Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Surrealism, Photography

                                                                 Who is Andre Breton?

     In our past, the usage of traditional photography was customarily limited to direct representation, and a surrealistic and non-surrealistic painting might only have their medium as a common ground. All of this allows surrealist photography to inhabit a unique, multi-layered niche. It is seemingly paradoxical and incompatible for photography to ever encompass surrealism, as photography is not something that produces "pure creations of the mind"1 simply through it’s medium. Painting achieves automatism more easily than a medium as rigid as photography would; comparing the two on a superficial level leaves photography to be nothing but "dead and disillusioning."1 Brenton was clearly very anti-representational, so he wasn’t keen on photography- which to him, was the epitome of visual representation. 
    Photography was eventually accepted in the world of surrealism, without there being an alteration in the genre, or other change in the definition or qualifications for a work of art to be considered surrealistic. It was accepted because photography emerged that encompassed undeniable surrealistic qualities and now actively served the surrealist movement. Photography allowed for mass production in the movement, increasing availability and influence; photographic work often encompassed Breton’s idea of surrealism more effectively and efficiently than mediums that were traditionally used in the production of surrealistic work. Often, photos had “...far greater power than most of what was done in the remorselessly labored paintings and drawings..”2 The fact that there was less labor involved, and a higher yield than painting, allowed photography to claim it’s hard-earned, and legitimate place in the surrealist movement.
     One characteristic of surrealist photographers is their tendency to selectively frame things through close cropping.  When one can control the frame, one can begin “...redrawing the elements inside it.”2 Brenton had started becoming so interested in psychic automatism that he believed life-like depictions of dream states were false. Brenton didn’t want to unite the literary movement with the visual movement by regarding the two mediums as equal; he instead dissolved general constraints in categorization, with the goal to “resolve the dualism of perception and representation.”1 Regardless of the impact photography had on surrealism, it will still never be clearly categorized.
   Subject matter does not necessarily make a photograph surrealistic. Technique is often implemented to add a surrealistic quality and can vary from traditional printing styles, to the superimposition of images, to various other techniques, depending on the desired result. Surrealism puts the photographer in a position of power. Breton's views the surrealist photographer as one who contrives an image, is the creator, and is deserving of more credit toward it’s production than a photographer who captures an image of their observable surroundings.
     Photography does not share many fundamental characteristics with language, and so may seem at times to be in opposition with language. The surreal tries to take hold of some inner narrative; the initial problem with photography taking on the surrealist label. However, photography is able to smoothly record a narrative, as well as carrying the qualities of seamlessness, which is the basis of automatique.  The process a photograph takes to be surreal is one in which meaning is added as technique is applied. Once an image is manipulated, language can be seen, sentences can be formed, and new meaning can be seen seen in it’s structural characteristics. Manipulation of a photograph changes its role from being just an imprint of observable phenomena, to that of a tool “...with[in] the realm of language or signification...”2
1 Andre Breton 
2 Rosalind Krauss

Friday, March 9, 2012

Downfall of Lithography

Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.
- Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art
in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
, 1936 
     Lithography had a meaningful place in history and emerged with great potential, equivalent to the emergence of engraving and etching in the Middle Ages. Lithography was received with much interest due to it’s unique characteristics: it was a direct process, helping put reproducible art forms on the art market. As useful as lithography came to be, it was eventually abandoned and replaced by photography. Though lithography is certainly far from a lost art, it did lose out to the emergence of the camera, since they were both competitors in similar markets. The art of reproduction was in photography’s favor as the lens lacked the ability to view what is in front of it non-objectively, and was also convenient when it came to time restraints. With photography, one could capture and “...keep pace with speech.”

Monday, March 5, 2012

Contemporary vs. Tension

"...contemporary art’s ethical imperative is to deal with the ambivalence of the experience of emancipation."
- CuauhtĂ©moc Medina
 © Kat Amchentseva
   Tension between the viewer and the work is something that happens among art institutions indiscriminately, but perhaps is more apparent in contemporary art. This is still true holding the assumption that it is not the artist's intention to create distance between viewer and object.
   Art institutions, auction houses and the like should be held responsible for this since they are often exclusive and removed environments, thus validating pieces that might otherwise not have been looked upon as art, unless housed in these controlled and immaculate spaces. Since it lacks a single historical narrative, a quality of incompleteness permeates all levels of contemporary art, however institutionalized they may be. Although contemporary art is not part of any distinct movement, we can see it's evolution in terms of it's accessibility. Museums traditionally divide the public when dealing with accessibility. The reason works don't become more accessible is because even when the work travels, it goes to other certified, tight-security, insured institutions. So although the work moves, the setting it finds itself in does not really change. It is behind glass, or perhaps has a sensor that goes off when you get too close; either way, it does not invite the viewer to do much of anything, except feel disconnected while viewing the artwork. The reason this is worse with contemporary art is because it is the least likely to be traditionally viewed as art in the first place. When the public's reason for seeing something as a piece of art is mostly due to where it is housed rather than what it is, you reveal a very apparent rift between art that looks like art, and art that is only seen as art because of it's immediate setting. It is however the curator's and not the artist's responsibility to present the art to the public so perhaps we should begin there. *

* Follow up post about the relationship between the curator, the artist, and the exhibition is next.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Deconstructivism: a Briefing and Some Thoughts

                                                                       (Pictures are of deconstructivist architecture)

“There is in deconstruction, a self-explanatory figure which imposes its necessity in accumulating the forces trying to repress it”
        -Jacques Derrida

   There have always been correlations between movements in art, music, writing. (Take Surrealism for example. It started out as a literary movement). One movement that is easy to find in modern-day art conservatories and among emerging young artists is some form of deconstructivism. The originator of the movement was Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), a french philosopher who formed his theories regarding deconstruction in the 1950’s. Deconstructionists did not believe there was a universal or independent standard by which anything can be judged. The meaning of the work was constantly shifting depending on who was looking at it. They saw art as a means to reveal the inconsistencies in what were otherwise apparently self-vendent truths. It was often art institutions, or occidental culture itself that insisted on consistent meaning and truth in art. This mindset was the fuel for the post-structuralist approach; the breaking down of way we observe form. 
   Derrida questioned the ideals of structuralism, claiming that they were chasing a myth, their goal being to expose or find an ideal, true underlying structure. In fact, Derrida considered any and all desire for truth and meaning in art, writing, or life, ‘logocentric’ (refers to the western take on getting to the core; center of things). Derrida believed most things were an illusion and that relationships between objects and people were too complex to be so simply deciphered. For Derrida, there are two feasible approaches to analyzing a text. One is ‘naive’ and the other ‘deconstructionist’. He believed straight-forward thinking and consistent meanings in literature or art were ludicrous.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I  often find myself thinking about how everything is so haphazard outside of our systematic worlds. How we have no control over anything, except a fragment of our lives that none of us even have considerable control over. There are infinite ways to look at a piece of art. What the viewer thinks may depend on what they think of the artist, or not. Whether they had a bad day or it rained (or not!). Maybe the meaning they found was purely dependent on them hitting the snooze button this morning. How could any conclusion anyone makes about anything be correct, if their ‘true’ thoughts on something depends on petty or unknown factors? We cannot choose the influences in our daily lives, and for all we know, they might cause us to find certain meanings in things, or think different thoughts. And so we all live in our little realms, but no one can be more correct than another, since there is no independent universal standard by which we can compare our literature or art to. Instead, we all have our momentary, personal ‘truths’. Who’s to say these are not illusions, as what standard supports their supposed truth? Can they not be as true as they are false?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sane Smith, Brooklyn Bridge

 Above is the infamous Sane and Smith, on the Brooklyn Bridge in '88. Carlo McCormick reminds us:
"Location is everything; context and content are ultimately the most measurable difference between what is written in the bathroom stall and and the profound bravado of more heroic feats like Smith and Sane's landmark subjugation of the Brooklyn Bridge, a move so balls-out it still stands out as the single greatest escalation within the graffiti wars."
McCormick also touches on the origin of a word very relevant to public art today. Trespass.
"... the original meaning of trespass was all about transgression, offense, and sin, as it's use in the Bible will remind us. It took until the middle of the 15th Century for trespass to acquire the meaning of "unlawful entry," as it was first recorded in the forest laws of the Scottish Parliament. We can thus appreciate it's longstanding, almost erotic proximity to transgression, which indeed only begins after trespass becomes more a matter of law than of morality." 

McCormick, C., Schiller, M., & Schiller, S. (2010).Trespass, a history of uncommissioned urban art. Taschen.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Man with a Movie Camera & Movement

   The common error in lack of movement can be seen among amateur and professional photographers alike. However, in the early days of photography this did not come across as dull and lazy, but was a necessity due to long exposure. Now there is no excuse not to crouch and climb; doing so is necessary for a dynamic range and can greatly help with composition. The photo that we all want to avoid is the one that would have been brilliant, had you simply moved this way or that. This is doubly important for the fashion photographer, since an attractive model won’t simply provide them with unique and worthwhile imagery, without great input on the photographer’s end.

"Dziga Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera (1929) is a stunning avant-garde, documentary meta-narrative which celebrates Soviet workers and filmmaking. The film uses radical editing techniques and cinematic pyrotechnics to portray a typical day in Moscow from dawn to dusk." [LINK]

  Man with a Movie Camera (1929) is a stunning film, definitely worth watching if you are interested in photography... or it's history. It's quite easy to find the entire film online, with a little effort. This film was quite revolutionary, thanks to cinematographer Dziga Vertov. (1896–1954)
I am kino-eye [film-eye]. I am in constant motion. I draw near, then away from objects, I crawl under, I climb onto them. I move apace with the muzzle of a galloping horse. I plunge full speed into a crowd. I outstrip running soldiers, I fall on my back, I ascend with an airplane, I plunge and soar ...
 One could take this as excellent (albeit unintentional) advice considering his movie is now one of the staples in the education of film and photography students today.
  Vertov himself was quite the patriot; the aforementioned "Kino-Eye" was  a communist propaganda group. "Dziga formed a propaganda unit... [that] launched a massive campaign of newsreel coverage. This massive propaganda campaign was an attempt to break down the social barriers of the different Russian ethnic groups by blending propaganda and art."[LINK]     
   Man with a Movie Camera received bad press during it's release. This is not surprising, since today's revolutionaries and cultural leaders were often caused scorn and confusion in their day. Experimental art was (and still is) not the most respected genre in our contemporary timeline. Although it was subject to some negativity, it was also an undeniable stepping stone for the film medium. In a short amount of time thereafter, film speed had become standardized at 24 frames per second; this was for the accommodation of sound projection. This led to film becoming a big business and therefore being accessible to more people. This surely pleased not only Vertov and his communist friends, but all the world's citizens interested in the growth and evolution of technology.