Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Aaaaaarles! Part 1

Well its been a couple of weeks since the annual visit to Arles & the inevitable recovery period has subsided. I arrived to witness the pouring rain all day, but was happy to see it subside the next. I did however enjoy the view from my room watching the umbrellas go by, this one was a classic! 

I spent my time doing portfolio reviews, seeing exhibitions, meeting old & new friends & of course enjoying the events the opening week has to offer. 

The exhibitions this year were varied, with fewer than the previous it seemed. There were highlights & running themes including one exhibit that actually made me weep.

As a reviewer I also voted for the Discovery Award 2012 which is one exhibition which had something for everyone. 

Zanele Muholi - Mbali Zulu, KwaThema, Springs, Johannesburg, 2010.

Zanele Muholi's portraits of the radical black lesbian & queer community in Post-Aparthied South Africa display a sensitive connection to her subjects. The chilling realities of hate crime targeted towards this community has escalated in recent years. The artist herself has lost friends, a painful connection which is expressed with the use of her own blood made into patterned works that are displayed alongside the photographs, as seen on the snapshot I took below: 

There are few displays of strong political & feminist art these days. It is a powerful instalation that arrested my attention immediately. Much like the work of Lorna Simpson her images present striking, powerful perspectives on black history & contemporary culture. 

Jonathan Torgovnik being interviewed in front of his work

Jonathan Torgovnik's display on the other hand did reduce me to tears. The images themselves were fairly conventional portraits of women with their children. The context however upon closer inspection stopped me in my tracks, taking time to read each & every one of the harrowing texts that accompanied them. The series Intended Consequences depicts the mothers with their children who were conceived as a result of rape, often gang rape during the Rwandan genocide. Many of them contracted HIV/AIDS as well, choosing to keep their children who serve as a constant reminder of their horrific experience. Even though he was being interviewed in the space at the time, I was so engrossed in the text I didn't feel the need to eavesdrop at all. It is testament to their words coupled with his photographs that the atrocities comitted against them have not & should never be forgotten. 

The photographs alone could never tell the full story. In one image a woman pictured with her arm around her child expresses her inability to love them in the accompanying text, displaying the conventional poses people strike when faced with a camera. To read more on the project & view some images of this years winner see Getty's Reportage

Post Ocular, c-type print, 102x127cm, 2011

On a lighter more mysterious note, Nadège Mériau's work explores food in a fascinating way, creating magical environments that would be at home in a fairy tale. Without the scale to refer to the origins of her still life work we are left to let our imaginations roam wildly across the landscapes she contracts from ordinary vegetables. With expert lighting & using the organic complexities of each foodstuff she moulds her images into visual wonderment. They are as enchanting as they are beautiful. 

The approach to the upper gallery

 One of the wonderful things about the festival are the spaces that are used to exhibit the work. One such space housed the Sophie Calle exhibition. Unfortunately it was not part of the official festival so the captions were only in french, which considering that most visitors are from overseas & that Calle's work often has a written component made it very frustrating if you were not French. Luckily a lovely invigilator explained the work to myself & many others whom found it impossible to fully decode. 

The great reveal

The memories of the last things that blind people remembered before loosing their site, with a portrait & image of what they describe interpreted by Calle left me quite cold without the words the images felt quite flat. I'm sure if I could read the texts, their voices would have been heard more clearly & the work would have no doubt been more engrossing. My basic French could decipher some but not all of the text, let alone the personal nature of how each subject expressed themselves. 

A video installation on the ground floor of Calle's show was dimly lit to add atmosphere to the bright screens showing the backs of people standing for the first time in front of the sea, then after a few minutes they turn & the full impact of their experience is revealed before Calle's camera. The sounds of the sea pervade & add to the mesmerising exhibit. You do feel quite intrusive though more so before they turn around...

Speaking of spaces, here is another example

Arles is also about photo-fun, with a couple of reoccurring & welcome breaks from serious photographic discussions, namely the Foto Automat & Shooting Gallery. 

Many of course try to cram more than one into the photo booth. I am not an exempt from such antics, which procured some great memories of the trip. Those of you who are on Facebook will know what I mean...

This year the Shooting Gallery was in a smaller space so you had to queue for longer as there was only one gun. But as ever, if you hit the target in the inner rings, you receive the photographic proof of your own 'decisive moment'. 

The photos this year were of superior quality to the previous year, so I was thrilled to receive mine although my shot was not nearly as good as the ones I got last year. 

Here is another sharp shooter trying his luck with the lady in the booth supervising in the sweltering heat of the early evening. 

Then as if to remind me of what also happens in the amphitheatre as well as the projections I saw some clothes drying opposite my hotel.

The matador outfit was hanging out of the windows. Perhaps the calling card for their fans?

 Though not quite as dignified...

A fitting way to end the first instalment I think.