Posts from the ‘Exhibition reviews’ category

Two Old Birds With Cameras: “Inside Out”.

inside out 1



Above a small coffee shop is one of Blackpool’s newest, and most informal, exhibition spaces. The relaxed, welcoming environment is perfect for this exhibition featuring portraits from Blackpool’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. “Inside Out” by Dawn Mander and Jill Reidy, explores attitudes effecting the community, and forms part of the celebrations of LGBT month.untitled-2

The exhibition comprises of thirteen, 16”x20” colour prints, framed with cream mattes and narrow, plain dark wood frames. All the prints are in landscape format and are complimented by a lower ‘border’ comprising of fifty-eight 6”x4” colour prints.

All the photographs were taken on Blackpool Seafront on bright sunny days. The styles vary – but all come within the ‘Street photography” genre. It’s interesting to note that the images can’t be visually assigned to each photographer and, as they are unsigned, the photographers have symbolically handed authorship to the subjects and their own words.

These informal portraits have a ‘feel good’ air to them. They feature single people, couples and a family. They are sitting, talking, laughing, cuddling, and dancing. Nine of the images show faces whilst the remaining five images are close crops.

The punctum is not merely within the actual photographs, but is in each hung frame, as each also contains a quote by the subject, written on the mat in marker pen. Some quotes are about how they feel – and others about how they think mainstream society views them; some are bold uplifting statements, others are desperately sad.untitled-4untitled-3 (1)

One features a leaping person, head cropped out of the image, wearing bright pink jeans, red socks and sandals with the caption
“I can flawlessly recreate Beyoncé choreography…Can they? Exactly…”
The crop is intentional; the gender is ambiguous – because it doesn’t matter! “Its not what defines us. Labels are for clothes, not people.” is boldly scrawled under a sunlit portrait of two women. “We are a rainbow family” is under an image of three stacked hands – two adult and one baby. On one of the wrists a rainbow friendship bracelet links the written sign to the visual sign.

Mirroring linguistic (written) and visual signs continues in the smaller prints. This “No Access” sign can be interpreted as how the LGBT community can feel excluded or unwanted from mainstream events or venues.

inside out 5

The exhibition also addresses the issues of isolation and rejection. One image is of two young girls, laughing as one applies make up in a mirror held by her friend. It’s a casual, happy image …until you read the quote. “Mum kicked me out. When I went back, on my bed was a towel, plate and cutlery. She thought it was catching.” Then the image takes on another level of meaning – the make up painting over her pain, the reflected smile is her ‘public face’, and the friend holding the mirror is her support, taking the place of her estranged mother.

Some are recognizably Blackpool reminding us it’s a community project. A close up of two hands holding a red rose, with Blackpool Tower, out of focus, in the background has a traditional romantic air. It symbolises the love of two people; gender undefined, the composition again reminding us what is important. A portrait of a lone girl on the cold and empty beachside promenade steps emphasizes the isolation the community sometimes feels. “Its hard. When I’m being chatted up by a guy at what point do I tell him about myself?”

The casual and, sometimes playful, selection of images combined with the bright weather and the homely and friendly exhibition environment strive to give the feeling of a happy, relaxed community. The curation of images to include single people, couples and families of all ages acts to dispel the “otherness” inflicted on these people by sections of mainstream society and media.

inside out 6

This is an exhibition about contemporary Blackpool life that’s not to be missed.

Joan Fontcuberta: Stranger than Fiction.

The National Media Museum, Bradford.

joan-fontcuberta 1

 

After the stark modernity of the National Media  Museum, entering the exhibition is rather like entering an early 20th century natural history Museum.

joan-f-1The staid green and cream walls display a collection of traditionally framed and mounted 19 century photographs, field notes, x-rays and sketches. The traditional glass display cases present the German handwritten and stained diaries of the intrepid Victorian explorer and anthropologist, Professor Ameisenhaufen, along with various dated scientific apparatus. Around the room are details of his education, work and mysterious death.museum. The staid green and cream walls display a collection of traditionally framed and mounted 19th century photographs, field notes, x-rays and sketches. The traditional glass display cases present the German handwritten and stained diaries of the intrepid Victorian explorer and anthropologist, Professor Ameisenhaufen, along with various dated scientific apparatus. Around the room are details of his education, work and mysterious death.

joan-3More visually arresting is the typical Victorian collection of stuffed animals…until you look again, and realise these are the creatures of myths…or nightmares. A heraldic winged deer; a mythic Centaur.

Trying to make sense of the nonsensical, you find yourself returning to the notes on the wall, re-reading translations of the original notes, pondering the Latin classifications, and noticing more oddities, such as the rare humming bird’s teeth.

The juxtaposition of the traditional museum environment and presentation and the fantastical creatures, which have been photographed, cataloged, caught and displayed, lead us to challenge our knowledge of the world around us. In our cultural framework museums are purveyors of science and truth, and Centaurs are myths. What do we believe? What is real?

Televisions placed around the room play looped tapes of interviews with authority figures; the director of Barcelona Zoo, a scientist from a university in Mexico, all of whom add to the omnipotent scientific evidence for the existence of these liminal beings.

The next pale green room has a collection of still life studies of plants, traditionally framed and mounted, and neatly labeled by classification. Again, these are ‘new’ species.

joan-7Through the next door we are confronted with bright white walls and huge, ‘C’ type prints. In both back and white and vibrant colour, Fontcuberta shows us landscapes never seen before – because, despite being ‘photographed’, these places have never existed.

After a brief walk though the dark ‘constellations’ collection, displaying previously unknown solar systems, we arrive at the ‘Sirens’. A plaster case of a Mermaids skeleton is displayed in a case in the center of the room, and the walls are covered with A2 colour photos printed on aluminum and acetate, depicting the scientific discovery of these creatures in France. Notes and quotes from paleontologists add further authority. Do we WANT to believe in mermaids? You bet! And that is what helps Fontcuberta in his treachery of the truth of science.

joan-5In the final section ‘Karelia, Miracles & Co’, the penny drops and our doubts are reluctantly realized. The walls, painted a rich, religious purple, portray the miracles preformed by monks at the Valhalmonde Monastery in Karelia. Black and white photographs are traditionally framed, mounted and hung in groups, with titles and explanatory texts along side. The photographs of monks surfing on dolphins, teaching meerkats to read a holy book, and channeling lightening are amusing, but it’s in the accompanying texts that Fontcuberta shows his wit and humor.

In this multi media exhibition jointly curated by the artist, Fontcuberta uses photography, text, film, photograms and life size models to challenge what we think we know of our world. Born under Franco’s regime, Fontcuberta is skeptical of truths told by authorities.

He uses his art to make important points about validity of authority and uses museums, our Temples to Scientific Endeavors, to further challenge our conceptual framework.

The complicated stories he expertly weaves draw us in and, maybe, for a minute, we can believe in a world beyond the one we see around us.