Thursday, 19 November 2015

To Flow and to Stay

In August, I revisited the Sou Fujimoto Final Wooden House/ Replica at the sculpture park of the  Kunsthalle, Bielefeld in Germany, built to coincide with his exhibition Futurospective Architektur. I had visited the exhibition in 2012 where the gallery was filled with over a hundred of his models on plinths of projects built and unrealised. Some models were immensely labour intensive in their production, and some were as simple as a crumpled piece of paper. Accompanying each one were thoughts and questions on architecture and Sou Fujimoto's underlying ideas on the relationship between nature and artificiality, blurring boundaries between inside and outside, garden, window and house and the idea of the city being organic like a forest, where "richness is born from the space between order and chaos".The interior of the Final Wooden House looks like an elaborate Jenga game, not rooms or separate spaces as such, but nooks and crannies where you could climb up, lie down or perch, and determine the function in your own way. The interior offers seclusion, but also the possibility of interaction with others and the exterior space. Next time, I'll ask for the key. 
More info and photographs of the exhibition here.

"House like an airy man-made forest, like living on the tree-top traversing from branch to branch"

"To flow and to stay, the polar opposites are made to coexist."

More info and photographs of the exhibition here.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Mel Gibson's Legs

Akin to hiring the least qualified and unsuitable candidate for a job, illustrator ZEEL invited me to write a piece for the book accompanying the upcoming illustration exhibition The Rise and Fall of Mel Gibson. Least qualified as I had never even seen a Mel Gibson film before ZEEL asked me. Under strict laboratory conditions then, with my hand hovering over a red alarm button in case of emergency,  I was exposed to the film What Women Want, an American Romantic Comedy from the year 2000. How a Norwegian fisheries scientist/ film buff got into the mix, I don't know.
The flyer is designed by Aidan Saunders, who organised the exhibition together with ZEEL.

Mel Gibson’s legs

I’ve come to Norway to do some research into Mel Gibson and his seminal film, What Women Want. Although the film came out in 2000, and was quite popular in Norway that year, incredibly, fifteen years later, it is still the highest grossing film here. At the Oslo Film Foundation, recent research has revealed that the average Norwegian has seen the film 13.3 times.

Sometimes films get lost in translation when they cross the Atlantic, but in this case the film bound for Norway was actually lost. Ragnar Holst Sørland, a fisheries scientist, was given the task of importing What Women Want. He had made a series of highly successful films of fish for television. In Norway people love to see slow, contempletive films of trains going from one side of the country to another, for example, or rain pattering on a corrugated iron roof, or twitching curtains, all in real time. The trouble was after Sørland’s astoundingly low key film Fish Sleep Too the genre seemed to be exhausted.

But what does all this have to do with What Women Want, a film about a chauvinistic advertising executive, played by Mel Gibson, who electrocutes himself in the bath and suddenly is gifted with the ability to hear women’s thoughts? Surely that couldn’t be boring? It’s true, Sørland was pretty disappointed when he saw this film. He had never done product placement, but this film was practically an advertisement for Nike. They even had Nike executives play themselves in a key pivotal scene. He didn’t like scenes with pivots either. The protagonists in his film were fish of the most easy going nature, so would blow any rampant egotistic alpha male like Gibson out of the water.
As he sat through the film in Gibson’s own private screening room in LA, he had to stifle yawns. In one scene, Gibson was supposed to be sampling products aimed at women such as lipstick, leg wax, and mascara, to get insight for a pitch to his advertising boss the next day. Instead of putting his mind to it, he wastes his time drinking red wine and dancing around his apartment to Frank Sinatra. He even rips a decent pair of tights. Ragnar tries to understand the premise of the film. Why doesn’t Nick Marshall respect and understand women in the first place? Why does he find having a female boss a problem? Don’t they have a women’s quota?

After turning down Gibson’s offer of a part in his latest movie as a Norwegian fisheries scientist, Ragnar makes his excuses and leaves with Sinatra still ringing in his ears. Gibson’s film stinks like Surstrømming, but Ragnar has the film board to answer to. Ragnar comes to a decision. “I’ll do it ‘My Way”, he says. “Not for me though. For my fellow citizens.”

On the ship back to Norway, Ragnar has just six months to rework the film. In his tiny cabin he works with scissors and glue, cellophane and burned matchstick heads to recreate a film that could just merit his journey. After four months he pauses to look out the porthole, then resumes his work. 

The Oslo Film Foundation screens What Women Want. It is a 24 hour frame by frame version of the scene in which Mel Gibson waxes his right leg. The part that Ragnar finds particularly successful is the four hour scene of the wax heating up in the sink in its little tub. How that scene was wasted before in a matter of a second? The scream Gibson emits when ripping off the wax strip now has a spiritual quality. Slowed down, it is hard to tell if there is really one tone or more, but at times it sounds like a Mongolian throat singer, uplifting.

Pleased with his work, he decides to set off on a vanity project, ‘sink or sink’, a film about a carp's journey to the bottom of a pond. He has also made a friend across the pond. Mel Gibson has agreed to introduce him to a friend or two in Hollywood. Maybe they will knock out some slo-mo films together, as Mel calls them. They even have a working title: What Fish Want. 


A video of a flick through preview of book:

Friday, 9 October 2015

Simulacra zine

A new Zine for contemporary photography, Simulacra, is being launched in Edinburgh this evening from 6-9pm at project space, Bargain Spot. There are 3 photographers featured in each issue. This month's theme is on Oblivion.

The editors chose some images from my book project called Fleetway, a Story in Twelve Photo Fails for the zine. This project began with a film failure. After initial disappointment, I began to find the images interesting, perhaps more arresting than anything I could consciously take. I wanted to talk about photography and my own insecurities as a maker. The camera, film and objects photographs come alive in this alternative telling of how these images came into being. The film, however flawed it at first appears, has in fact its own logic, we just have to look for it.

The project will soon be a book published by Scarrow Press.

Friday, 2 October 2015


September's theme at the Democratic Camera Club was on Territory.
I tackled this from two angles in my introduction. The first was territory as a photographic theme and the second was the medium of photography as a contested territory in itself.

The photographers I showed for first part were Fay Godwin, Luisa Lambri, Robert Adams and Jo Spence. 
Fay Godwin
Fay Godwin Tethered Caravan, Easha-Ness, Shetland, 1987
Themes of private land ownership are playfully and wryly portrayed in Godwin's images of the British landscape. She beautifully chronicles our attempts to control and repackage nature, as well as highlighting environmental issues. A book to look out for: Landmarks 
Luisa Lambri Untitled (Darwin D. Martin House, #02),2007
Luisa Lambri Untitled (Darwin D. Martin House, #02),2007
Luisa Lambri,  b. 1965, addresses the territory of modernist architecture, traditionally a male preserve. She creates intimate, subtle and mysterious images of details of famous buildings by Le Corbusier or Frank Lloyd Wright. The repetitive quality of her series refuse clarity, unlike the buildings themselves which remain static, material and defined. Her work was exhibited in the recent Constructing Worlds Exhibition at the Barbican in London. The catalogue is available at the Edinburgh Art and Design Library. Or check out her website here. 

Robert Adams From What we Bought: The New World
Robert Adams From What we Bought: The New World highlight
Robert Adams documents the territory of expanding suburbs in America and its effects on nature. His photos appear beguilingly sober, but the 'empty' natural spaces, fragile human presence  and signs of encroaching exploitation convey an emotive tension.  Of this series he said 'The pictures record what we purchased, what we paid, and what we could not buy. They document a separation from ourselves, and in turn, from the natural world that we professed to love.' To see more of his work click here.

There are artists who explore the body as territory and the politics of space in their artwork: Jo Spence, Sophy Rickett's pissing women series and Lili Reynaud Dewar, to name just a few.
Jo Spence and Terry Dennett: The Picture of Health?, 1982-1986

For the second part of the talk I focussed on the territory of photography as a medium in itself.
The BA (Hons) Degree in Fine Art Photography at Glasgow School of Art, which I attended in 1990  was the first of its kind in the UK. Photography seemed to have an inferiority complex about being accepted as art, i.e. on a par with painting and sculpture. It became important to define photography as art, rather than photography for commercial or private use.
John Baldessari, Frames and Ribbons 1988
Meanwhile painters were incorporating photography into their work, like the artist John Baldaserri.

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 12.16.58
Gerhard Richter
Whilst Fine Art Photographers were working to make photography more exclusive and collectable, painter Gerhard Richter was using photography as a way to deal with the increasing mass of photographic images in the world, which he describes as a "Bilderflut". He has been collecting photographs, cuttings and sketches since the 1960s in a work called Atlas.
Today 250 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day, a veritable tsunami of images. The distinctions between amateur and professional photography become harder to maintain, if they should be maintained at all.
Freedom from the Known
Wolfgang Tillmans, Anthony , 2005
Some of the most interesting photographic work being made today questions the role of photography. These photographic artists question the value of photography, addressing the 'Bilderflut', by using appropriated images from the Internet, using new technologies to usurp the idea of the"maker", and revisit analogue approaches using different materials to create negatives and see the photographic paper itself as a sculptural form. In fact these were the themes of a recent exhibition in Berlin called Photo Poetics which will be at the Guggenheim Museum in November.
Lisa Oppenheim The sun is always setting somewhere else, 2006
Lisa Oppenheim The sun is always setting somewhere else, 2006

Here is a link to a short video about Lisa Oppenheim, explaining her use of appropriates images, and her use of new and historical techniques.
Claudia Angelmaier, Betty, 2008.
Claudia Angelmaier, Betty, 2008.
(And in a reversal of the idea of "Bilderflut", this image by Claudia Angelmaier references Gerhard Richter)
Crying, 2005
Anne Collier, Crying, 2005

Thanks for everyone for coming to this month's meeting at the Democratic Photo Club, the interesting discussions and photography responses to the theme.

This post first appeared on the website of the democratic camera club. 

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Peace Lily

What comes between Picasso and Lee?
- The pale, mildly mannered Peace Lily
The muse it holds in a green embrace
As for the master, it blocks out his face

The poster is from an exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery about the friendship between Lee Miller and Picasso which ran from 23 May - 6th September. The poster was at the Fine Art Public Library in Edinburgh, which apart from having nice plants, has a room dedicated to photography. 

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Park Life

This is the story of the bush in this photograph taken at the Berlin Tempelhof Freiheit (freedom) Park in July. I like to think that even when the Tempelhof airport was in operation, this bush was lying there under the tarmac waiting for its chance to break through. When the airport closed in 2008 it realised that it could sieze its chance now those pesky planes were gone. But first it had to wait, as there was a fair bit of bureaucratic nonsense to wade through: a people's vote to decide whether the land should be snapped up by developers or made into a park for everyone. "No brainer" it thought, but still it bit its imaginary nails and tried its best at thought transference into the minds of Berlin residents. Then the results in. Its bud shook with glee when it found out that the land would remain a park! Utopia would be built right here bordering Neukölln and it was at the centre of it, the bellybutton of a new dawn. There would be groovy allotments and windswept runways, where skaters, joggers and cyclists would fly as if on air into the unfathomable distance (386 hectares) to become minute specks. Picnics, barbecues, yoga enthusiasts and acrobats would be accommodated. There would be a bird sanctuary, a nifty moveable classroom made from shipping containers and recycled Bauhaus windows and even a beer garden with excellent hot dogs*. Young dreamers would wake up here arm in arm lying on the taxiways cradling wine bottles, oblivious to the busy traffic of early morning dog walkers. Then there was the stupendous architecture of the airport itself, which if you forgot its its fascist origins as the dream of Albert Speers and Hitler to be the "gateway to Germania" and thought about its role in the Berlin Air Lift, was really kind of cool looking. It was in this ecstatic frame of mind that the plant began its ascent through the concrete, and took, what it felt to be its rightful place, amongst the yellow floor markings and pink upright signs.

 "What will be my meaning?" the bush asked itself when it was fully fledged "now that I stand here, not just as a bush, but as a sign amongst signs". 

It felt proud to be the first organic sign on the Tempelhofer Freiheit Park in Berlin. Others joined it of course, the grasses, the trees but that was later, much later when everyone had lost interest in organic signs.

"What edict will I convey?" 

 It thought long and hard as its tendrils grew and made a shape full of meaning and clarity. Nowadays, people and dogs who pass the bush obey the bush's edict without knowing what it is, for it is a secret. If you go to the Tempelhofer Freiheitpark, and pass this bush or should I say sign, just be aware that is absolutely essential to obey this sign, or if you are the generation of '68, please feel free to deliberately ignore it. 

The sign's edict for me was to take two photographs of more or less the same thing, one with a digital camera where the results appear analogue, and one with an analogue camera where the results looks digital as the scan is extremely crass. 
I cannot say what the sign will tell you to do. 

*this may not be completely accurate about the hot dogs