It took me ages to go through all the photos and bits of info scribbled all over flyers and scraps of papers but here's finally a few notes about the Fotofestiwal which closed in Łódź a couple of weeks ago
When it was first launched in 2001, the Fotofestiwal was the first independent photography event of its kind in Poland. I had never visited the festival before but the program looked good: young talents, Eastern European artists whose work was new to me and a few blockbusters which, this year, included Roger Ballen's portraits of marginalized people in absurd settings and Volker Hinz's quirky portraits of fashion stars and celebrities of the 20th century. Predictable blogger that i am, i only had eyes for the new names and the socially-engaged exhibitions. So that's what this report from the festival is going to focus on. That and the city.
I really really enjoyed Łódź. I discovered the city by following the parcours of exhibitions and by getting lost on my way from one abandoned courtyard to a world famous National School of Film, from a street art mural to all kind of ex-industrial buildings spectacularly converted into art centers or shopping malls.
But let's get back to the exhibitions.
Evgenia Arbugaeva grew up in Tiksi, the most northerly settlement with a population of (barely) over 5,000. She came back to her home town 20 years after having left to live abroad. She photographed the Tiksi of her childhood memories. Her other objective was to capture a town "in the middle of nowhere," before it disappears.
She explained in an interview with Leica camera blog: Under the USSR, Tiksi was to be an important seaport on the Northern Sea Route. In those times the government put a lot of energy into development of the Arctic regions building military bases, meteorological stations, towns, etc. After the fall of the USSR all these projects went into decline, people left and ships stayed, rusting in seawater. It's scary to see those monuments to what was once a big dream of the great North.
Ciril Jazbec, Waiting to move documents life on an island no wider than 400 meters and 5 kilometers in length, in Alaska. The island is threatened by the effects of climate change: erosion, storms and inclement weather, as well as by the thawing of permafrost. Al Gore referred to its inhabitants, a modern Inupiaq Eskimo community called Shishmaref, as the first climate refugees.
The most exciting exhibition for me however was the Grand Prix Fotofestiwal, a competition for young artists with 'cohesive ideas' and 'brave visions.' I already blogged my two favourite: A guide to life forms altered by the human species and Norilsk, daily life inside an environmental disaster.
David Takashi Favrod is the son of a Japanese mother and a Swiss father. When he was 6 months old, he moved from Japan to Switzerland where he was mainly brought up by his mother who taught him her culture. When he was 18, he asked for double nationality at the Japanese embassy, but they refused.
It is from this feeling of rejection and also from a desire to prove that I am as Japanese as I am Swiss that this work was created. "Gaijin" is a fictional recital, a tool for my quest for identity, where auto-portraits imply an intimate and solitary relationship that I have with myself.
The aim of this work is to create "my own Japan", in Switzerland, from memories of my journeys when I was small, my mother's stories, popular and traditional culture and my grandparents war recitals.
From 2010 to 2013, Antoine Bruy hitchhiked throughout Europe to meet men and women who chose to abandon their urban lifestyle and adopt self-sufficient life styles.
Kirill Golovchenko in photographed the people who spend their summers selling fruit and vegetables on the roadsides in Ukraine. When night comes, many of them retire in tents, trailers, or makeshift shacks erected 10 meters away from the road. Many come from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia and mix with the locals in a microcosm made of people who want to make money to simply get along or save up and improve their living conditions in their respective homelands where most return for the winter months.
And now for an awful amount of photos:
Screened at the festival:
Lots and lots of big spaces that look abandoned:
I see far more exhibitions than i can blog (i could but i'm fairly lazy, you see.) So this morning, i went through all the photos i took in London galleries and museum in June and threw them hastily in this almost laconic post in case you're in town and bored. Being bored in London seems to be my latest obsession but that's another story.
Here we go...
The ever fabulous Science Museum has a small show about the work of scientist and inventor James Lovelock. I spotted this apparatus to test if a detector would work on Mars. Lovelock built it in his home lab in the 1960s while working on NASA's Viking Mission to Mars. It is made with an ordinary kitchen jar and lid. The detector was sealed inside the jar and air was removed via the valve on the left to replicate Martian atmospheric pressure.
Check out the Exponential Horn while you're in the building.
Speaking of wild inventions. I caught the very last day of the Paul Granjon exhibition at Watermans. It was called Is Technology Eating My Brain? and it was very very funny. It's not every day that i laugh my face off all alone in an art gallery. The show was the result of the artist's residency in the art center. He had a couple of works in the gallery (including a magnificently visitor-unfriendly Biting Machine), the rest were works made by participants of Granjon's Wrekshop. They included a slicing photo booth and a geranium survival kit.
I spent far too long watching the videos of Granjon's fancy inventions and performances:
I watched this one three times:
And I now need this book: Hand-Made Machines [Includes DVD]
The show's already closed alas! but here's a few images. And a video.
The Victoria and Albert museum was showing the short listed artists and the winner of the Prix Pictet. The theme was Consumption in all its disastrous relationship to environmental sustainability.
Abraham Oghobase photographed hand scribbled texts advertising the various informal services offered by people living in Lagos, a city of over ten million inhabitants and the commercial capital of Nigeria.
In Lebensmittel, Michael Schmidt portrayed the mechanized, industrialized food system of contemporary Western culture. From pigs standing skin to skin in a factory farm to piles of discarded food. Seeing the images one next to the other up on the wall was both shaming and mesmerizing. No wonder the series won the prize.
The exhibition closed a couple of weeks ago.
Talking in the context of her Post-Surveillance Art series, she said that: "What has altered for me post Snowden, is not an awareness and negotiation of a changed condition, but the knowledge that now almost everybody else knows something which was clear as day if you did a bit of research, and it's great to no longer be called a conspiracy theorist."
I have no time for design products, except when they come with a Soviet aura. The GRAD: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design is showing all kinds of plastic toys, a dial-less Telephone, red velvet flags, retro futuristic vacuum cleaners, etc.
Work and Play Behind the Iron Curtain is at the GRAD: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design until 24 August.
I also visited The Human Factor: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture during the press view. I can't say that was the show of my life. AT ALL! But there were a couple of works i was glad to see again....
The Human Factor: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture is at the Hayward until 7 September.
Gun Architects's rainforest-inspired pavilion at Bedford Square for the 2014 London Festival of Architecture.
Photojournalist Nick Danziger visited North Korea in 2013. He recorded the everyday life in the DPRK and was given rare access to cities outside Pyongyang. The story behind each photo is probably more interesting than the photos themselves. The subjects are doing very ordinary things (getting their hair done at the hairdresser, sunbathing by the sea with their kids, etc.) only it does look like the photos were taken in the past.
According to the British Council the exhibition is "the first cultural engagement of its kind" between the UK and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The Guardian adds that it opened in London with no advance publicity, for fear that the dire relations between North Korea and the west might sink the first cultural project of its kind.
Above the Line: People and Places in the DPRK (North Korea) is open at the British Council HQ in London until 25 July.
I spotted this one in the street.
Now that i've finally got some quiet and lazy time home, i can not only catch up on crime tv series but also post a few stories that have been languishing in draft limbo for far too long. Let's start with Elena Chernyshova's Days of Night - Nights of Day, a photo series i discovered at the Fotofestiwal in Lodz. The series was among the finalists of the Grand Prix Fotofestiwal. It might not have won the award but it was the work that impressed me the most. Of course, part of my fascination is due to that typical look at the post-Soviet world but the images also made me realize the banality and almost romanticism of living right at the heart of an ecological disaster.
The young photographer traveled to Norilsk, one of the biggest cities above the Arctic Circle. In Norilsk, inhabitants live in darkness 45 days a year, temperatures can drop to minus 53 °C in the Winter and the air is one of the most polluted in the world. There is no green space in Norilsk and even leaving the city is a challenge. The easiest way to get away is by air (Moscow is a four hour flight away) and for most residents, plane tickets are barely affordable.
The reason why people would want to live there is that most of them work for the biggest metallurgical and mines complex in the world. Workers in Norilsk extract and process nickel and other metals making up approximately 2% of Russia's GDP.
Every year the metallurgical combine emits almost 2 millions of tons of gas into the atmosphere, leading to alarming rates of cancer, depression, respiratory, cardiovascular and digestive disorders, allergies, and other health dysfunctions are widespread. The amount of sulfur dioxide in the air is so high that almost 100,000 ha of the tundra around the city is dead or in danger. Residents are forbidden from gathering berries or mushrooms due to high toxicity.
Even the story of the city is dark, the city, mines and factories Norilsk were constructed by the prisoners of Gulag in the 1930s and 40s.
Days of Night - Nights of Day is as much about the city itself as it is about how people manage to cope with harsh climate conditions, environmental disaster and isolation:
I hope these photos awake some questions, Elena Chernyshova told National Geographic. Where are the limits of human ambition in the race for natural resources? How much are we willing to damage nature and the health of hundreds of thousands of people in the drive for riches? What are the limits of human adaptation to extreme living conditions?
More images and info in Lens Culture.
Also part of the Fotofestiwal in Lodz: A guide to life forms altered by the human species.
I'm spending a couple of days in Lodz for the Photo Festival. Or rather, the Fotofestiwal. I haven't seen all the exhibitions yet but so far, so good. I've been particularly fascinated by Zhao Renhui's A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World which has been selected for the Grand Prix Fotofestiwal.
The photo series attempts to document the ways in which the human species has altered the planet, and in particular other life forms.
The result of his research is a visually stripped back catalogue of curious creatures and life-forms. Some had to evolve in order to cope with the pressures of a fast changing world. Others appeared as the results of direct human intervention, mutations engineered to serve purposes ranging from scientific research to the desire for ornamentation:
Remote-controlled coakroach, peanuts injected with the DNA of a lobster so that they will never go bad, medicinal eggs with extractable antibodies against cancer, caterpillar-killing cabbage carrying the gene responsible for producing the poison in scorpions, tomatoes that do not go bad, sugar cane engineered with human gene, the first tiger mosquito found in Norway, etc.
Zhao's work addresses man's relationship with nature, and related issues of morality and ethics, paying close attention to how our attitudes assumptions about the natural world are often shaped by institutions of authority and the media.
Quick selection, with comments copied/pasted from the project website:
Every year, scientists report findings of bees being attracted to discarded soda cans, leftover drinks and various sweet things. This is due to the combined effect of a declining natural supply of nectar in the wild and the insect's possible craving for caffeine. In Singapore, a community of bees has been raiding a factory producing sodas of various colours. The red dye from a certain brand of soda remains in the bees' bodies even after they have processed their food into honey. Over time, it is found that the stomachs of these bees have turned red, changing from their usual orange amber hue. The honeycombs in the hives are also found to have turned into a shade of blood red.
A company in Japan has developed a technique to create eggs that are so strong that they cannot be broken. The only way to access its contents is to puncture a hole in its shell with a pointed tool. The egg was created by adding the plant protein of a banyan tree to a chicken, thus creating an egg with a bark-like texture.
Corn is the number one crop grown in the United States and about 88% of it is genetically modified. Although there is little evidence that these crops pose a threat to humans, scientists are still understanding the effects of genetic engineering on corn. Scientists recently discovered non-genetically modified corn emit chemicals when they are being attacked by pests. These chemicals, which signal wasps to attack pests, are not present in genetically modified corn. Through Kirlian photography, the aura of a non-genetically modified corn can still be seen.
A small population of white rhinoceroses in Africa has evolved to have horns so small that they are barely visible. Experts believe this could be due to years of hunting individuals with large horns. The remaining rhinoceroses with smaller horns left to breed will eventually created a whole new hornless generation.
It has recently been found in China that pork has been made to aesthetically look like beef. 'Beef colouring' and 'beef extracts' were added to pork to make it look and taste like beef.
China organised the first International Goldfish Championships in Fuzhou in 2012. Over 3,000 goldfish from 14 countries competed for different titles including the World Goldfish Queen crown. Goldfish are judged by five criteria: breed, body shape, swimming gesture, colour and overall impression. The show stealer was a giant goldfish weighing around 4kg. The judges noted that not all goldfish can grow this big as factors such as breeding may affect size. Goldfish are bred out of generations of genetic mutations since the Jin Dynasty and their exact origins are unknown.
Flowerhorn cichlids are ornamental aquarium fish noted for their vivid colours and bulbous humped heads. A man-made hybrid, the flowerhorn was popular in Singapore in the late 1990s. When their popularity waned, owners released the fish into the local waters. Today, the fish thrive in large numbers in local reservoirs and waterways. Scientists have reported that the flowerhorn has taken on a different adaptation in recent years. The bulbous and round head it once had has given way to a sharp, flat and rounded disc. It is posited that the more streamlined form allows them to swim quickly away from predators.
Less than 4% of Singapore exists in total darkness after 10pm. Insects are attracted to artificial light sources, though no one knows exactly why. The insects are usually killed by exhaustion or through contact with the heat from lamps. After being incinerated, their bodies become a heap of ash, collected in the covers of street lamps. The ash, also referred to as 'moon dust', is used by scientists to study the ecological impact of light pollution on insects.
Sold in a department store in South Korea, these square apples were created as gifts for students taking the College Scholastic Ability Test, with some inscribed with the words 'pass' or 'success'. A similar square watermelon was developed in Japan in the 1980s. The cubic fruits are created by stunting their growth in glass cubes.
Falcons are diurnal birds but have recently adapted to become nocturnal, like owls. Urban falcons have begun to use artificial illumination from street lamps and lit buildings to hunt for bats throughout the night.
Photo on the homepage: Remote-controlled cockroach., from the series, A guide to the flora and fauna of the world. More at The Institute of Critical Zoologists.
The Grand Prix Fotofestiwal is on view at ART_INKUBATOR in Lodz until 15 June, 2014.
The Michael Hoppen Gallery has just opened an exhibition featuring a selection of vintage prints by Dr. Harold Edgerton, a photographer whose works are found hanging in art museums and galleries across the world. He even won an Oscar with his short film Quicker 'n a Wink. Yet, Edgerton was adamant that he was a scientist, not an artist.
The professor of electrical engineering at MIT invented the ultra-high-speed and stop-action photography when he synchronized strobe flashes with the motion being examined, then took a series of photos through an open shutter that could flash up to 120 times a second. The invention enabled him to photograph motion that was too fast to be captured by the naked eye: balloons at various stages of bursting, bullets tearing through fruits, divers rotating through the air, devil sticks in action, an egg hitting a fan, drops of milk coming into contact with liquid, etc.
If that were not enough, Edgerton was also involved in the development of sonar and deep-sea photography, and his equipment was used by marine biologist Jacques-Yves Cousteau to scan the sea floor for shipwrecks. Or for the Loch Ness monster.
During the Second World War, he pioneered superpowered flash for aerial photography used to create night time reconnaissance images, revealing the absence of German forces at key strategic points just prior to the Allied attack on June 6, 1944.
To trigger the flash at the right moment, a microphone, placed a little before the apple, pickes up the sound from the rifle shot, relays it through an electronic delay circuit, and then fires the microflash (via.)
Moments after the apple was pierced by the bullet, it disintegrated completely.
A .30 caliber bullet, traveling 2,800 feet per second, requires an exposure of less than 1/1,000,000 of a second. Edgerton turned the card sideways and the rifling of the barrel caused the rotation of the projectile, which, in turn, carved out the S-shaped slice of card between the two halves (via.)
After World War II, the Atomic Energy Commission contracted Edgerton and two of his former students to photograph atomic bombs as they exploded. The trio developed the rapatronic (for Rapid Action Electronic) shutter, a shutter with no moving parts that could be opened and closed by turning a magnetic field on and off.
Revealing the anatomy of the first microseconds of an atomic explosion, the fireball was documented in a 1/100,000,000-of-a-second exposure, taken from seven miles away with a lens ten feet long. The intense heat vaporized the steel tower and turned the desert sand to glass (via.)
The exhibition Dr. Harold Edgerton: Abstractions is at the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London until 2 August 2014.
This year, BIP2014, the 9th International Biennial of Photography and Visual Arts in Liège, looks at the ambiguous relationship between images and belief. Image seduce, persuade, deceive and lie. And even if we are used to seeing images (and their meaning) being modified and manipulated, we still want to believe that what is under our eyes is The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But The Truth.
On the basis of this near irresistible attraction, power, whether it is clearly identified or ambiguous, relies on visual persuasion in its attempts to gain our conscious or unconscious consent. The fanaticism of the image and its attendant effects of belief have, in fact, today taken on a dimension that has never before been reached, perhaps in contrast to a society that claims to be rational. Included within the scope of the image are media and communication industries, spiritual and religious proselytizing of any kind, and marketing and economics, all crudely convened to force us to follow them.
BIP2014 was a passionate, curious, ambitious edition. I wish i could have written about it when the biennial was still on but i only managed to get to Liège as the event was closing.
The theme was great and i salute a biennial that refrained from dictating the audience what they ought to think about the power of deception that images hold. However, as i walked from one venue to another, i felt increasingly overwhelmed. The theme was explored in all its many facets, interpretations and directions. It wasn't just about 'believing' in a strictly religious sense but also about believing in the paranormal, in authority, in illusion, in technological dreams, in cultural icons, etc.
I also felt that the theme was stretched to its most lose ends. For example, i was glad to discover Raoef Mamedov's version of the Last Supper reenacted by people with Down's syndrome but it wasn't clear to me how the series fits with the idea of our ambiguous relationship with images. Still, the series is striking. Mostly because we are not used to seeing religious scenes inhabited by people who do not conform with what society regards as a 'desirable' or even 'normal' appearance. That goes not just for religious images but also for anything we see on TV and in magazine. However, you only need to go back in time to realize that society might have been more open-minded than we give it credit for. In the 16th century, Andrea Mantegna painted a Virgin and Child which, appears to have Down Syndrome.
End of the parenthesis. Start of a quick walk through the biennial:
Let's start with IDOLES, the exhibition that explores the image of power and authority. The show is hosted by the Cité Miroir. The building used to be a swimming pool. It used to be MY swimming pool. Why? What have they done with my swimming pool? I might not have set foot there for ages but that doesn't give them the right to transform it into a bland container of culture, right? Please give me back the swimming pool. Please!
Sorry, let's get back to business... Images are allies of dictators and democratic leaders alike. They command attention, speak to the masses, convey messages often clearer than long speeches. The show efficiently demonstrated that power of the image is so vast, it can propel an individual to the status of an idol.
Photo series taken around the world demonstrate the various forms of contemporary idolatry. Rows of uniforms facing a speech by Barack Obama, Syria's cult of personality, dehumanising May 1st celebrations in North Korea,
These powerful images, which reveal disturbing similarities, regardless of the "camp" to which they belong, express the fascination caused by the aestheticization of power, its staging and its decadence better than words ever could.
From 2007 to 2009, Oliver Hartung documented the monuments and billboards erected by the side of the road to honor the Assad family who ruled Syria since 1971. The homages were built by local citizens and business people to declare loyalty to the government. The photos were taken from moving vehicles as Hartung was concerned about drawing attention to himself in such a heavily controlled police state.
Obama's words and images are always sublimely engineered (If only his actions could follow suit.) Morris's photo series show the leader standing out in his dark suit, alone in front of identically attired young men.
Branislav Kropilak gives mundane "Billboards" a symmetrical nobility. They look like authoritative totems, not supports for marketing slogans and images.
In Arirang, Philippe Chancel document North Korea's flawlessly orchestrated annual mass games in Pyongyang where each move, each collectively sketched pattern reflects the tight control that the "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung holds over the country. The festival might be absurd in its antiquated extravagance and unsubtle propaganda but, strangely enough, it never fails to captivate "Western" audiences when images of the events are broadcast on tv.
The biennial presented the world premiere of Robert Boyd's The Man Who Fell To Earth. The triptych video installation uses archive images in a fast and furious montage to chart the fall of regimes and men. Former Romanian dictator Nicolae Caeusescu's deadly fall from power in December of 1989 is followed by images of Saddam Hussein's demise, George W. Bush's decline in political influence, the cracks forming in Kim Yong Ill's reign in North Korea and the political tumult resulting from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 2009 re-election in Iran. The historical moments are mixed with images of mass spectacles, military defiles and clips from Nicholas Roeg's sci-fi classic staring David Bowie in the role of a humanoid alien who lands on Earth in search of a way to save his dying home planet but ends up alcoholic and disenchanted. By comparing the end games of contemporary heads of state to the dejected alien of Roeg's film, Boyd's video reflects on the transient nature of power and its ability to corrupt, while serving as a harbinger to the politically ostentatious.
This is going to sound lame and lazy but i don't think anything i could write could reflect the mark that video left on me. It is by far the most stunning and moving video i've seen this year.
The sleepy and bourgeois atmosphere of the Ansembourg Museum, an eighteenth century mansion, is the backdrop of MIRAGE. This chapter of the biennial reflects on virtual reality, illusion and emptiness.
I was fascinated by Matthieu Gafsou's Sacré photographic series, a disturbing portrait of the Roman Catholic church in Fribourg (Switzerland.) Gafsou explores figures, spaces and moments that have a key place in catholic faith. the opulence of the rituals and relics appear to be disconnected from our contemporary life. In fact, there is in all these images an air of past grandeur that will never come back.
Fabrice Fouillet's series 'Corpus Christi' brings the church slightly closer to us by focusing on architecture of places of worship built in the 20th Century. Many of the cathedrals and churches caused an outcry when they were first built, such was their deviation from traditional notions of religious architecture, upsetting the more conservative members of the clergy. That series was part of another exhibition at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Liège (note that none of these art institutions has thought relevant to invest in decent online representation.)
OMG* was a very charming show set in the Chapelle St-Roch, a sixteenth century church decrepit and covered in pigeon shit. The MADmusée (Liège's museum for outsider art) chose it as a setting to exhibit photographic accounts of outsider artist environments built through the sheer force of conviction and commitment of an individual. I couldn't find many images online so i;ll have to limit myself to two pitiful photos:
Jean-Michel Chesne's collection of postcards that show locations and constructions that emerged out of personal faith and mysticism. These places are so eccentric-looking that have become touristic attractions.
The exhibition also included images that photographer Mario Del Curto had taken while visiting outsider artists in their working environment or homes. The photos selected show 'outsider environments' born of an epiphany, an unshakable spiritual will.
Related story: Manipulating Reality - How Images Redefine the World.