Whenever i'm in Amsterdam i head to Foam, the city's museum of photography. Out of habit mostly. I actually think that Huis Marseille's programme is often bolder and more relevant to my own interests but this month Foam has a show titled Primrose - Russian Colour Photography and the word "Russia" always does it for me. The exhibition charts Russia's attempts to produce coloured photographic images from the 1860s to 1970s. Room after rooms, the visitor realizes that photography is a cogent filter to reveal the history of a country in the course of a century.
You can read a text written by curator Olga Sviblova over here. It presents with great clarity the changes in technology and the socio-political vicissitudes Russia went through during the early days of colour photography. Not only am i no expert in Russian history nor photography techniques but i'm also an ultra lazy blogger. I hope you will excuse me if i just sum up (but mostly cut/copy/paste) Sviblova's words below:
Colour became widespread in Russian photography in the 1860s. At the time, colour was added to photographic prints manually using watercolour and oil paints. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Russia was undergoing two opposing trends: active europeanisation and search for a national identity that translated into tinted photographs that portrayed people wearing national costumes -- Russian, Tatar, Caucasian, Ukrainian, etc.
The photographic documentation of life in the Russian Empire in the early 20th century acquired the status of a State objective. In May 1909 Tsar Nicholas II gave an audience to the photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky who, in 1902, had announced a technique for creating colour photographs by combining shots taken successively through light filters coloured blue, green and red. Delighted with this invention, Emperor Nicholas II commissioned the photographer to take colour photographs of life in the various regions of the Empire.
Meanwhile autochrome pictures by the Lumière brothers, with whom Prokudin-Gorsky worked after emigrating to France, became very popular in early 20th-century Russia. Autochromes, colour transparencies on a glass backing, could be viewed against the light, or projected with the aid of special apparatus. They were used by Pyotr Vedenisov, a nobleman whose hobby was to photograph his own family life. The private image later provided an excellent description of the typical lifestyle enjoyed at the time by educated Russian noblemen.
The onset of the First World War in 1914 and October Revolution in 1917 reduced to ruins the Russia whose memory is preserved in the tinted photographs and autochromes of the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Vladimir Lenin and the new Soviet government saw photography as an important propaganda weapon for a country where 70% of the population were unable to read or write. From the mid-1920s photomontage, used as an ideological 'visual weapon', was widespread in the Soviet Union, enthusiastically encouraged by the Bolsheviks.
From the mid-1920s Alexander Rodchenko regenerated the forgotten technique of hand colouring his own photographs. In 1937, at the height of Stalin's repression, Rodchenko began photographing classical ballet and opera, using the arsenal of his aesthetic opponents, the Russian pictorialists, who by that time were subject to harsh repression. For Alexander Rodchenko soft focus, classical subject matter and toning typical of pictorial photography were a mediated way of expressing his internal escapism and tragic disillusionment with the Soviet utopia.
In 1932 general rules for socialist realism were published in the USSR, as the only creative method for all forms of art, including photographic. Soviet art had to reflect Soviet myths about the happiest people in the happiest country, not real life and real people.
In 1936 both Agfa and Kodak introduced colour film but Second World War delayed their broad distribution to the amateur photography market. In the USSR colour photography only appeared at the end of the war.
Until the mid-1970s, in the USSR negative film for printing colour photographs was a luxury only available to a few official photographers who worked for major Soviet publications. All of them were obliged to follow the canons of socialist realism and practise staged reportage.
From the late 1950s, in the Khrushchev Thaw after the debunking of Stalin's cult of personality, the canons of socialist realism softened and permitted a certain freedom in aesthetics, allowing photography to move closer to reality.
In the postwar period, during the 1950s to 1960s life gradually improved and coloured souvenir photo portraits again appeared on the mass market. They were usually produced by unknown and 'unofficial' photographers, since private photo studios that used to carry out such commissions were now forbidden, and the State exercised a total monopoly on photography by the 1930s.
Boris Mikhailov copied, enlarged and tinted these kitsch photo souvenirs to supplement his income at his photo lab in the early 1970s. Revealing and deconstructing the nature of Soviet myths in the process.
Colour transparency film, which could be developed even in domestic surroundings, appeared on the Soviet mass market in the 1960s and 1970s. It was widely used by amateurs, who created transparencies that could be viewed at home with a slide projector. An unofficial art form emerging in the USSR at this time developed the aesthetics and means for a new artistic conceptualisation of reality, quite different from the socialist realism that still prevailed, although somewhat modified.
More than half a century of Soviet power after the 1917 Revolution radically altered Russia. The photographer was certainly not required or even allowed to take nude studies as corporeality and sexuality were seen as inherent signs of an independent individual. In photographing Suzi Et Cetera Boris Mikhailov disrupts the norms and reveals characters, his own and that of his subjects. It was impossible to show these shots in public, but slides could be projected at home, in the workshops of his artist friends or the often semi-underground clubs of the scientific and technical intelligentsia, who began to revive during Khrushchev's Thaw after the Stalinist repression. Boris Mikhailov's slide projections are now analogous to the apartment exhibitions of unofficial art. By means of colour he displayed the dismal standardisation and squalor of surrounding life, and his slide performances helped to unite people whose consciousness and life in those years began to escape from the dogmatic network of Soviet ideology, which permitted only one colour -- red.
The press release for the exhibition states that Mike Kelley is widely acknowledged as an artist who defined his era. Meanwhile, an article in the LA Times says that he is an artist few Dutch knew. Well, thank you LA Times, i feel less lonely with my crass ignorance.
Mike Kelley used found objects, textile banners, drawings, assemblage, collage, performance and video to comment on high and pop culture, youthful rebellion and American society in general.
There are stuffed toys quietly seating around a rug as if they were having a picnic. Handmade dolls have been dismembered and used to create a wall composition. There's also a banana man, colour exercises based on asinine adult humour magazines, bird houses of various architecture styles, etc. Which sounds cheerful, except it's not. It's nostalgia, but a nostalgia that's a bit dirty and bedraggled.
The exhibition was programmed in collaboration with the artist as a thematic, mid-career survey, but everything changed when Kelley committed suicide in January 2012 . The show is now a retrospective, with a more chronological shade.
I told you it wasn't too cheerful. But it is a bold, brilliant and flamboyant show. The retrospective was for me an introduction to Kelley's work and I definitely recommend that you brave the queue to enter the Stedelijk (well, it wasn't very smart of me to go there on a Sunday afternoon after all) and spit the 17.50 euros to get an entrance ticket.
The Mike Kelley retrospective remains open until 1st April at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The show will then travel to the Centre Pompidou, Paris, MoMA PS1, New York, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM is aired tonight.
My guest in the studio is artist and film maker Charlotte Jarvis.
Over the past few years, Charlotte has worked with scientists to bio-engineer a bacteria with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights encoded into its DNA sequence, she developed performances that showed the public what could happen if one day, synthetic biology was used to eradicate greed, lust and anger from a group of children.
But today, Charlotte is going to dispel a few myths about stem cells and discuss her award-winning project: Ergo Sum.
A couple of weeks ago, Charlotte donated parts of her body to stem cell research. Her tissue and blood samples are now in a lab where they will be transformed - medically metamorphosed - into induced pluripotent stem cells and from there into a range of completely different substances. A second self will be created, a self-portrait, a dopplegänger, made from a collage of in vitro body parts. Brain, heart and blood vessel all biologically 'Charlotte', yet distinctly alien to her.
The show will be aired today Thursday 7st February at 19:30. The repeat is next Tuesday at 6.30 am (yes, a.m!) If you don't live in London, you can catch the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.
Photos by James Read and Arne Kuilman.
During my short stay in Amsterdam, i enthusiastically entered the exhibition
A day after the tsunami damaged a nuclear reactor at Fukushima on 11 March 2011, inhabitants living within 20km of the power plant were forcibly evacuated. They were not allowed to take their personal belongings, pets and farm animals with them. On 14 March, the hydrogen explosion at the power plant made it unlikely that the evacuees might be allowed to return home on time to find their animals alive.
A few weeks after the disaster, Japanese photographer Yasusuke Ota accompanied a group of volunteers who entered the 'No go' area at risk to their own life to bring food and water to the animals. They 'found themselves in a hell on earth.' I'm not brave enough to copy paste the details of the tragedies they witnessed but you can find more information on the exhibition page.
The surviving animals are still - 18 months later - patiently waiting for owners to come back.
'This tragedy was for some reason not reported by the Japanese media at first, and the truth is that there has been no proper help given to these animals even after one and a half years. I felt I needed to inform the world and leave evidence of what really happened. So I started to take photos of this while going inside the zone on rescue,' writes Ota. 'Please don't turn your eyes away from the reality.'
A quick, frustrated post about an exhibition i saw while in Amsterdam for the conference Blogging the City. Quick and frustrated because the show is as charming as it is bonkers but i could only find tiny images online to illustrate it.
Gerritsen was a commercial photographer, a travel photographer, a theater photographer, a portrait photographer with a keen eye for the elegance of the human body and for the absurd.
This one is the photo used for the poster of the exhibition. I was sold immediately:
On Tuesday i was in Amsterdam for a conference titled "I'm not a Barbarian, I'm an Alien' at the Dirty Art Department of the Sandberg Institute (with titles like that how could i refuse the invitation?) but i also found some time to visit Sonic Acts - Travelling Time at the NIMK, an exhibition of artworks that explore different modalities of time. What i might not find is the time to blog the whole show before it closes on 15 April 2012. But it's so good i should at least make space for a quick mention of one of the participating pieces:
Nummer negen: The day I didn't turn with the world is a time-lapse photography showing the artist standing alone on a barren, icebound plain. Guido van der Werve spent 24 hours in almost complete immobility on the axis of the world at the geographic North Pole. His only movements consisted in turning slowly clockwise as the planet under his feet turned counterclockwise.
This means that in these 24 hours, he didn't indeed "turn with the world" but let the Earth rotate around him.
The physical tour de force would be enough to make anyone admire the work. But the images are as stunning as the performance. The solitary silhouette, the shadow moving around the artist, the slowly changing sky, the unsympathetic landscape. And then there's that quiet, dream-like piano piece composed by van der Werve.
In Nummer negen: The day I didn't turn with the world, time and Copernican system seem to be suspended. It's an absurd, poetical and almost heroic work.