I’m at the Justin Art House Museum

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The Justin Art House Museum is opening tonight with this exhibition, Digital: the World of Alternative Realities. I’m one of the artists in this exhibition of contemporary digital art from the collection of Leah and Charles Justin. The galleries where the collection is on display share space in their extraordinary Prahran home. The museum is open to the public on Sundays and Wednesdays, click here for details.

“The works are predominantly non-figurative and abstract. The collection includes a diverse spectrum of art practice including painting, sculpture, works on and from paper, and photography.”

“This exhibition will explore the virtual worlds constructed by the artists, examining the notions of alternate universes, dystopian visions, through to providing social commentary on our existing world.”

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The work I have in the show is from my Gooog series of a couple of years ago: 

“The online software programme Google Earth is a vast mapping and surveillance project. Combined with Google Street View, it is the most ambitious photographic project in history. Through a simple mirroring process, the endless twisting and looping highways that criss-cross the planet become beautiful decorative designs, like tapestries or Persian carpets.”

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That description leaves out a dystopian element to the work, because I wanted to create a beautiful representation of pointlessness. The images in Gooog are screen-captures of looping highways from Google Earth. The patterend effect was intended to create an image of futile, circling journeys like the pattern of ant paths seen from above.

The Gooog image sits well in the company on the gallery walls, as other works in the show share the same unsettling vision of the planet. Yang Yongliang, Gregory Bennett, Stephen Haley and others envision the world in vast repeating patterns of human settlement and behaviour. But not all of it is threatening. In his opening address, Charles Justin talked about the dilemma of taking a pessimistic or optimistic view of the earth’s future, joking that “a pessimist is an optimist who is a realist!”

In his opening speech, the acclaimed scientist professor Tim Flannery, linked the digital art processes in the show to the body’s own digitally encoded DNA, which produces the body’s protein. He made poetic observations about DNA, a digital system, producing the analogue protein and fat of the human brain, which in turn devises its own digital calculations for producing art.

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Festival of Photography at the NGV

pieter-hugo-ngv                         Pieter Hugo, Green Point Common, Cape Town 2013

This is a big deal: the National Gallery of Victoria will be presenting a series contemporary photography exhibitions for its Festival of Photography from March to August. It will take over a number of galleries across the NGV, presenting new acquisitions of Australian and international works acquired over recent years.

Four Australian photo-artists are featured, with solo shows by Bill Henson, Patrick Pound, Zoë Croggon and Ross Coulter. In addition there will be a major exhibition of William Eggleston’s portraits, recently shown London’s National Portrait Gallery.

Other displays will include work by Sophie Calle, Pieter Hugo, Polly Borland, Adam Fuss, Thomas Demand and many others.

“The NGV Festival of Photography provides an opportunity to be immersed in exciting new works of photography, digitally produced prints as well as film based projects by both established and emerging artists.”

The Festival of Photography is a very impressive event on the calendar and will run between March and August. Check the NGV website for details of individual shows and events.

Angelmaier’s Text

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Claudia Angelmaier is a conceptual artist working in photo media who makes visual speculations about photography and art: I investigate the photographic production, photographic reproduction and the circulation … of images as well as their influence on our cultural memory.”

Text is a series of photographic prints made in the typical size of paintings in a gallery, their content is press releases for art exhibitions. Press releases are blurbs written in newsy, enthusiastic prose, although for art exhibitions they sometimes stray into heavy, self-important verbiage.

Angelmaier has mocked these purple passages by blacking out everything except parts of sentences, leaving only strange and comical phrases.

“Not only between the touched and the touching, but also between the tangible and the visible which is embedded within the tangible.” (Text 02)

“still consistent as a definition although it does not say anything precisely, but rather annotates and implicates.” (Text 03)

“which makes the question ‘how’ even more pressing”  (Text 04)

It is an open system, every part, every move, every scene, every colour, every gesture, every word consistent” (Text 05)

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Absent works of visual art are translated to a text; the text is rendered incomprehensible, then translated back into visual art.

“What remains is only one sentence or just a blackened page, which says nothing about the artist or the artwork and leaves the interpretation to the imagination of the spectator. The artist and his work remain a fictional construction.”

Boris Kaufmann, photographer

the-pawnbroker       Cinematography is photography. Look at these images from movies and try to see them as still photographs, frozen moments from real life.

They are by Boris Kaufmann, one the most successful cinematographers, who received an Oscar for his first Hollywood film, On the Waterfront, in 1954. He worked with director Elia Kazan on three films and then had a long partnership with Sidney Lumet on such films as The Pawnbroker, The Fugitive Kind and Twelve Angry Men, which you see here.

Kaufmann was a master of black & white, getting a sharp silvery quality onto the screen, and his meticulous lighting created beautiful patterns and textures that brought life to the story. He often shot close on wide-angle lenses to achieve intimacy as though he was following war photographer Robert Capa’s dictum, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

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Before his glittering Hollywood career, Kaufmann had an earlier one as a leading cinematographer of French cinema in the 1920s and 30s. He prospered in the golden age of French cinema, which he helped create, working with such greats as Abel Gance and Jean Vigo.

latalante             Frame still from Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante, 1931

Kaufmann had an extraordinary life story. Born in Poland in 1906, his brother was Dziga-Vertov, the legendary Soviet director of Man with a Movie Camera which was voted one of the ten best films ever made in 2012. His oldest brother Mikhail was also a cinematographer and worked on that film. Boris Kaufmann left Soviet Russia in 1927 to avoid the Stalinist repression and moved to Paris with his parents. When World War II approached he escaped the Nazis and moved in Canada. You could say he was a survivor.

When he moved to the US, though, he was stymied by the film industry unions and had to pick up work in shorts and trade documentaries. It took years to regain his position until Elia Kazan gave him the job of shooting On the Waterfront (also on the list of best films).

Unless You Will

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Look out for a new conference coming up at RMIT about documentary photography. Called Unless You Will, it will be “a weekend of conversations, inspiration and insights” and will be held on the weekend of February 17 and 18.

Documentary, photojournalism and street photography are currently having a revival round the world, not least in Australia. Printed magazines and institutional reports are the traditional outlet for these genres, but today we also have internet, exhibitions and photo books. It is a growing, confident field.

The speakers at the conference, many from overseas, are seasoned professional photographers and educators so the standard of inquiry and exchange will be high. Click here to see the list, but two of my favourites are Katrin Koenning from Melbourne and Mustafah Abdulaziz from Berlin. There will also be an exhibition, workshop and photo book awards.

To attend the conference you need to register and pay. The cost for the  two-day weekend ticket is extremely low: $99,  or $70 with student/concession. If you’re into documentary photography, you can afford that.