BRIGHTON PHOTO BIENNIAL / FRINGE 2010 – THE REVIEWS PART 1
BRIGHTON PHOTO BIENNIAL / FRINGE 2010 THE REVIEWS PART 1 – THE HOUSE OF THE VERNACULAR (FABRICA GALLERY), TRANSMISSION (THE OLD CO-OP BUILDING) & ONE WEEK IN MOSCOW (MARWOOD STUDIOS)
So, we are hot amongst the most exciting Photographic event to happen in Brighton…ever! The Brighton Biennial has reared its head again, launching last weekend – and tugging at the reigns this year is non other than Martin Parr. An absolute coup for the Biennial to get him as the curator of this years shows and you can already see the impact his drive, imagination and connections have had.
If you are interested in photography or even if you are not – the Biennial this year is going to offer you something of interest and I suggest you check out as much of it as you can…as its rare you get so many amazing and international photographers displaying work in your own yard. And, of course, alongside the curated exhibitions are hundreds of photographers putting on their own shows as part of the Photo Fringe.
So, with that in mind, I thought I would do a series of reviews of the best shows that I see whilst I work my way around the Biennial and Fringe events. Below are three of my favourates from my first day of wandering around the wealth of amazing work this years biennial has to offer.
THE HOUSE OF THE VERNACULAR
Now you could argue I am biased because I help out at Fabrica and so I am including the show in my reviews because of that.
But I am not and I haven’t!
It’s in because it is an amazing show, in fact, probably the best I have seen come out of Fabrica. This show shouts of Martin Parr, it is almost like stepping into his mind and having a stroll around, seeing the world as he sees it – a bit Being John Malkovich if you will. The exhibition is not so much about individual photographers work, but instead collections of images that have been amassed and edited by artists. In all, the space is divided into 7 separate rooms – each housing its own collection of themed images.
These range from photographs of bins to men in hats. Interiors of African dictators airplanes to North Brazilian hand painted images of dead people…they are a diverse and disparate range of quite strange yet familiar photographs. The exhibition space itself has been set up although you are walking through a house – with each room being lovingly decorated to fit the theme of the photographs it houses. So you do actually walk through an airplane or a city street, the gallery space becoming part of a living exhibition.
The result being the whole place is a sensory treat which completely encapsulates you and makes the images seem completely at home despite their being completely out of context in Brighton. Often amusing or surreal and sometimes bordering on the uncanny – the photographs housed in the exhibition give a unique view of the human condition in its many forms. Whilst they should feel unfamiliar and awkward to look at, the images sit perfectly alongside each other, and in their unique surroundings and this alternative world, somehow it feels right.
The collections were curated by Martin Parr and so his aesthetic and comic look on the world and it inhabitants very much runs through the whole show. Words cannot really do justice to it and it very much has to be seen to be experienced. One thing is certain – you won’t often get a chance to visit such a unique and interested photographic exhibition as this.
The next show I have chosen is located in the Co-Op building on London Road. This location is the home to a huge amount of work this year – both the Biennial curated shows and the many fringe shows are using the space – so it is a great place to head to see dozens of photographers under one roof. I only had a chance to check out a small part of the exhibitions on offer and was particularly struck by a couple of the photographers showing as part of the Transmission collective.
This exhibition is a collaborative effort by 6 University of Brighton students who have occupied the glass fronted space of the Co-op building, on the corner of London Road and Bak
er Street. The two photographers that stood out for me were Sam Wilcox and Martin Seeds – both of whom were showing quite alternative work from the usual clean cut and sharp lines of photography.
Sam Wilcox’s project ‘Grey Matter’ is summed up on their website as:
The project is a response to: memory, archive, history, social structure and the medium itself. This latest work is a visual expression of the artist’s own feeling to ancestry, and the ‘Family Album’.
For me, the images sat beautifully in this abandoned department store location, as they almost look like they have been taken through an closed shop that has had its windows painted in that white stuff! I am not entirely sure how he has created the photographs, but they look like they look like prints that have been left in the developer too long and picked up the silver halide that dirties the trays. Or perhaps he has used liquid light and exposed the images onto the painted surface – which would explain the brush like marks.
Whatever method he used, it creates an ephemeral and beautiful set of images which seem to hang in a timeless window – their hidden images only just breaking the surface and hinting and what the story they have to tell is about.
having read that this body of work is a response to memory, archive, history & the family album – the photographs have even more meaning and impact. However, reason aside – they are just beautiful images.
Martin Seeds follows suite with a set of images entitled ‘Medium’ which are a step away from the normal accepted rules of the photographic image. Reading the blurb and looking at the images, it seems he has scratched into the surface of photographic film prior to exposure. Then run the film through the camera and taken photographs before processing them as normal.
The result being a combination of the photographers hand and the machine’s image making process – a comment he is making on the fact the photographers mark is not seen in this work in the same way one can see a painters brush strokes or a sculptors marks. I have seen similar processes applied to photographs before, but rarely where the film is damaged before an image is ever exposed onto it and this element of random chance adds to the charm.
The pictures are lovely – presented as large prints they really grab the eye and the fact that the surface of the image is damaged made me instantly drawn to question what I was looking at. The surface of a photograph is usually a pristine and smooth surface and by distressing this preconception, it cannot help but play with the viewers expected notions of photography.
Of course mention should go to the other 4 photographers in the show – as it is a good exhibition as a whole. I liked the fact all 6 were making quite different work from each other but were happy to exhibit together. Sometimes artists seem to feel the need to only stick to others with a similar aesthetic, so it can be refreshing to see exhibitions with wide and varied work. Also I felt this show really sat well with the brief Martin Parr had given to the biennial as a whole of showing new and experimental work and images that challenge the normal ideas of what photography is.
ONE WEEK IN MOSCOW
I have posted about One Week in Moscow before encouraging you to pre-order the book, but now their is also an exhibition to go and see!
Marwood Studios is a small and discrete venue – but they have managed to display a good number of images and it is nice to be in an intimate venue for what is quite an intimate project.
I had seen a few images from this project already via their website, but needless to say – the book which has been produced is a beautiful thing. Huge praise must go to Murray Ballard and Gabriella Rizzello and all involved in the production process because it is a lovely object – one I feel privileged to own.
It would be easy to be full of compliments for this show on account of it being in aid of a good cause (raising money for Diabities UK), but aside from that the photography is, as expected, lovely. For me,the multiple formats used – the jumps from B&W to colour and the broad range of subject matter all add to the appeal. I really felt I could get a sense of the genuine curiosity and interest these two photographers had whilst in Moscow and you almost feel like you are traveling around the city with them exploring the host of alien sights it has to offer.
Part of the excitement of going to a foreign country can be that everything looks different. A post box becomes something new and a sign written in another tongue becomes a mysterious object. I think Murray and Gabriella’s images really encapsulate this notion of excitement you get in the first few days of being in a strange city and trying to find your bearings.
The exhibition mirrors the style of the book, with prints in different sizes and formats all pinned to the wall – without frames. Like Transmission, this sits very comfortably with the aesthetic of the Biennial as a whole and the no frames policy Martin Parr stipulated.
The private view was a bit of a sweat box…but I am glad I braved the crowds and temperature to collect my book in person and help celebrate what is a great achievement. Publishing your first book is hard enough – but to do it with such style and success AND raise money for a good cause makes me rather envious of their drive and skill!
If you haven’t done so already – buy a copy of the book as they are selling fast (its only £15 and available from their website linked above). Either way, pop into Marwood Studios and check out their show…you can also have some rather nice cake in the cafe downstairs!
I will post more reviews as I get round more of the shows. Didn’t get round as many as I hoped to on the opening weekend, so will try to fill in the many gaps over the next few weeks. Until then, one of my top pics of the Fringe shows that I guarantee will be great is:
DEGENERATION by the collective Human Endeavour. Located at the Bellis Gallery on Kings Road and showing the first images of a new joint project being undertaken by Simon Carruthers, Alex Currie, Richard Chivers & Oliver Perrott exploring the decline of 20th Century housing in Britain. All four photographers produce stunning work in their own right – so I can only imagine a joint show and project will blow the mind! Go check it out.