Sunday, 16 November 2014

Narrative Takes: More Pictures in the World...

This is part one of a talk I gave at the Democratic Photo Club held at Stills Gallery in Edinburgh on November 6th. Members are invited to set a theme for others to interpret through photography with a talk, discussion and show of members work. For November I chose the theme of NARRATIVE TAKES and was interested in artists who create tensions between reality and fiction in their work challenging our conventional scripts. To introduce the theme I told two stories of my own inspired by the artist Thomas Demand. Here is the first story including a short intro on Thomas Demand.

I first saw the work of Thomas Demand at the Serpentine Gallery in 2006. Living in Berlin at the time, the fact that he was German and living and working there and of my generation were other factors that attracted me to seeing the show. Apart from that, London is my hometown and a gallery visit was a way for my Dad and I to spend time together, to structure and frame our somewhat difficult relationship. On a basic level it was something to do.
Staircase, 1995, C-Print/Diasec, 150 x 118 cm

When you first see a work by Thomas Demand, you may think it is a straight photograph of a scene or interior. As sources for his ideas he uses found or archive photographs and also personal memories. He constructs a life size model from paper and card which he then photographs again. After the photo is taken, the model is destroyed. It is only when you look closely that you realise the deception, that the photograph is lacking certain details or appears too perfect.

Klause/ Tavern 2, 2006, C-Print/ Diasec, 178 x 244 cm

You naturally begin to create a narrative from your own associations with the place/image in front of you. But even when you know the  story behind the image if there is one at all, you realise the world Demand has created doesn't exist, that it is fake and constructed. How reliable then are the narratives you choose in your everyday life and the ones you see in the media?

Office, 1995, C-Print/Diasec, 183.5 x 240 cm
When we arrived at the Serpentine, we saw that the walls of the gallery were covered in hand-blocked ivy themed wallpaper, in four colour tones to reflect different times of day. Normally you would expect art photography to be placed on a white wall. There appeared to be a deliberately stark contrast between the handicraft of the wallpaper and the apparent slickness displayed in the large photographic images.
Installation view, Serpentine Gallery, 2006 by Nic Tenwiggenborn

Copyshop 1999, C-Print/Diasec 183.5x 300cm

A 3 metre wide photograph in the exhibition called 'Copyshop' shows at first sight that: A ubiquitous space filled with photocopiers. There are no logos on the machines or paper. An impersonal space has been further stripped of clues. The photographic image of a photocopy room would appear to be the very antithesis of the process of handicrafts. Infact, by using the same material as a photocopier, paper, to make the somewhat banal scene in front of us Demand raises questions of reproduction, originality and the intrinsic worth of objects and images themselves. It is in itself a narrative that resounds through the gallery space, partly absorbed by the textured wallpaper, bouncing lightly off the glass surface of the photographs until it reaches us, where it will fall upon us to listen to our associations with the spaces that no longer exist or perhaps only once existed as an idea in paper that Demand once created. 

Hand-Blocked Wallpaper from the exhibition

After the show, I wanted to buy a book on Demand’s work. A disagreement began between my Dad and I about buying the show’s catalogue. My Dad thought it was too expensive and bought me another Demand book from a past exhibition:

 We had even walked away from the Serpentineinto Kensington Gardens and along the lake when I realised I really really wanted the exhibition catalogue as well as or instead of the other book. I was an adult but also the spoilt little girl with her Dad who felt she had to get what she wanted. Sometimes I hate this trait of mine, I get seduced by an exhibition and feel I must have “it”, whatever that thing is. I guess I am not alone in this as I have noticed the gift shops getting bigger in relation to art galleries and museums spaces. Anyway, I convinced myself that I couldn’t live without this catalogue, as it had pieces of the original wallpaper stitched into the book and was of the exhibition I had actually seen. Why couldn’t just seeing the exhibition be enough? I got my way, and we headed back and soon the issue of money seemed to loom up large between us. I felt embarrassed now as it turned out my Dad had only wanted to buy me something and he had. I also felt his dissaproval keenly that I wanted to spend more money which we both knew I didn’t really have on something that was in his eyes - unneccessary.

 In the midst of our discussion on the gallery steps, a man approached us and said he was a patron of the Serpentine and as such could get us a discount on the catalogue. (We must have been attracting attention). He accompanied me to the sales desk and I bought a catalogue for myself that my Dad still thought was too expensive even with a discount and was more expensive than the one he had bought for me.

It seems so poignant to me that this personal narrative has formed alongside the many narratives of the exhibition itself.

Now turning the pages of the book eight years later I see that the back of one piece of wallpaper has tiny circular ink flecks and mottling soaked through from the front of the paper itself.

This is echoed on the next page in “Constellation” an image of how the night sky would appear exactly 300 years into the future.
Constellation 2000, C-Print/Diasec, 130 x180
With this photograph, Demand defies the logics of photography that it is supposedly telling us a narrative that is always about the past. At every new exhibition space he reconfigures the image again so that it creates an image at that space exactly 300 years into the future. 

Images, whether taken by us or present in the media become part of the landscape of our past. Thomas Demand literally punches holes in paper to make this photograph of the night sky and in doing so he also punctures the façade of these narratives. A projected constellation of the skies has no stories only the ones we choose to project upon it. I see this photograph as something wholly unemotional. I think that is what Thomas Demand does with the photographs and constructions that he makes. He takes out the detail, creates a certain vacuum lacking in emotion. In doing so he reflects upon and lays bare our own personal and cultural associations and ironically, emotions.

Again, there is a twist to the story of this photograph. We are not seeing an image of the future at all but one of the past. The projected constellation is of light travelling towards us is from a million years ago due to the speed of light. We are not dealing with nice human distances of miles and kilometres either, or digestable human nuggets of time we frame our small stories within. Therefore to project any sentimentality, emotion or stories onto it is absurd.  Still, we do it.

I am writing this about eight years after visiting the Serpentine Gallery with my Dad. I can still touch and look through the catalogue in front of me. I am glad I bought it, as it brings back happy memories as well as being a beautiful object. This is even as I recollect with a certain embarrassment the situation under which the catalogue was purchased. This small story echoes many other stories that played out between my Dad and I, each incident not allowed to be isolated or played out alone but heavily loaded just like a Demand photograph. Now, just eight years later, a small human scale of time, I can only remember my Dad through the photographs and memories I have of him, and now this story.

(More images and information  on Thomas Demand available on his website)

Tuesday, 11 November 2014


My 'Zentangle' otherwise known as a doodle

Last night I couldn’t sleep and I started doodling in a notebook which is solely for the purpose of doodling. The notebook is a Zentangle notebook. Zentangle is a registered trademark of a method of doodling, or pattern making as a form of meditation. This way of drawing is not really new to me, I sometimes draw pattern as a kind of distraction. Actually, I am pleased someone has registered the idea, as now I feel I am no longer procrastinating but involved in some kind of sanctioned Beschäftigungstherapie, or purposeful occupational therapy. I am not sure, however, if this type of drawing method helps allieviate my worrying and obsessive thinking, or reinforces it. I feel safe within the square and get caught up in  details. Straight after this drawing though I began playing around with words in a similar method. I started with a theme, played with and changed order, elaborated. This became a sort of zentangle poem about my obsessive thinking and its traps (oh and doing the washing-up).

The Zentangle notepad is copyrighted, or perhaps it is only the introduction at the front. In the notebook there are blank square templates. Four pale grey dots delineate the four corners of the square otherwise know as ‘the tile’ within which you draw. I started to worry whether the doodle I drew may no longer be mine but 'copyrighted' by the Zentangle method. The poem is also inspired by the methods restrictions and reliance on pattern, so perhaps that is also tangled up in copyright? Oh, well, one more thing to worry and obsess about…. Hope I don't sleep tonight so I can get to draw another one.


Burst my bubble
Let me sink
Full of dishes
Let me think
Of something else
Not of you
Trap me in my bubble
Let me through

Let me through
Trap me in my bubble
Not of you
Of something else
Let me think
Full of dishes
Let me sink
Burst my bubble

Let through me
My bubble. Trap me in
You, not of
Something else of
Me. Think…Let
Full dishes of
Me sink. Let
My bubble burst

Burst me full
Of dishes
Let something
Of me through
Let me sink
Let me think
In my bubble trap

(I will update the Zentangle above daily on this post as I draw a new one)

Thursday, 23 October 2014

A touch of Opera

The light in Oslo was certainly dramatic, the low-lying but nevertheless blinding sun threatening to set from 4 until 7pm. This is the Oslo Opera House  which is serves as a popular playground to adults and children alike. People enjoy this building, the external space that sweeps up and around the core of the building, to repose, reflect, play, enjoy views of Olso and Fjord and be part of the spectacle or feel part of a landscape. You can't bury your head in your phone either as there are small swathes cut out of the ground every now and then which might trip you up. A certain soft focus may have been produced in part by the smear left on my lens by my 4 year old playing with my camera or the fact that I haven't been able to get to grips with the multitude of fiddly menus on my new digital compact camera, which I have a love hate relationship with, to fix the depth of field.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014


These photos were taken at the new financial district of Oslo known as "The Barcode Project". Some of the images in this edit turn out to be surprisingly textural for such a clean lined and shiny district. I got a bit obsessed with this bus-stop for some reason with its orange panes and red climbing plants, and I like the hashtag branding of the Oslo public transport service "Ruter". 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Grids and Mirrors

Photos of the exhibition by the German artist Isa Genzken currently on at Inverleith House at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh, extendeduntil 5th October 2014.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Unpleasant Design

Unpleasant Design is a book by Selena Savić and Gordan Savičić that investigates obstacles, psychological and sensual manipulation in common/public spaces and offers ways to overcome it, often in a playful and creative way. After reading this book, I started noticing examples of this phenomena in my neighbourhood. You should buy this book, if only for its sandpaper dust-jacket.

The other photographs came about whilst trying to point my camera at something beautiful, of which there is, admittedly, a lot in Edinburgh, the castle, for instance. Unfortunately, my camera resisted all attempts to do this as if magnetically repelled until pointed towards something mundane, irrelevant and perhaps unbeautiful. Sorry, Edinburgh. But as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Anything goes, at any time.  

CAUTION DO NOT CLIMB No-risk culture
Aw....was just about to wade in and enjoy my latte and croissant here.

Unpleasant design. Anti skateboarding lozenges. 

Unusual height makes sitting uncomfortable on this bench for longer time. (If you can get up there in the first place)

I've been in Edinburgh a year now. But no-one told me it was just a facade.

Capacity: 67,800 Seats taken: 1.