The work of two fellow students … and some profound thoughts …


Side-by-side, in a space dedicated to the search for meaning through religious belief and practice, two artists deploy objects, words, images that represent their own searches – but also, in my own reflections on the work, all our forlorn searches. If I say that both pieces of work – Stephanie d’Hubert’s ‘What Remains’* and John Umney’s  ‘I keep looking for him’** – fall short, it is not to undermine them as artworks; far from it. On the contrary, it is because they fall short (of supplying any answers, any resolution) that they work successfully as artworks; that they stand in for our fruitless longing.

In ‘What Remains’, Stephanie presents precious objects and photographs that she retains, which belonged to her mother; together with a book, with the same title, that brings together images of these objects and a few associated words. This installation, though, has the actual objects:



It is an intensely personal project relating to what must still be painful memories of a sudden and shocking separation. And I, who have no such experience, cannot usefully or sensibly seek to read this work through the viewpoint of its maker. Instead, I find small points of resonance – even just the dates … what was I doing at the time; or through a ring that belonged to my own mother, which was on my wife’s finger as we both stood looking at Stephanie’s work. In this way, the objects and the photographs and the words represent not Stephanie’s memories and loss but all objects and memories. That is their role here, I think, displayed so thoughtfully and carefully in this significant space – to represent our eternal dilemma between the pointless irrelevance of our trivialities and the overwhelming and permanent significance of the trivial thought or experience.

John’s ‘I keep looking for him’ is another highly personal project exploring memories of a parent – this time, though, a difficult relationship with his father. Once again, there are objects that belonged to his father, presented alongside images and words:


The monitor loops a ‘slideshow’ of John’s photographs  of ‘Pergatory’; of the few objects from his father’s life; and of resonant text through which he relates to objects, images, memories … The specially constructed box on the table (right) contains the objects themselves, plus what one assumes to be photographs of his father. The ‘slideshow’ I have seen many times before as I have watched the work develop, but something entirely ‘new’ are the words displayed on each side of the box – John’s description of the events surrounding a birthday when he was “… eight or nine, or nearly both”. And I feel, as I have done before with this project, that there is little use me trying to read the work through John’s experience. What value in trying to relate to the emotions embedded in these objects and words and images. Instead, as with Stephanie’s, they stand in for all such – and the impossibility of pinning down a truth through words and objects and images.

John has constructed a story about a birthday present, for example; and displayed it with the objects and digital images – but how does it help in “looking for him”? Printed and presented as they are here, there is an authority about the words. There is the semblance of an autobiographical, diarised record of a significant event in his life, based, perhaps, on an often revisited set of accepted ‘facts’. Or is it a carefully constructed narrative that brings form and substance to a set of fleeting mental images? That is, after all, the way in which we usually construct the memories on which we rely. Is it, even, a complete fiction – either constructed with deliberate intention or one based on ‘false’ memories? Mostly, I think, all these words, objects and images represent all memories (and their falseness); and John’s search in which he ‘keeps looking’ is the search we all undertake, for a truth, for a reality, for the Real … that we will never find.

Thank you, Stephanie and John, for sharing your searches.




Castlefield Gallery–Amelia Crouch

Castlefield Gallery - Amelia Crouch

A first-time visit to Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, yesterday, presented an opportunity to see the work of Amelia Crouch. Castlefield runs a ‘Launch Pad’ scheme that provides short opportunities for its associates – on a selective basis – to present a solo show; and this is, apparently, Amelia Crouch’s debut solo exhibition. I experienced a very positive response to her work, and even found some encouragement for myself, so this is a reflection on why.

Starting, though, with the artist and her work, Crouch is based in West Yorkshire, has BA & MA in Fine Art, and has a number of public commissions to her name, as the website illustrates. She works with language – and, significantly, I found that short sentence a difficult one to construct, perhaps still haven’t got it quite right, which has a lot to do with the ‘work’ (and why I responded positively). Although deceptively simple (several pieces have close associations with puzzles, games and wordplay e.g. Double Over and Ifs & Butts and Ayes & Knows), her work addresses some deeply fundamental issues around language and the way its structure/use impacts on everything to do with our perception of life. Playful and accessible, it is also conceptual, with complex contextual sources in semiotics and philosophy. Even the supporting essay by art writer and historian, Lara Eggleton, keeps up the linguistic performance, as it includes annotations by the artist that occasionally question the language itself.

She uses video presentation extensively, sometimes with sound, and there are prints too. If I was looking for an area to criticise, it would be the somewhat deadpan nature of both the visual and audio experience. In the context, I can see exactly why it is that way, but it could perhaps be a tad more eye-catching – but that is no more than a quibble. Two of the most recent works, not on the website but in the show, were Untitled (Prepositions) (2015) and Attention is rarely directed to the space between the leaves (2016, I’m guessing) – both video presentations. The first involves various containers – bowl, jug, dish etc – and several small balls, all but one of which are white, the one being bright orange. The artist manipulates them physically and linguistically, questioning (undermining? subverting?) the simple prepositions ‘over’, ‘in’, ‘on’ etc. Visually, as well as conceptually, this worked successfully, for me, as a short, simple, small-screen video that used a very limited colour palate. The second also involves wordplay and word association, featuring a child’s voice, animals, the sounds they make, and leaves (plus the spaces between them!), and was presented as a large projection onto a wall. I’m less sure that this piece had as clear a conceptual focus as the others – and, ironically, the nature of its projection lessened its visual focus too – form and meaning!

However, minor quibbles apart, the work made a positive impression and the reasons are there in the previous paragraphs – playful; conceptual; both simple and sophisticated at the same time; accessible and attractive, but also contextually significant; a touch subversive (and/or deconstructivist); more analytical than personal. In many ways, these are all characteristics I strive for in my own work. I have sometimes reflected on whether work such as New Photographic Chemistry is too detached, too analytical, and whether I should be doing something more personal; so it’s reassuring to see an artist like Amelia Crouch who is, in many ways (and more successfully than me, I must emphasise!) working in a not dissimilar manner. (Good, also, to add Castlefield to the list of ‘local’ galleries; and their Associate Member scheme looks worthy of further investigation.)

‘Daisy Lane Books’–reflection

Daisy Lane Exhibition-2

Just over a week ago, I ‘took down’ the ‘exhibition’ at Daisy Lane Books, which had been up for a fortnight (as blogged here (Planning) and here (Installation)) – time for some reflection.

  • In some ways, this was more of an idea, a concept, than an exhibition – a circular ‘completion’ of the project. It was something I felt compelled to do, regardless of the outcome – not unlike some other parts of the process such as dismantling and burning the old book. Sometimes, in the creative process, one feels a need, the ‘rightness’ of something, and so you do it. So my tutor was right to encourage me to see it that way – in some ways, more a performance than an exhibition, something that could be said of other parts, such as the aforementioned dismantling and burning.
  • Continuing that theme, what I put into the bookshop was more like an installation than an exhibition (in the gallery sense, whatever that might be!) – infiltrating the outcome of my creativity into a related space, exposing it to an audience, yes, but chiefly installing it into a space.
  • Those aspects increase the need to ‘record’ – photography’s postmodern role as a record of performance art, as in Crimp’s essay ‘The Photographic Activity of Postmodernism’ read way back in the early days of Contextual Studies). I have begun some work on a video about the project, in which the bookshop, the taking from and returning to, will play a part.
  • Some practical reflections:
      • I’ve had the experience of the planning/producing and it broadly seemed to work (for me), as reflected after the installation.
      • The few other visitors who I know, and from whom I’ve been able to get feedback, were positive (though also polite, of course!).
      • I sold one print!
      • At a very practical level, only one ‘Command Strip’ failed (on a decidedly flaky wall – the print fell down and sustained minor damage) and just a couple of prints sustained ‘fly damage’ (!!), otherwise intact.
      • More detailed planning of what to put where might have offered some minor improvements, but not sure it would have made a huge difference.
      • With a bit more notice and preparation, I could have arranged an ‘event’ – opening/preview/whatever – and that would have helped gain some audience interaction.
  • This is a complex project to ‘explain’, with many layers that are more or less impossible to fully communicate (not that this is so unusual or a major problem). It is work that can be presented in several ways, exploiting several different layers. It would have been asking too much of a bookshop installation for its visitors to have been able to take on board much of that complexity. A larger, more ‘formally-housed’ exhibition has more potential – but I nonetheless need to be wary of trying to do too much.

On the latter point, I am getting closer, painful step by painful step, to finalising date/location for such an exhibition – more to come on that, and the video, when I can.

Arles 2016 Episode 3

Bastille Day 2016

Place de la Republique, Arles, Bastille Day, 14-07-16

First, a passing mention for Arles’ Bastille Day; this ‘parade’ was a bit low key – though nice to see the Arlesienne costume – but by 10.45pm, this ‘Place’ was packed and ‘rocking’ to a Peruvian band who play ‘Cumbia’ – Bareto. Sadly, when we left at about 12.15, it was to discover the sad news of events along the coast in Nice.

Back to reflections on the Rencontres. ‘Systematically Open’ is a multi-curator/multi-artist exhibition in the brand newly designed (and massive) space in the Mécanique Générale at Parc des Ateliers (here). The exhibition was subtitled ‘New forms for contemporary image production’ and was billed as exploring “… new structures for the presentation of the photographic image …” and examining “… relationships between photography and its various forms of display …”. Its ambitious objectives include “… a new framework for experiencing the image as a reproduction …” and prompting “… a structural rethinking of the photographic medium …” (all quotes from the English translation in a specially produced booklet given free on entering the show. One could say that in the context of those bold ambitions, there is only one way the exhibition could go …! On the one hand, it is good to see Arles acknowledging, in a manner that has been in short supply previously, contemporary developments in the presentation, use and experience of the photographic image; but there have been other attempts to embrace the breadth of what the photographic medium is today and the result is often a confusing kaleidoscope that dazzles but then falls short of its ambition. In some ways, of course, that is, in itself, a fair reflection of our understanding of the medium in 21st century culture!

‘Systematically Open’ is in four parts, and the first certainly fits this kaleidoscopic description. Walead Bashty has curated ‘Picture Industry’, with work from perhaps the widest array of photographic artists ever to come together in one place – from Jacob Riis to Hito Steyerl and, it feels, everywhere along every other dimension available! So it’s perhaps over-ambitious and falls short of achieving any discernable and meaningful statement beyond something like ‘Wow, it’s all, like, so amazing!’.  Of course, one of the challenges for both curator and viewer at Arles is that there really is so much to see and the visitor can never really devote the time to research, view and engage with anything in sufficient depth. So the good thing about this show – that it hits you in the face with photography’s diversity and wonder – is also the bad thing – that you never really stop to fully appreciate any of its content (a bit like browsing Facebook and hitting ‘Like’ against everything and everybody!).

Elad Lassry’s element of the overall show is helpfully titled ‘Untitled’ and seems sedate and relaxing after the deluge that has just gone before – surprising, since it comprises a very large number of appropriated close-up images of  teeth/gums (variously healthy, diseased, filled etc)! The images are all identically sized/framed (and I suspect processed to a common range of tones and colours) at around A3, and presented in ‘traditional’ gallery format, row after row. Extracted (!) from their original context/purpose and presented so, they form an exhibition of art – prompting us to think about all the art we observe in a gallery space and the artists/curators who choose to put it there. I appreciated the simplicity of this installation and found it quite a powerful contrast to the Bashty kaleidoscope – though I have to confess I didn’t linger long over any particular toothy image; not that that was the intention, I’m sure.

Zanele Muholi’s contribution is a series of carefully constructed and presented self-portraits, under the title ‘Somnyama Ngonyama’ a Zulu phrase, translated for us as ‘Hail, the Dark Lionness’. All beautifully printed and displayed in black & white, they are visually alluring and create quite a mesmeric, almost poetic experience. That said, they left me somewhat cold – mesmerised but not moved. In most of them, she is bedecked/coiffured in/by appropriated materials relating to the world cities in which the images were made. There is some sort of reference to the ‘selfie’ and some idea of a lonely reflection in a strange place away from home – all forming this into a very high quality body of work, but just a little cool for me.

And fatigue was setting in by the time I reached the final part of the show –‘Shutters, Frames, Collections, Repetition’, curated by Collier Schorr (and in ‘collaborative dialogue’ with Anne Collier). The exhibition seeks to posit “… a new dialogue between the nude and the cameras …”. I seem to have coincidentally encountered Anne Collier’s work in several different contexts in the last few weeks and must confess that I haven’t engaged sufficiently to ‘get it’ – my failure, not her work’s, I stress – and I was in that same situation with this presentation. I also happened to pick up and look through Collier Schorr’s book ‘8 women’ in an Arles bookshop, with more or less the same outcome. Without more research and engagement, I feel my responses are unlikely to have much value. Perhaps I just wasn’t ‘in the mood’!!

Finally, an exhibition that I particularly enjoyed was ‘Fabulous Failures’, curated by Eric Kessels and featuring a wide range of artists, including Joan Fontcuberta and Lucas Blalock, and based on the principle that artists “… like to fight perfection, embrace serendipity and search for fabulous failures”. Actually, I think I prefer the French version of the title – ‘Parfaites Imperfections’. There is way too much care and process involved on the artists’ part for this work to be so strongly billed as making serendipitous use of failures. I would see them more as embracing Flüsser’s notion of ‘playing against the camera’, perhaps subverting the perfection that it sometimes seems to demand. But regardless of that quibble, this is a combination of humour, subversion and general ‘playing’ that is both delightful and thought-provoking. Fontcuberta was represented through his ‘constellation’ images that turn out to be flies squashed on a car windscreen; Annegien Van Doorn’s mad constructions were great fun, as were Ruth Van Beek’s levitating dogs (constructed from folded found images), and Kent Rogowski’s Love=Love is a series of ‘collage’ made by mixing together elements of 60 store-bought jig-saw puzzles, many of which have been originally cut using the same factory tool.  Is this exhibition open to a criticism of superficiality and lack of serious intent? As recorded in a previous post (here), I was ‘moved’ by Eamonn Doyle’s work that is most certainly serious and not superficial. But I see no contradiction in also finding ‘Parfaites Imperfections’ interesting and thought-provoking. Each, in their different ways, is interrogating the photographic image and its significance to human-kind in 21st century culture – posing/provoking questions, as art should.

I saw lots lots more in Arles that was worthy of comment in here and my chosen reflections may be somewhat arbitrary and personal. Hopefully, they do represent something of the diversity on offer at this years Rencontres, from which I have gained a very great deal that might, hopefully, inform and inspire my own work – not least, some inspiring exploitation of new and various ways in which to present work and create experience for the viewer.

Arles 2016 Episode 2


Beni Bischoff – Discovery Awards, Arles 2016

It’s always interesting to take a look at the Discovery Awards section, where recognised figures from the art world each present two ‘discovered’ artists; some kind of barometer of trends/tastes, maybe. On the whole, less interesting this year, to me. But I’ll select 3/4 from the 10 for a mention.

Beni Bischoff, above, is a Swiss artist whose show invited us to ‘Detox Your Thoughts’. He says that he works ‘unrestrainedly and intuitively’, which is clear from the exhibition, and prolifically as well, it seems. He also says that he wants to present an ‘abysmal view of society’ – but he obviously likes to do it in a playful manner. Nothing is sacred, least of all the sausage and those on whom it is inflicted! As one might expect, there is quite a lot that misses the mark and descends back into the banal from whence it came. BUT, I like his playfulness & there is some good stuff in there e.g. the large tropical sunset image from which the sun has been burned, literally – a man after my own heart!

Canadian artist, Sarah Cwynar, I was already aware of, including in the recent FOAM Talent exhibition. Her constructs from found items and images have helped ‘inform’ my own work & it was interesting to see a couple of images from her Flat Death series.


Sarah Waiswa – Stranger in a Familiar Land – Discovery Awards Arles 2016

Ugandan born, Sarah Waiswa, now works in Kenya and, in this show, presented her Stranger in a Familiar Land project, which sets out to represent life for an Albino in Sub-Saharan Africa. Staged, colour images of a model, on location in streets etc, are coupled/framed with related artefacts. This type of coupling has been done quite a few times before, but the images are powerful – surreal and dreamlike, with a strong sense of ‘otherness’ and of exposure, whilst still retaining confidence and determination. This was, perhaps, the pick of the Discovery Award shows.


Daisuke Yokota – Discovery Awards Arles 2016

Finally, a mention for Japanese artist, Daisuke Yokota; I can’t claim to have fully grasped his conceptual piece of work, though. It comprises these swathes of photographic paper containing indeterminate lines, marks and smears. For Yokota, photography fails to capture memory and emotion, even though it can sometimes turn a moment into a recollection. This piece, and his other work, is about making those invisible feelings visible. I found myself wanting to appreciate the work, not least as something different and experimental, in a way that doesn’t often happen at Arles. Occupying its relatively small space amongst other, very different pieces of work, it was struggling – but I wanted it to succeed, which says something about the reaction it provoked.

Within the same large space as the Discovery Awards were three other ‘street’ exhibitions, loosely being combined with, amongst others, the Eamonn Doyle exhibition that I discussed in a previous post. I don’t intend to discuss any in detail, but a brief ‘compare and contrast’ is useful. These three + the Doyle, say a fair amount about where ‘street’ was, has been, sometimes goes, and can get to! The oldest work on show was from Garry Winogrand, and it was presented in a kind of conversation with Ethan Levitas. For me, Winogrand was ‘streets ahead’ in his eloquence. If his half of the conversation was witty, cheeky, occasionally a bit loose, but always interesting and broadly likeable, Levitas’ had a tendency to shout, occasionally get provocative and aggressive, and sometimes want to appear rather cleverer than was good for him.  So it was a relief to move over to Peter Mitchell’s quietly subversive images of 1970s Leeds, Sheffield and London. It’s probably my Britishness (and his, of course), but I felt much more moved and swayed by this understated body of work that had originally been shown at the Impressions Gallery, York in the 80s, and which subversively interspersed his downbeat photographs of what was rapidly disappearing from 70s UK with contemporary Viking 4 pictures of the surface of Mars! Also nearby, though, was Christian Marclay’s Pub Crawl. Like Eamonn Doyle (and unlike Ethan Levitas, I would say), Marclay has sought to bring the street genre into the 21st century. The work takes you on a brief walk down a London street, represented by parallel rows of large monitors that feature moving images of various items of detritus, especially beer cans and bottles. As you walk through, hands take hold of and/or tap the various items and your stroll is accompanied by the sounds that are so produced. It is brief, brash and noisy, maybe even a bit obvious, but at least it sets out to use 21st century methods to make a 21st century point in a broadly entertaining manner.

Arles 2016 Episode 1

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Eamonn Doyle Exhibition ‘ON’ – Arles 2016

This was the biggest and, for me, the best Rencontres de la Photographie of the three that I’ve attended. Bigger, physically, in that there were more exhibitions and they even extended out of Arles to neighbouring towns; and the best, because there was more variety, more trully contemporary work, and because the Eamonn Doyle exhibition at the Espace Van Gogh was, perhaps, better than anything I’ve ever seen in Arles. There is no way, in this blog, that I can write up everything I saw, and I am not going to attempt to do justice to all, some good things will be omitted. But I will start with the Doyle.

Housed in a rectangular room with high ceilings (where some will recall seeing the Sugimoto work a few years ago), it is in three parts, beginning with i (here). Throughout, we share the space with the citizens of Dublin, or at least one particular pair of streets, close to Doyle’s studio. In this first part, they are arranged in colourful groups of nine, all elderly (we imply, though we don’t see much of their their faces), turned away from the camera, shot from above, looking down, often bent/stooping, women’s heads mainly covered with scarves. The bright colours and strong lighting make for something almost cheerful and positive; these are real people, with long-lived lives, a bit care-worn perhaps, but stoical. Doyle’s manner of photographing them (described by him on the web link) is detached and unobtrusive, leaving us free to observe and reflect, as we might if in the street.

The second section is a much more powerful space, ON (here), dominated by massive black and white prints on opposing walls, one side looking down, almost challengingly, the other (mainly) looking up, shades of Rodchenko’s Soviet images. Between are 2/3 rows of same-sized images with varied subjects; mainly human but interspersed with birds, architectural details, and occasionally by gaps, spaces through which other parts of the exhibition peek.

Eamonn Doyle Arles 2016-5

We are very definitely in the street, in the city, but we’re also in a space of reflection – an existential space, in the presence (for me) of the human condition – of what it’s like to be human; it’s that strong. Perhaps important at this point to mention that the exhibition isn’t just photographic, and not just visual. It is a collaboration with Niall Sweeney (drawings and superb curating) and David Donohoe (sound – a crucial element in the overall experience). The subjects of the images range from the prosaically mundane to the almost heroic – but they are all, essentially, insignificant until they come together in this context, to make this experience. I wrote in my notes, soon afterwards, that it all might just add up to ‘an experience of the unconscious’.

Finally, we move into a more intimate space, less challenging than ON. This is END (here). There are smaller, colour portraits, some yellow/black, some just ‘random’ objects/details, many drawn over with seemingly abstract shapes … and then, on the end wall, this ‘iconic’ arrangement.

Eamonn Doyle Arles 2016-1

Eamonn Doyle exhibition ‘END’ – Arles 2016

An elderly man, again, slightly stooped, grim determination on his face, shirt & trousers & trainers, on a sunny morning, walks the street, looking down like those in i, except that we can see his face. The camera is on the ground rather than above him. I wondered whether this was a more obtrusive image than the others, but it doesn’t feel so. He seems weighed down – by the cares of a long life, by age, by illness (my wife and I recognised signs of a condition that we know from a close relative), the city, loneliness, his own psyche … but he is walking off for his morning constitutional, going somewhere. The city is there, in the pillars and portico. And, in the accompanying frames, the younger faces are also caught in their own reflective moments. Once again, I sense the existential presence of the human condition.

I’ve seen a great number of exhibitions in the last nine or ten years; and I suppose I must admit to having become immune to much of the sensory experience of ‘looking’, certainly of being ‘moved’ by what I see. It is not difficult to get a sense of having seen it all before, especially when it comes to ‘street’ and ‘documentary’, of which photography’s history already has plenty to offer for consideration and analysis. It is trully a challenge for the contemporary photographer/artist within those genres to be seen to move the medium forward – hence so much experimentation with the boundaries of ‘what is a photograph’, Flusser’s ‘experimental photographers’ and Cotton’s ‘photographic magic’. What Doyle has achieved (and Sweeney & Donohoe, in this specific context) is most significant, for me, because it does just that – moves the photographic image forward. It remains, essentially, photographic (despite the presence of drawing and sound), and it remains, essentially, in a gallery space – but it lifts the medium upwards and outwards, confidently demonstrating what it can do … despite, and without reference to, the deluge of the internet and social media. It was worth the trip to Arles just to see this – it’s that strong!

Exhibition opens

Daisy Lane Exhibition-3

So, everything set up yesterday afternoon (apart from forgetting to put the price labels on my prints for sale – Doh!) and the exhibition officially opened this morning. Fortunately I managed to fight my way through the queues to take a few installation shots!

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And we took advantage of every nook and cranny to display the images …

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… and the poster is on display outside, too.

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A step taken …!