August 24, 2013 § 2 Comments
Ink stained and flame charred laser cut MDF.
In 2011 we moved to Angola. Unlike in Brazil, where we lived before to moving to Angola it proved challenging to find local fellow artists or artisans as the long Angolan civil war and endemic poverty has left people deskilled and without a handed down craft. The artefacts that I did come across however were those associated with fishing such as fish traps and dugout canoes. At this time my mother in law was also diagnosed with terminal cancer so these searches for ‘authentic’ African objects in a war and poverty torn country were shadowed with the sadness and harrowing practicalities of a close relative with Stage 4 cancer. There was hope of surgery to remove the cancer if the radiotherapy was able to reduce it’s size. These two things coming at the same time triggered an image of a CT dataset (the technology that is used to image the body is the same that is used in radiotherapy) that has had all its cancer ridden organs removed in order to survive. The icon of the dugout that I had found in Angola fitted very well not only aesthetically but also poetically as it is a fine balance when carving out a canoe for it to be hollow enough to float yet strong enough to carry its passenger.
May 10, 2011 § Leave a comment
Joel-Peter Witkin and Andres Serrano were two of my rite of passage artists at art school. I met Witkin when I was working at RIP at Arles in 1996. He was an incredibly entertaining character with a sharp sense of humour (with a preference for dirty jokes). I think this initial personal encounter may have softened my initial reaction to his work as looking back on it now I find it very shocking. At the time I met him, Witkin had become famous for using unclaimed bodies from a Mexcian morgue in his photographs. He would include bodies or body parts in his complex studio set ups and place them at the centre of a complex and fantastical narrative, much like Classical paintings. The photographs themselves were exquisite – incredibly seductive in texture and colour. As a print and photomedia student they seem to me to have everything I coveted – the velvety texture of a mezzotint, the anger of an etching (Witkin scratches the photographic plates) and the bruised hues of tinted fibre based photographic prints.
In the context of this blog, Witkin’s photographs also have scars and wounds – the bodies are unidentified, unclaimed and their most distinguishing feature is a great big fat autopsy scar across their body.
I am not at all sure about the ethics of this work and as a blog which aims to work towards an notion of ethical secondary witness this images strikes me as problematic but for me as an artist who wants to use scars and wounds as a part of a visual language I need to think about it / look at it.
When I look at this image, and at the wound/scar what strikes me is how closed up an impenetrable the scar is – whereas the mouth and eyes are open. The scar is the location of the truth – the explanation, the evidence. The breathless mouth and sightless eyes can tell us nothing.
I have to look away now
May 10, 2011 § Leave a comment
Thames and Hudson describe the work of Sophie Ristelhueber thus:
‘In Sophie Ristelhueber’s artworks and installations, the photographed landscape appears in fragments: damaged, rent, pockmarked. These traces of history and conflict, which the artist calls ‘details of the world’, are like scars on a body, and they convey a similar tale of wounds scarcely healed.
Ristelhueber has been photographing these metaphorical scars in war-torn places like Beirut, Kuwait, Bosnia and Iraq since 1982, recording the violence inflicted on the surface of the earth by the machinery of war. Rather than focusing on the geopolitical meaning of a particular conflict, she is engaged with the ambiguities of what she calls the ‘terrain of the real and of collective emotions’.
Ristelhueber’s approach implies that the current world situation is part of an unceasing historical cycle of destruction and construction – in her photographs, the surface of the land becomes a kind of palimpsest on which the disfiguring marks of decades of conflict continue to be recorded.’
I was privileged to meet Sophie Ristelhueber last year when I attended a small workshop at the Wellcome Trust where she gave a presentations and explanation of her art practice. Sophie started by showing an early series (called ‘Every One’) of photographs of scars on human bodies that she took at a hospital in Paris. She explained that she would go to the hospital everyday and take photographs of post surgical scars. When she exhibited them she did so very large so that they were transformed into landscapes.
Later she started to areas of war and conflict and photograph scars of war left on the landscape. Sophie made an incredible series of photographs of trenches left after the war in Kuwait.
Here is a link to a really good interview with Sophie Ristelhueber.