’s on… (I have the catalogue on pre-order at least)

Back to the point, I’ve been looking at painted art and recently saw the piece 
Southern England, 1944 – Spitfires attacking Flying Bombs by Thomas Monnington. My first reaction was that the plane was too low, flying below the tree line. But after that, the details of the typical bucolic countryside with cows in the fields started to register before realising that actually, no, this is not quite a view of a traditional English vista  with added warplanes; the cart is abandoned in the river, the farmer and his horses nowhere in sight. The hay wain is, what appears to me, a reference to Constable’s painting of that name, but here the war is showing an effect on the land, one that had not seen any real and direct signs of battle since The Battle of Preston more than 200 years previously (depending on your definition of “battle” of course). This is not the only time that The Hay Wain has made a showing in an image of conflict, with Paul Kennard creating a photomontage of the painting with cruise missiles.

Liz Wells briefly discussed Kennard’s appropriation in her book 
Land Matters; how Constable’s painting became “an icon of the English pastoral. The scene has come to connote Englishness.” (Wells, p21). Kennard’s montage, and also Monnington’s painting for that matter, introduces a threat to that idyll, something to threaten everyday life; total nuclear armageddon or the random death from an indiscriminate and unguided “doodlebug”.

The landscape genre will be something I will be coming back to after I’ve finished what I suspect will be a brief dalliance in to appropriation and what has become 
Victory and Some Unholy War.  In fact, I’ve already returned there during my recent trip to France, and I will have to post something from it soon, but first I need to finish to give Victory a bit of a polish from what I concluded Task 1 with, and also bring Some Unholy War to a conclusion during Task 2.

Anyway, here are the three images I’ve been talking about, in chronological order:

John Constable. The Hay Wain. 1821. Oil on canvas. 130.2 x 185.4cm (Source: Wikipedia –
Thomas Monnington. Southern England, 1944 – Spitfires Attacking Flying Bombs. 1944. Oil on canvas. 105.4 x 143.3cm. (Source: IWM
Peter Kennard. Haywain with Cruise Missiles. 1980. Chromolithograph on paper and photographs on paper. 26 x 37.5cm (Source: The Tate –

Wells, L. (2011) 
Land Matters: landscape photography, culture and identity. London. IB Tauris & Co Ltd.


William Eggleston : Tate Shots and more

I've admired Eggleston's mundane Americana for a long time now, probably since seeing the iconic Memphis (tricycle) photograph from William Eggleston's Guide - I'm pretty sure this will have been the first of his photographs I saw...

William Eggleston, Untitled, Memphis, 1970; dye transfer print, 12 1/8 in. x 17 1/4 in. (30.8 cm x 43.82 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Laurence A. Short; © Eggleston Artistic Trust (Source: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art -

In deciding which online resource I'd use for the upcoming hangout, I came across the Tate Shots video (bottom) and in watching I was confused about something, there was a lamp isolated against a blue ceiling. So what? Well, the ceiling is normally red. I'd become aware some time ago of some 'anomalies' in the printing of Eggleston's work when I realised that the cover of my 
Guide differed from the images used in an article about the sale of some of his work (Googling "Eggleston Memphis Tricycle highlights this) but from red to blue? A step to far, surely?

Google search results - "Eggleston Memphis Tricycle"

William Eggleston, details unknown Screen grab from Tate Shots video

Well, it would appear that as well as being incredibly eccentric, Eggleston also has something of a sense of humour. He's famed for only taking a single shot of everything he photographs, but that doesn't stop him taking the "same" photograph in different locations...

William Eggleston, Untitled, Greenwood, Mississippi, 1973; dye transfer print, 12 5/16 in. x 18 1/2 in. (31.27 cm x 46.99 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of a friend of the Museum; © Eggleston Artistic Trust (Source: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art -

Anyway, here's the video...



I posted the Sonic Outlaws video about Negativeland the other day, and I’ve now actually had the chance to look through it fully. In it there are plenty of interesting sound-bites and quotes that got me thinking about the nature of appropriation and the artistic traditions that exist around the subject. There’s also a few other things that I need to research further that were mentioned in the film. Things like Detournment, (which a very quick Google search seems to show originates from Guy Debord and SI), someone called Marshall McLuhan and the Billboard Bandits (not necessarily in that order).

Returning to Negativeland, I suppose they should be classed as Culture Jammers; they take clips of audio from various sources including TV, records, radio scanners and the like (and also video in the live shows) and mix it up, repurposing and recontextualising it before redistributing it as their own work. The crux of the film revolves around discussion of the appropriation of some U2 clips and the ensuing legal battle and how this stacks up with both the law as it stands, and the history of appropriation through the ages. On the face of it, U2 themselves may not have been against what Negativeland were doing, certainly that’s what The Edge said in the interview, that it was the record company’s doing, but the first problem would have been the “U2″ cover and how this would fall outside of the copyright fair use clause that would allow them to carry on…

(I guess the copyright rests with Negativeland, but possibly a bit contentious)

The cover could cause confusion and financial loss as it could lead to people buying that instead of the new U2 album that was due for release around the same time. In a story filled with amusing turns, the band took advantage that the news machine does exactly as they did and re-reported a bogus press release (without checking any facts) that the band were somehow connected to an axe murder that occurred, supposedly, following a row over one of their records. This went from fanzine to music press to mainstream news to the point the story had to be retracted. A story that was appropriated without question – as one of the members of Negativeland mentioned – reprinting, cannibalising and copying is so routine, it’s frightening!

Much of the discussion centred around the nature of the arts and a history of appropriation and copying, be it a tune that is reused for something else, or how paintings inform painters, how something will sbde incorporated in the art of another and presented to the viewing public as something new: “In the visual arts there is a long-standing tradition of found image collage, from [Kurt] Schwitters and [Bazon? Not sure who is being referred to here] Brock, and [Robert] Rauschenberg and [Andy] Warhol. In modern terms, appropriation is often about culture jamming, capturing the corporately controlled subjects of the one way media barrage, reorganising them to be a comment upon themselves and spitting them back into the barrage for cultural consideration.” (circa 35min into the film)

All this ties in with the idea of visual culture, of these representations (TV, music/muzak, high art, speech, dreams and ultimately society) and how it structures the way people behave (loosely from Visual Methodologies). At the start of that book, there is also an introduction to occularcentrism, and the centrality of the visual to Western society – something the postmodernists, SI, Debord and Baudrillard spoke of, and something I will inevitably come back to later during the MA.

Another ironic turn of events was with the ZooTV tour when U2 appropriated TV images and redistributed them as part of the show. Surely this is exactly the same as what they sued Negativeland for, although as they are “bigger” they got away with it, with many of the media providers probably happy to be appropriated by U2 in this way…

There was also some discussion on the copyright laws (of America) and fair use in terms of parody. Now, I’d always considered a more traditional use of the word:

1. An imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect:
the film is a parody of the horror genre (from

however, there is another definition too:

Although a parody can be considered a derivative work under United States Copyright Law, it can be protected from claims by the copyright owner of the original work under the fair use doctrine, which is codified in 17 U.S.C. § 107. The Supreme Court of the United States stated that parody “is the use of some elements of a prior author’s composition to create a new one that, at least in part, comments on that author’s works”. That commentary function provides some justification for use of the older work. See Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. (from

The UK laws are different but changing, so will see on that one.

Lots to think about and something of small level of reassurance that Some Unholy War / Victory are not going to get me into too much trouble…

Rose, G (2014)
Visual Methodologies. 3rd Edition. London. Sage Publications Ltd


Sonic Outlaws

Another tweet, another something of interest – this time a video from the Denver Open Media Archive:

I’ve not watched it all, I’ve not got the time at the moment, but there was something at just over 3 minutes into the video that really struck a chord with me.

“…you can put a bunch of stuff on the air or in a record that are really not necessarily related to each other at all, put them in connection with one another and if there’s any way to do it, people will make a connection in their mind and they’ll make it have a meaning.”

Now, this is all fairly basic stuff, but it is probably something that forms a cornerstone of my work for the last couple of years. I’m not saying it always will, and it’s not been like that for all my work by any stretch of the imagination, but for the moment… I certainly like the way that images juxtapose with each other, like they did in A Forest and how words and images have been working together in one way or another during
Game-on for Task 1 (I really need to rename this in line with my normal practice).

Human Motions : Peter Jansen

I saw this on twitter and liked it – shame the images aren’t large enough to see them properly.

Looking at his website, again the work isn’t really large enough to get a really good look, although the impression is clear enough. Whilst this is sculpture, there’s an obvious relationship with some of the work I’ve been pulling together for Some Unholy War with the blurring effect. Is this something to look into more? Adding more blur? It would be difficult as the background also blurs and everything becomes too “unclear”. Perhaps some could work, and thinking about it, some are already more in this vein. I suppose it’s time to put something of SUW on here, rather than the brief glimpses that there has been so far.


Mishka Henner : 42 Portraits by Nobuyoshi Araki

There’s a series of these videos, I’m not sure how many but I saw a small number at a talk given by Mishka Henner a few years ago. Really interesting work, and I’ve since seen similar things done, not least by Keith Greenough, who joined me in the [( 6 )] exhibition in Sheffield in July this year (there’s some stuff about [( 6 )] in the Development section).



I’ve been dipping into and out of the book Interviews-Artists for a little while now, without really putting down many thoughts anywhere. This post will attempt to address this shortcoming.

The first artist I read about was James Aldridge, but not because he was the first in the book but rather because he was specifically mentioned in the video lecture VL1. Aldridge isn’t a photographer or one of the stellar names from painting (I’m thinking van Gogh or Turner), so I’d not heard about him. My knowledge of painters is fairly limited, but I’m sure this will be addressed in the coming years. Looking at his work, my first thought was that it was quite colourful, and there’s plenty of nature in it; trees, birds, cats, etc. However, colourful it may be, but it’s also quite dark, and I found it really interesting to read that he is influenced by death metal, and that he feels that comes out in his work. I’m not a death metal fan, but I do have a dark streak than runs through me and this often influences the work I do like. It probably influences some of the way I work too. much of what he says is also mirroring what I think; that what we like outside of art informs the work we make. We are the people we are, so to pretend to be someone or something else when we create whatever it is we are creating can only lead to work that isn’t honest. Unless we can fulfil the role of actor and artist.

Another mentioned in VL1 is Chritiane Baumgartner. I know nothing of the process of woodcut, but do find the
Transall image somewhat compelling and appreciate the connection with time in her other work. It’s interesting when she speaks of wanting to get people in close to her work, as this is something I tend to do, especially with larger works so that I am immersed by the image. I saw Thomas Struth’s work at the Whitechapel Gallery - I wasn’t convinced this was meant to be viewed up close. Similarly with my work on Some Unholy War (and Task 1), if you get in close to the images you get the feel of where they came from as the DLP “mesh” becomes visible. Of course, this also resonates with her work in that if you get in close you see how the larger image is made up. I think this is important to me, time will tell on that one.

I started to read about Jim Dine but was very quickly put off with his statement that he was an artist before he had language. The rest might be really inciteful, but I just couldn’t get past that.

Luke Frost... I don’t know that it has any impact on me at all, my response to seeing the
Volts No 22 in the book was ambivalence, however it does look different in the book to the linked image on the a-n website and of course it would be very different to see it first hand, although this piece isn’t the large scale of some of the others he mentioned. No, I really don’t believe this is my cup of tea.

There were a few things in what Rachel Goodyear spoke off that mirrored much of my philosophy, on coming back to something in terms of what her practice is (I strayed from photography for many years), of how she will hear or see little things that become ideas, either straight away or after it has been through the mill with the grist of other things and become something later. Also, she can’t explain all of her own work, which is great to know because that’s exactly how I feel about my own work sometimes, especially at the moment. I’m not alone.

Free Thinking : Barbara Kruger


The interview with Barbara Kruger takes up the first 50% or so of the broadcast, together with Laurie Penny. There much said about feminism, they both work with this so it would be expected. From a point of view of Kruger’s work, it’s interesting that she denounces the claim that her work is subversive, but rather that she likes to work with doubt, asking questions and resistance. In terms of the doubt, it was also interesting but maybe not really surprising that she was very cognisant of the fact that others will their own meanings to her work, that some will be successful and others won’t, depending on the person looking at the image and reading the text. Of course, there is something of herself in there too, it would be an impossible claim to say that there isn’t - nobody can be that objective.

Free Thinking. 2014 [Radio Broadcast] Georgia Catt. British Broadcasting Corporation
located at (accessed 04/10/2014 )



Merges film into a game scenario to provoke a reaction to recent events in Gaza.

See article

(Thanks to Tanya for the heads up)

Gazonto. 2014 [video streaming] John Greyson.
located at (accessed 30/09/2014)


I’ve just watched the documentary McCullin, an amazingly powerful film, filled with... beautiful yet horrific photography. I feel quite stunned by it. Not sure what to say...
I have a small number of books by Don McCullin, 2 or 3, and visited the IWM exhibition a few years ago, but this has proven more thought provoking than anything I’ve experienced of his work before, perhaps because it now coincides with a period of specific thinking about his subject. It really is time to revisit his work again.

McCullin. 2012 [Blu-Ray] Jacqui Morris and David Morris. British Film Company


What is Photography?

This is something I saw some time ago, it’s taken from the Arakimentari film about the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki. I think it asks very pertinent questions about photography...

Arakimentari. 2004. [DVD] Travis Klose. Troopers Films.

The questions/statements/captions (whatever) are:

What is a photographer?

What is photography?

How do I shoot?

What should I take a picture of?

Should I shoot this? That?

Can I shoot this?

Why do we want to keep a photo?

Does a photo become memory?

Is it a friend?

Is it a lover?

Why is it colour?

That’s amazing, it’s incredible!

No it might be an enemy

Should I shoot in black & white…?

Your face shows who you are

Does it make you horny?

Are you getting excited?

That’s disgusting

I burn every experience onto film

The feeling’s gone

The memory never fades

What if I took a photo of everything I’ve ever experienced?

What does it mean to be a photographer?

Why are we so obsessed with films about the Second World War?

Food for thought ... (accessed 21/09/2014)

Paul Nash: Ghosts of War

Paul Nash is not a name I instantly recognised, but there is a vague familiarity about his work. I may have seen it somewhere, or it might just be that his work is a similar style to someone else I’ve seen - I’m terribly aware that I don’t know enough painters, being very photography-centric in terms of what I look at, although I’m sure that will change in the coming years.

Not knowing much about Nash, I suppose I should have expected a turn to Surrealism from his background, his love of “absurd” classics of English literature, such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, coupled with his wartime experiences in the trenches at Flanders. In terms of his war art, he is accredited in the programme as inventing a new form, based on the landscape but I see this as being similar in many respects as the photography of Roger Fenton, particularly his piece
Valley of the Shadow of Death from the Crimea in 1855

Roger Fenton,
Valley of the Shadow of Death (1855) - from The Getty website

paul nash wire te21_0
Paul Nash,
Wire (1918-1919) - from the Tate website.

Both images depict the aftermath of the battle, both images are devoid of people and both images give an indication of the trauma that will have been experienced there, Nash’s piece more so, perhaps due to the duration and the nature of the battle, perhaps because of the more figurative and interpretive nature of the media. Nash’s work bores deeper into the realms of nightmare in his representation of the wounded land, there are hints of the future Surrealism, whereas Fenton is much straighter, it’s documentary (although Errol Morris has something to say about his methods).

This work relates in many ways to my current thoughts on projects. True to say they’re not really progressing at the moment, but I see parallels in my mind’s eye;
Some Unholy War ties itself to the surreal and nightmarish in some ways, while the landscape is something I intend to be returning to for a later project, for year 2 in all probability as it will take time to achieve it as I intend to be travelling all over the country to achieve it.

So, the documentary may not have told me everything there is to know about Nash, but it proved interesting and relevant. It was also a springboard into some other research that will likely follow as I work my way through the MA. There’s another couple in the series too, so who knows what they might inspire.

Paul Nash:The Ghosts of War. 2014 [Video Streaming] Patrick Dickinson. Danny Katz Productions.
located at (accessed 20/09/2014)


BBC iPlayer : British Art at War

Only available for a short while, but part one of the British Art at War series is currently available on BBC iPlayer (and is being downloaded as I type). This episode looks at Paul Nash, not somebody I’d heard of, but then the “art” side of war (as opposed to photojournalism) is something I’m just really becoming acquainted with...

Once it’s been downloaded and watched, I’m sure I’ll come back to add some more notes.

TateShots: Olafur Eliasson

located at (accessed 13/09/2014)

Heather & Simon @ GAG

Back in July there was a talk and walk by Simon Roberts at the Grundy Art Gallery, a session I fully intended to attend. Unfortunately though, when the day came I was still in a recovery period following surgery and I couldn’t make the trip over to the seaside. I have now finally managed to make in to the gallery and look at Roberts’ prints, and the video installations by Heather Phillipson too.

Whilst I was there predominantly to see Roberts’ work Pierdom, the ground floor was taken over by Phillipson, so the entrance into her exhibition beckoned and seemed to be the logical place to start. Prior to the exhibition, I knew nothing about Phillipson. I still know little, other than she can be a bit risqué and works with video installations that are more welcoming than others I have seen. Now, in the past, video has been weak for me. As the art form itself, it has not been particularly captivating, and many have been what I would consider highly pretentious or just plain dull as yesterday’s dishwater. Here though, after being rebirthed from the dark and into the light of an odd new world, there is something that I found interesting. They weren’t slow and ponderous, if anything they were quite surreal which will always pique my interest a touch. And watching a video from the back seat of an old Peugeot or a speedboat on bottles of water is not something you do everyday.
It was A is to D what E is to H that I found most compelling, viewing the video projected on to the screen of the aforementioned car. Seemingly random images flowing together, narrated by a woman (I assume this to be the artist). I really don’t know why I liked this. Yes, it was different. No, I don’t know what it means or why... Well, just why in general I think. It’s left me confused but wanting more. The delivery of the audio is still in my head.

A is to D what E is to H - excerpt from Heather Phillipson on Vimeo.

So, back into the real world and upstairs to Simon Roberts’ photographs of piers... an odd transition, but somehow also a strangely appropriate coupling - can a pier really have phallic connotations, or is that something that only comes to mind when married with Phillipson’s work? Will this be something that occurred to Roberts as he carried out his survey of Britain’s Victorian piers, recording them before they deteriorated into nothing but memory - I recall that on the day of the intended talk, Eastbourne pier was badly damaged by fire.
Physically, the 4 main prints were large and impressive. They’re packed with detail and clearly not taken with an iPhone on a family trip to the seaside - no, they’re slow, deliberate and considered. They’re also very “matter of fact”, objective; not hiding the fact that they’re deteriorating, not hiding the fact that there’s a certain unsavoury underbelly in the surroundings that may actually be lost on those that were not born in a seaside town. Maybe, as a “Blackpudlian”, I have a certain view on living in a seaside time for much of my life, a view that is not particularly favourable (can anyone look favourably on a town that was reported as heading upwards by a local councillor because a Nando’s was opening?). I see beyond the dazzle of a theme park, which I suppose I liken to put glitter on a skin cancer. But the theme park is also a subject in one of the photographs, representing an escape from reality that seaside towns can be to those that visit and leave before the gloss has had time to tarnish.

Is the theme park otherwise relevant to these images? I mention it because with it it became obvious that Roberts is not searching to show everything in the scene. Yes, the pier is there, but whilst it juts out into the sea, it’s also connected to its surroundings, and these surroundings go beyond the edge of the frame. We are allowed to explore the pier, but we are stopped from going too far from it. I guess it should be obvious that there needs to be an edge to the frame, but some might want to neatly encapsulate things - perhaps that would be the sign of a vernacular image? What I have done though is leave that frame and bring a lifetime of experience of seaside life to them, seeing beyond them. It’s a clear embodiment of Barthes’ theories that the images are different to us all because of who we are. I’ve never been to Weston-Super-Mare or Southend-on-Sea but still feel I know more through a shared experience. I may be well off the mark, but the photographs stir up feelings. I’m fairly sure these aren’t what Roberts was expecting, I suspect he would rather recall happy times, playing on the sands near the shadow of the pier or visiting the “amusements”, but there we go...
Despite what might come across as negativity for these images, I actually found them really interesting. They’re very relevant to my own approach to landscape, of how I am planning to approach my next significant project exploring what might be forgotten histories of conflict. They illustrate how a measured approach to the subject does not have to become a tightly controlled Becher-esque typology, although typology is clearly what this is.

Perhaps a “complaint” that I might raise about the exhibition is that it’s small; there are only 4 large photographs and 2 smaller ones. However, this weakness might also be considered a strength, the exhibitions USP. You see, it’s not just in Blackpool, but also in a range of other seaside towns at the same time. It’s not for people in the big cities with the fancy galleries, but it’s back with the places that it came from. It’s odd, but whilst it takes something away, I also think it’s given back something else and it’s strangely stronger for it.


Current Conflicts @ ACE Nelson

1324 - Space2  September postcard-11

Saturday’s visit to ACE in Nelson didn’t start well. Study visits have usually been organised via e-mail, detailing start times and what have you, this time though... Perhaps I just misunderstood - there was indeed an e-mail that said a talk started at 1pm, and had a hyperlink to a Pendle Art Gallery. I assumed that there would be a gathering beforehand to look around the work, then the talk would be given. My mistake, but to be fair this wasn’t necessary due to the size of the show and the way the talk was organised (previously, talks have been away from the art, not in front of it). It very nearly didn’t happen though, as I didn’t find ACE. The weblink was to a different location, not the ACE and I hadn’t realised this when I grabbed the postcode for my GPS. Still, I got there in the end and I’m glad I did as it was a really interesting talk and very relevant to where I see myself going in the coming years.

Jamie Simonds was first up with a series of photographs of American troops.

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 11.12.39
from Jamie Simonds website - ©Jamie Simonds Photography

Apparently taken when he was en route to his honeymoon whilst delayed in Atlanta, these photographs show the soldiers waiting, delayed whilst heading off to serve another tour in either Iraq or Afghanistan. The soldiers looked just as bored as any other traveller stuck in an airport lounge, with very little sign of what they may be heading off towards showing on their faces. What was interesting here is the method of presentation, shown printed to what was probably 6x4, framed in cheap white IKEA frames such as might be found on any mantlepiece. Whilst this uniformity has sometimes been eschewed for an approach that might reflect actual prints on mantlepieces (potential memento mori?), i.e. a completely random one in terms of framing, here it served a few purposes. Firstly, it means that the images appear less kitsch, less gimmicky and would sit well together on a gallery wall (here they were actually displayed on boxes). Secondly, it matches the uniformity of the military dress - yes, I know that some of the soldiers are wearing a different pattern of DPM, but in general terms, I see a connection - uniformity and the military.

Olivia Robinson’s appearance in the exhibition comes by way of a book of photographs depicting levels of domesticity in a war zone. Olivia’s husband is a serving member of the armed forces, and went to the Middle East with a camera and a set of instructions of what to photograph. It could be argued therefore that Olivia is not the artist, that her husband should be credited (and I’m sure he will have been somewhere within the text of the book), however it was Olivia who directed the image making process (perhaps not quite like Gregory Crewdson, but still...), curated the images and, if I’ve understood correctly, responded to the images with some of her own. The result is something that feels extremely domestic and extremely personal whilst not really showing any people (one of the back of a man’s head is all I can recall). Due to the domesticity of the photographs, some are a little harder to place - are they home, or is war really like that now, behind the scenes at least? I didn’t spend enough time looking at the book, and the link I have for her website is dead, so this was quite a superficial reflection, which is a shame.

Another book was on show with Christopher Down’s
Visions from Arcadia, a thought provoking collection of images that blended the rural idyll with men in combat gear. The landscape images are not “chocolate box” images of that idyll, but I suppose they might be termed as being quite contemporary; not “beautiful” by layman standards, but definitely pleasing in a certain way. I suppose some of the images are not so dissimilar to some of those I took for A Forest, slightly matter-of-fact and a record of what was there rather than anything overly saccharin and romanticised. Juxtaposing these with soldiers at rest gives them a very different feeling, rather than being a rural idyll, maybe there’s a calm before a storm. Soldiers in woodlands can bring many things to mind, but here they are at rest. Whilst this was presented as a book, it was a limited edition artists book; there is however a possibility that it will be published and if that is indeed the case, it will be one to look out for.

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 16.39.48
from Christopher Down’s website - ©Christopher Down

Richard Monje was next in the path through the exhibition, facing the work of Les Monaghan in a corridor. Monje’s photographs were of misshaped pieces of metal, what at first I had assumed was shrapnel but it transpired that they were all bullets, fired at something, hitting something that generally resulted in a level of deformation that is quite surprising. Seen as they are, without knowledge of what has happened to produce them, they are presented as quite beautiful objects, reminiscent in some respects of Weston’s Pepper. Why should they be shown in this way? Is it a glorification of their purpose? A romanticisation of their creation and the demise of their target? Or does the juxtaposition/conflict created between the beauty of presentation and the object itself raise rather more difficult questions for the viewer, with the moral objections they might have with admiring weapons of destruction? Personally, they also tempted me towards a forensic approach - one round was still formed, was it armour-piercing, or had it just not met with something hard? Questions...

Les’ work (
From the Forest) focusses on the subject of pilot survival training, and in terms of content is perhaps closest to that of Christopher Down, in that they both feature servicemen in forest locations. Les’ work is much darker though, this darkness/bleakness perhaps intending to impart the images with a greater feeling of hardship, especially those on the website of the winter survival, thus echoing the experience of the pilots. It’s also much more within a documentary vein, he has not been allowed to even talk to the subjects, let alone direct or collude with them - doing so would be a fail in their survival training. I found a strange connection with these photographs, they connected in my mind with those I took of the forests for my own project. They’re familiar yet not. A forest is a forest you would think, but speaking as someone who has ventured into a few, there are huge differences. Would these differences mean anything to a pilot trying to survive after an aircraft has come down? Not in Europe, the courses are teaching them how to forage, how to adapt to the landscape. Maybe those operating in different climates have different training, maybe this training will become a thing of the past with the growing use of UAVs?

from Les Monaghan’s blog - ©Les Monaghan

The final two images were large format black and white prints of fortifications by Matthew Andrew, reminiscent of the type of conflict photography images produced many years ago by Roger Fenton (those from the Crimean in the 1850s). Perhaps these images are the odd ones out though in that they are not of actual conflict or real soldiers, but have been informed by such so that they can be used for the leisure activities spawned by conflict - laser tag and military re-enaction/simulation for enthusiasts from within the general public. Being large format, they’re crammed with detail, but I can’t help but feel that they stood apart, a feeling enhanced by their location at the end of the exhibition.

On the whole, an enjoyable visit, enhanced greatly by having Les on hand to discuss the work, adding snippets of information about the exhibition as a whole.

Exhibiting artists websites, as provided (2 website URLs are unavailable to me, these have been omitted)


Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introduction

Yesterday, the recommended pre-reading list arrived by e-mail containing 4 books from the “A Very Short Introduction” range. I already had the one on Contemporary Art, and the others (Modern Art, Art Theory and Art History) have been ordered from Amazon.

I’ve started reading Contemporary Art and have had to pause for thought already at page 2 because of the following:

“Art appears to stand outside this realm of rigid instrumentality, bureaucratized life, and its complementary mass culture. That it can do so is due to art’s peculiar economy, based on the manufacture of unique or rare artefacts, and its spurning of mechanical reproduction. Artists and dealers even artificially constrain the production of works made in reproducible media, with limited-edition books, photographs, videos or CDs.” (Stallabrass, p2).

Now, I might be being over-sensitive to this but it feels like, straight away, photography is being devalued as an art form. Photography has long been marginalised as an art form, considered a purely reproductive craft for most of its relatively short history and this statement seems, to me at least, further that argument. It’s not talking about process, aesthetics or indeed anything vaguely visual but purely the object as a commodity. It’s true to say that a painting can fetch far more at auction than a photograph can - facts and figures back this up: Cézanne’s
The Card Players was sold for a reported $259+ million in 2011, whereas Gursky’s Rhein II was sold for a paltry $4.4 million in the same year. This difference in price doesn’t overly concern me, rather the notion that a photograph cannot be considered as “art” unless the edition is limited.
(both images sourced from wikipedia)

Perhaps the text goes on to say more, perhaps I have to re-read something about commodification from a few years ago (Marx’s
The fetishism of commodity), perhaps I need to re-assess my own preconception of what is meant by the rather woolly term “art”, in that it is perhaps more about the commodity rather than the communication. I guess there will be a lot of thinking going on in the coming years as the MA takes me from being a photographer with a goal of being considered an artist, into being an artist whose chosen media happens to be photography.

Now, back to Stallabrass - it’s going to be a long read if I stop to blog something every couple of pages.

Stallabrass, J (2006)
Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford. Oxford University Press