Foto8 is my go-to gallery for documentary and photojournalism. Whatever they have up, i go and see it. Right now, the gallery is presenting the 159 photo works selected for its fifth annual Summershow. There are portraits of homeless people, of Palestinian girls dreaming of peace, documentation of the Libyan civil war, stories from the war, stories from some of the coldest parts of the globe, disorder in the streets of London. Mundane moments and dramas.
The public is invited to vote for their favourite image. My favourite is the lion behind bars from Felicity Crawshaw's Captivity and Rescue series. But i can't bear to watch the image again nor read the story associated to it.
So no photo of the lion in this post, just this quick selection:
Kryziu Kalnas (Hill of Crosses): Set in Northern Lithuania, the Hill of Crosses has become a site of national pilgrimage. Hundreds of thousands of crosses have been planted on the site.
3 years have passed since the economic crisis in Italy forced Nicola to sleep at the train station in Rome. "I was a musician, a composer. I have been working for years on a project about Christmas songs. The record company was happy about it. Then my mother suddenly died. Our house was from a social housing project. The government took it back. I was confused and depressed and my record company dropped me. I eventually couldn't find any other opportunity to integrate. I live on the street. I sleep here, on the floor just outside the big train terminal of Rome".
6 miles North of Whitstable, 5 derelict Maunsell Sea Forts lie on a sand bank called Shovering Sands. The Thames Estuary Army Forts were constructed in 1942 to provide anti-aircraft fire within the Thames Estuary area. Each fort consisted of a group of seven towers with a walkway connecting them all to the central control tower.
Early in the morning, after a 12-hour nightshift, Vladimir Vladimirovich Paltyshev cleans out the stove of the local community heating system. From a project about Teriberka - the dying out village could soon become the natural gas capital of Europe.
A flooded building in the city of Yeni Halfeti on the Euphrates river. The city was partially submerged by the Birecik Dam in 1999 and the majority of its inhabitants were relocated in a new nearby city. The Birecik Dam is part of the 22 dams of the GAP project (Guneydoglu Anadolu Projesi), a development plan launched in the 80s by the Turkish government that aims to enhance a social stability and economic growth in the Southeastern Anatolia, the poorest region in Turkey.
Turkish Blue Gold represents the consequences of the exploitation of the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers by Turkey, such as the flooding of villages and the reduction of water supplies for Syria and Iraq.
No photo competition would be complete without some images of socialist buildings in various states of preservation. Tim Allen's photos from his visit to the abandoned Buzludzha Monument are nevertheless stunning. The structure was designed by architect Guéorguy Stoilov and opened in 1981 by the Bulgarian communist regime to commemorate the events in 1891 when the socialists assembled secretly in the area to form an organised socialist movement.
Mack Moore, in his 80's, started off his working career in funeral homes and cemeteries. But both he and his wife had a desire to move to Las Vegas and in 1997 he bought 80 acres of land outside Beatty, Nevada. The land came with a 100 year old brothel, called Angel's Ladies. Mack ended up running the brothel and currently has eight girls working there. Prostitution in Las Vegas itself is illegal, but many visitors on the convention circuit will head into the desert and across county lines to find the legal brothels. In 2005 his brothel had 4,500 customers. (via)
Watson, the 23-year-old boss of his gang, peeks out of his shack during a gang battle.
Yesterday, i went to the Saatchi Gallery to see Korean Eye and the most charitable comment i'm willing to make about the show is that it has a few good moments. However, the exhibition on the top floor, The Nine Eyes of Google Street View, is worth the trip to King's Road.
The nine eyes are the cameras mounted on the pole on top of each vehicle that Google sent around the world 5 years ago. The technology of Google Street View has sparkled moments of deep humiliation, interest from the press photography community, privacy concerns and brilliant artistic reactions.
Jon Rafman was one of the first artists who spent hours looking at the images collected by the cars and searching not just for the amusing, the ridiculous and the fortuitous but also for postcard perfect moments. And does he have an eye for stunning images...
As the artist writes: With its supposedly neutral gaze, the Street View photography had a spontaneous quality unspoiled by the sensitivities or agendas of a human photographer... capturing fragments of reality stripped of all cultural intentions.
Without indication of their location:
Looks like Trellick Tower in North Kensington, London.
Probably my favourite:
Previously: Community Performance in Google Street View, Aaron Hobson's Cinemascapes: Google Street View Edition which i discovered at the London Festival of Photography, and Michael Wolf, We are watching you...
I finally went to the Wellcome Collection to see Superhuman - An exhibition exploring human enhancement.
Glasses, lipstick, false teeth, the contraceptive pill and even your mobile phone - we take for granted how commonplace human enhancements are. Current scientific developments point to a future where cognitive enhancers and medical nanorobots will be widespread as we seek to augment our beauty, intelligence and health.
Superhuman takes a broad and playful look at our obsession with being the best we can be. Items on display range from an ancient Egyptian prosthetic toe to a packet of Viagra, alongside contributions from artists such as Matthew Barney and scientists, ethicists and commentators working at the cutting edge of this most exciting, and feared, area of modern science.
Yes! Superhuman is all of the above and much more. In fact, the exhibition gives visitors a lot to chew on. In no particular order, Super human discusses: The definition of enhancement (is the smart phone an enhancement of our body and brain?) Missing body parts that get replaced -even if their function is forever lost- in an attempt to 'normalize' a body. Man and Machine and the perspective of becoming cyborgs. The Superheroes that anticipate transhumanism. A future of humanity timeline. And of course a focus on Sport.
It's not all RoboCop and Spider-Man though. The exhibition opens on a warning: a statue of Icarus that reminds us that every attempt to improve our bodies and brains comes with its own set of pitfalls and ethical questions. High heel shoes elevate us but too high, they make walking a challenge. Tom Hicks won the 1904 Olympic marathon after having been doped with strychnine mixed with brandy (performance-enhancing drugs were allowed at the beginning of the 20th century.) He collapsed on the line.
Prosthetic limbs are a particularly striking case of the perils and advantages of enhancements.
Aimee Mullins, the double-amputee model and Paralympian, sees her condition as an opportunity. With each new set of legs comes new powers, new function and a new identity.
More questions arise if we look beyond the case of Pistorius: Will the distinction between Olympics and Paralympics be erased one day? Or will prosthetics become so advanced that they will be seen as an advantage over the 'natural' body?
At the opposite end of the spectrum are the prosthetic limbs whose sole function was cosmetic. They provided no relief nor aid. Such were the prostheses designed for the "Thalidomide babies", these artificial limbs were so bulky and unhelpful that many children eventually abandoned them.
Thalidomide was a sedative drug given to pregnant women to alleviate morning sickness. It was sold from 1957 until 1961, when it was withdrawn after being found that the drug interfered with the development of a baby's limbs. During that short period, 10,000 children in 46 countries were born with deformities as a consequence of thalidomide use.
The government funded the design of prostheses for children affected by thalidomide in order to make them look 'normal'. The experimental arm and leg prostheses had to be custom-made but they were clunky and uncomfortable. They replicated the aspect of the limb but were not able to reproduce its function. Many children refused to wear them.
Both Mullins' experience as well as the history of the Thalidomide babies makes us realize that the role of prostheses nowadays is not so much to give a sense of 'normality' (at the detriment sometimes of the wearer's comfort) but to accommodate a difference and allow the wearer to embrace a new identity.
Speaking of prosthetic limbs. I found these images of elegant women showing their wooden leg but not their face extremely moving. The legs were crafted by James Gillingham (1839-1924), a shoemaker based in Chard, Somerset. Gillingham first started making artificial limbs after a local man lost an arm firing a cannon for a celebratory salute in 1863.
One of the most pertinent points developed in the exhibition is the shift in perception: what was regarded as exceptional is now ordinary. IVF treatment which made the covers of newspapers not so long ago is now a relatively routine procedure (in 2009, 12 714 babies were born in the UK through IVF.) False teeth and contraceptive pills are now so common we don't see them as enhancements anymore.
Would someone from the 19th century regard us as superhuman? What will the 'normal' people of tomorrow be like? Look like? What will they be able to do better and faster than us?
Quick round-up of the stories, images and ideas i discovered in the exhibition:
The set of teeth above were known as Waterloo Teeth. Replacement teeth were traditionally made from ivory (hippopotamus, walrus or elephant). However such teeth deteriorated faster than real teeth. The best set of dentures in the early 19th century were made with real human teeth set on an ivory base. Some of these teeth were scavenged from dead soldiers on battlefields.
The Whizzinator kit was originally marketed as a way to fraudulently defeat drug tests. The kit comes with dried urine and syringe, heater packs (to keep the urine at body temperature) and a false penis (available in several skin tones). The manufacturers were prosecuted for conspiracy to defraud the US government; the device is now sold as a sex toy. Should you be interested...
Artist Donald Rodney was born with sickle-cell anaemia, a debilitating disease of the blood. Psalms is a wheelchair programmed to explore the floor space of the gallery and symbolises the presence of the artist when he was too sick to attend the opening of his own exhibitions.
Legend has it that Charles Atlas used to be mocked for being skinny. He went on to change his body and develop a bodybuilding method and its associated exercise program that, allegedly, enabled weaklings to turn themselves into fit, strong men. He advertised his method in comic books from the 1940s and the campaign is regarded as one of the most longest-lasting ad campaigns of all time.
The image above shows one page of a correspondence course sent out in early 1939 giving instructions in how "in just 7 days YOU can have a body like mine" by using his Dynamic Tension program. The leaflet includes numerous photographs of Charles Atlas posing in leopardskin trunks and flexing his muscles.
For Routine, the artist Francesca Steele transformed her physique over a year through adoption of bodybuilding training and diet.
This artificial toe is one of only a few examples found on or buried with Egyptian mummies. It was initially thought to complete the body after death, essential for successfully passing over to the afterlife. However, signs of wear and repair suggest it may also have been used in life. Tests using a replica found it was possible for a volunteer who had lost their right big toe to walk successfully while wearing it, with the toe itself withstanding the pressure of use.
Many comic-book heroes seem to anticipate 'transhumanism' - the application of technology to humans to enhance their abilities. Iron Man is a cyborg who will die without his artificial heart and whose power comes from his high-tech suit. Spider-Man's special abilities come from his artificially altered biology. And life imitates art: scientists are now developing powered exoskeleton suits to allow paraplegics to walk, while spider silk is providing the basis for new biomaterials used to repair knee cartilage.
Yves Gellie toured the scientific research laboratories dedicated to the development of humanoid robots.
Also in the exhibition: The Immortal, life-support machines keeping each other alive. The machines are turned on daily but only for one hour (from 12.30 to 1.30 if i remember correctly.)
Evening Standard has photos of the opening.
Superhuman is at the Wellcome Collection until October 16, 2012.
The London Festival of Photography is one of my favourite events in town. The theme this year was as broad as it can get: Inside Out: Reflections on the Public and the Private. I've seen a magic lantern performance, archive photos of Libya before and during Gaddafi's regime, documents from Apartheid era South Africa, a photo film of the world's biggest event for dog lovers. Some of the festival 18 exhibitions and 30 events were hosted in London's most famous institutions (Museum of London, British Library, British Museum, Tate Modern, the V&A, etc.), some of which relegated the festival exhibitions to a wall by the entrance or a room you could access only when it wasn't booked for some symposium or reception. Fortunately, independent galleries did a more laudable work.
Most of the exhibitions are now closed. Except these four! Here's a quick roundup of the ones i've seen:
Starting with what will hopefully be my only reference to the Olympics: Gymnasium by Tarryn Gill & Pilar Mata Dupont.
Do me a favour and watch this one on full screen mode:
The film is a direct reference to Olympia, Leni Riefenstahl's film documenting the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. The aesthetics and the innovative motion picture techniques developed by Riefenstahl are almost universally admired. Her connection with the Third Reich, however, don't draw much sympathy.
Gymnasium transposes fascist aesthetic to comment on Australian nationalism. The artists hired 20 actors and dancers to perform as proud ''athletes'' participating in a mid-century-style choreography. They wear forced smiles, stiff haircuts and bodies slightly heavier than the ones of contemporary's athletes.
You have until Friday 20 July to go to Photofusion and watch the full version of the film. It's part of Hijacked III, a survey exhibition of photographic talents from Australia and the United Kingdom.
Next is the hardest show to find ever! But it was worth the search. Evgenia Arbugaeva was born in the the small Siberian town of Tiksi. She wrote: In the days of the Soviet Union, Tiksi was an important military and scientific base. People came from all over the country, some driven by employment opportunities, and others driven by a romantic dream of the far North. As the introduction implies, although the town is very far north and surrounded by vast expanses of tundra, there was an abundance of beauty. After the fall of the USSR my family, along with many others, boarded the windows of our home and left for a bigger city.
The photographer went back to Tiksi last year. She found an almost abandoned town and asked Tanya, a young girl in awe of Jacques Cousteau, to be her guide to Tiksi. This year, Tanya's family will leave Tiksi too. They see no future in the small town and plan to move to a larger city.
1976 was a critical year in South African history. The first real cracks in the apartheid system of racial segregation appeared when black school children took to the streets to protest against new laws, which had been introduced to reinforce an inferior education system. The authorities struck back ruthlessly, killing and wounding many defenseless children.
One of the main exhibitions in the festival was titled The Great British Public because, you know, everything British has suddenly become 'great' in the UK: the food, the landscape, the music festival.
It was also great photo documentary. Great British photo documentary that celebrates the idiosyncrasies of life in the UK. The photo below is actually too english to be true: the main protagonist in Martin Parr's photo is a performer dressed as a bobby, standing in a mock street in the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, Midlands.
Arnhel de Serra toured the U.K.'s agricultural shows. His series, When The Sun Sets Over The Royal, shows that agricultural shows are not just for farmers anymore. They provide an entertaining escape for urban dwellers.
Nick Cunard's audio slide portrays the working day of an ice cream van man. Mr Whirly aka Ron Sutherland of Chard in Somerset maintains a sunny disposition in spite of the gloomy economic climate, price busting supermarkets, distracted customers and another seemingly crap British summer!
Giulietta Verdon-Roe presents a dramatic portray of rural life. She documented the sharp decline of population in North Ronaldsay, the northernmost islands of Orkney, in Scotland. On her first visit in 2008, the island had 63 inhabitants with four children in the school. When she traveled back to the island two years later, the population had dropped to 51. The school was open but there were no children to teach. And the owner of the only pub couldn't sell drinks because of the prohibitive costs of the government licensing laws.
75 years ago, J B Priestley published English Journey, a study of England in 1933. The writer shared his observations on the social problems he witnessed while touring the country, and called for democratic socialist change. Photographer John Angerson recently set out to follow in Priestley's footsteps to document an England facing recession, homogenisation, celebrity culture and technology addiction.
As the title of the series suggest, Hackney - A Tale of Two Cities by Zed Nelson, shows the two faces of a neighbourhood that is associated with gang culture and dereliction, but has also recently become London's trendiest neighbourhood.
They were donated to the museum by Wilfred's son after the death of the photographer. Most of them had never been shown before and they came with little to no comment about the scenes and people portrayed. They depict a London slowly emerging from the aftermath of WWII.
Don't miss their fundraising auction on 19 July! I'm really annoyed i can't get there.
For some obscure reason i haven't been able to locate the wikipedia entry about Haus-Rucker-Co. but if you're curious about their work, there is a lot to (re)discover at the retrospective of the Viennese group currently hosted by WORK Gallery, near Kings Cross: inflatables capsules for two, parasitic structures, breathing devices, utopian ideas, helmets and pneumatic prostheses. It's critique of architecture and architecture as critique at its best.
It's almost shocking to see how, 40 years after their inception, Haus-Rucker-Co.'s ideas might still be relevant to anyone interested in art & technology, public interventions, immersive environments and (critical) design.
The exhibition, titled Inner World / Innen Welt: The Projects of Haus-Rucker-Co., 1967-1992, shows archival drawings and collages, photographs, models and original ephemera spanning Haus-Rucker-Co.'s 25-year collaboration. The show marks the 20-year anniversary of Haus-Rucker-Co.'s dissolution. Haus-Rucker-Co. was founded in 1967 by Laurids Ortner, Günther Zamp Kelp and Klaus Pinter, later joined by Manfred Ortner. Already working together as Ortner & Ortner on major building commissions from the mid-1980s, Manfred and Laurids Ortner went on to develop an extensive portfolio of built projects, propelling the preoccupations of Haus-Rucker-Co. into a new realm.
Hasty tour of what you can see in the exhibition:
Oase Nr. 7, a personal oasis with a diameter of 8 metres protruded from the façade of the Museum Fridericianums during the 1972 Documenta.
The Mind Expander allowed two people to isolate themselves from their environment and enter in spiritual communion with each other (maybe?!?)
"The Mind Expanding Programme aimed to explore the inner world, and to improve the psychological capacity of those who took part in the individual elements, as well as those who witnessed them in some way."
Gelbes Herz (Yellow Heart), a "communications space-capsule for two people".
Nike was an installation for the Forum Metall Linz exhibition. The photographic replica of the headless Victory of Samothrace was projected upwards from the rood of the University of the Arts. The works sparked a debate about the work itself and the state of contemporary art. After 27 months of controversy, it was discreetly removed under the cover of the night.
The Inclined Plane was an element of temporary architecture that visually separated Vienna into two halves. The half towards the inner city was bordered by the black surface of the plane, the other half, facing away from the city, by the plane's other, white surface.
Views from the exhibition:
To coincide with the exhibition, WORK has published a special edition of PAPERWORK that includes photos, essays written by members of Haus-Rucker-Co. as well as an interview with Manfred Ortner.
Inner World / Innen Welt: The Projects of Haus-Rucker-Co., 1967-1992 is at WORK gallery until Saturday 1 September 2012.
An empty plinth cursed by a professional witch, eavesdropping devices you can't detect no matter how much you look, a Playboy centrefold erased over the course of one week till no trace of the glamour girl is left, evidence of a movie that was shot without film in the camera, a canvas of invisible ink, a diary written using water. Invisible: Art about the Unseen 1957 - 2012 deals almost exclusively with immateriality and emptiness. Yet, it is one of the most turbulent, humorous and captivating exhibition i've seen this year.
Invisible is historical, yet contemporary. It seems to be acutely conscious of its apparent absurdity and more importantly, it leaves so much up to the visitor's imagination.
I remember the first time i 'saw' an invisible artwork. I also remember the impact it left on my mind. In 2008, in entered a room at Strozzina in Florence. It looked empty, apart from a text on the wall that explains that the air-conditioning unit in the room is using the water employed in public mortuaries in Mexico City (where the artist Teresa Margolles works also as a forensic technician) to wash the corpses of as yet unidentified murder victims prior to autopsy. The installation moved me more than many of the photo series i've seen that document crimes committed by drug cartels.
Margolles' installation Air/Aire is part of the Invisible exhibition. I didn't enter the room this time.
Zone de Sensibilité Picturale Immatérielle, by Yves Klein --who in 1958 staged the first exhibition completely devoid of visible content, is one of the most striking pieces in the first exhibition room. In 1959, the French artist started selling ownership of empty space in exchange of shreds of gold leaf. If the buyer wished to go further, the piece could be completed in a ritual in which the buyer would burn the cheque, and Klein would throw half of the gold into the Seine. The performance would be performed in the presence of an art critic, dealer, or art museum director and at least two witnesses.
Believe it or not, Klein sold eight Zones, of which at least 3 involved the complete ritual.
One of the most visible works in the show is an official police report that Maurizio Cattelan did in Forlì to denounce the theft of an invisible art work from his car.
Robert Barry has some of the deepest and enduringly relevant works in the show. In 1968 already, he was highlighting the presence of Electromagnetic Energy Field that fills the space around us with an impalpable but nevertheless real strength. A year later, Barry released a litre of krypton into the atmosphere of Beverly Hills. Over the following days, he released xenon in the mountains, argon on the beach and helium in the Mojave Desert (Inert Gas Series, 1969).
Photos are the only traces of these ephemeral gestures.
The title of the work above is pretty self-explanatory, Friedman spent a total of 1,000 hours gazing at a white piece of paper.
The work that closes the show is the extraordinary Invisible Labyrinth, a maze that visitors have to master by wearing helmets that trigger slight electrical pulses whenever they bump an invisible wall. The paths of the labyrinths change each day of the week.
And then of course there are the works that you not only didn't see but didn't even realize were there. Bethan Huws has hired professional actors who pretend to be visitors, they act like everyone else around you and their only purpose is probably to make you look at other visitors with an inquisitive eye.
Invisible: Art about the Unseen 1957 - 2012 remains open until 5 August 2012 at the Hayward Gallery in London.