Exhibition Reviews

The Bare Life – Philippe Grandrieux

Empty Gallery – one of my go-to galleries in Hong Kong which displays edgy contemporary artworks that are not exclusive to visual arts but other forms of medium or even crossing boundaries to other forms and media.

Philippe Grandrieux “The Bare Life” is currently exhibited from end of Sept til end of November. The text from the gallery describes the work really well.

“The performance in The Scream resemble an uncanny mixture of religious rituals, and choreographic workshop.  The affective intensity of these performances has only been heightened by Grandrieux’s decision to both to completely surround the spectator with images, and to introduce a slight delay of video, producing an effect no unlike the temporal blurring of which accompanies accumulated sensation. A sequence of 11 staggered projections surround the viewer within a purpose-built chamber, confronting them with a quivering multitude of naked bodies….

Bodies convulse and flail in an object choreography which oscillates between moments of surprising tenderness – the nearly automatic self-soothing activity of a body humming, rocking and whispering to itself – and moments of brutality – manifested not only by the titular scream, but also clawing, twitching, groveling of a body in distress.”

“The 3 single-channel work deals with the theme of anxiety – also explore the enigma of the human body and our relationship to our own materiality. Installed as life-size projections within the architecture of the gallery, each work present a human figure(s) enveloped by cover of darkness, moving according to an obscure logic beyond our comprehension.”

The works definitely confronts the viewers of their relationship with their sensations by being enfolded within the performer’s act. That confrontation sort of led us to awake our bodies as well and become extremely aware of how they respond to different stimuli. Visually striking and enigmatic, somehow disturbing too with the performer’s body almost felt as if she was not present, only with bones and skins moving according to the choreography. There were moments of her body postures which felt as if she was an alien, especially when the light source is not a warm but a fluorescent tone.  All in all, a mind-bending piece of work.

 

 

Snapshots of the single 3-channel projections @ Empty Gallery

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The Origin of Photography

Ways of Seeing – John Berger

I don’t know how many times I’ve watched this BAFTA award winning documentary series about art and images. But every time I re-watch this again, something new inspires me. This is the magic of really great work.

Episode 1 – John Berger talks about the reproduction of images due to the invention of photography and new media e.g. television. How this has an impact on how we appreciate art from the past.

In summary, he talks about how art was appreciated within context – the frame, the place displayed which creates the whole aesthetic experience subject to that piece of art. And art was unique in that sense – one piece one place one time. With the invention of photography, art becomes trasmittable – we no longer need to go to a particular place or travel to a certain country to have this experience. The art pieces can be delivered on prints, on television, in the context of our home. But will this experience be the same?

Berger argues that how we see the original art piece is entirely different to how it is being transmitted and displayed in front of our eyes. In some way, you are able respond to the original art piece by choosing how to see and appreciating the authenticity of it; in contrast, with the transmitted work, how the art work is arranged (e.g. zoom in or out, panning left or right, what music to play in background) is entirely coded to what the presenter wants us to see. The art can become easily manipulated and diverge from its original meaning. It has become like words rather than holy relics. He emphasised at the end that we need to be sceptical of how these images and meanings are arranged.

 

Episode 2 – he talks about the differences between being naked and nude – where the former is about being seen as oneself, whereas the latter is presenting oneself as an object, being on display without clothing. This refers to the portrayal of the female nude, an important part of the tradition of European art. Berger examines these paintings and asks whether they celebrate women as they really are or only as men would like them to be. Photography has elevated this issue to raising beauty in the public image of women and how this influences how women see themselves today.

 

Episode 3 – in this episode Berger examines where the value of art comes from. Before photography, art was somehow raised above life, turning it into a kind of religion. He said that when you buy a painting you also buys the look of the thing it represents. Early paintings were representations of private possessions, and some how possessing these paintings deduce a form of pride – because the sense of what you can put your hands on became closely connected with the sense of ownership. The celebration of merchandise began.

 

Episode 4 – the last episode he talks about the publicity of images. Where traditional art shows private possessions that consolidates the owner’s sense and value, the public images share a message of what we don’t have. The sight of it makes us want to possess it so to be envied. Publicity is a way of manufacturing glamour. It plays upon fear. Objects themselves are neutral, only publicity and images that raises or demolishes their values.

“In the urban world, we are surrounded by images of an alternative way of life. We may remember or forget these images – but briefly we take them in. And for a moment they stimulate our imagination, either by way of memory or by anticipation. But where is this other way of life?”

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The Origin of Photography

Rhetoric of the Image – Roland Barthes

Barthes, has clearly demonstrated that there are signs in photographs. In his theory,

Signs (anything that convey a meaning) = signifier (things that give meaning) / signified (the mental concept of the things presented)

Here, is the famous advertisement that Barthes uses in his text “Rhetoric of the Image” to explain his theory of how to read photographs.

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According to Barthes, there are 4 signs here that can be read from this image:

  • the half opened bag and the unpackness signifies returned from the market
  • the tomatoes, pepper and pasta signify Italianicity – the food themselves as well as the colours, constituting to the Italian flag – green, red and white
  • the collection of the objects signifies a dinner to be prepared, the tin of product surrounded by fresh and natural food signifies its equivalence to them
  • the image composed is with relevance to painting categories of “still life”

There are also denoted message here, meaning the signifier is same as the signified. E.g. the image of tomatoes signifies tomatoes, the image of pasta signifies pasta. We still need to acquire these anthropological knowledge to be able to read these messages.

In his text, he claims that there are 3 messages from a photograph:

  • linguistic message
    • anchorage – this is the text which acts as an anchoring point for viewers to derive information from the image. For press photographs especially, the text often directs what information to focus and what information to ignore in an image, “remotely controlling the viewer towards a meaning chosen in advance.”
    • relay – this is text which complements and works alongside with the images in e.g. comic strips or films. Creating a dialogue. The meaning is found in the sequence rather than the image itself.
  • denoted message
    • He said that the denoted and connoted message is relational, not having one without the other. At least, there is no such image of representing just the denoted message.
  • connoted message
    • With connoted message, it truly depends on the knowledge of the person, as the reading of these signs are not fixed but varied – practical, national, cultural, aesthetics etc. And the language of the image is not just the total utterance emitted but also received

All in all, he claims that the denoted message counterbalances or neutralises the connoted message, and while the connoted message refers to culture, denoted message refers to nature. It is what both exists that makes the rhetoric of an image.

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The Origin of Photography

The Photographic Message – Roland Barthes

What is a photographic message? Is there a structural analysis into what a photograph transmits?

A lot of the philosophers have been saying how closely photography is related to realism (Walton, 1983). Even Barthes is saying that it is a literal transformation of the reality onto light sensitive photographic paper (what he later calls – the denoted message). Making a photograph does not rely on the beliefs of the creator, as Walton says, unlike a piece of artwork. A photograph, although still depends on the choices of the framing and technical skills of the creator, it in itself is something recorded from what’s in the world. Whereas with art, the creator can create and put onto the canvas of anything that he imagines or hallucinates.

But Barthes argues that there is a second message that photography transmit – known as the connoted message – which derives from the decisions of the creator e.g. frame, composition, style to the extend of how the society receives it i.e. inputting the cultural context into the composition of the photograph. Even with press photographs there are connoted messages – from composition, treatment, words attached to it plus the newspaper company itself are symbols to how the public reads these signs (note: this is especially transparent with the image consumption during the midst of Hong Kong protests). Barthes says that the connotation is realised at the different levels of production of the photograph – trick effects, pose, objects to photogenia, asetheticism and syntax.

Trick effects are often used in propagandas e.g. the American press 1951 photo of Senator Millard Tydings and Communist leader Earl Browder. The heavily connoted message in this photograph is really a sign only for certain society and people with certain values. Without understanding the history or the cultural context of what was happening in USA during 1951, this image is merely an image of two people conversing.

Objects are inducers of association of ideas e.g. a bookself = intellectual. So are people (but the associations are more complex e.g. Mother Teresa = compassion). In a photograph, objects and people are the vocabulary of the visual image, and how they are composed and posed turn this lexicon into syntax. “E.g. a window opening on to vineyards and tiled roofs; in front of the window a photograph album, a magnifying glass, a vase of flowers. Consequently, we are in the country, south of the Loire (vines and tiles), in a bourgeois house (flowers on the table) whose owner, advanced in years (the magnifying glass), is reliving his memories (the photograph album) – Francois Mauriac in Malagar (photo in Paris-Match).” (Barthes, 1971).

With photogenia, it relates to the technology of photographic production (lighting, exposure, printing) through which certain effects (motion blur, double exposure etc) create connotations in the photograph; aestheticism is about connotation based on classical paintings e..g classical rules of compositions and syntax, is about the connotation created by viewing a sequence of images and which emerges from the photographs in relation to each other rather than singly.

What Barthes also mentioned in this chapter from Image, Music, Text (1971) book is the relationship between text and images. Formerly, images illustrates the words but when text are attached to an image, it has a parasitic nature to quicken the understanding of the image and it affects how the image is being read. As Barthes says,

“The relationship is not the image which comes to elucidate or realise the text, but the latter comes to sublimate, patheticise or rationalised the image.”

Sometimes the text accompanied can invent a totally new message or contradict the image to produce a different message to the reader. So the big question is, do we read photographs based entirely on its entity, or the message is eluted or deluded by the surrounding text?

 

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Blog

A brand new start

1st October.

This day marks the brand new direction of this photoblog. I’m going to be working and writing about photography and contemporary visual arts, in hope to motivate self-learning, as well as sharing my love of visual arts with those who share similar sensibilities in art.

These topics will include:

  • The Origin of Photography – mostly about theories and philosophy of photography (back from where it all started)
  • Photo Critiques – discuss and comment on contemporary image-based works worldwide
  • Exhibition Reviews – this will mostly be exhibitions based in Hong Kong or wherever I get a chance to travel to photo festivals and exhibitions in other countries
  • Photobook Wishes – works that are made into photobooks which I feel are not just books but are totally different art objects will be discussed here
  • Artists Inspirations – interviews and inspiring words from masters of visual arts and contemporary artists
  • Photography Today – this will be about the controversy topics and issues relating to photography today and the future

I hope this new direction will aid both you and me, in sharing, discussing and exchanging the love of visual arts.

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Photography

Casting out the self – Dominic Hawgood

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© Dominic Hawgood, CGI still from the series ‘Casting out the Self, 2017 ; Source @ Photoworks

With the increased digitalisation use of photography, a whole system of photography techniques, methods and production equipment was replaced by another superstructure of methods and devices (electronic, or digital), which dramatically changed and expanded the possibilities of capturing, editing and circulating images.

Instead of conventional image capturing, Hawgood focuses on practices associated with image manipulation and the production of computer generated images – which raises the questions of the ontological and epistemological nature of photography, while simultaneously forcing us to question the limits, tensions, and articulations between real and virtual, between fact and fiction, between representation and imagination.

While photography is being questioned in this direction, “Casting out the Self” took this direction and turned it around to explore the spiritual side of digitals. The work explores the aesthetic properties of DMT – a psychedelic drug that is seen as a means to access the spiritual world. The aesthetic side of the effect as Hawgood described, “offered this digital experience — I felt like I was inside a computer simulation of some kind… you experience strange perspectives, distortions that might feel symmetrical or something like that. There’s unusual depth, noiselessness, clarity—all kinds of things that you associate with building imagery in CG (computer graphics) and digitally.”

He collaborated with another artist and created video animation which displays various images, visuals, and objects. This work focuses on digital technology and the visual world this technology makes possible, but also serves as a means to raise questions regarding the transition from the real world to the digital world.

The work tests a lot of boundaries that touch upon topics of my interest: spirituality and the line between real and fake. No doubt his work stretches and bends over my mind on how nowadays what photography is. Is CGI rendered images also a type of photography? With the increased digital technology usage in photography nowadays, what is photography?

References: https://www.sleek-mag.com/article/dominic-hawgood/

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Photography

Searching for Mu – Paul Cupido

I came across his work while browsing and spying on what other people were following on social media. And here, I stumbled onto beautiful works by Cupido. “Searching for Mu” or actually Cupido’s artistic concept “revolves around the principle of mu: a philosophical concept that could be translated as ‘does not have’, but is equally open to countless interpretations. Mu can be considered a void, albeit one that holds potential. Searching for Mu — taking shape in photographs, film clips, sound and folded paper — is tantamount to a quest. I have journeyed nearly as far away from home as possible, nevertheless, a journey outward equally means an exploration of our inner selves. A journey inward searching for acceptance that life comes to an end, yet at the same time knowing that life is circular, starting over time and again.

The artistic philosophy behind his work is beautiful – combining some form of zen or buddhism philosophy of life is impermanent and that everything comes in full circle. What’s more beautiful is his artist statement:

“I aim to engage with the world with wide-open senses. My work is about the magic moments of life as well as its inconveniences. I want to take pictures, while forgetting about the process of photography, until I’m saturated with an existential sense of life. Every step I take begins with the notion of ‘mono no aware’: the transience of everything, the gentle melancholy of things, being sensitive to ephemera.

His work reflects so much about his philosophy of life. And I guess why I love it so much is because not only his visual works are strikingly beautiful and give me such a great feeling of calm and peace, but also we have such similar and common philosophy.

Some of his work:

 

 

 

 

 

 

His work and philosophy reminded me so much of Masao Yamamoto’s work, who is famous for his zen type of photography (will do the next blogpost on his work).

 

References (where he talks more about the process of his work, and the concept behind his books) – highly recommended:

Interview with GUP: http://www.gupmagazine.com/articles/ephemere-an-interview-with-paul-cupido

http://www.bildhalle.ch/fotografen/paul-cupido/?L=1

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Photography

What makes a good photograph?

Interesting read from BJP’s article on “what makes a good photograph.”

Everything created is relative to taste and time. The work that seems like a mistake in this context, in this era, at this place may be viewed different elsewhere. It is this that we as photographers or artists need to keep in mind and still work diligently towards producing work and making art.

What resonates with me the most from this article is that, mistakes, often we disregard them, we want to redo things the way we want, we think that they are bad. But for these featured artists as well as me, is that we have a mindset of honestly accepting the mistakes we made, and see how we can turn that to something else creatively.

“Mistakes is a point of entrance to something new. The mistake reveals something that you may not have thought about before: a new way of making photographs.”

The point is, to keep making mistakes. And to keep practising.

https://www.bjp-online.com/2019/08/what-makes-a-good-photograph/

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Photography

Rinko Kawauchi

Rinko, a Japanese photographer / visual artist, whose work often revolves around small things and little moments in our day to day lives. Her work dances between the subconscious of dreams and the subtlety of the reality – flying birds, close-up of the details of hands, illuminated skies etc – creating loose narratives of visual poetry which gives a tranquil and serendipity feeling from within.

From PHMuseum we learn that she adopts her work ethics from Japanese culture and Buddhism. “I’m not a strict Buddhist, but I like an idea of Buddhism”, Kawauchi explains. And with this comes an appreciation of simple things, and their imperfections.”

Honestly I didn’t know how to appreciate her work before, when I felt at that time her work was very ordinary and nothing special. Yet maybe through my own buddhism practice as well, there’s a growing love and appreciation towards her work. The pictures often display moments that feels so close as if they can be touched. It feels as though I can just walk into this life of what she created – the dance between dreams and reality.

SFMOMA interview:

https://www.sfmoma.org/watch/rinko-kawauchi-contemplates-small-mysteries-life/

 

 

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Photography

Photography as narratives, and how social media is shaping it?

Recently I’ve read some articles that I felt somehow are linked together – one was talking about photography as a narrative medium, what position exactly does it stand? One was about photographs getting censored in IG, and how the platform works is now questionable as technology and the line of ethics blurs, the final one is about how social media shapes our identity.

Why I think they are closely linked because since the development of social media e.g. FB and IG, the use and function of photography has widen and is constantly tied in with our everyday life. Anyone who knows how to use a phone can easily snap a photo to represent something about him/her and post it on social media. Narrating our own stories is easier than ever. It is cheap, fast and skill-less. While this is happening, yes – artists and crafters can easily share works to the world wide public, and art doesn’t have to be something prestige anymore, but some worries about the code of ethics and whether e.g. nude photographs is same as porn. Plus the recent news about images of a murdered victim has been posted on social media, how are we using photography and social media? Should there be some sort of policy? But if one company uses its powers to decree which art can be shown and which art can’t, then art isn’t free. What solutions can there be?

Especially now with teens who are born in the Internet era, they are the cyborgs of constantly documenting their life experiences with images. How are they using photography and social media? How is this culture shaping their identity?

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