A few words about a great exhibition i saw at La Galerie Particuliere in Paris last week.
Just when you thought that you could reduce photographer Michael Wolf to the extremely detailed and breathtaking 'architecture of density', he surprises you with intimate close-ups of daily life in Paris.
Michael Wolf is not professionally interested in the French capital. "Paris is totally predictable," he said. "Everywhere you go everything looks the same, it hasn't changed in 100 years." Since his wife lives there, Wolf had to look for a new perspective over the city. The Street View function in Google Maps came to his rescue.
Wolf spent hours scanning Paris on Google Street View, identifying surprising moments, mundane gestures, behaviour and anonymous people as they unsuspectingly go about their daily life. It looks as if Wolf is stealing moments of privacy when all he did was just spot and select scenes mechanically taken by Google's vehicle.
Here and there one Paris Street View presents accidental references to Paris' most celebrated photo iconography such as these two lovers kissing in the street that immediately evoke Robert Doisneau's postcard-icious Le Baiser de l'Hôtel de Ville from 1950.
Interestingly (and understandably), Wolf didn't have much concern for copyright issues regarding the images. "Roy Lichtenstein did it with his comics, took crops out of frames," the photographer explained. "It's a form of appropriation and I'm making it my own. They have copyright notices every 10 inches or so on every Google image, so you can see it in some of my photographs. I have images I'm showing in Paris of the sky and there's a "Google copyright 2009" in the sky. I would look intentionally for the copyright sign to make a point. As Google, you can't go and do this without asking people and expect to have ownership--and they're making money off it, putting ads and stuff. "
The Paris gallery was also showing Michael Wolf's Tokyo Compression, a series portraying the human face of the 'architecture of density.' The Tokyo subway passengers are crushed against the glass of a crowded train car, unable to defend themselves against Wolf's photo lens.
Unfortunately, the exhibition closed yesterday.
When i'm in Paris, i go to the Maison Européenne de la Photographie. Mostly out of habit. MEP is not only located by Le Marais where i hang out rain or shine, it also presents striking exhibitions. The main exhibition at the MEP right now is Autour de l'extrême. The 'extrême' portrays themes likely to disorient, revolt, amaze, shock, astonish or make you feel uncomfortable. One would think that it is difficult to provoke these emotions in these days of 'i've seen it on tv before'. Yet, several recent exhibitions took up the challenge with various degrees of success. For example, Disquieting Images which remains open for a few more weeks at the Triennale in Milan and Controverses which toured Europe last year.
Maybe the reason why most of the images in the MEP show manage to move us (even if they date back a few decades) is that we recognize their documentary dimension. What they explore and represent are the social, political, aesthetic, cultural or scientific limits of life.
But paradoxically, to make transgression visible is also to make it acceptable. When faced with the extra-ordinary, photography has the power to make reality banal. This means that what these images most often show is actually the process of approaching the extreme: its broader context, which has a distancing effect upon it.
No full-fledged report on this one because right now, i'm done with exhibitions that multiply shock, sex and rock 'n' roll to court the public (strangely enough, Autour de l'Extrême seems to have attracted less controversy in the French capital than the Larry Clark show at the Musée d'Art Moderne.) On the other hand, next month is another year and i guess it will bring me more excuses to trail extreme or disquieting exhibitions and see some fantastic pieces. Here's a selection of the ones i saw at the MEP:
30 days after the end of the war against Iraq, Sebastião Salgado traveled to the Greater Burhan Oil Field. Kuwaiti oil wells had been set on fire by retreating Iraqi forces and were still burning. The photographer talked about his experience to The Guardian: Working in the middle of all this was extraordinary. One of my lenses got warped by the heat, so I was left with just two: a 35mm and a 60mm. This obliged me to stay very close to these guys the whole time. As a result, I was covered in oil, and felt so involved with the danger, the environment, the strange beauty and the hard work that was happening in front of me. The only way I could keep going was to carry a two-litre tank of petrol and a roll of kitchen paper inside my photo bag. I would put some petrol on the kitchen roll, clean my hands, the lens and the back of the camera, then go in again.
I felt uncomfortable when i saw George Dureau's photographs of amputees. But no pity. Dureau's portraits convey too much respect, defiance, strength.
In the '80s and '90s, 25/34 Photographes (Ralf Marsault / Heino Muller) portrayed skinheads, punk and other people living at the margin of society.
Rogerio Reis documented the practice of Train surfing in Rio. The sport is obviously illegal and extremely dangerous. Several young people have been injured or killed, especially when their body hits by accident one of the electric wires running above the tracks.
Raphaël Dallaporta's landmines come in all shapes and guises. They are framed and lighted like precious jewelry, French perfumes or rare beetles. It's only when you look at the labels that accompany them that you realize they are instruments of death and dismemberment. "The US is the country that does the most to remove landmines," explained the photographer, noting the source of one of them. "But the US is also a big manufacturer of them. Imagine a cigarette manufacturer being praised for making nicotine patches."
In the late 1960s, Bruce Davidson spent two years photographing one block in East Harlem, knocking on doors, asking for permission to photograph what exactly made up the lives of the residents of the neighborhood (slideshow.)
Serrano had several works in the exhibition. Including a couple from his series The Morgue which pictures the corpses or portions of corpse of people who have met with an unnatural death.
A few months ago, the Musée d'Orsay in Paris decided to ban photographs of the artworks and of the inside of the building, allegedly 'to preserve the comfort of visitors and the safety of the artworks.'
OrsayCommons is a performance pro-photo, pro-remix and pro-public domain at the Musée d'Orsay that civilly and cheekily protests against what its participants call "a measure not only at odds with our times but also illegitimate since it concerns public heritage." The Louvre tried to impose a similar ban in 2005 but had to lift it soon after. Taking pictures is allowed at MoMa. Even the venerable British Museum recognized, as the NYT puts it, that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em and started collaborating with wikipedia this year.
OrsayCommons invites people to leave a protest message on the Museum's online guest book, follow #OrsayCommons on twitter but also participate to a series of action-performances where visitors would meet in the museum, take photos within its walls and upload them on flickr, Twitter or Facebook.
I found the action of OrsayCommons important because matter how imperfect they are, the pictures that visitors have taken themselves bear an emotional charge that no postcard bought at a museum shop can ever replace. But also because OrsayCommons finds echoes in my professional life (details at the end of this post if ever you're interested*.) I therefore asked the ever-stylish Julien Dorra who participated to the first OrsayCommons action to tell us about the experience:
How did the first OrsayCommons action go?
We were precisely 10 people! The security team of the museum easily outnumbered us.
Considering that the call was made anonymously just 5 days before and that we asked people to be there at 11:30 am on a cold Sunday morning, not knowing if there will be something at all, it's a very encouraging first step :-)
There is two aspect to OrsayCommons. The first one is being there, in the museum. Taking pictures and sending them out in the cloud.
And the second aspect is what happens when we send these photos in the cloud. We like to picture it as an aura of phototographs, radiating from the museum, escaping from it via 3G mobile networks.
That small aura of photographs, generated by only 10 people, made a lot more people talk, exchange, tweet, and write about the role of the museum, the place of photography, the importance of the public domain, etc.
In fact I was totally amazed that the conversation lasted more than a week, and still last, about an action that in itself lasted only 1 hour.
Did you take openly the pictures or was it more of a covert action?
We took the pictures totally openly. That's the whole point of the action, actually.
Well, the guardians were coming to us as we were walking in the museum, telling us that «taking pictures is forbidden».
So we generally answered something like: «Yes, we know. That's exactly why we are here taking pictures».
And, of course, they were totally puzzled by that answer, and didn't really know what to do. Then of course we started talking with them, explaining the action.
Which the manager following us didn't like at all : we heard her expressly asking employees to not talk with us.
Was there any official reaction from the museum? the press?
We got some press in a very small circle of museum bloggers, professionals, and consultants.
The Orsay museum knew we were coming, but as we were only 10, they thought it was pretty much a false alarm.
But just wait for OrsayCommons #2 :-)
Any upcoming action in the same or other museum?
Yes, if you are in Paris, please come and join us on Sunday February 6th for OrsayCommons #2
The invitation is here.
Le Musée d'Orsay is free on every first sunday of the month, and we plan to do an OrsayCommons every month.
Your target is mostly public national collections, because the artworks shown there belong to the municipality or the State, hence to citizens. Do you have any take on exhibitions in contemporary art museums? a few years back, i was almost thrown away from the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris (they are always remarkably rude in that museum) for brandishing a photo camera. Whereas in other contemporary art museums, showing sometimes the exact same exhibition/artworks, visitors are free to take pictures. Is that a situation where OrsayCommons would like to intervene or is it too blurry?
First, OrsayCommons is not a group, it's a particular collective moment.
So, there is this specific museum, Orsay, with a particularly stupid and unfair rule suddenly banning photography. And doing something was really at first a way to fight back against that stupidity. (and all those ugly signs everywhere in the museum, too)
After the first action, we saw Orsay to be the best place now to start an important debate about: the museum as an open platform; photography as a way to relate to artworks; the conservation/conversation opposition; the visitors as an active participant; the public domain; free as in free entrance, versus free as in free to share.
The fight is so clear at Orsay, everybody hates that ban so much, that it makes our task very easy.
But we believe there is something more general in OrsayCommons.
Depending on the museums, there might be similar actions to conduct, or maybe different actions. We'd love to see more people hacking their favorite museum: organizing pirate tours that the museum don't offer; printing alternative catalogs; offering better audioguides to download; and, of course, setting up photography workshop in museum that ban photography!
And even better, we'd love to see museums openly embrace being hacked by their visitor -- that's what we call the museum as an open platform.
We think it's the way museums can join us in the digital culture era, by stopping being only cathedrals, and start being a little more bazaars.
*My blog consists mainly of a series of reports from cultural events. Most of the times i'm invited to openings, screenings and festivals and usually, i'm allowed to do my job. When i'm not invited, i simply contact the press office to get some images of the show as well as an authorization to take my own pictures. Press people don't mind that i give the institution or gallery they work for some exposure. Too often however, they not only send me unsuitable press images (showing, for example, artworks exhibited in another context or interactive installations in an empty room), they also forbid me from taking any picture inside the exhibition. I used to adopt a defiant approach. In the past, i'd take pictures anyway and blog about the show. Nowadays, i don't bother anymore, i simply don't write about the exhibition. It's frustrating but not as much as illustrating my report with miserable or unsuitable pictures. Guardians have been instructed to tell visitors that it's the wish of the artist that no one would take picture of their work, except 'the press' (I'll let 'the blogs are not press' insinuation pass). I respect artists and their decision to allow pictures or not, except that when i contact the artist it often turns out that thy don't have such concern.
There is a stunning photo exhibition right now at the Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris. Stunning and disturbing. I had to take a small pause from it after having seen only half of the photos. Yet, you won't find any mention of the show on the museum's website. Nor will you see billboards outside the museum that announce or denounce its existence.
Titled Gaza 2010, the show features over 80 photographs taken by photo reporter Kai Wiedenhöfer between November 2009 and May 2010, one year after Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli offensive on Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009.
The images focus on two main themes: the destroyed buildings (or rather the absence of their reconstruction) and Palestinians civilians wounded during the three-week armed conflict.
The exhibition has been condemned by CRIF, the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions in a press release that called the show anti-Israeli propaganda, adding that the photographer chose to ignore the numerous Israeli victims.
Wiedenhöfer, who has been photographing in Gaza for the past 20 years, was on assignment there for Stern magazine during the Israeli onslaught. Afterward, he set out to photograph what he said was his most difficult project ever.
"When you work in a war zone you are not really aware of what's happening because everything is going so fast ... But these people have all had their injuries for a year so they know what it means for their life and the everyday problems they have.
"When I'm in a conflict situation I have a good excuse to be there. But it's a completely different thing when you say to people, 'I want to come to your house and photograph your wounds.' It's a kind of voyeurism." (via The Daily Star.)
The award-winning photographer is now working on an upcoming book on barriers that will include, among others, pictures taken in the Occupied Territories, Belfast, Berlin and on the border between the US and Mexico.
All images: © Kai Wiedenhöfer / Fondation d'entreprise Carmignac Gestion.
GAZA 2010 remains open at the Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, until December 5, 2010. Entrance is free.
I'm competing for the title of laziest art blogger this year so here's a very quick post....
If you're in Paris too, you might like to swing by rue de Turenne and see a couple of easy (on your brain) exhibitions at the Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin. I had already admired the work of Paola Pivi in Milan a few years ago when she filled a disused ex-industrial space with a menagerie of white animals. This time the artist has hung 25 fake bear rugs in a perfect, cozy circle up and down the walls of one of the exhibition rooms.
Upstairs, KAWS exhibition, Pay the Debt to Nature prominently features paintings and giant versions of some of his star toys.
The pergola is the one that flanked the "Turkish Villa", aka the Villa Schwob, that Le Corbusier built in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, back in 1916. A few years after its construction, the architect published photos of the villa in L'Esprit Nouveau. On the ground, a white smear betrayed retouching: the pergola had disappeared.
The Palais de Tokyo in Paris gave the name of Le Corbusier's disappeared building extension to its latest exhibition. Pergola is indeed dedicated to Poltergeists, Against the background of a haunted modernity, silhouettes of erased lives demand restitution.
Think what you like of the way the Palais picks up its titles, the contemporary art space never fails to surprise its visitors with unexpected associations of themes and ideas.
Serge Spitzer's monumental installation snakes along the walls and ceiling of the first floor, to the cafe downstairs and back. It evokes the pneumatic transport system that was first implemented in 1866 under the streets of Paris to speed up commercial orders between the Central Telegraph Office and trading rooms. Messages were inserted inside cylinders which were propelled along the tubes by air either compressed or depressed. The 467 kilometers long network of tubes remained in use until 1984, when it was abandoned in favor of computers and fax machines. Spitzer's capsules however contain only messages without sender nor recipient.
The artist installed the first version of Re/Search, Bread and Butter with the ever present Question of How to define the difference between a Baguette and a Croissant in 1997 for the Lyon Biennial. Internet was starting to get pretty popular and the large-scale installation had thus already acquired an old-fashioned gloss.
In our time of information technology hegemony, the chaotic pneumatic transport system is beyond outdated. It's a curiosity. Nostalgia at its most playful. By bringing into full view a data exchange technology that, although analog, was as invisible and as deeply buried under our feet as the internet is today, Spitzer ironically interrogates its function and draws attention to the paradox of a network of tubes that is as operational as it is irrational in its structure.
Raphaël Zarka believes that the world is inhabited by phantoms, reoccurring forms and remanence. As a result, he photographs and catalogues ready-made which he calls the "Formes du Repos" (Forms of Rest): a stretch of abandoned monorail, a concrete breakwater, a lone pylon and other remnants of unfinished constructions that litter the landscape.
One day, the artists discovered the rail on which the French Aérotrain was supposed to ride in the 1960s. Often compared to magnetic levitation trains, this means of transport floats on air cushions and was meant to run between Paris and Orléans at the speed of 422 kilometres per hour. The project was abandoned in 1977 due to lack of funding, the death of its inventor, engineer Jean Bertin, and the adoption of TGV as the country's high-speed ground transport solution. Only the test track - a monorail supported by inverted T-shaped pilasters - was realized. Today, the section of track with no beginning nor end stands like a concrete sculpture discarded in the landscape.
As an homage to the Aérotrain, the artist reproduced the draisine that was designed to ride the hovertrain rails in Orleans in the early '70s (photo 1 and 2). This particular type of draisine is propelled by two motorcycles, one in each direction, assembled to form a makeshift freight car.
This rudimentary vehicle, originally conceived of by Bertin to travel the length of the Aérotrain monorail, appears as the antithesis of progress and emerges as a point of tension for a futuristic vision that will never come into being.
Skateboarding provides Zarka with another fantastic way to discover and explore forms and shapes in urban contexts. Skateboarding dissociates pieces of public furniture from their functions. Streets, sidewalks, even abandoned swimming pools are hijacked and turned into a new landscape. Zarka is showing at the Palais a documentary that exposes the array of surfaces skaters use to sublimate their discipline.
Apart from Zarka and Spitzer, only 3 artists have been invited to show their work for Pergola. Laith Al-Amiri's Symbol of Courage is a monument raised to celebrate the brave act of journalist Muntazer Al-Zaidi. I loved the work of Valentin Carron but sometimes it's difficult to write about artworks when you like them so much. His sculptures presents objects, images, symbols associated with the Swiss Alps under a regime of falsehoods.
Finally, there was a small 'retrospective' of the sculptures of Charlotte Posenenske which i discovered a few months ago at another exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, Chasing Napoleon. Her 1967 series D and DW consists of quadrangular tubes which question industrial processes while they look as if they could be pure products of it. Their manipulation is entrusted to the spectator (series DW) and their assemblage is delegated to the exhibition curator (series D). By leaving the final form of her works up to others' imaginations and supervision, the artist celebrates societal cooperation and criticizes standardized work. Between perfection and disorder, imagination and impediments, vindication and powerlessness, fluid diversions and rational forms, Charlotte Posenenske imposes a poetry of improvised action.
My images on flickr.