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critical writing

abstraction, critical writing, exhibitions

Abstraction x 5 book launch

August 16, 2016

Abstraction  x 5 is a forthcoming  group exhibition that opens at the Light Gallery in Adelaide, Sunday 2nd October. The exhibition  builds on my 2015 Australian Abstraction exhibition  at the Light Gallery in Adelaide.   Abstraction  x 5 features work by Adam Dutkiewicz, Beverley Southcott, Graeme Hastwell, Stuart Murdoch and myself.

Adam Dutkiewicz and myself will be launching our book on abstract photography, which is published by Moon Arrow Press,  at the opening of   Abstraction  x 5. The book recovers the abstractions produced by Adelaide based photographers in the 1950s -1970s and it establishes  a tradition by linking this to some of the work in  my Australian Abstractions exhibition in 2015.

Abstract Photography

Abstract Photography

Adam and myself plan to make this the first in a series of  photography books. The next book planned features some of the underground photographers in Adelaide from the 1970s to 2000.  Underground in the sense that the photographers produced a body of work that was largely ignored by the established galleries. Continue Reading…

architecture, critical writing, history

Siegfried Kracauer on photography

July 10, 2016

In his    early writings  (that is, his feuilletons written during the 1920’s and 1930s) in Germany, Siegfried Kracauer explored the cultural landscape of industrial capitalism in the early 20th century. The feuilletons, which were  eventually collected into two books—The  Ornament of the Masses and Streets of Berlin and Elsewhere—- decoded the surface phenomena of modernity as complex historical ciphers—surfaces subject to interpretation.  These  were interpreted as symptoms of  larger sociopolitical developments, such as  the evacuation of meaning in the daily life and  the popular culture of  modernity. These writings are a form of cultural criticism in the business of theorizing the present.

Adelaide CBD, 2.20pm

Adelaide CBD, 2.20pm

The underlying  argument  in these writings  has its roots in Nietzsche, Weber and Lukas. History in modernity was seen as a process  of disenchantment (demythologising) and a crisis emerged during this process because modern rationality was yoked to capitalist relations of production,  becomes an abstract rationality  that mythologizes the relations of production in industrial capitalism and the conditions of life that result from them as  if they were unchanging nature. Contemporary actuality turns out to be shadowy and insubstantial, a chaos without soul or meaning, whose absurdity can only be represented in a distorted image. We are isolated and homeless, suspended in a void, and stifled by the law-like regularities of a reality we ourselves have created which is fundamentally alien to meaning. Ours is a world fused by the absence of truth, plunged into a state of angst.

The essays or feuilletons map the return of myth across a wide spectrum of high and popular culture in the Weimar Republic. The inconspicuous, quotidian expressions of a culture reveal more about it than its own self-pronouncements. Everyday phenomena such as photos or the nature of popular literature and film are unmediated representations of a culture.  As part of this Kracauer  explored the relationship between visual culture,  art, photography and modernity in the essays such as The Mass Ornament and  On Photography   The photograph for  Kracauer, as for Georg Simmel, captures a true likeness, a faithful representation, a simple copy of figures, objects and scenes.   Photography’s  strength is that it  captures the actual appearances of people and the surfaces of things  but  its weakness is its failure to penetrate beneath these exterior manifestations.  So the photograph is hollow,  empty and mechanical. Without a supporting history or a memory that is associated with the subject matter photography is  not adequate to recreate an understanding of the event. Continue Reading…

Art, colour, critical writing, digital

photographic gatekeeping’s framing

June 18, 2016

One of the  notable tendencies in contemporary photography is a closing of the ranks in responses to the digital revolution  that has transformed  photography’s technology,  seen digital photography  undeniably become  the pre-eminent means of imaging and photographers as a profession feeling beleaguered. Yhje response is the deployment of the frame  that separates the inside from the outside.John Szarkowski, past director of photography at MOMA, defines the photographic frame as “the central act of photography”–the line that separates in from out. Framing, according to this reading, delimits, controls, and encases meaning.

 Today the internet is filled with photos,  the internet is the realm of every person. Photography is now a means of expression common to everyone and exclusive to no one,   and we  mostly view images on a computer screen. Self-printing (eg., Blurb) has become more viable,   but it hits the mass distribution problem in getting the book  available in  the brick and mortar retail bookstores and on Amazon. The profession/industry is smaller and poorer.bThe photographic industry is beleaguered.

What emerges  from feeling beleaguered is a tacit form of  photographic gatekeeping in the form of  a  closing  of  ranks and the deployment of frames.  This  framing is most noticeable in the way the the art gallery encloses and displays. It cuts an inside from an outside, closing that inside on itself as pure interiority and surrounding it with value of art. The art Gallery—a museum?—  as frame is thus the constitution of the space that constitutes art by excluding what remains as other, its heterogeneity reduced to the status of nonart. The canonicity of the art gallery’s   collection is therefore haunted by a loss of  what is excluded –the trace of its other. Art history is built on these exclusions.

 However, what I also have in mind is a visual frame that takes the form of photographers  keeping their cards and contacts close to their chest,  and avoid sharing information with friends and colleagues for fear that someone else’s success might somehow come at their own expense.  By doing  this they are acting as gatekeepers within  the diffuse and informal distribution of power of  the networked and distributed nature of the photographic industry.
along Hall Creek Rd

along Hall Creek Rd

You can see this gatekeeping around photographic festivals,  as these are premised on inner and outer, core and fringe of photography as an art form.   The  competition is based on being on the inner or in the core. The means you have made it. You are successful. It’s good for your CV. Your career is on the up.  The outer or the fringe is for the hacks and amateurs. This gatekeeping  is understandable in the sense that art is a business and it has career potential.  So you must maximise your profile and marketing brings in commissions. Gatekeeping is necessary to stay ahead of one’s competitors.   Continue Reading…

black + white, coastal, critical writing, exhibitions, landscape

connections

June 9, 2016

One of the interesting  movements  is the emerging  connections  between the contemporary  arts and sciences around climate change driven by human activity.   These emerging connections stand in opposition to “denialism,” a highly ideological formation dedicated to defending deregulated  economic growth and the protection of the entrenched power of the fossil fuel corporations that made Australia into a modern  industrial capitalist  society in the second part of the 20th century. This is  the assertion of naked  political power for short-term self-interest.

A local example of the emerging  connections is the upcoming  Dire exhibition at the South Coast Regional  Art Centre  (Old Goolwa Police Station), which  is part of the Alexandrina Council’s Just Add Water 2016  festival. It is entitled Dire because our western civilisation  during the  Anthropocene  is still unable to  live within its ecological limits;  in spite of the new climate reality and  Australia being identified as one of the developed countries most at risk from the adverse impacts of climate change.

This is an out take from an eco-photoshoot in the Coorong, in South Australia,  for  the Dire exhibition:

 

Melaleuca, Coorong

Melaleuca, Coorong

In southern Australia the reduced rainfall scenario isn’t good news  for  the ecological health of the rivers in the Murray-Darling Basin, whilst  the coastal cities and towns on both  the eastern and southern seaboard face threats from  the rising sea levels. What is happening to  the ecological health of the Coorong  from the reduced environmental flows  gives rise to feeling blue—- depression, sadness, melancholy–associated with  a sense of deep time and climate crisis.

Climate change is deeply disturbing and very hard to live with. We know and understand the implications of the science but we continue living–habitus— as we have been—an emotional denialism with its resistance to change.  So we  continue to live in parallel worlds. We think in one way and live in another.  Continue Reading…

colour, critical writing, digital image, landscape, nature

on location: Salt Creek in the Coorong

February 24, 2016

The Coorong in South Australia  is basically a string of saltwater lagoons  sheltered from the Southern Ocean by the  sand dunes of the Younghusband Peninsula.  It is still largely  seen  as a pristine wilderness  rather than an edge land.   Nature from this perspective is a by-word for “wilderness areas”.

The Coorong is identified as a National Park, which is then reduced to a pristine wilderness that is a sanctuary for many species of birds, animals and fish. It is  held to be a pristine wilderness (an elsewhere beyond human culture and society),  despite the existence of walking trails;   the waters of the Coorong being a popular venue for recreational and commercial fishers;   and  it being a remote space where we go to in our SUV’s on weekends and  public holidays. The idea of wilderness area is a social/political construction as not all parts of the Coorong are a national park or a pristine wilderness.

 The  concept of nature underpinning  the idea of the Coorong  as a pristine wilderness means that it is seen as a self-contained, harmonious set of internal self-regulating relations that always return to harmony and balance so long as they aren’t perturbed by  humankind.  Because nature is seen as harmoniously self-regulating, any technological intervention in nature is seen as inviting harm, disaster and catastrophe.

This conception of nature as a pristine wilderness goes back to  the Romantics,   who constructed nature as offering  a respite from the transgressions of so-called civilised European society then undergoing  the initial phases of capitalist industrialisation. Nature is seen as sacrosanct and is venerated. Nature as “over there,” somehow separate from our daily lives, is  then set on a pedestal.

at the salt site

at the salt site

The next step is to argue that the ultimate cause of our ecological problems is modern technology, Cartesian subjectivity, within which we are abstract beings somehow outside nature, who can manipulate nature, dominate nature.  Nature is an object of our manipulation and exploitation. Modernity is based on a hard and fast distinction between Nature and Culture, where the two domains are to be thought as entirely separate and distinct. Continue Reading…