Archives for the month of: April, 2017

This is a landscape photograph of the Iguazu Falls in Brazil. It’s a colour photo, but the muted grey of the flat water at the top of the image and the whiteness of the spray make it appear black and white. The muted tones belie the rushing activity of the water.

There are three sections in this image: the inverted triangle of falling water in the centre, framed by the spray at the sides of the image and the river and horizon at the top.

The high definition of the photograph picks out these sections in three distinct textures. The unfallen river is glassy and smooth, the spray is a soft, cloudy mist. Where the water pours over the edge, the very top of the waterfall, it has an intricate sculptural quality. The patterns of this central focus point are repeated elsewhere in nature – these shapes could be veins, or the inside of your iris, or a nebula. It’s an impersonal photograph, as I suppose landscapes often are, but in this universal structure there is a unifying quality. This shape could be anywhere in the universe, it could be inside you.

By photographing the waterfall, Tillmans has rendered movement still. Thanks to the camera, we are invited to examine the way the waterfall stands in one moment. It’s a very contemplative image. It captures three very different stages of movement; a seeming calm, a plunging rush downwards, and a soft, gentle rise. 

The power of the waterfall is almost lost in its beauty. Only the boats at the very top edge of the photograph recall the danger of the water, the fragility of the human world. Hung alongside photographs of shiny cars, this photo is a pause from urban life, a moment of meditation on something separate from humans. Without the boats, without Tillmans, Iguazu falls would go on falling. 

I first saw this exhibition drunk and I loved it and had to go back. I imagine I’ll be going again.

Kwade’s installation is like an eery sci-fi museum. The room is dark, and the pillars in the space create shadows, turned into places to hide behind.

Around the space are placed three bronze sculptures on plinths. They’re somewhere between figurative and abstract – they could be objects from space, they could be melted bones. One looks like a figure in a shroud. They are still and they seem to be watching you. 

The exhibition backdrop is a screen showing an asymmetrical mass floating and turning on a background of TV static. I thought it was a comet, and it reminded me that analog TV static is an echo of the Big Bang (this is legit: https://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/starsgalaxies/cobe_background.html). The whole room was very other-worldly.

The central installation is a mobile of mobile phones (I absolutely lapped this up). A motorised hanging installation of GPS tracked smartphones show images of the Milky Way. As they spin and rotate, the images change to show the part of the galaxy which the phone is currently facing. All the while a mechanised female voice reads excerpts from the book of Genesis. From where I stand, this is genius. 

The Copernicus-esque image used on the media for this exhibition doesn’t actually feature within the space, but it fits very well. The exhibition text asserts the importance of mapping and location within the universe. It’s also an interpretation of humankind’s constant endeavour to understand their metaphorical place in the universe. Kwade uses advanced modern technology to display highly scientific images all with a biblical soundscape. There are both religious and scientific ways to understand our place as humans, and Kwade’s work suggests that the two are not incompatible. 

17 works by women photographers lent by the National Museum of Women in the Arts reflect the diverse, complex, and often shared experience of women worldwide.

Lying on a bed in a green dress, staring at the viewer with twirled hair styled and placed in a halo around her head, Daniela Rossell’s ‘Medusa’ is a better, more substantial precursor to Kendall Jenner’s most liked instagram pic. There is power here, and vulnerability and intimacy which, shockingly, is not present on Kendall’s gram.
Hellen van Meene’s photographs are like illustrations for a book of fairy tales. The text described them as looking natural but actually planned meticulously. To me they do look painstakingly curated and posed. To me there is nothing natural about the props and scenarios. Each subject seems to have an unclear but definite story – one girl is a bubblegum princess in a tower, another girl dead from a curse, a third girl blows magic dust to cast her spell. In this exhibition on the female body and the female gaze the fairytale element is unsurprising – fairytale women have very definite roles set out for them. Here there is some discussion of how real girls and women feel – bubblegum princess is bored, and the girl clutching the feather heart looks more angry and sad than happily in love.

Nan Goldin’s ‘Self-Portrait in Kimono with Brian, NYC’ has a melancholy intimacy about it. Partially clad on a bed in a rosy dawn or dusk light, this could be a romantic, post-coital scene, but the back to back figures seem to hold something from one another. Their tension and frustration is in contrast to Brian’s upfront sexuality that can be glimpsed in the photograph of him, cigarette dangling from lips, pinned in the top right corner of the work. This is an honest snapshot of a moment in relationship, and an almost universal experience.

It’s always a pleasant relief to see images of women through the eyes of women. Interestingly, there were no nudes in this exhibition – these were women’s and girls’ bodies without the sexualised male gaze. That’s not to say the women depicted were devoid of sexuality, rather that these women are more than simply sexual. There was an intimacy present in many of these photographs; the viewer is often invited into a bedroom, again not so much a sexual as a private place. But there were also grand scenes, such as Marina Abramovic as a peace warrior on a white stallion. Women can be everything, and there was a little bit of everything in these photographs.

Richard Mosse uses weaponry to make art. In this installation, he uses a heat sensing camera made in the UK and sold to militaries worldwide, transforming it into an artistic device to document the biggest worldwide movement of people since the Second World War. The opening scenes of life in a refugee camp have no plot and no real action. The screens blur, judder, and change direction. It’s tense and nauseating, a state of transition but also of stagnation. 

After this you have to walk through the curve in the dark, unable to see where you’re going or who else might be there. It’s immersive, a tiny taste of the fear and uncertainty that millions of people worldwide face as they flee into the unknown. 

You’re then met by a huge three screen video installation. The footage is always changing, you’re never quite certain what you’re seeing. The heat seeking camera reduces everyone to the same colour and renders everyone anonymous. Are the refugees being helped out of boats and into boats being rescued or damned? There are little touches of raw humanity, a smile or a tear, interspersed with footage of war planes in empty skies. Shots of people in life jackets with no shoes are shown against scenes of uniformed and armoured soldiers loading missiles on warships. There is no fairness – the perpetrators are safe, and the victims are vulnerable. 

Then you emerge from the darkness into the easy breezy life of the Barbican, and you’re reminded how safe you are, how different your situation is from that of the refugees you’ve just seen. You feel like you’ve somehow ended up on the side of the perpetrators of this violence. 

This is very serious art. It makes you assess your role in worldwide violence. It’s very relevant today as Assad’s chemical weapons and US missile strikes hit Syria. It makes you uncomfortable, and it should. Incoming forces us to stare the refugee crisis in the face. These people are people and we should not turn them away.

Rachel MacLean’s video and print study of social media and all its darkness is a glorious madness. Emoji-yellow Data presides as queen in a post-apocalyptic world, while her plague ridden devotees wait endlessly for her next upload. Ratty, wire-chewing trolls hack her and literally shit all over her feed. It’s not subtle, and it’s brilliant. 

The video installation was funny, gross, and completely disturbing. The scene where hacked Data masturbates using a touch screen while Scam fists her until she bleeds is a gory but accurate allegory for the self indulgence of the internet and the often unrecognised violence prevalent in online behaviour. 

I’m not sure what the printed images added to the installation, other than behaving like adverts for the film, and ironically they made a great Instagram snap. They fitted well but I can’t yet put my finger on why. 

The juvenile and sterile colour scheme of pink, yellow and blue lent an additional discomfort to the whole room – painted like a nursery, but with a sign outside warning parents not to bring their children inside. 

Video and edited photography are the perfect media to explore the phenomena of social media. The sickly brightness and a Disney-esque song sequence fit perfectly around the reference to the sinister, dark side to social media underneath all the airbrushed perfection. The artificial sweetness of the installation made it more palatable; it was bleak but funny. It didn’t offer any solutions – and why should it – but it was a clever addition to the contemporary debate around the safety and trajectory of the internet, while being a jokes way to spend a Saturday afternoon.