Since 2009 writer and filmmaker Arnold van Bruggen and photographer Rob Hornstra have been touring around Sochi (Krasnodar Krai, Russia), a small city on the Black Sea that will host the Winter Olympics in 2014. The choice of Sochi is not the most opportune one. Not only does the area boasts exceptionally mild Winters by Russian standards, it is also located in close proximity of some of Russia's most unstable regions. Hornstra and van Bruggen currently have a show at Foto8 gallery in London that focuses precisely on one of those regions: the Republic of Abkhazia.
You might never have heard of Abkhazia and that's probably because only a handful of countries regard it as an independent state.
Abkhazia broke away from Georgia after a short, violent civil war in '92-'93 and only Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and the atoll of Nauru recognised it as independent state in 2008.
The 13 month long war killed between 20,000 to 30,000 ethnic Georgians and between 2,500 and 4,000 Abkhaz. Over 250,000 Georgian refugees were displaced. Abkhaz 20,000 became refugees.
The artists spent four years witnessing and documenting the country's attempts to repopulate with new immigrants a country that is ravaged by the war, almost empty and in great economic distress.
In 2007 we first visited a refugee centre in Tbilisi, where we interviewed Georgians who had fled from Abkhazia during the war in 1992-1993. An estimated 250,000 Georgian refugees have since been living in 'temporary' accommodation, such as former student apartments, old primary schools and abandoned hotels. Every Georgian president has promised the refugees that he would end the frozen conflict and that the refugees would soon be able to return to their homeland Abkhazia. When we visited these refugees in 2007 in a totally rundown former student apartment in Tbilisi, they had already spent 14 years in their 'temporary' accommodation. But we could still detect a faint glimmer of hope among the refugees we spoke to.
In 2010 we visited many of the refugees we had met in 2007. All hope was gone. It was distressing to see that the situation had not improved for any of them.
Small selection of images with text found on Time Machine (as well as on a leaflets inside Foto8 exhibition space):
Pitsunda is a resort town on the shore of the Black Sea. In October 1964 Nikita Khrushchev was vacationing in Pitsunda when he was deposed from power. There are many hotels for Russian tourists, who frequent the area in summertime.
A blue painted wooden kindergarten has been used as a shelter for refugees. In the early 1990s for the ethnic Georgians forced to flee Abkhazia were housed in student flats, hotels and schools across Georgia, with the promise that they would soon be able to return to their homeland.
A kommunalka is an apartment building in which dwellers share facilities like toilet and kitchen. Until the early nineties this building was used as student housing. Since the Georgian - Abkhazian war, the building has been occupied by Georgian refugees from Abkhazia.
The image that Abkhazia wants to present to the world is one of a real country, with all the institutions and infrastructure that it involves: schools, healthcare institutions, administration, police stations and a prison. That's right, the whole country has only one prison but then there are only some 240,000 inhabitants in Abkhazia.
In the shadow of the war between Georgia and Russia in August 2008, a small war is still playing out. With Russian support Abkhazia captured the officially demilitarised Kodori Valley, a remote mountainous region on the border of Abkhazia and Georgia. Since then, Georgia has attracted another 2,000 refugees. As a notable exception, Abkhazia allows journalists to visit the region.
Previously: The Sochi Project.
The Wellcome Collection in London has recently opened Brains: The Mind as Matter, a fascinating and informative show that explores what humans have done to brains in the name of medical intervention, scientific enquiry, cultural meaning and technological change.
The result is a series of rooms filled with representations of brains, as well as real brains in all their possible states and guises: measured, galvanized, dessicated, modelled, sliced, freeze-dried, diced, scanned, pickled. I'll be sure to share the gore with you in a future post.
Exhibitions at the Wellcome Collections often incorporate a few artworks among the historical facts, stories, videos and objects. The latter are usually so compelling that i hardly pay any attention to the art pieces. That would have happened this time too were it not for Mind Over Matter, a collaboration for which artist Ania Dabrowska and social scientist Dr Bronwyn Parry have given a visibility to the medical research on dementia.
Finding a cure for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's entails undertaking research on human brain tissue drawn from people who were affected by dementia and people who were not. Mind Over Matter demystifies what happens behind the doors of brain bank laboratories, and in so doing actively seeks to rehabilitate, even celebrate, the practice of bodily donation in the public imagination.
The exhibition at Wellcome only features a segment of the whole project. Namely, a the portraits and stories of people who contribute to the research against dementia by choosing to donate their brain as well as a series of photos taken at the Brain Bank Laboratory, The Cambridge University Hospital. Hygienic and crude, the lab images unveil what happens to the brain after the donors' death.
Brains: The Mind as Matter remains on show at Wellcome Collection in London until 17 June.
Last week i took the train to Liverpool to see the exhibition Robots and Avatars, conceived by body>data>space at FACT. Proper report will appear next week. In the meantime i felt like singing the praise of Liverpool. I love that city. I love people's accent, the architecture, the magnificent Aloha shirt i bought for peanuts in a vintage shop but most of all i love their art galleries.
Never one to overlook a photo exhibition, especially when it was curated by Martin Parr, i started the gallery crawl with the Open Eye gallery on the Waterfront. Richard and Famous (brilliant title!) brings together the work of a serial star-hunter and of a LA-based photographer who explore celebrity culture in radically different ways.
Since 1989 Richard Simpkin has waited for celebrities outside hotels, airport arrival halls and parties to have them pose with him for a photo. At first, the only thing my eyes were looking for as they scoured the hundreds of snapshots were the actors and rock stars who were smiling at the camera. Only later did i turn my attention to the real star of this unusual assemblage of images. The series is a kind of evolving portrait of a teenager who starts growing a bear, gets fatter, cuts his hair super short and is now almost 40. What never changes however is that smile with the red cheeks and the fact that the people who appear in the photos are famous for some reason. Whether we're talking Dalai Lama or Kim Kardashian doesn't seem to really matter to Simpkin.
The next room shows what came out after photographer Simone Lueck placed an ad on Craigslist that said: "Seeking striking older woman to pose as a glamorous movie star for photo series." Lueck was merely the intermediary to their fantasies. The ladies of The Once and Future Queens chose their makeup, clothes, poses, settings. The Once and Future Queens could have been a grotesque portrayal of mature women living the Dynasty dream or a pitiful trip to Sunset Boulevard but it turned out to be a lesson in bravura, so-what attitude and old Hollywood appeal.
I headed to the artist's room to see the works that Martin Creed has donated to the gallery. Among them is Work 837 Sick Film, four short films displayed on four monitors stacked to form a cube. Each screen shows a person vomiting what looks like the content of a tin (or tins in the case of one of the women) of white beans in tomato sauce on the floor of a white room. It's perfectly repulsive. It's also strangely compelling.
Examples of Sick Films found online:
Next! Topophobia at the Bluecoat. The anxiety disorder is here investigated as a cultural phenomenon, with artworks representing place and space as both threatened and threatening.
Wilderness and urban American landscapes seem to cohabit rather uncomfortably in Uta Kogelsberger's Urban Myths photo series.
That's it! Couple more images from the city:
A last one for the road:
I've visited 5 photo exhibitions all over London yesterday. Here's a few words about the ones i found most interesting. Starting with 'Last Days of the Arctic'...
The exhibition on view at Proud portrays a disappearing landscape and the Inuit people who inhabit it. Because much has changed since Ragnar Axelsson's first visit to Greenland's remote regions 35 years ago, the photos capture what might be the last moments of an ancient culture that has contributed the least to cause climate change and yet is the one suffering the most visibly and acutely from its effects.
Next in line is not an exhibition but a magazine i picked up while visiting a rather disappointing photo show. Vignette is a free paper magazine you can grab in various bookshops and art galleries across the UK. I've seen many photo magazine but Vignette is The One for me. It's a broadsheet without any glossy page you might spoil with greasy fingers, but each issue is so beautifully and simply designed that you'd want to hold on to it. Vignette contains the usual: information about photo book, photo products, exhibitions, list of events, spotlight on online resources for photo enthusiasts, list of competitions and other opportunities, etc. Each issue has a theme and the current one, the "travel Issue", presents a couple of photo essays, the most striking is probably Right Wing Along the Rio Grande - a journey along the Rio Grande River through four states of America, reflecting on the American Right TEA Party movement.
Zed Nelson followed the flow of the river through three states two years after the election of America's first black president. On the way, he met people who claim that Obama is 'a radical Muslim', are afraid of 'Marxism' and believe that fences and guns are the best way to deal with illegal immigration.
The second exhibition i should mention is the solo show of Hisaji Hara at Michael Hoppen Gallery. Hisaji Hara used his camera and a few delicate Japanese schoolgirls to recreate paintings by Balthus (1908-2001). Hara creates his images through multiple exposures, all done in-camera without computer manipulation, which coupled with the use of smoke machines and cinematic lighting lends them a wistful, timeless quality akin to the paintings he has referenced.
A few months ago, I read there was an exhibition of photographs by Don McCullin at Tate Britain. I thought "That one can wait, it's going to for ages and everybody knows the work of the award-winning war photographer anyway." That was very presumptuous of me. I finally went to see the show and it is now clear that i had underestimated the impact his images would have on me. Especially his portrayal of the homeless living around London from the late 1960s to the '80s.
While looking for images online, i discovered that in 1989 McCullin had made a documentary for BBC about the London's homeless, a sharply growing problem attributed to the failure of social policy: changes in the UK social security system, shortage of affordable housing, closing down of long stay hostels.. have thrown young people, the mentally ill, former soldiers, even entire families in the streets.
"I started seeing people sleeping in shop doorways and when I went to Third World countries people would refuse to believe there were poor people in England," McCullin explains in the video below. "But there were many, many untold truths about this country, we had poverty, we had unemployment, we had a class system that wasn't convenient, all kinds of things that people who lived outside of England wouldn't have understood, so when I started walking the streets of London and seeing people sleeping in shop doorways, even I was shocked."
Also at Tate are spectacular b&w images that shows the toll that industrialization took on the countryside, images of Berlin during the construction of the Wall and the landscapes McCullin is now shooting to try and forget the horrors of the wars he has spent decades to document.
And if it's McCullin's war photos you're after, then head to the Imperial War Museum for Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin.
I've seen a number of photo exhibitions over the past few days. I might try and find time to write about Arctic Convoys, 1941-1945 which i saw at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. In the meantime this post is going to be about some of the photo exhibitions i saw in Hannover this week. There is a solo show of Alice Springs' work at the Kestnergesellschaft. She was Helmut Newton's wife. The works on view are competent, a bit too Newton-esque for my taste and rigorously black and white. Mostly fashion shots, and shots of fashion designers. She did make a wonderful series of portraits of members of the Hell's Angels though. I wish i could reproduce on the blog every single image from that series. Sadly, i cannot find any trace of it online (please, please, drop me a line if you've spotted them.) So i'll leave that one aside.
And i'll go ahead with the two images that got stuck in my head during my trip to Germany. The first one shows Ducklings conditioned to follow a wooden duck. It's by Gerhard Gronefel, photographer of poignant moments in the Germany of World War II. And then of course i almost had a heart attack when i saw the Cheshire cat grin of Dieter Bohlen from the Modern Talking (the Modern Talking!) was plastered on all over the bus stops i walked by. Germany, I love you!
Still, the magnet that got me to Hannover wasn't a piece of musical (and fashion) history but Photography Calling!, an exhibition at the Sprengel Museum that explores 'documentary style' photography from the 1960s to the present day.
Zielony followed young people hanging around the desert city Trona outside Los Angeles.