An event at Les Rencontres d’Arles 2013 with Guy Gormley, JocJonJosch and Tom Lovelace curated by Guy Robertson. The event took place on 3rd July at The Club in Arles.
‘Live: Photography in Action’ presented a series of experiments in the performative aspects of Guy Gormley, JocJonJosch and Tom Lovelace’s photographic practice. On the day of the event the artworks were ‘live’ from midday and concluded six hours later with a conversation between the artists and curator at The Club, a fringe venue of Les Rencontres d’Arles organised by Olivier Cablat and Sebastian Hau. While not all the works presented were strictly ‘live’ there was an energy, a liveliness in each which activated the photographic image beyond its traditional formats.
Robertson selected a new work by London based artist Guy Gormley in which a combination of video loops activates material from his recent Vigil series. Vigil documents nocturnal journeys, notably a walk from South London to the sea, during which the artist’s sleeping patterns were reversed. The series was conceived of as a publication, launched at Son Gallery in 2012. The photographs show tunnel-like rural roads, traces of undergrowth or barely seen horizons. In the publication, alongside the images, are descriptions of remembered dreams; notes made by Gormley on waking. These depict ill-defined landscapes pervaded by a sense of unrest.
For ‘Live: Photography in Action’ Gormley showed a new iteration of the series using two television monitors; one played a loop of tunnel images from the Vigil publication and the other a slower loop of the accompanying dream texts. Gormley has talked about a certain “lightness of touch” being important to his production, to allow the pictures a kind of natural urgency. In conversation at The Club he described the work; “The original spark came from thinking about how I make music or DJ and how that’s a performative thing, thinking about how you can activate a space. And then I found I was making photographs very quietly, in a sense, and the idea of making them temporal and also physical through video loops, on tv’s or even on projections where they are activating space, was very appealing.” Asked if he thought it was more effective than the exhibition or publication he said, “…the thing you have with video is a heightened sense of time, it deals directly with time, when I was walking alone that was something that I became hyper aware of – of it passing, or passing slowly – so I think it gives another element with which to describe the journey”. For this online article Gormley has made a .gif using material from Vigil. Later this summer, at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, he will show a projected version.
JocJonJosch are a collective comprised of Joc Marchington, Jonathan Brantschen and Joschi Herczeg, they are based between Switzerland and the UK. Their practice crosses sculpture, performance and photography often in relation to the challenges which arise from working in collaboration. As the trained photographer in the collective, Herczeg spoke interestingly at The Club about the relationship between the camera, performance and the surrendering of his responsibilities regarding image making: “With photography you always make the decision, you are always in control and you learn to control more the longer you do it. But being in a collective of three, you have to give up this control, you are unlearning what you have learned, it’s a really difficult process of letting go. Suddenly being in front of the camera is also strange: From exposing to being exposed, it completely changes things around.”
For this event Robertson showed JocJonJosch’s work The White Elephant. In a wooden box lies an unfixed photographic print which can only be viewed under a red ‘safe light’, therefore protecting it from white light and further development (the print itself is ‘live’ – in limbo between its creation and potential destruction). The collective set up a darkroom in the square outside The Club and encouraged members of the public to take the box inside to view the image. They describe the work as a statement about the ambiguity of perception. The White Elephant puts the spectator in an unusual position: given a fragile, unfixed print to view in an enclosed space, alone, is a sign of trust as well as a responsibility. The artists point out that this responsibility and state of uncertainty can become a burden or a frustration to the audience or owner. Historically a white elephant was a gift by a king to one of his subjects and, paradoxically, over time the gift would become a burden; the animal being impractical to keep.
The third work presented for the event was In Preparation, for Arles by Tom Lovelace, a development of his series of photographs titled In Preparation (pictures which show elegant man-made support structures and the artists’ interactions with them, as distilled by the camera). In his recent exhibition ‘Work Starts Here’ Lovelace displayed a number of In Preparation photographs alongside their related structures. A publication followed, launched at ‘Live: Photography in Action’, which played on the traditional exhibition catalogue format. It presented re-curated and re-configured versions of the original exhibition display. At the centre of the book is a text by Kyla McDonald (Head of Programme, Glasgow Sculpture Studios) which discusses the real-time experience of the artworks in relation to the exhibition display. Combining elements of performance and sculpture with photographic documentation Lovelace’s photographs, installations and publications bring about a complex interplay between the performed and the recorded.
With In Preparation, for Arles Lovelace brought the performative aspects of his practice, which usually take place behind closed doors, into the public realm for the first time. The work was in two parts. In one, piles of black and white industrial matter were emptied out of bags into the square opposite The Club. Throughout the course of the day Lovelace shifted the material from place to place, with a broom. His assistants photographed him and documentary videos were taken. It was the opening up of Lovelace’s process that was fascinating. Seeing, often by chance, the camera in action with the subject. Seeing cameras belonging to passers by also snap into action as Lovelace subtly transformed the shape and form of the black and white materials whilst the square carried on its daily life. The process questioned the role of photography in documenting or ‘completing’ an event.
The second work that Lovelace made related directly to the first In Preparation series: below the square itself there was a periphery, scrub-like area. Here, throughout the day, he collected and collated debris; stones and rocks which were slowly transformed into a tower-like structure, reminiscent of the forms and structures that are central to his In Preparation photographs. Whilst he worked, carefully building and attempting to mount the structure, assistants documented this now very public process, as did inquisitive passers by. In conversation in The Club, Lovelace later spoke about how even in these performed environments he was thinking about making images photographically, in terms of composition and process.
At the conclusion of the event, in conversation with the artists, Robertson elaborated on the thematic ‘Live: Photography in Action’. Discussing artificial memory he said it was important, in a highly visual culture, to understand how to usefully activate the visual histories we create. He said that our increasingly visualised memories have a historical precedent and described the ancient and now lost ‘Art of Memory’: Invented by the Greeks it allowed scholars to recall long arguments and concepts. It was performed by storing specifically designed images, which instigate memories, in specific places in a specially built mental map. Robertson said the ‘Art of Memory’ was an inspiring example of minds creating, managing and putting imagery to use in an adept and dextrous manner. Using the mobile phone application Snapchat as an example he also discussed the desire to communicate in imagery with the spontaneity of conversation and without the concern for the visual histories these media might otherwise create. He quoted the applications’ founder as having said, “People are hungry for things that are in the moment, authentic, not photoshopped.” Messages sent via Snapchat can be a combination of photographs and video lasting up to 10 seconds in duration. These messages disappear completely as soon as they have been sent by the sender and seen by the recipient, whereas on other social media platforms users tend to feel they should curate their profiles because messages and uploads linger online indefinitely.
The artworks brought together by Robertson for ‘Live: Photography in Action’ engage with the issues he raised and illustrate, each in their own way, an active, engaged visual memory – each shows how an audience can experience an event through the performative life of photographs.
Guy Robertson is an independent curator living and working in London. His next project is the Copeland Book Market, a print and publishing event which he co-founded and which takes place at Bold Tendencies in Peckham from 18 – 21 July. www.copelandbookmarket.com