Edwin Coomasaru ed., Corinne Silva: Wandering Abroad (International New Media Gallery: Published Online 3/11/2012)
Ben Burbridge and Edwin Coomasaru eds., Another Space: Political Squatting in Brighton, 1994-Present (Brighton: Photoworks, 2012)
Thomson & Craighead: A Short Film About War
Thomson & Craighead engage with the Internet as both subject matter and material. A Short Film About War (2009) explores individual responses to contemporary conflict. The video contains a split screen: one side displays photographs found online, the other reveals the data associated with them. This includes the URL, date and location taken and name or pseudonym of the creator. Drawing attention to Internet images illustrates the greater ease, speed and decreased cost of disseminating visual culture. These changes enable it to reach a wider audience; though, by no means a universal one. A large portion of the world is without Internet access or appropriate hardware.1
The different URLs illustrate the multitude of perspectives explored by the film. A Short Film About War presents different voices and experiences in a variety of languages and geographical-political positions. The spoken words belong to online bloggers. They are empowered by their Internet connection, able to share their story. The proliferation of online publishing is able to contest grand ideological narratives, such as jingoistic mass media propaganda. The Internet has profoundly changed our experience of war. Conflicts now unfold with real-time Twitter updates.
However, the myriad of voices present on the Internet is also chaotic and confusing. In A Short Film About War photographs rush past the screen at great speed. Their location can radically change in a split second, to a whole different warzone. The viewer isn’t given enough time to digest each snapshot before they disappear. It is hard to appreciate the unique situation of each different site of conflict. This reflects the experience of the Internet user, inundated with words and images. Each individual must sift through the data on offer, to select their own information. Such an activity is part of Thomson & Craighead’s role as ‘authors’ of the film. The piece does have a collaborative element, using found material. Ultimately though, the artists have chosen the particular visual and textual depictions, and imposed their own sequence. They are not without their own bias, agenda and ideological position.
1 Julian Stallabrass, Internet Art: The Online Clash of Culture and Commerce (Tate Publishing: London, 2003), p.48-51.
Zarina Bhimji: A Brief Note
Zarina Bhimji’s current exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery (19 January-9 March 2012) is a powerfully poetic exploration of migration, memory and the legacies of empire. At its centre is Yellow Patch (2011), filmed in India.
The film is filled with richly aesthetic interiors and landscapes: absent, haunted spaces. A tension is built up between the empty desolate, decayed rooms and the soundtrack: at times muffled echoes of public announcements, children’s voices or whole crowds. There is a moment when the chattering voices reach a roar, almost as if they were to rupture through the screen. Many of these spaces are connected to the British Empire; now discarded and unused. Files upon files of bureaucratic colonial rule gather dust: a lingering presence in an independent country.
At one point the film examines a grandiose marble statue of Queen Victoria: positioned in the pose of empress. Her face has been violently smashed away, leaving the gaping hoods of her eyes staring. The statue now stands alone at a railway station: sidelined and vandalised. But it is still left, still haunting. Bhimji’s attitude to the British Empire is complicated. Yellow Patch presents it as a (decayed and past) oppressive regime, but also illustrates its enduring influence on aspects of contemporary Indian identity.
Dominic Head: On/Offline Translations
Dominic Head’s work will be exhibited at Wimbledon College of Art, 19th-20th January 2012.
Dominic Head’s latest work is a study in translation. His final works are images of light: projections of photographs hosted online. These are taken of Head’s replication of the first three images found in Google when the word ‘landscape’ was searched. These pictures were originally rendered in paint or digital photographs. The project both archives and distorts online data, as well as exploring the political power structures that shape culture.
Thomson & Craighead used Google searches as subject matter in their Google Tea Towels (2002-5), which act as archival screen shots captured in permanent physical forms.1 Head also creates a record of a specific moment in Internet flux, but moves a step further. He reintroduces his paintings to the Internet – and Google itself – by uploading digital reproductions and exhibiting them. The translations of data to paint, then back to data transforms the source images: changing scale, colour, shape and tone. Head draws attention to the process by which digital images are widely disseminated, transformed, distorted and edited across the web. His source images are in some cases tiny: 256 × 226 pixels. In order to transfer this onto a large canvas details have to be stretched and invented. The image further changes when uploaded online as a photograph: pixels blur and colour is relative to the monitor viewing the work.
Images of landscapes are ideological sites of ownership. Head investigates the concept of landscape as a political subject. He explores the creation of myth and cliché that lies behind ‘landscape’ by giving responsibility to Google to determine his subject matter. In doing this he exposes Google as a maker of knowledge. He highlights the power the search engine has to conceal and display; and its role in shaping ideas and understandings. Businesses compete and pay for the highest places in a Google search.2 Rather than it being an open window onto the net, it is a site of contested power networks.
By titling his works after the original URL code of his found images, Head is explicitly addressing the location of the files on the Internet. These online addresses are an interesting insight into ownership. His first piece is from the Tate website, George Lambert’s Classical Landscape (1745, Fig 1). In drawing attention to this, Head reflects on the viewer’s notions of landscape as determined by certain institutions. The Tate’s canon-making position in art history is reflected in its position as the first Google result. An investigation of the Tate website details the purchase of the painting in 1958.3 This highlights a moment of subjective taste and financial empowerment that allowed such an acquisition to be made. By drawing attention to this webpage, both the canon and Google search are revealed to be not objective collections of quality, but assembled by those with the power to influence them.
Alternatively, the other source images Head uses are from very different locations. They are from sites where individuals can upload their own content (Fig 2 and 3). This explores the possibility of the Internet as a collaborative space, which undermines traditional power structures. While the first image is owned by a prestigious museum, the majority of landscape scenes are from – seemingly – everyday people. Head offers this potentially utopian use of the web, as a site to collectively create meaning and insertions into cultural discourse.
1 Steve Bode and Nina Ernst eds., Thomson & Craighead (Film and Video Umbrella: London, 2005), p.44-5.
2 Julian Stallabrass, Internet Art: The Online Clash of Culture and Commerce (Tate Publishing: London, 2003), p.20.
3 ‘George Lambert, Classical Landscape’, Tate Online [http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?workid=8267, Published online: n.d., Accessed online: 15/01/12].
Fig 1: Anon., T00211_8, jpg Digital file, 256 × 226 px, tate.org.uk. Source: http://www.tate.org.uk/collection/T/T00/T00211_8.jpg [Published online: n.d., Accessed online: 13/01/12].
Fig 2: Anon., landscape-5, jpg Digital file, 500 x 333 px, cam-shots.co.uk. Source: http://cam-shots.co.uk/modules/xcgal/albums/userpics/10001/landscape-5.jpg [Published online: n.d., Accessed online: 13/01/12].
Fig 3: Anon., Landscape-2, jpg Digital file, 1600 x 1200 px, wondrouspics.com. Source: http://wondrouspics.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Landscape-2.jpg [Published online: n.d., Accessed online: 13/01/12].
The Contemporary Eye
This autumn, the University of Sussex celebrates fifty years since it was established. To commemorate the event the Arts Society has curated The Contemporary Eye. It is a show that represents contemporary art produced by different generations of artists local to Sussex. It features painting, film and sculpture by sixteen artists.
At the centre of the exhibition is ‘All that’s solid melts into air (Karl Marx)’ (2006, Tate Collection): a film by Vong Phaophanit with text by Claire Oboussier. Claire graduated from Sussex in 1985. Their piece is filmed in Laos, South East Asia. It captures the landscapes, architecture and figures with a poetic gaze. ‘All that’s solid melts into air (Karl Marx)’ explores a theme that is central to the exhibition: the eye. The opening of the film observes a team of camera men moving and assembling the cinematic lens. The narration scripted by Oboussier investigates the very nature of perception. A distinction is made between ‘to see’ and ‘to look’. The narrator comments, ‘when we look we have already decided what it is that we will see’. Looking involves imposing a vision. The voice asserts ‘to see Lao I must suspend all that I know of it’.
The Contemporary Eye explores the act of perception. The artworks delve into blurred boundaries between realism and abstraction. They investigate notions of diaspora and migration, gender and sexuality, voyeurism and sight as a political act. Certain pieces delve into surreality and dreams, manipulating the distinction between the concrete and the cerebral. The Contemporary Eye presents a vision for our times.
FEATURING ARTWORK BY:
Vong Phaophanit & Claire Oboussier, Dominic Head, Noe Baba, Elisha Enfield, Michelle Gorman, Max Fletcher, Raj Shah, Charlie Tomlinson, William Phong Ly, Justus Cox, Theodora Sutton, Claire Lamy, Rebecca Kunzi, Lianne Chan, Chung Ching Wong
Edwin Coomasaru, Dominic Head, Phoebe Darling-Senner and Isabella Smith. Assisted by Daisy O’Sullivan, Susanna Cordner, Sam Taylor, Joe Eyles and Tom Hedger