I can't remember having ever been disappointed by any of the exhibitions on show at Fotomuseum in Antwerp. The current shows are particularly worth the trip to the city (one of my favourite places in the world and it's a mere 30 minute ride from ugly Brussels.) The main exhibition is dedicated to photographers who capture the past, another one is about young Belgian photographers, a third show explores subjectivity through history and on the top floor is a fascinating installation by Zoe Beloff. The work took as its point of departure America's longest running comic strip to explore the influence of cinema on the movement of the body and the mind. I might come back to these exhibitions in the coming days.
Beloff's exhibition contains a number of historical documents. Some of them show chronocyclegraphs of sportsmen and factory workers. I had never heard of the chronocyclegraph before.
The technique was developed by Frank Gilbreth and his wife, Lillian in the early 20th century to improve work methods. The couple employed time-lapse photography to reduce a complete work cycle to the shortest and most efficient sequence of gestures.
To look for this optimal "relationship of human effort to the volume of work that the effort accomplishes", they attached a camera to a timing device and photographed workers performing various tasks. The motion paths were traced by small lamps fastened to the worker's hands or fingers.
They called the essential elements of their subjects' movements therbligs.
The Gilbreths later built wire sculptures based on the trail of light created by the movement of the worker's hand.
The objective of the research was to minimize arm movement and hence speed and ease manual work. Gilbreth's findings were used in assembly lines but they also found their way into other contexts: Gilbreth was the first to propose that a nurse would assist the surgeon, by handing them surgical instruments as called for. He also devised the standard techniques used around the world to teach army recruits how to rapidly disassemble and reassemble their weapons even when blindfolded.
More images: Frank B. Gilbreth Motion Study Photographs (1913-1917) at Kheel Center Labor Photos.
Compulsion, an exhibition of new work by Alex Prager, i saw a few days ago at Michael Hoppen gallery is so impressive I'm breaking out of my habit of writing about exhibitions mere hours before they close.
In Prager's part film noir, part fashion shoot work, heroines wear impeccable make-up and synthetic wigs, pose as if they were in a Hitchcock movie, breathe through an atmosphere worthy of David Lynch, and are submitted to ordeals inspired by the images of crime photographers Weegee and Enrique Metinides. The stories might take place in Hollywood-like settings but they promise to never end on a happy note.
The Compulsion in the title might refer to our compulsion to gape at other people's tragedy. Underlining the voyeur theory are the dramatic close-ups of eyes that accompany some of the stills.
Along with the colour photographs, the artist is showing La Petite Mort, a short film starring French actress, Judith Godrèche.
La petite mort, literally "the small death," is a French idiom for orgasm. In Prager's film, we hear the voice of Gary Oldman saying that "the act of dying, and the act of transcendent love, are two experiences cut from the same cloth."
The main protagonist of the short film navigates the mystery of death through a series of experiences that involves being ran over by a steam train, being stared at by a gathering of stern-looking people, meeting a man and drowning in a river. The action unfolds very slowly but somehow all of the above takes place in a couple of minutes.
If you're in London, New York or (lucky you!) Los Angeles, go and see that show.
Alex Prager's Compulsion is showing at the Michael Hoppen Gallery, London until May 26. The work is also shown at Yancey Richardson Gallery in New york until May 19, and at M+B Gallery, LA until May 12.
The title of this post is a nudge to an old friend i met by chance while i was on my way to the BIP, the International Biennale of Photography and the Visual Arts in Liege. I hadn't seen him in ages and when i told him what my job was about, Didier looked at me in horror and said: "God! That must be soooo boring! Poor you!"
I'm sure he's never going to read these lines, bless him, but that won't stop me from carrying on with my miserable existence and turn my attention back to the BIP.
The precedent editions had the kind of politico-social theme i like so much. This year, the curators decided to take things lightly with a theme that revolves around love and a title like Only You Only Me. I'm not going to hold their choice against them. Given recent events and the number of beggars who stopped me in the streets, it's obvious that the city is in dire need of amusement and kindness.
To my surprise, i had a fantastic time visiting the main exhibition at the MAMAC, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. I'll probably come back to the whole exhibition with a long post. In the meantime, let's just have a look at two photographers that made my Sunday.
Jean-Claude Delalande creates settings and scenarios that he inhabits with his partner, his son Valentin and his ever-deadpan expression.
In this bitter family album, the protagonists never look at each other, they perform the most mundane tasks, go on holiday with the same torpor that'd have on a supermarket trip, they iron, have showers, answer the phone and lead a joyless family life.
"We'll never be apart!" says the grandma to her little cat. Both of them live in a tiny world, with dignity, with mutual love. Still today, under the blue sky, Missao and Fukumaro work in the fields and in these natural surroundings, where they shine like the stars.
What is it with Japanese cats, eh?
Only You Only Me, the Liege International Biennale of Photography and the Visual Arts, remains open through May 6, 2012.
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: