The Cow and the Orchid: What to See at Les Rencontres d’Arles 2017

Following last week’s opening of Les Rencontres d’Arles 2017, the world’s longest running photography festival now in its 47th year, Brett Rogers, Director of The Photographers’ Gallery and Daniel C. Blight, co-editor of the gallery’s journal Loose Associations, pick out some things to see in the South of France. 

The Specter of Surrealism

Aneta Grzeszykowska, Holes (film still), 2011

Karolina Lewandowska (Centre Pompidou curator) has approached what might have been a predictable subject in a refreshing way – making links through Surrealism’s main preoccupations (the subversive object; dream states and fantasy; desire and sex; humour and the absurd) and the original Surrealist pioneers of the 1930s (for which the Pompidou is well-known to have the best public collection in the world) with a recent generations of artists whose practice draws, to varying extents, on the surrealist sensibility. Alongside some obvious exemples such as Erwin Wurm, Fischli & Weiss, Hans Bellmer and Patrick Tosani, it was revealing to see so many contemporary women artists included such as Eva Kotatkova, Taryn Simon, and my favourite, Aneta Grzeszykowska’s provocative video Holes (2011). More here.

— Brett Rogers


Jungle Check: Cristina de Middel & Kalev Erickson

Jungle Check, Kalev Erickson and Cristina de Middel, 2017

One image forms into another; one view encounters the next. A collection of polaroids found in a flea market and a trip to Mexico in 2015 inspired this collaboration between Kalev Erickson and Cristina de Middel. These images are appropriations of anonymous polaroids taken in the jungle in Tulum that the artists have combined and presented in lenticular form, and in other framed or wallpapered prints pasted throughout the exhibition space. Alongside the main programme, this show is presented by the Amsterdam museum Foam, and celebrates their 15th year as a photography organisation. More here.

— Daniel C. Blight 


Urban Impulses: Latin American Photography (1960–2016)


Ecuador. Paco Salazar, Quito, 1994. Courtesy of the artist.

Usually group exhibitions drawn entirely from a single private collection cannot sustain a 35 image show. This timely and revealing exhibition curated by Alexis Fabry and Maria Wills avoids that possibility due to the diversity and scale of the private collection from which the work has been drawn. What fascinates and rewards repeated viewing is the way Latin American photographers/artists from the mid 60s to the present day have a specific and interesting way of exploring the medium, possibly because most of them were self-taught. An unrestrained freedom from any preconceived notions of what photography can and should do enabled many of these artists to explore ways to dematerialise and subvert the image and create a highly personal view of the world. Others celebrate its supposed claims to truth using it as a record/witness to seminal political upheavals of their time. An insight into both Latin American society over half a century, as well as the rich and diverse possibilities offered by the photographic medium during this time. More here.

— Brett Rogers


The Cow and the Orchid: Generic Columbian Photography

Installation view, The Cow and the Orchid: Generic Columbian Photography, 2017

The sort of photography mash-up that verges on non compos mentis, this brilliant exhibition of Columbian vernacular photography, curated by Timothy Prus, demonstrates what photography collections do best: piece together histories and cultures in the most anomalous and partial ways (Prus calls the presentation of this collection a ‘layered collage’). Framed vintage prints are juxtaposed with large wallpaper blow-ups, a functioning jukebox playing Columbian dance music, and various other ephemera which refers to either cows or orchids, two Columbian national symbols. More here.

— Daniel C. Blight  


Masahisa Fukase: The Incurable Egotist


Masahisa Fukase, Bukubuku, 1992

Having only ever been aware of Fukase’s celebrated Ravens book (produced 1976-82 in the wake of his divorce from his first wife)  and more recently the disturbing set of self-portraits (BukuBuku) taken under water in his bath, just before his debilitating fall which eventually led to his death in 2012, it was illuminating to see a fuller picture of his entire oeuvre. Seeing Ravens in both colour and as small b/w prints with Fukase’s coloured drawings on them, was a welcome surprise suggesting a more playful and experimental, process based way of making that inspired his work. Performance and a concern with mortality dominate part of the show, though melancholy and a sense of longing can be seen throughout the work too. More here.

— Brett Rogers


Iran: Year 38


Shadi Ghadirian, Qajar, 1998. Courtesy of the artist and Silk Road Gallery.

When you realise this exhibition was put together in less than 2 months, any shortcomings on the curatorial side can be forgiven. Much needed as a survey of what has been happening in Iranian photography since 1979, the strength of the show derives from the contemporary work, most especially that by some outstanding women artists Newsha Tavakolian, Gelareh Kiazand and Shadi Ghadirian. It is also interesting to see some older names such as Kavaeh Kazemi who studied in Farnham in the late 1970s, returning to Iran in 1979. Overall the exhibition reflects the rich and diverse ways in which photography has become, over the past decade, one of the most versatile and experimental mediums in Iran today. More here.

— Brett Rogers

Full information on Les Rencontres d’Arles 2017 can be found hereThe festival continues to 24 September.

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