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OPEN13

OPEN13 Texts

PHOENIX BRIGHTON
2 November - 1 December 2013

Find out more about the OPEN13 exhibition here through a collection of texts written by the BPF13 emerging curators.

Over the course of the exhibition individual texts on the exhibited bodies of work will be posted here.

Liane Lang Monumental Mis-conceptions

1. Liane Lang: Monumental Misconceptions by Kayung Lai

Monumental Misconceptions encapsulates the historical journey of the rise and fall of the Hungarian communist regime. The project was photographed in Memento Sculpture Park, a disposal site on the outskirts of Budapest where 42 exiled communist monuments stand. These colossal bronze monuments capture the glory days of the Soviet Union. Lang's awareness of their symbolism is apparent through the way she playfully poses her silicone dolls, staging an alternate reality that opens the sculptures to new narratives.

Lang's conceptual strategy uses the viewer's misconceptions as a way of delivering irony. Upon closer inspection the first misconception is revealed, her featured protagonists are in fact life size dolls. The chosen size is significant because at life size the doll's representation becomes uncertain, oscillating between their reality as inanimate objects and the animated fiction that they convey. This is particularly effective when coupled with the monumental sculptures that lack the uncanny human qualities of Lang's dolls. This juxtaposition between inanimacy and animacy is employed by Lang to subvert the totalitarian force of the Soviet era, as these sculptures no longer exert the same influence or command the same respect as they used to. The irony is reinforced by the fact that these sculptures are no longer permanent objects in their original locations, instead they have been collectively relegated and their status as artworks has been renounced.

The dolls are posed in the midst of iconoclastic acts and the compositions are reminiscent of action film stills. In Grand Gesture Lang's protagonist is caught swaying in mid air, courageously holding on to Vladimir Lenin's hand, in what appears to be an attack against him. Furthermore, the backdrop of swaying trees emphasises the motion of the protagonist's struggle, dramatising what would otherwise be just two inanimate objects meeting. The contrast in size between Lenin and Lang's protagonist is employed purposely to undermine Lenin's heroic pose. By staging her dolls in acts of iconoclasm Lang's doll could be referencing the individual who is posed against the authoritarian state. After all, the fall of the Soviet Union during the early 1990s saw the destruction of many public sculptures of despised dictators; this public rebellion marked the emancipation and championing of a new cultural identity.

Currently, the sculptures of Memento Sculpture Park are one of the main tourist attractions in Budapest, with many visitors posing alongside the sculptures in tourist snapshots. Lang's ironic approach critically negotiates the disparity between the sculptures touristic present and their problematic past. Her innovative ways of responding to these exiled sculptures raise many questions surrounding the issue of retaining artwork from Hungary's communist past. However, the alternate reality Lang stages embraces the sculpture's historical significance and the importance of this open-air museum in reflecting upon our cultural history.

Julia Romano Landscape Studies

2. Julia Romano: Landscape Studies by Kayung Lai

Julia Romano's Landscape Studies investigates the pictorial possibilities of the Picturesque by digitally combining eighteenth century European landscape paintings with photographs of rural South America. As a result, her work is an exploration of the vast cultural influence the Picturesque aesthetic has had upon framing the land.
The Picturesque came to the forefront of Enlightenment thought towards the end of the eighteenth century. William Gilpin in particular championed the Picturesque in the many guidebooks he published. As a result many tourists began to view the landscape through Gilpin's pictorial prism. He established the Picturesque as a third space between the aesthetic trends known as the Beautiful and the Sublime. For Gilpin, the Picturesque was a pictorial strategy employed by the artist to evoke curiosity within the viewer, a strategy Romano directly references in her landscapes through the appropriation of archetypal Picturesque paintings.
A common characteristic of Picturesque paintings was the use of overgrown foliage in the foreground which visually obscured the middle ground in order to inspire curiosity within the viewer. Romano effectively references this strategy of generating curiosity through obscurity throughout her work. For instance she appropriates the towering trees from Carlos De Haes's painting: Un molino de Beaufort in the foreground of her Landscape Studies De Haes/Villa Warcalde. Within the foreground these towering trees diverge away, revealing to the viewer the middle ground where a white winding river recedes into a hazy, pastel backdrop. De Haes's trees fringe the winding contour of the white river, but as the river recedes in to the distance it becomes clear that the trees are in fact taken from photographs. In one sense, Romano extends Gilpin's pursuit for curiosity, as the intersections between the photographic and the painterly are not always apparent. This element of curiosity is reinforced through Romano's use of Carlos De Haes's landscapes, which were famed during the nineteenth century for their realism. This doubling of pictorial and photographic realism within her work generates a viewing experience where the viewer is left to decide where to draw the line between the pictorial and the photographic.
Another visual strategy for generating curiosity within the Picturesque was to feature a winding contour within the middle ground such as a path or river. This winding contour diminishes towards a vanishing point in order to create perspective within a scene that would otherwise lack the visual cues necessary for generating scale and perspective. For Gilpin this method for generating perspective was seen as an illusion whereby the viewer is situated so as to be looking out towards a distant world, which is ironic considering that Romano's images are actually created from two distinct representations of the world.
Romano's landscape studies are effective in addressing how the Picturesque is ingrained in our cultural consciousness. Her landscape studies reveal how the Picturesque as a pictorial strategy dominates representations of the land. Moreover she addresses the continuation of the Picturesque aesthetic in contemporary photographic landscapes and the way in which this tradition attempts to inspire specific emotional responses to the land.

Simon Ward Interview

3. Interview with Simon Ward

Simon Ward's Ghost in the Machine recycles broken and disused Amazon Kindle screens into unique art objects. There is a curious relationship between the traditional book and its electronic counterpart. As much as books in their material form are both well-loved and considered obsolete, there is no question that electronic handheld screens are growing in popularity as the reading devices of the future. Through serendipitous chance, a glitch in technological failure transforms these screens into being something precious.


Sunil Shah: Could you explain how you came across these screens and what compelled you to working with them to create something photographic?

Simon Ward: This project in the instance began investigating the notion related to the Intervention of the Book. The book as an object takes on many forms as a source of material that later develops its own personality and characteristics. Destroyed and subverted by the owners and its own period of existence. The project aim was to research marginalia, foxing and search for marks hidden between the pages of books. This process and research method would always consider the new form of technology (the Kindle) and how these machines no longer allow for such interaction. The Kindle image is a composite of the projected screensavers, designed to replicate the quality and material of the book. The moment for me when it became photographic was when I removed the screen for the Kindle. The image remained frozen within the mirrored cracked screen. It reminds me of a 5x4 negative glass place or daguerreotype but digitally fixed.


SS: What was the process of creating these screens?

SW: The process has been about sourcing and collecting the screens now with a total of around 400, each one individual. The failure and destruction is unexpected therefore no screen would hold the same image composite. Some are blank and others combine the perfect relationship and composition of selected screens savers. Which are all well known, deceased writers.


SS: There is something of the hidden digital world being exposed here. What do you think the screens show us about the workings of technology or do you feel they don’t do that at all?

SW: For me it is the relationship towards the intervention of the book. It heightens the realness of the book as an object that can stand the test of time. The kindle technology and most devices now aim to hold as much information as possible within the single machine. What is interesting about the work is its combination of digital technology and traditional format of analogue photography. It places itself in the middle. It was a long discussion to show the actual objects instead of the cropped scanned images. My practice is always focused towards the object itself.


SS: The destruction of the image, a kind of iconoclasm is created here through the failure of the device and then by your intervention. Do you think this serves as a kind of metaphor for how technology is destroying some forms of practice?

SW: Technology can destroy or simplify some forms of practice but what comes from any process is another style of work and focus.


SS: What are your thoughts about how this project is visualised in the gallery, online or in book format. Does the work lend itself to purely gallery status as art object or can it translate across the contexts?

SW: This is the first time the project has been visualized so I'm interested to see how the viewer reacts to the actual object this time. But the project lends itself to many different formats and I hope to consider these further.


SS: How does this project relate to your other work and wider practice?

SW: "Ghost in the Machine" sees the concept of failure, death and destruction. This theme may be present in my other works, but it is the relationship that I have with the object. As I only use a flatbed scanner the focus is solely on the presence and attachment to the object. The real artefact has to be present on the scanner.


SS: What other projects are you working?

SW: All of my projects are on-going and a conversation or passing in the street can end up with another object to be scanned or collected. "Ghost in the machine" has many formats of presentation and I am excited to explore these further. Never know what is next?


SS: How do you feel about being selected for BPF Open '13 and what does the future hold for you?

SW: Very Happy! More importantly excited to be working with the curating team and Brighton Photo Fringe.

Embracing Subjectivity in The Grey Line by Jo Metson Scott

4. Embracing Subjectivity in The Grey Line by Jo Metson Scott

Two years ago, Allan Sekula proposed the premise that all 'new documentary' had a tendency towards 'subjectivism' and 'authorial self-revelation' 1. Jo Metson Scott's five year project, The Grey Line is a good example of what Sekula meant by this seemingly contradictory statement. Contradictory, because documentary photography (or film for that matter), has typically been aligned with a detachment of the photographer from an area of study; the myth of objectivity and the delusion that one's presence as witness does not influence the results.

Sekula's and others' postmodern criticisms of documentary photography are nothing new to the world of contemporary photography. "Art" has now become one of the ways in which documentary photography is now visible due to its acceptance into the canon. Indeed Metson Scott's socio-politically motivated project is very much positioned within an art context. Her inquiry into armed forces personnel who have gone AWOL (Absent Without Leave) on moral grounds and conscience, is explored subjectively as a personalised perspective. As some documentary practices adopt codes of journalism, which could now be read as a 'journalistic turn', Metson Scott both recognises and subverts such conventions to create an accessible yet very personal project.

The 'journalistic turn' can be defined as an approach which exposes research and constructs the work using text/image formats. Taryn Simon's A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters and Jim Goldberg's Open See are recent examples where transparency reveals the collection and gathering of information and the photographers desire to understand the subject as opposed to simply turning up to shoot. This seeks to legitimise complex stories despite the medium's inherent reductive characteristics. Clearly visible in the work, captions and short textual extracts contextualise the material in a manner similar to the way magazine and newspaper articles append photographs to text. This has the effect of structuring the content and also providing it in a format which is well accepted and familiar to us through publishing. The authority and ethics that come from news media sources conform to our expectations of how the 'truth' is told. Yet Metson Scott precludes this by exposing her sketchbooks, which through their honesty and direct relationship to her research add an extra layer of authenticity to the work. We don't appear to be looking at highly mediated, edited and polished work or a 'dumbing down' for the masses; instead, we are taken through Metson Scott's own diaristic entries and processes. An example of how self-reflexivity might add authenticity to documentary practice.

Does empathy drive documentary photography and also our desire to look at Metson Scott's work? Perhaps it does so through this humanitarian connection with the unfortunate experiences of those who have been overlooked by society and ostracised unfairly. This work speaks of the results of being part of the war apparatus and having to live through the consequences of tackling difficult decisions head-on. It shows how war photography has shifted its direction towards home, where survival for these ex-soldiers takes on a different form. Furthermore, home is something we can all relate to and this work brings the effects of war to our doorsteps. Metson Scott's subjectivity is projected onto us and becomes the channel by which we can be informed and if moved enough, to act. It publicises the subject without the often sensationalised mediation we have become suspicious of. Documentary in this way - by embracing subjectivity ¬¬- renews its validity in the face of its own potential collapse through changing attitudes to authority and systems of power.

We can't be sure of what it feels like to be one of these former soldiers who chose not to participate; photographs alone can't possibly do that. But we can be sure of Metson Scott's work which through sensitive and careful study allows us into her subjective world of wanting to know and feel for the people she's given a voice to.

Sunil Shah
October 2013.



1.Sekula, Allan, Eleven Premises on Documentary and a Question' in Mutations, Persepctives on Photography, Paris Photo/Steidl, 2011, p. 265.