Spherical Harmonics: Alan Warburton interviewed by Katrina Sluis
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Spherical Harmonics: Alan Warburton interviewed by Katrina Sluis

Alan Warburton’s Spherical Harmonics is a new project co-commissioned with Animate Projects for The Photographers’ Gallery media wall. Developed entirely using computer generated imagery (CGI), the film features an off-the-shelf female ‘model’ in an entirely digital set, which acts as a showroom for a sequence of surreal and mysterious events Ahead of his talk at the Gallery on 13th March, our digital curator, Katrina Sluis, interviews Alan Warburton to find out more about commercial visual effects, and how software is increasingly called upon to mimic the massive complexity of photographic ‘reality’.

Katrina Sluis: Your approach to the commission has been to explore the technical and cultural ‘coding’ of CGI. What is it that fascinates you about the form?

Alan Warburton: So many things! I’m interested in how it looks when it does what it’s supposed to do – when it’s shiny and perfect and sleek and realistic. Clients selling products love this look. None of the cars or shampoo bottles or trainers you see in ads are real, they are all these perfect ideas of products that CGI has made. Conversely, I’m also interested in how it fails – when it’s too perfect or when it goes wrong.

I’ve fallen for CGI the same way lots of traditional photographers have fallen for the formal characteristics of the camera and film processing – like multiple exposure or flash or the graininess of a certain film. For me, CGI is filled with formal qualities that define what it is. For example, when you light a scene in a 3D animation program, you get the choice of a few primitive geometric light ’emitters’. Spherical lights show up in the scene as primitive glowing orbs. There are no light bulbs in CGI! And these glowing orbs can be hidden but still emit light, making them invisible light sources. That’s just not something that exists outside CGI. Lights without a source! Copies without an original! Effect without cause!

KS: Whilst there has been a 20 year discussion around the Photoshopping of the images which scroll past us every day (most recently the debate around Lena Dunham’s Vogue cover), most people are still unaware that the slick images of the advertising world are entirely synthetic – even the most banal images, as you point out. In a panel last year at the Gallery, Rainer Usselmann explained the impact CGI is having on commercial photography – and noted how photographers with the specialist skills to light and shoot cars are a dying breed.  Previously, an ad campaign may have involved the expense of sending a photographer to the Namib desert, and shipping a over a freshly manufactured car from Europe, at eye watering expense. Today, a desert image might be bought from a stock HDRI (High Dynamic Range Imaging) library instead, and a CG model of the car (which has not even been made yet) might be sent over from the car manufacturer to create the ‘photograph’. Rainer spoke about how photography is no longer versatile enough for the needs of commercial image production – a CG composition has become a flexible engine for the production of multiple photographs, visualisations and videos from a single source file.

AW: First off, your point about Lena Dunham’s Vogue cover is only the tip of the iceberg. Think of the recent controversy over the press photographer struck off AP’s register for doctoring an image of a Syrian rebel or the Reutersgate scandal in 2006. Or even the viral created by Canadian animation students a while back that faked footage of a golden eagle swooping on a child in a public park. If you look at all these examples together, you see that CGI is not just affecting body politics and global politics… in the case of the golden eagle, it’s our sense of wonder. The currency of the photographic image as reportage depends on its veracity and that is now totally unstable. It’s almost like the more shocking or beautiful or meaningful an image is the more we will come to distrust it. That’s the most important thing about CGI: it likes to insert itself into places where it can co-opt the willingness to believe, which makes it a political tool of huge potential power. My concern is that it will devalue truth to the point that nothing seems real, especially the special. One the other hand, I’m reminded of a trip I took to work on a big CGI project in Beijing, where someone told me that even though the local markets were flooded with knock-off Burberry bags, people still made expensive trips to Hong Kong where they could spend thousands of dollars on the real thing. In some cases indistinguishable from a fake, the authentic retained a power that no counterfeit could touch. So maybe CGI counterfeiting is raising the value of the real?

Your second point is more to do with the commercial qualities of CGI, namely its flexibility. What you suggest is true – CGI does have the edge on traditional product photography, but I think it’s dangerous to assume that the rise of CGI is solely due to how easy and flexible it is to produce multiple versions of something. Sure, it’s much easier to ship a 50MB digital file online than ship the real car to the Namib desert, but one of the misconceptions about CGI is that the only reason it’s used over real photography is that it’s cheaper and simpler to iterate. The real difference is that the Namib desert is harsh and unfriendly and dusty and you might have to live with the shots you get when you’re out there. Whereas the post-production studio can reshoot, refine, relight, rerender to a point way past what was acceptable for a photographer. There’s less acceptance of messy, chaotic reality. Even CGI dust clouds are finely tuned with stray particles excised by hand. My point is, more control means more work and more skill, not less. And often, CGI produces weird, empty-feeling images where nothing accidental ever happens. This feeds into our ideas of aesthetics, creating a set of platonic ideals. An index of phenomena.

Alan Warburton, Assets (ongoing series)

This index is evolving, too. An experienced CG artist can spot stock assets in films and TV title sequences and ads. That sunset. That flickering flame. That smoke trail was made in FumeFX, that confetti comes from Maya, those titles were rendered in Cinema4D. It’s a hothouse of evolution where good assets are reused and then our ideas of what smoke should look like, or how a building explodes, or how a car should reflect a sunset, or how cartoon characters walk become fixed – idealised. Good models survive and are reused and refined, creating this kind of archetypal library of 3D assets and techniques, free of their original context. I’ve explored this in my Assets series, which documents various stock 3D assets that exist in readymade form online. They are divorced from their original contexts and somehow exist purely as dematerialised ideals, though you can never quite wipe them clean from their origins.

KS: In Spherical Harmonics, you use a number of stock ‘digital readymades’, including the ambiguous character ‘Maya’. Can you tell us a little about her role – and the process of constructing the film itself?

AW: Maya is like the eye of the storm in Spherical Harmonics, an anchor for the action. She’s somewhere between a protagonist, a muse and a prop. She’s almost like a placeholder for a memory – an understudy for a real memory. I don’t know if she’s based on a real person, but her skin textures and characteristics suggest that the artist who modeled her had a lot of real-word reference. I selected carefully when casting my model – Maya was one of only a handful of models online that weren’t ultra busty caricatures.

Working images from Alan Warburton’s Instagram Takeover for @thephotographersgallery

Working images from Alan Warburton’s Instagram Takeover for @thephotographersgallery

I sourced quite a few stock 3D assets online – in the same way a filmmaker or photographer might source props. Once you download these assets, you usually find that they are poorly constructed or have been saved in the wrong file format, that they don’t deform well or are provided in disorganised pieces like a box of flat pack odds and ends. So there was a lot of custom work getting the props render-ready. I spent about a week sourcing, cleaning and modeling assets, a week roughing out a structure for the piece, a week rigging, skinning, lighting, texturing, simulating and animating and then two weeks preparing the 20 or so separate scenes for rendering at various render farms. It took between 5 minutes and 2 hours a frame to render, depending on what was in the scene. The final step was to assemble all the renders together in a 2D compositing program. In total, about 6 weeks work produced about 200,000 frames, 1TB of images from about 100 computers rendering over 3 weeks. If one computer had rendered everything, it would have taken about 18 months.

The project was seriously intense. Animated films usually take months or years to complete, whether that’s hand drawn animation or CGI. Making something like Spherical Harmonics in six weeks meant I had to plan everything (including spontaneous decisions!) and babysit the computer to make sure that what it was calculating was correct. I’d often leave the software rendering overnight and wake up every couple of hours to check it hadn’t crashed. I don’t think people quite realise that CG artists put so much labour and commitment into their work. The tolerance for error is so low and the likelihood of error is so high that CG artists can go for months without seeing their families and friends. The reason VFX artists are striking and unionising all over the world isn’t because they don’t love doing the work, it’s because their work is chronically undervalued. Maybe it’s because valuing something that is supposed to be invisible is so difficult? There’s this idea that good CGI should disappear into the photographic image seamlessly… I think sometimes the complications of labour disappear with it.

KS: This question of digital labour is explored by Adam Brown, in an essay which accompanies the commission. He asks how it might be possible to introduce resistance into the frictionless world of CGI where ‘dirt is there because someone put it there’ and ‘flocks of birds forget to shit like real birds’.

AW: I really enjoyed Adam’s perspective on the piece. Introducing dirt and imperfection into the perfect world of Euclidean geometry can be the most intensive process in CGI. I try and hold back on that urge wherever possible.

Installation View of ‘Spherical Harmonics’ on The Photographers’ Gallery media wall

Installation View of ‘Spherical Harmonics’ on The Photographers’ Gallery media wall

KS: One of the challenges of the commission involved working with the specificity of The Wall at The Photographers’ Gallery – a video wall that is both seductive and Orwellian, located in the heart of London’s postproduction scene and a stone’s throw from the ubiquitous retail screens of Oxford Street. How did this inform the project?

AW: From the start, I was aware of the specific challenges of The Wall. There’s nowhere else quite like it. I knew that I had to aim for something that entered into a dialogue with photography whilst also acknowledging the site-specific nature of the gallery.

I think that in many ways, Spherical Harmonics almost sits stylistically at a halfway point between the glossy product displays of Oxford Street and the workhouse construction of Soho’s post production scene. It’s a fantasy under construction. It’s a play between glossy surface and behind-the-scenes complexity. It advertises beauty but undercuts that beauty in a way that suggests it’s unstable or subject to the whims of an invisible authorial force.

KS: In your blog you have discussed the work of other artists – from Simon Starling to Richard Kolker who are using CGI – and distinguish between artists using CGI invisibly and those who show the ‘seams’. In your previous work, such as Z, you have specifically used and transformed overlooked image formats from the CG pipeline which rarely get seen outside the postproduction studio. Can you tell us what you feel are some of the key problems, issues and opportunities for the medium’s use outside of a commercial applied context?

AW: I think that CGI is incredibly important in many ways. As an ideological tool it is powerful, versatile, ubiquitous and (most importantly) it obscures its own origins. I’m pretty sure that anything powerful that is designed to be invisible should be made visible! That’s one of the reasons behind my distinction between artists who use CGI invisibly and those who show the seams.

In a broader historical context, I think CGI is crucial to the development of computing. World War 2 is credited as the flashpoint for the first big boom in computing, and I think the computer graphics industry at the turn of the 21st century is the source of the second. That sounds a little unlikely, but here’s the rationale: a company like Nvidia, which has gradually evolved their GPUs (graphics processing units) in response to the demand from the CGI industries (films, commercials, games and architectural visualisation) for more accuracy and realism, is now responsible for the world’s most powerful supercomputers. The Cray Titan, only recently superseded as the world’s most powerful supercomputer, is one of many similar machines that run on Nvidia Tesla GPUs. These processors solve problems that nothing else can and they were developed in large part to compute CGI special effects.

For example, look at digital crowd simulation. It was used most recently to simulate millions of stampeding zombies in World War Z and was initially developed by Weta Digital for Lord of the Rings. The same type of crowd sim engines are now being used by the military, scientists and researchers to simulate real evacuations, emergencies and city planning models. Their work informs real world policy and real world emergency response. From World War 2 to World War Z, from real warfare to simulated warfare, this is the strange trajectory the second wave of computing has taken. It’s an almost farcical process: CG artists faking water splashes are creating the conditions for scientists to understand how real fluid dynamics occur. It’s progress via reverse engineering. It reminds me of something I read a while ago – scientists say if you smile more you start to feel happier. I think we’re doing something similar with CGI. We’re faking phenomena and in doing so creating the conditions to understand the real thing. It’s all very Baudrillardian.

Now to the ‘overlooked image formats’ you mention in your question. The by-product of the CG pipeline is that the computer can interpret a 3D scene in any number of ways. I used the z-depth pass for Z. I’ve also used the normals, velocity, occlusion and diffuse passes in Spherical Harmonics.

These are all data-driven formats that visually codify the spatial characteristics of a 3D scene. They are beautiful, strange, and compelling image formats and need not be anything more. However, when you consider the direction that computer vision is heading, with IR, facial recognition, remote warfare, the internet of things, big data and data mining, AI, state surveillance, wearable tech, 3D scanning and printing, you can see that there will be a point of convergence where computer vision starts to integrate with human vision – not in a improbable dystopian way, but in a very practical, purposeful, logical way. At that point, the myriad techniques a computer has to interpret visual data will start to feed into more than just post-production pipelines. Render passes are important – really important – when you look at them in this context. They are significant to scientific research in ways that we can’t yet predict. I think it’s the job of artists, writers and technologists to step outside this commercially-focused inexorable march of progress. We’re often the only people who take the time to experiment open-endedly with technologies and reflect on the unique historical moment we find ourselves in.

Spherical Harmonics continues at The Photographers’ Gallery until April 9th 2014.

Cubes For Albers and LeWitt: Jessica Eaton interviewed by Persilia Caton
Artist ProfileQuestion and Answer

Cubes For Albers and LeWitt: Jessica Eaton interviewed by Persilia Caton

Persilia Caton: By way of introduction to your practice, can you talk about your influences, and how they have inspired your current and ongoing work, specifically Cubes For Albers and LeWitt (cfaal) 2010 – 13?

Jessica Eaton: I have laid the cubes to rest for the time being. I will be publishing a book on those three years of results with Morel Books. The nature of the project begs me to revisit it, possibly for the rest of my life: the set up of it asks me to just keep going. The most obvious influences for that body of work I have given over in the title of the series. Josef Albers, of course, as a model for working through a theory of colour, but perhaps more importantly Sol LeWitt. I was particularly struck by one of his Paragraphs on Conceptual Art. He speaks about reducing the subject to the simplest possible form, and reusing it so that the more abstract idea or concept can become the subject.

PC: It’s interesting to me that often when people speak or write of your work, the goal becomes to understand your process of how you make an image, instead of why you are making certain choices. It’s as if understanding the technical will shed light on the conceptual. Do you feel that the capacity or limits of photography is ‘the subject’ in your work, and is this inseparable from your process?

JE: Not necessarily. I’m interested in how a photograph can be made, and this will often fuel a project, but a lot of other concerns enter into that picture after that. It is really curious to me that people so badly want to know this information. Typically it feeds a frustration that would be settled if you just told a person it was Photoshop. As if your average person has any real understanding of what Photoshop is doing beyond a user-based level. It is also as if in Photoshop there is “ a way” of just simply pushing a button and achieving a picture. This is ridiculous: it’s a perfect example of the mostly false dichotomies the medium is loaded with.

“ There is some level of actual “ science” if you will, that I deal with by examining the nature of the medium – the inherent and unavoidable aspects that make something a photograph.”

PC: I agree, it’s a very frustrating question because it’s linked to the value of your art as understood through an antiquated view of labour as a hierarchy; manual (analogue) labour ranked above and separated from something created digitally. But, speaking of questions, when you are making work – whether an established series or experimenting with a new idea – and some of the layers of your process become visible as a result, are you generally aiming to reveal answers or ask questions?

JE: The answer to that is a bit of both. Ultimately I aim to make interesting pictures and I do so under the full understanding of their context in an art gallery. I am interested in science, particularly physics. To some extent the principles of the scientific method inform a studio process, but unlike science I am not bound, obligated or driven by a need to reveal a truth or create universal definitions.

There is some level of actual “ science” if you will, that I deal with by examining the nature of the medium – the inherent and unavoidable aspects that make something a photograph. And for this something to be a photograph it must deal with light. Even if you make a photograph completely without the real world, inside a computer (I am willing to call entirely digitally constructed pictures photographs) you still can only do so with the language that is light. You have to reiterate its behaviour. And even if you consciously do things that disobey the physical phenomena light exhibits, you are doing so in opposition and therefore informed by, and so still fundamentally trapped within, the laws of physics. Damned if you do damned if you don’t. There is simply no other way to ever understand or conceptualise something as photographic outside of physics. Second to light is time: time is second as it is largely our own construction.

Jessica Eaton, Interpolation Dramatization RGB 8, 2012

Jessica Eaton, Interpolation Dramatization RGB 8, 2012

When I speak about the scientific method within my practice, I mean so largely as to refer to a philosophy: a framework to contextualise doing and working through something. Hypothesising. Placing limitations and isolating variables. This combines many influences, from Sol LeWitt to the improvisational music strategies of John Zorn. Specifically the game pieces. In addition, the play between contingencies and certitude within photography is another point of interest.

Through exploring the ideas of perception and cognition I engage the metaphysical aspects of the work. A big premise of the colour separation work is that there is no such thing as a colour photograph. There in fact is no such thing as colour. And of course because of the multiple exposures and angles of view interacting, the images also play with time and space as we understand it. From there you can start to ask some very big questions about the nature of the universe and our ability to comprehend it.

PC: These expansive insights into your practice have really brought us back to what is at the heart of abstraction. I really appreciate thinking about your additive process of starting with the grey cubes and layering in colour in parallel to John Zorn’s controlled improvisation. Its a wonderful way of conceptualising the process of making and discovering through imposed constraints.

I recall from our previous conversations that you have an ongoing list of ideas you are waiting to test; as a way of wrapping up this conversation do you want to talk about a project or an idea that you are really excited about doing in the future?

JE: Within the cfaal series I am working with monochromatic subjects, and imposing colour through additive separation, affected by reflective values onto colour film. What I meant in my last response is that all colour photographs are black and white: there literally is no such thing as a colour photograph per se. There is only what we perceive as colour photographs, but in fact they are made with three black and white images. Colour film records three black and white images filtered through red, green and blue, when it is developed the silver in each black and white image is replaced by a dye which mixes to give us a full colour image. With digital you have RGB channels, which are black and white. The reason that different film stocks have had different colour qualities is because of different combinations of dyes used. Generally colour film technology has tried to reproduce the world as we see it, but this recording is not inherent to photography. As far as the photograph cares, there could have been any combination of dyes resulting in wildly different unworldly “ colour” photographs. They would be just as legitimate pictures.

For my next project I will be addressing this more specifically, working my way outside of being bound to colour film engineering. Switching colour film for black and white and my subject for full colour botanicals, I have started to make a series investigating a host of invented false colour systems. In addition to red, green and blue filtered information, this next series will also take into account electromagnetic energy not visible to the naked eye as with infrared and ultraviolet light.

Jessica Eaton, cfaal 346, 2013

Jessica Eaton, cfaal 346, 2013

Jessica Eaton began working with the tri-colour process in 2004. Her work prioritises the medium of photography and its ability to make images, rather than its supposed mirroring of the real world. Her images have been shown extensively in North America, as well as in group exhibitions in Europe and South Korea. Eaton’s images have been published in numerous publications including Wallpaper; Foam; Hunter and Cook; BlackFlash; Colour; Pyramid Power and Lay Flat 02: Meta, among others.

Persilia Caton, Curator of Public Programmes at The Photographers’ Gallery, worked with Jessica Eaton on two projects in 2011: a public installation of billboards in Montreal and a two-person exhibition entitled The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts with Jessica Eaton and Lucas Blalock, both for the CONTACT Photography Festival in Toronto, Canada.

Question and AnswerThe Photobook

Paleolithic cave paintings: ABC (Artists’ Books Cooperative) on the photobook

This interview further continues a series of Q&As that focus on the contemporary photo book.

The Photobook and its moon E-Book seen from planet Photography on July 19, 2013

The Photobook and its moon E-Book seen from planet Photography on July 19, 2013

1. What, in your view, do photo books contribute to the culture of photography?

Photo books are a small part of the wider genre of artists’ books, which have been an essential part of our culture ever since the invention of the printing press. But the culture of photography is vast and universal and in relation to it, the photobook community is a mere particle floating in space. Rather than contributing to the culture of photography, we’re witnessing the conscious development of a photobook market that’s working hard to establish its experts, idols, and judges. It’s a dead-end that will eventually murder what could have been a force for good. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Map representing the viral transmission of Hermann Zschiegner’s print-on-demand book ’25¢’ across the internet in October 2011. Red lines represent links between web pages in Asia, green for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, blue for North America, yellow for Latin America and white for unknown IP addresses.

Map representing the viral transmission of Hermann Zschiegner’s print-on-demand book ’25¢’ across the internet in October 2011. Red lines represent links between web pages in Asia, green for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, blue for North America, yellow for Latin America and white for unknown IP addresses.

2. How do you define your role within the growing and changing field of photo book publishing? What are you trying to achieve? 

Many of us are interested in print-on-demand publishing. Print-on-demand liberates artists from the oppressively expensive and laborious demands of traditional photobook publishing. Print-on-demand is fast, cheap, and light. It exists outside the power structures of publishers and distributors. Few people take it seriously and we are one of the few. We’re not interested in what the books smell like, how they’re bound, whether they’re embossed or printed on the finest papers on Earth. Those are luxuries we can live without. We’re interested in raw ideas and there is no better transporter for a great idea than a book. A single book if needs be. And with the internet, the ideas in that single book can go viral and reach millions in a split second. No need for proposals, book dummies, meetings, bank loans, trucks, boats, trains and planes to ship hundreds of kilos of heavy books across the world into warehouses and bookshops. A powerful idea expressed in a collection of pictures bound together for the price of a meal and placed online can bypass all of that.

As for the cooperative, we attend book fairs, curate exhibitions, work on projects and talk on an online forum where we discuss all aspects of making and proliferating work. We live in different countries and some of us have never met each other or even know what other members look like. We’re not even sure if some members are real or fictitious. We fall out – sometimes spectacularly – and we collaborate – sometimes spectacularly.

The earliest known reference to a print-on-demand book is visible beneath the Large Black Stag cave painting in Lascaux, France. Black spots, believed to represent the number of people exposed to the single book, have been carbon dated at 30,000 years old, suggesting the painting was produced some time during the Upper Paleolithic Age.

The earliest known reference to a print-on-demand book is visible beneath the Large Black Stag cave painting in Lascaux, France. Black spots, believed to represent the number of people exposed to the single book, have been carbon dated at 30,000 years old, suggesting the painting was produced some time during the Upper Paleolithic Age.

3. Do you publish online books and what might the future hold for this method of digitally distributing books? 

We’re all involved in publishing the idea of a book online. That is to say, each of our artists presents their book in some form of digital format that exists online as well as in physical form. That doesn’t mean it has to be an e-book. It could be the book presented as a video trailer on Vimeo, as a single line of text, a performance documented, an essay, a series of stills, or as a downloadable pdf file. The book exists in physical form and in conceptual form. It travels further and quicker as an idea than as an object. In the future, photography will outlive the photobook, images will outlive photography, and ideas will outlive images.

ABC [Artists’ Books Cooperative] is an international group of artists seeking to create, engage, and communicate on issues concerning self-publishing. Group interactions are centered on book fairs, exhibitions, and our online forum, where we discuss all aspects of making and proliferating work.

abcoop.tumblr.com

 

Question and Answer

Stumped: Jonny Briggs, Matthew Humphreys and Samira Kafala

Stumped invites three artists/photographers to present and discuss a single, often incomplete, project with which they have reached an impasse. The event happens in a public forum, enabling those presenting their work to have a constructive conversation as well as support from a gathered audience.

Following the Gallery’s most recent event Stumped: Photographing Your Family, led by artist Jonny Briggs, we asked the three individuals who contributed to the evening a bit more about the projects they presented. You can find out about and apply for our next edition of Stumped: Photographing Yourself, led by artist Trish Morrissey.

1. What led to you working on this project?

The short answer to this question would be an interest in my parents, the roles and relationships of my family life and upbringing, and the childhood mindset. Yet there is more to unravel here than these interests.

This project has been evolving for the past 9 years, where it has been important for me to work with ideas that ‘feel right’ – before I know why they feel right. They reach me as a feeling first, before my thoughts are able to articulate them, so in this sense it is almost as if my thoughts are following the clues that my intuition leaves behind. The works are a translation of an ambiguous feeling of blurred borderlines, and the words to explain them are articulations of those blurs – so it’s like a game of Chinese Whispers, where the words can never get at what the pictures are getting at, and the pictures can never get at what the feeling/intuition/hunch is getting at.

Throughout this time making the work I have noticed patterns and links between the pieces, and have started to question further the reasons why I’ve been making the work I have been – beyond being an interest, it’s an interest in my interests, like a self-psychoanalysis. A lot of the motivation for the work appears to link to my childhood in attempt to fill or re-arrange parts that I missed out on, in a therapeutic re-rendering of relationships and situations allowing me to give things a voice that were unspoken before, and through this voice establishing new perspectives on it.

It’s so often that we just speak about thoughts and facts during our daily lives – what we’ve done, what we’re going to do, what the weather is like. Yet it’s often rare – both in working lives and personal lives, to talk about ambiguities and feelings – yet this is what relationships are made from, so the work is an opportunity to give these blurred borderlines an outlet.

2. What is the work?

The work always feels like it is moving and developing for me – almost like a searching process. Yet here is an artist statement which feels like it links to where the work is at at the moment;

In search of lost parts of my childhood I try to think outside the reality I was socialised into and create new ones with my parents and self. Through these I question the boundaries between us, between child/adult, self/other, nature/culture, real/fake in attempt to revive my unconditioned self, beyond the family bubble. Although easily assumed to be photoshopped or faked, upon closer inspection the images are often realised to be more real than first expected. Involving staged installations, the cartoonesque and the performative, I look back to my younger self and attempt to re-capture childhood nature through my assuming adult eyes.

3. How were you stumped and what will your next steps be to develop the body of work?

There’s often this circle that creative people can get into, where the work becomes obsessive yet not progressive. There is safety in the known, like a comfort blanket, a familiar bubble, yet through clinging on to an idea that we know works, the work can become unfulfilling. Often what makes a piece successful is its difference, its originality – yet through its replication it can become too familiar, normalised, and ceases to feed the mind in the ways it did before. I remember a time during my BA when this happened – when I kept making the same work and struggled to see outside of my bubble. To be creative is to take risks, and I had too much fear to take risks at this point. I felt stuck, was over-thinking the work, and I knew that it was at a crossroads, that I wanted something else from it – yet couldn’t quite articulate it.

During this period I had a tutorial with Roger Ackling who gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve had. At the start of the tutorial I said the work was in a difficult place, and that I was in a crisis point; to which he replied ‘lucky you. Being in a crisis point is one of the best places to be. It shows that you feel things can change, and change for the better. It’s a sign that the work needs to take a leap in a new direction, and it is far better to be in a place like this, than a place that is static.’ Roger helped me to realise the importance of embracing change.

Over-thinking the work can lead me to be stumped. I love that phrase ‘can’t see the woodland through the trees’ – and I often see thinking about something as proximity – as looking at a part of a tree, yet through intuition we can feel the whole and get a sense of the forest. Thinking can only get you so far. So from now on I want to engage more with what feels right, the ambiguities and transgressions of feelings and impulses, and worry about articulating what’s going on with the work afterwards. Through this process I will be further enabled to ask that question ‘What is my mind telling me?’ and further give my ambiguities a voice.


1. What led to you working on this project?

My curiostity to make sense of things. I’ve been working on a version of this project all my life and I imagine I will continue to do so. Even before I took my first photograph I was always looking for meaning – trying to formulate ideas that made sense of the world.

It’s a fluid and ever shiffiting process. I’ve learnt to trust my intuition and just photograph whatever I become most aware of. Whatever keeps coming back to me as a thing to photograph. Trees, statues, reflections, bodies, bones. From these images I’m creating a language through which I can articulate how I understand things to be. I’m feeling my way to the bottom of these ideas or perceptions, which are often too vague and illusive to be clear thoughts let alone to be spoken in words.

2. What is the work?

It’s an ongoing conversation without a beginning and an end, it will never be fully resolved. In practical terms it has evolved as a collection of images seen in different combinations. Each image builds upon the next to tell part of a story. My story of how I see the world.

3. How were you stumped and what will your next steps be to develop the body of work?

I’m stumped by how to cram more meaning into each image. I feel like each picture is a short phrase but I want it to be a paragraph or a chapter or even an entire novel. You can do so much with colour, light, shape, grain, texture, mood, and composition but can you ever do enough. Maybe it will always be about the multiplicity of images, the combination and sequence. The trick is to keep trying, to keep being curious enough to make that complete image that says everything but leaves out just enough to maintain the sense of mystery and magic.


1.What led to you working on this project?

I have worked with my family for about fifteen years on film and video projects.  Both of my parents are deaf and my father is going blind, this was a huge inspiration for me to create work about sound and communication.  I often form relationships with cameras; I explore the aesthetics of different cameras discovering the language that each device offers. With my fathers’ gradual blindness I found that I was undertaking the role of the family photographer, this became intensely entwined with my practice as an artist.  My work centres on communication, often embedding universal social themes, within contexts of the everyday and employing languages that transcend words. Recently I have started to use my iPhone as a tool where I capture notes.  I found its portability coupled with its unobtrusive nature a perfect device for recording day-to-day life at my parents.  This led to recording every day rituals, dinner times, walks, and conversations; I quickly amassed a great archive of material.

2. What is the work?

Over the past four years one of the rituals that I have recorded was every goodbye from my parents’ house, I have videoed over 120.  Presented with the videos I display pages of the dialogue that I have transcribed from each video in the format of a script.  I have also experimented with the possibilities of selecting still images from the videos.  Each video follows a similar pattern, shot loosely, but with an act of knowing what is being captured and allowing for chance.

3. How were you stumped and what will your next steps be to develop the body of work?

I became embroiled within the personal nature of this project, a problem that many people have in working with the family.  I was unsure firstly how it would be received in a contemporary photographic context and secondly, how does this communicate to the individual. In the presentation I showed various manifestations of my project, the video, a photographic idea as well as an installation view.  I received great and valuable feedback within this forum; this gave me a clearer pathway into finally realising this body of work.  I am currently working on two forms of this work; the first is a gallery installation where all of the videos are played across three video projectors, a triptych of goodbyes, this will be accompanied by the complete transcribed text.  I am not sure how the sound will work at the moment and am starting to experiment with different possibilities.  The second realisation of the work will be a book, using a combination of the stills and text.

Pictures from Moving Cars: Alix Janta-Polczynski and Inès de Bordas on the photo book
Question and AnswerThe Photobook

Pictures from Moving Cars: Alix Janta-Polczynski and Inès de Bordas on the photo book

1. What, in your view, do photo books contribute to the culture of photography?

Since the 19th century photobooks have been the natural habitat for the weird and wonderful – places where you can find the strangest combinations of images, or juxtapositions of text and image, brought together for the most eccentric and unexpected reasons. Even the first so-called ‘scientific’ photobooks are full of artistry and accidental poetry. Photobooks have also always been catalysts for innovation and the exchange of ideas – they are small, portable, easy to send from one country or continent to another. The history of the photobook is therefore one of amazing moments where images produced at one time and in one place transform practice in others. They are a pure, direct means of communicating not only visual ideas but so much more. Photobooks can be brilliantly subversive, they can be produced and circulated in situations where exhibitions (by contrast) or less intimate forms of display would be impossible. They are perfect vehicles for bringing things about by chance: Araki’s early photocopy books for example, some of which were posted to addresses selected at random from the telephone directory, created an unprompted relationship with an imagined, or hoped-for audience. All photobooks are a bit like this – you never know in which hands they’ll end up, and what impact they’ll have!

Alix Janta-Polczynski and Inès de Bordas of ADAD Books

Alix Janta-Polczynski and Inès de Bordas of ADAD Books

2. How do you define your role within the growing and changing field of photo book publishing? What are you trying to achieve?

It would be slightly premature, at this stage, to define our role specifically but we are strongly committed to the publication of work by emerging artists and previously unseen material by established practitioners, drawn from a range of international contexts. It is important to us that each publication is a limited edition but still an affordable singular object. In a way, our first publications, FAR, and Pictures from Moving Cars, exemplify what we want to achieve with Adad Books. FAR by Emile Hyperion Dubuisson, presents a striking but previously overlooked body of work by a young New-York based photographer. This series was made in Siberia in the 1990s while Dubuisson was working as assistant director in a film crew shooting a documentary about the former Soviet Union. Pictures from Moving Cars, published to accompany a small show curated by Simon Baker at Tokyo Photo last September, unites for the first time three great photographers: Joel Meyerowitz, Daido Moriyama and John Divola. It was an interesting and exciting challenge to bring forward such great material with the limited resources that a small publisher like Adad Books entails.  The idea was to use the format of the photobook in a very simple and straightforward way in order to produce a limited and collectable object. We are looking forward to continue making books in the same spirit.

Emile Hyperion Dubuisson, FAR, 2013, 21 x 26 cm, 96 pages, edition of 600

Emile Hyperion Dubuisson, FAR, 2013, 21 x 26 cm, 96 pages, edition of 600

3. Do you publish online books and what might the future hold for this method of digitally distributing books?

We don’t publish online books ourselves but it seems to us that there is great value in the use of online publishing (like MAPP for example) to make available historic or rare, hard to find books or photographic material. In this way, the afterlife of a book or photograph that has already enjoyed a long material existence is extended. But we aren’t really interested in books that have no physical existence – at least to begin with!

4. What kind of a relationship do you strike up with the artists whose work you publish?

Of course the key thing is to work with the artists themselves, and this relationship can vary from a very close working relationship to the kind where artists are confident to let us get on with producing the book, but beyond this another really important and enriching part of the process is building relationships with all the other vital people involved in the book-making process: designers, printers, binders, paper suppliers, distributors, bookshop owners and so on. We have also benefited enormously from the advice and support of our fellow photobook makers – Aron Morel’s guidance, for example, has been invaluable!

Pictures from Moving Cars, 2013, © John Divola

Pictures from Moving Cars, 2013, © John Divola

ADAD Books is an independent publishing house dedicated to making artist’s books for photographers. Each unique publication will be a limited edition but affordable singular object, resulting from a close collaboration between artists, writers and designers.

The co-editors, Alix Janta-Polczynski and Inès de Bordas, are committed to the publication of both new work by emerging artists, and previously unseen material by established practitioners, drawn from a range of international contexts.

The Vertigo of Best Photobooks Lists – Federica Chiocchetti
The Photobook

The Vertigo of Best Photobooks Lists – Federica Chiocchetti

Umberto Eco, in his The Infinity of Lists explores the Western mind’s encyclopaedic obsession with list-making and accumulation: from plants to saints, literature to art, he defines this obsession a ‘giddiness of lists’ and elaborates how, if in the ‘right hands’, it can become a ‘poetics of catalogues.’ Is photobook list-making an excitable frivolity or does it actually reflect the photographic spirit of our times? Posterity will judge. Meanwhile, for the curious, a vibrant and at times heated discussion about photobooks, the utility of these ‘best of’ lists and beyond, is happening on Facebook, within groups such as Flak Photo Books, PhotoBooks, all about PhotoBooks, Dusseldorf Photobook Salon and The best PhotoBook 2013.

When it comes to identifying ‘the right hands’ to compile these lists, the situation becomes intricate. Perhaps we should focus more on how to establish whether a photobook should be included in a best of list? While we could discuss and agree a list (yes, another one) of criteria – and I look forward to seeing the rating system up and running, suggested by Conscientious founder and editor, Jörg M. Colberg – I strongly believe in the subjectivity of every list, since after all it reflects its compiler’s vision and taste. I also believe in some unavoidable preliminary ‘off-list’ rambling, given the difficult if not impossible task of choosing only 5 books among the plethora of ‘terribly awesome’ publications that inundated the market in 2013.

The Infinity of Lists by Umberto Eco, Rizzoli, USA

The Infinity of Lists by Umberto Eco, Rizzoli, USA

Needless to say I was absolutely riveted by the urban-folk extravaganza of Lorenzo Vitturi’s Dalston Anatomy, published by SPBH Editions and JibiJana, and the vernacular salvage of Thomas Sauvin’s Beijing Silvermine albums, from the stables of Archive of Modern Conflict Books, which re-opens the debate on photography in China initiated by Sontag in the 1970s. They both deserved the Paris Photo Aperture First Photobook of the Year. Sauvin has recently published another brilliant title, issue 8 of the Amc2 journal, which reveals how Chinese photographic studios between the 1930s and 1980s, to save money, would print portraits in a uniquely vertical silver print of around 7 by 2.5 cm. Another one worth looking at originally published in 2010, and off-the-list as technically it’s a second edition, is LDN by Antony Cairns, a nocturnal journey into the subtly uncanny architectures of an obscure, almost impenetrable London.

On the practice of appropriation, more in vogue than ever, not anymore a challenge to authorship, but rather an unremarkable fact of twenty-first century life, as suggested by MoMA curator Eva Respini, I was particularly intrigued by the obsessively meticulous sculptural approach of Daniel Gordon’s Still Lifes, Portraits and Parts, published by Mörel Books. Likewise, The Looking Game by MFG Paltrinieri & Mirko Smerdel, co-published by Akina Books and Discipula Editions, is an intriguing and divisive intellectual exercise of words and images that pierces the very notion of ethics in appropriation. Photographs of presumably potential victims, taken by serial killer and amateur photographer Rodney Alcala, are paired with texts by John Berger, the alias Alcala used while on the run from the police.

Brian Griffin and Barney Bubbles, Copyright 1978

Brian Griffin and Barney Bubbles, Copyright 1978

In terms of rare editions launched or re-launched this year, for those lucky enough to be able to afford them, I highly recommend having a look at two books, both available through Oliver Woods. The first is Brian Griffin and Barney Bubbles’ elegantly self-published Copyright 1978, a sublime combination of theatrical imagery of businessmen and minimalist graphic design. The second is Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin’s The Story of My Death, a cover intervention on Italian Lauro de Bosis’ 1933 antifascist manifesto that he dropped upon Rome from an aircraft, in the form of leaflets, before disappearing for good.

Finally, the super limited edition (9 copies) of Elisabeth Tonnard’s artist book and installation One Swimming Pool, inspired by Ed Ruscha’s Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass, which literally becomes a portable adhesive pool, at the price of destroying the book, also deserves attention.

The 5 photobooks that I have decided to include in my list contain exceptional photographs, tell stories that are unique, and in some cases are marvellous artistic objects when it comes to design, editing, sequencing and paper. The list is not ranked in order of preference.

A01 [COD.19.1.1.43] — A27 [S | COD.23] by Rosângela Rennó

The well-deserved winner of both Arles and the Paris Photo/Aperture Foundation Book of the Year, this is the second artist book as part of a trilogy documenting significant thefts in Brazilian photographic archives. Twenty-seven boxes with important photographic material, stored in the General Archive of the City of Rio de Janeiro, were gradually and systematically plundered. In particular, someone stole the photo albums of Augusto Malta (1864 – 1957), whose market value has recently increased. Rennó’s book is a melancholic elegy for the loss of visual culture and history. Derelict album covers mingle with faded relics of photographs, screws from the archival boxes and sometimes the void itself. The volume is self-published in a limited edition of 500 copies. Initially they were only available in public libraries and art institutions, presumably to emphasise the importance of such organisations in preserving cultural heritage, and to stress the sad significance of the theft. However, to my surprise, I heard that a few copies are on sale for a very expensive price online.

TV Casualty by Brad Feuerhelm (AmcBooks) 

Impeccably timely given the 50th anniversary of president John F Kennedy assassination, and strictly speaking not a canonical photobook, but rather an alternative graphic investigation of the proliferated layers (or skins, as Feuerhelm calls them) of spectatorship of “ The Headshot Heard Around the World” and the questions left unanswered by this epochal attack on the American Dream. In effect there exists five degrees of separation between us and the assassination, one per decade over the fifty years: the book, the Polaroids of T.V. screens to ‘immortalise’ the event (at a time when video tape recorders were only available in the professional market), the actual TV screens that people were looking at when the news was broadcasted in 1963, the cameraman who was filming the event live on that day from Dallas, and finally the assassination itself. TV Casualty is also the title of a 1978 song by The Misfits, the American ‘horror punk’ band that promoted underclass DIY creativity and gothic aesthetics. The book, which combines extremely poignant excerpts of the lyrics and texts with TV screen snapshots of President Kennedy’s funeral and press images, filtered through a loose aesthetic, is an intrepid condemning of the dangerous obliviousness of memory.

Political Chaos by Paul Kookier (Études Books)

The overwhelming beauty of the sea, the extreme colours and the voyeuristic circular black frames, suggesting, among other things, the end of a film, are all elements that remind me of the idea of pleasure. The pleasure of looking at the sea, of bathing in the sea, the pleasure of gazing and spying, of the repetition of visual patterns, the pleasure of the end, and the somewhat revolutionary pleasure contained in the title, which is clearly in contrast with the imagery. Political Chaos is a sensual visual experience, one could easily get addicted and find it difficult to stop leafing through it. To top it off, Erik Viskil’s text that accompanies the book, with its ‘Calvinian-esque’ style (If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller), is wittily and directly addressed to the viewer to speculate on his encounter with the book. Viskil reveals all sorts of anecdotes that accentuate my sense of seduction. We learn that these apparently timeless and placeless photographs have a specific geographical, historical and political connotation, that I invite you to discover yourself as I don’t want to spoil it for you.

The Disappeared  by Veronica Fieiras

Around 30,000 people disappeared during the military dictatorship in Argentina between 1976 and 1983. Born in the same year of the military coup, Argentinian but Madrid-based photo-artist Veronica Fieiras recently self-published a book that has all the characteristics to become a classic of the Latin American holocaust. Surfing the web she was completely overwhelmed by the plethora of databases with names and portraits of those who had ‘mysteriously’ disappeared. Haunted by the faces, she almost entered a ‘state of trance’ that was only partially alleviated by the production of a book that physically incorporates all her frustrations with the abominable abuse of power and violence of those years. Fieiras combines dictionary definitions of universal, supposedly resolved, antithetical concepts like identity and disappearance, human being and dictator, with faces that become less visible leafing through the book, and names found in a database paradoxically indexed by aliases. The rhythm of the book lies in the tension between the desire to condemn and show the dissolution of memory, as well as the attempt to produce an antidote for oblivion, as the contrast between the resistant handmade Japanese paper and the vulnerability of the tracing paper describes.

The Photography of Nature & The Nature of Photography by Joan Fontcuberta (MACK)

Challenging the traditional notion of the photobook and retrospective catalogue, the legendary Joan Fontcuberta, a pioneer among pioneers, never ceases to surprise us. This time he has treated us with a very peculiar object, The Photography of Nature & The Nature of Photography, to accompany his retrospective as part of the 2013 Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography. Constantly and coherently ‘trafficking’ truths and fictions in photography since the 1980s, in his many guises as artist, curator and theorist, he taught us what Batchen describes as the ‘indispensible sense of humour’, the ‘mental hygiene’ usually championed in science. The book starts with his masterpieces from the past, such as ‘Fauna’ and ‘Herbarium’ and includes also more recent projects like ‘Sirens’ and ‘Orogenesis’, blurring the boundaries between a scientific, superbly illustrated encyclopaedia and a sort of mainstream National Geographic magazine. Borges is to literature as Fontcuberta is to photography. So much so that it’s time to introduce the adjective ‘fontcubertian’.

I wish I could promise you that this will be the last ‘best of’ list of 2013 photobooks that you read, but I am afraid you’ll have to be patient until December 31st. All the lists published so far are available on the blog phot(o)lia. The highly-obsessed can celebrate New Year’s Eve reading the two über-meta-list compiled by QT Luong and photo-eye. Irish photographer and editor of the blog Digital Faun, Alex Sinclair, with his hilarious ‘A look ahead to the best photobooks of 2015’, mocks this end of the year lists mania, and healthily reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Federica Chiocchetti / Candida Desideri is a researcher in photography and literature at the University of Westminster in London, a curator and a writer. She is currently curating an exhibition around the theme of ‘WW1 & the archive’ for the Hungarian Photomonth in Budapest (November 2014). She is also working on the Photocaptionist, a photo-literary online platform, which will launch in the near future.

In a changing market: an interview with Lorenzo Vitturi on Dalston Anatomy
Artist ProfileNew Writing

In a changing market: an interview with Lorenzo Vitturi on Dalston Anatomy

Dalston Anatomy, installation photograph, Foam Photography Museum, Amsterdam

Dalston Anatomy, installation photograph, Foam Photography Museum, Amsterdam

Assembling photographs and installations that reflect his experience as both a designer and cinema set painter, Lorenzo Vitturi’s “ Dalston Anatomy” is one of the most highlighted and talked about projects within the photography community this year. The work has been featured in the TIME best photo books of 2013 list, shortlisted for the Paris Photo/Aperture Foundation First Book Award and selected by Martin Parr for his photo book picks of the year. Our blog editor Daniel C. Blight interviewed Vitturi in order to find out something of the way in which the work was made, the apparent problems of gentrification in Dalston and how an artist might tackle this, the artist’s struggle with the flatness of photography and the exhibition design for his recent exhibition at Foam Photography Museum, Amsterdam.

Daniel C. Blight: How did you conceptualise and then come to make the Dalston Anatomy project? What were you thinking?

Lorenzo Vitturi: When I started Dalston Anatomy I just felt the instinctive need to freeze everything else that I was doing, choose the widest corner of my flat, build a studio, buy a plastic floor to cover the wooden floor (in order to avoid being kicked out by the landlord), and to start playing with the objects I could find in the near-by streets of Dalston, mainly debris and products from the market. That’s how everything started really.

For a couple of months I just walked up and down the market; I selected materials, brought them back to the studio, used them as raw matter to build precarious sculptures and photographed them before and after they collapsed. Only then did I start asking myself what I was really doing, and what the rationale behind all this work was…

I realised that my neighbourhood was dramatically changing day after day: its people were changing too, and new people, asking weird questions such as “ excuse me, where is the closest Prada shop?” were moving in to the area. I also realised that the debris I was collecting was not just ordinary trash, but it was in fact what was left of old flats and peoples’ lives; parts of those interiors that were being refurbished for the arrival of a new class of individuals.

The last revelation was that all these images I was producing were not just simply the result of my secret imagination, but they were in fact deeply connected with a wider reality. They were fragments of a bigger picture, my own “ bigger picture” – which  also clearly includes the place I live in and the community that I love and care for.

Pink #1 and #2, from the series Dalston Anatomy, 2013

Pink #1 and #2, from the series Dalston Anatomy, 2013

DCB: Dalston has undergone quite an alarming process of gentrification in the last 10 years: cafes, bars, restaurants and clubs have sprung up and are competing and in lots of cases overshadowing the businesses belonging to the local African and Turkish communities. With this in mind, what kind of Dalston do you see and represent in the project?

LV: This is exactly what’s happening: the gentrification process is changing Dalston really quickly, different worlds are in the moment of meeting, merging, clashing, and eventually one world will prevail over the other. It is quite a common “ natural” component of globalisation, which I’ve been personally experiencing during the past few decades in my home city Venice, in which super-wealthy foreigners have occupied the city centre, which was previously occupied by a diverse local community.

I think that gentrification, as with many other phenomena of our time, has both positive and negative effects, but certainly involves a powerful energy that makes big cities so dynamic and attractive. Since the beginning of the 20th Century London has faced the effects of gentrification in some of its boroughs, but the difference between then and now is the  incredible speed of today’s phase. Particularly since the beginning of the new millennium the urban landscape of the Eastern boroughs of London have experienced, and still experience, a dramatic change, which involves architecture, the economy, people and ideas.

What I am interested in is not to criticise gentrification but to visualise what this process of transformation will leave behind. I am interested in what soon will be seen as memories – debris from a lost time. I wanted to freeze Dalston’s colourful mix of cultures just before this transformation changes the neighbourhood’s appearance completely.

When I first moved to Dalston seven years ago, I chose this neighbourhood because of its strong odours, flavours, and colours which despite coming from all over the world, manage to harmonically coexist and create something unique. I’m quite sure that this social richness will be soon wiped out by the brutal blandness of the high-street economy and culture, which, while increasing order and efficiency, will inevitably bring conformity.

A Dalston Anatomy, installation photographs, Foam Photography Museum, Amsterdam

A Dalston Anatomy, installation photographs, Foam Photography Museum, Amsterdam

DCB: The images here, of your Foam Amsterdam exhibition, take the project in a really interesting direction where exhibition design is concerned. Could you talk a bit about the decisions you made here and whether you collaborated with a curator or a technical team to realise the installation?

LV: In my opinion, the reality of today is too complex to be depicted by a series of framed pictures hung on a white wall. I  usually get quite bored viewing photo exhibitions today, because I think that most of the time photographers use exactly the same language and format, to present quite different subjects, and end up diluting and flattening the experience of a show. Instead, to me, exhibitions should be a totalising experience, where the space merges with the artwork and vice versa.

In the case of Dalson Anatomy I felt the need to create a multi-layered exhibition, where images play with the space, with objects, raw materials, dust and fluff, and I tried to physically rebuild the magic encounter between the outward social reality of the project and my most intimate, personal visions.

In the case of Dalston Anatomy at Foam, I took all the materials that the market people use everyday to build up their temporary shops, and I set up the exact exhibition installation first in my studio, in order to get all the measurements right. From the beginning I wanted to design an organic and dynamic space which could function as a sculptural work of its own, to be looked at from different angles, but which would however continuously replicate the shapes and colours of all the pieces composing it. In so doing I created a chain of references from the micro-level – the smallest component of a single image – to the macro: the whole installation, based on the infinite replication of what is the leading order in my compositions; a sinuous and precarious pile of objects.

In fact if you visit the exhibition, you will realise that it works whether one looks at it from the side or from above, at one piece, at two pieces together, or at the whole installation. To me the world appears like a chaotic alphabet of shapes, colours and patterns that I record in order to mix them and remix them in my studio, trying to reach a state of temporary harmony in the final image .

And words, whether written or spoken, become meteoric elements, just like all others, that contribute to the final installation. This is why Sam Berkson’s poem had to be physically present in the exhibition, and thanks to the TankBoys graphic designers, this has been possible by beautifully hanging the poem from the room’s sealing, just like a deus ex-machina.

During the preparation process in my London studio, I collaborated with the curator Francesca Seravalle who knows Dalston Anatomy really well, and she helped me in the image selection. During the installation phase, I was helped by two exceptional Foam technicians.

Red & Yellow Chalk #1 and #2, from the series Dalston Anatomy, 2013

Red & Yellow Chalk #1 and #2, from the series Dalston Anatomy, 2013

DCB: The Dalston Anatomy project also comes in book form. Could you point out some of the challenges you faced when producing this? Your project is obviously a very dynamic, three-dimensional thing, yet a book is a flattening out in some respects…

LV: My practice is a continuos struggle with the flatness of photography. I am both frustrated and intrigued by the limits offered by two dimensions, and it is probably due to this kind of frustration that I started to look for ways to introduce a third dimension, through playing with objects. These are first reduced into images, and then go back to their three-dimensional shape, once mounted on wooden geometric volumes. As a matter of fact my practice is stuck in a continuos and obsessive loop involving both sculpture and photography.

From the beginning I knew that the book was one of the best mediums to show what I had in mind. And from the beginning, throughout the process of collecting images, forging atmospheres, making sculptures, I was in fact already editing the book, and this helped me to find an optimal visual coherence between the sculptural side of the work and all the different visual outputs I was coming up with. I treated every double-spread like a an empty physical space ready to host a different composition, and the final output is quite a heterogeneous series of images that mix different languages and photographic approaches: from snapshots and portraits to photos of sculptures; from photographs of collages to scans of found materials.

Everything has been edited together in order to try to create a fluid series of images using colours and anatomical similarities in some form of narrative binding agent. A sort of musical rhythm, an afro-beat if you want…

DCB: What’s next for you?

LV: During this last year and a half, I worked so hard that I’ve already got another two book dummies ready. These are two different projects, more conceptual, which are centred on the relation between sculpture and photography and do not maintain that strong link with a spatial or social reality, as in the case of Dalston Anatomy. So I would like to complete these two other books and continue my research. Dalston Anatomy is just a starting point.

While I was making Dalston Anatomy I nearly went to the Central African Republic – where my love was living at the time – in order to make a sort of “ photographic negative” of what I was then working on: instead of looking at an african market in a Western city, I would have loved to play with the tacky aesthetic of a Western supermarket  in a derelict African capital. I was ready to pack up, then the war started…

Blue Plastic #1 & #2, from the series Dalston Anatomy, 2013

Blue Plastic #1 & #2, from the series Dalston Anatomy, 2013

www.lorenzovitturi.com

Copy, trade, locate: Artie Vierkant’s Exploits
Artist ProfileThe Digital Image

Copy, trade, locate: Artie Vierkant’s Exploits

nstallation view at Neu Galerie, Paris, 2013

nstallation view at Neu Galerie, Paris, 2013

When art is being created online now, reaching hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, more often than not without the direct support of institutions or museums, what will the art history books contain in the future? Will the whole process of canonising artists become redundant as new forms of technology and  culture consume and re-configure what we now call art history, a currently institutionalised phenomenon?

Due to the change objects and images have undergone as we have moved from using analogue to digital technologies, so too has the entire notion of ownership and authorship been opened up for reconsideration. Who owns what is created online? How do we value immaterial things? Can we tell the difference between what exists physically and what has been rendered in computer-generated form?

New York based artist Artie Vierkant’s practice combines the digital with the quasi-sculptural in a world of online networks and aesthetics. His practice moves from the Internet to the art gallery and back again: on websites, Tumblr pages, a variety of social media platforms and galleries in both America and Europe, the artist responds to the meaning and integrity of a number of things including contemporary art, photography, corporate style, copyright, patenting, trademarking and intellectual property.

As part of our Artist Profile section, we asked Vierkant to introduce his new project Exploits, which is featured here with some images of the work installed at his recent exhibition at New Galerie, Paris.

Installation view at New Galerie, Paris, 2013

Installation view at New Galerie, Paris, 2013

‘The basis for the series Exploits is intellectual property, which I seek to engage with as a material to be used as any other. Existing intellectual properties – patents, trademarks, copyrights – are located, and a negotiation takes place between myself and the property owner for the purchase or license of said property, toward the fabrication of derivative works. The IP in question is taken as a set of negotiated guidelines within which physical works may be produced, but also as a set of norms to be deviated from. Each negotiation is unique: the property owner may set legal barriers to the contexts in which the IP can be presented, limit the amount of derivative works that may be produced to a set number, or to a period of time.

Installation view at New Galerie, Paris, 2013

Installation view at New Galerie, Paris, 2013

Further a certain IP itself may be valid for use only within certain contexts – a Trademark specifically for apparel, for example. These stipulations are negotiated through legal counsel and manifest in each case in a unique contract between myself and the IP holder. Intellectual property becomes within this series a symbolic object underscoring the relationship between the social structures that formalize what would otherwise be abstract (the virtual, the ‘immaterial’) and the manifestation of those structures through physical objects and imagery. The model and the depiction. In each case, the IP is one which has already been registered by another entity – Exploits is the process of locating objects which already exist as territories, and transposing said territories into another context through a transaction.’

Installation views at New Galerie, Paris, 2013

Installation views at New Galerie, Paris, 2013

Installation views at New Galerie, Paris, 2013

www.artievierkant.com

Free lunch on Google: an interview with Andrew Norman Wilson
Artist ProfileDigital ProgrammeQuestion and AnswerThe Digital Image

Free lunch on Google: an interview with Andrew Norman Wilson

Stock Fantasy Ventures Image Concept Proposal, 2013

Stock Fantasy Ventures Image Concept Proposal, 2013

American artist Andrew Norman Wilson combines image-making with corporate critique in the age of both the conference room and the Internet. The artist’s complex practice engages with digital culture and technology under a market economy. By humorously examining the visual and written/spoken language of various marketing and communication methods used by big businesses within the worlds of computing, technology and media,Wilson creates a complex artistic parody in which the rhetoric of corporate capitalism can be questioned and new works of art created simultaneously. 

Ahead of his talk at The Photographers’ Gallery on Wednesday 4th December, the gallery’s blog editor Daniel C. Blight interviewed the artist.

Daniel C. Blight: Can you describe your work and your motivations for making it?

Andrew Norman Wilson: The work I understand to be on the more strategic-intentional end of the spectrum is focused on the relations, processes, and materiality of entities that constitute what is inappropriately called corporate globalisation: labor contracts and conditions, networked communications, flows of capital, media formats, commercial imagery, etc. With this work I try to approach these entities self-reflexively, often through direct involvement – being employed, paying for connection, negotiating investments, writing to customer service.

I also make work that slides towards the more affective-intuitive end of the spectrum. This process of making allows for an incongruous set of elements to mutually resonate and become something more unpredictable. Seduction is given a lot of weight here, both in process and presentation. Through these defective meditations, I’m attempting to create experiences where affect is given primacy to engage what our bodies are dealing with or will be dealing with in the near future. We’re entering a stage of molecular engineering, synthetic biology, sensory augmentation, avant-garde pharmaceuticals, and so on. This new biology, and any new work of art, requires us to abandon a lot of what we think we know, and make singular judgements that cannot be subsumed under pre-existing criteria. Aesthetics precedes cognition in such cases, because we are dealing with practices that can only be comprehended through the new categories that they themselves create.

DCB: As you suggest, your work seems to function in two ways: intentions you have to create strategies for making work which question market-driven business within neoliberal politics, but also this intuitive strive to create affect in some form (you make great looking pictures). Can you say something about the wider relevance of political critique in contemporary art practice, and also something about the way that you are considering the affect or element of seduction your work has on the viewer, as you are making it?

ANW: I maintain a continued interest in the socio-economic transformations made possible through the application of neoliberal policies. In particular – the effects this has had on labour, consumption, and flows of capital. I’m finding that the theoretical language of critique, negativity, and ideology feels inadequate for what I’m after. In contrast to distanced political critique, things get much more interesting to me when I can embody an economic position, relationship, or logic of production and then play with it or turn it against itself. This then takes our conceptions of “ the global” or “ venture capitalism” or “ technological progress,” and accompanies them back to the multitude of actual rooms in which these things are actually produced with all the actors that produce them – human and nonhuman.

The complex nature of contemporary production renders conventional representation and documentation difficult. What do “ the cloud,” venture capital, or the exhaustion of an informational labourer actually look like? For questions such as this, creating work that functions more so on affective registers feels necessary. I’m working on a new video called Uncertainty Seminars that employs corporate aesthetics across several sections, conflating modes of address from avant-garde cinema and video art with contemporary therapeutic and motivational techniques. It looks and sounds like a corporate self-help seminar from an unknown market that, with much ambivalence, addresses forms of uncertainty in personal, professional, and civil life.

“ MEG TAKES ONE LAST SIP OF PINOT GRIGIO AND BLASTS HER MALICIOUS PLOT OF FAKE T.J.MAXX ADVERTISEMENTS TO HER INTERNATIONAL NETWORK OF HACKERS, BUT MEG’S GRANDMA SITS ON THE INFO FOR FAR TOO LONG BECAUSE SHE’S BUSY MAKING A GOLF DATE ON HER CORDLESS SO DR. ERIN SWOOPS IN WITH PREVENTATIVE MEASURES BEFORE THE VIRUS GOES LIVE – CASE CLOSED.”

DCB: You make some specific points and criticisms of capitalism, the global nature of markets and of technological progress. What led you to wanting to make work that considers these things? Do you feel that because of the current disparity between the rich and the poor (which is now greater than ever), as an artist – someone of relative privilege and education – it is your responsibility to engage with these issues? In this sense what social dimension does your work have?

ANW: I don’t think about it so much as a responsibility. It’s more so a matter of what I’m seduced by. I’m often drawn to conflict and it’s conditions – whether it be political, economic, ecological, bodily, molecular, etc. – because the stakes seem higher to me than brush stroke or melodrama. I have a personal stake in things like population density and complex financial products, and so does my dad, Masoumeh Ebtekar, everyone in that movie Krippendorf’s Tribe, this man, a woman in Mexico who once helped me pull my van out of the mud with her truck, and so on.

After studying public communications and journalism, I decided to become an artist because I felt like I could choose the matters I wanted to engage with. I haven’t been an artist for long but I see it as this lifelong project through which I’m creating modifiable and modular principles for a social reality that I want to inhabit, and collaborating with other principles when it seems appropriate. While restrictive at times, I find this way of life extremely liberating. On a practical survival level it allows for aberrant solutions to the restrictions, such as stealing from solvent multinationals. The practical solutions afford a way of life that extends into artistic engagements with matters on a range of scales that include social dimensions.

North Of England Institute of Mining Engineers Transactions Volume9_306, 2013

North Of England Institute of Mining Engineers Transactions Volume9_306, 2013

DCB: So in a sense, you came to art-making from a place where your experience of labour and society were far from ideal, and you now want to suggest new ways, however small or modifiable, in which our current social reality in the West might be re-thought? I hear something interesting happened when you worked for Google – how did this effect your practice and your current mode of thinking?

ANW: It made me realise that hot lunch as an artist rarely comes for free and can’t compete with the Google cafe hot lunches I used to eat every day on their tab. But the way I’m able to think and make now is much more exciting.

http://andrewnormanwilson.com