investigating the Inbetween

Developing photographs

As a title Developing photographs points to something else: to the re-learning of old processes. Not as much in the physical darkroom as in the intangible one: the unconscious.

Developing photographs is a biographical exploration of my disenchantment with the medium’s magic potency due to photography theory exposure. It is a quest to reconstitute photography’s otherworldly power. The unconscious is used as a photo lab where to develop family album photographs and our emotional attachments with them. Laws of shamanism, witchcraft and alchemical symbolism rule the piece. This body of work questions and challenges the possibilities of a different approach to photography, arguing for restoring intuition as a valid tool to understand, critique and consume photography.

The multi-media installation with ritualistic performances is comprised of six full-length performance videos, and one live performance in the gallery, using the sculpture that centers the piece. Each performance depicts me embodying my understanding of different ever-changing tarot archetypes, in an accumulative understanding of photographic practice regarding the family album. Individual performances titles refer simply to the content of each ritual, yet retaining magical lexicon:

 

I         The Curse of Theory; ritual embodying The Devil: imbuing   ideas of the photographs being nothing but ‘ink and paper’.

II       The Art Teacher; ritual embodying the High priest: repressing the photographs’ inherent unconscious nature by indoctrinating them with photographic theory.

III        Memory Power; ritual embodying The Fool: activating photographs as connectors between the external and internal image as memory.

IV        Grafting Incantations; ritual embodying The Star: healing the magical within the photographs.

V      The Sacrifice; ritual embodying the Hanged Man: the needed act of self-destruction in the path to obtaining intuition as the philosopher’s stone.

VI      Essence of the Eye; ritual embodying The Magician: distilling photographs’ essence towards integration of consciousness and unconsciousness.

VII      The Restoration of Intuition; ritual embodying The Moon: placing intuition back as third eye. End of the cycle.

 

The character moves from insecurities arisen from photography theory, to the integration of that new knowledge, yielding a space where consciousness and intuition can cohabit and flourish. The series of rituals are based on the alchemical process of conniuctio:  the marriage of the opposites. Alchemy in the Jungian sense of self-development, mythology and occult philosophies, are the piece’s framework.

The six first performances are recorded with sound in the artist’s studio from the same fixed viewpoint to recreate a recording of a shaman or witch doing ‘its’ things. They are full-length performances (asking endurance from audiences) in a loop on three cube monitors, in reference to performance video art from the 70’s. Although strongly relating to each other, each performance retains its own agency. Monitor’s screens sit on plinths of various sizes facing out on seemingly random angles, as ‘talking heads’ facing audiences. This slight off-centerness is a subtle reference to the disordered nature of the unconscious mind. Performative territory is marked by the position of plinths: a non-strictly defined triangle referring to the symbol of the third eye: a triangle with a dot (sculpture) in the middle.

The seventh is a live performance happening during the private view. Developing photographs advances from a private space, a space of emotional negotiation, to a public one: as my family album photographs do.

In the epicenter there is a “living sculpture”, since I use it while performing in the space. Three artifacts form the tailor mannequin-based (a presence in my absence) sculpture:

*A coyote mask. As wearer of the mask, I become obscured. Among many Native American peoples, god Coyote is a trickster. I transform into the archetypal patterns it evokes: it symbolizes deception within the photographic.

*An armor with shells in the front and magically grafted photographs on the back. Shells are used as symbols and conduits of the unconscious. It refers to the myth of Der Ring des Nibelungen: it symbolizes power within the photographic.

*A cloak with written memories outside and my family album photographs inside. This cloak endured a sacrificial act, and became a shelter for my loved ones, as the Schutzmantelmadonna[1] ‘s cloak. It refers to the myth of Pandora’s box: it symbolizes death within the photographic.

Joseph Beuys’ use of animals, myths and shamanic practices has been a big reference point in my work. Nevertheless, I do not strive to make political work. In this sense I am closer to artist Marcus Coates who, with fluid boundaries between deep seriousness and the exuberant, uses shamanic practices to connect with the unconscious in order to access occult information. However, I do not confine myself to shamanic practice alone. I find Susan Hiller stance regarding the paranormal very interesting although I put myself within the work and I do not make use of irony as she does. In addition, Frampton’s Nostalgia (1971) has been a key visual reference.

 

The word 'liminal' seems to be carefully avoided in most discourses regarding performance art including Rose Lee Goldberg's ‘Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present’ (2011) or Philip Auslander's anthology, ‘Performance: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studie’s (2003), only used in an article written by Britta Wheeler (2003). According to Wheeler's view, the liminal can be seen as a strategy in performance art. To respond to society's limitations, the artist re-enacts, comments and performs society's fears and dreams. This could be seen as a form of exorcism.

 

I use the performative space as a sacred space for rituals, a theatrical stage and an experimental laboratory: it is within the liminal that transformation can occur. This in-between space acts as an instigator of social change. Fabricating the liminal space is a strategy I use to channel questions, encounters and responses, which are asked or found while performing. It seems that in post-industrial societies the artist still holds an important position within the tribe.

Developing photographs reclaims intuition and perception in a world of thinking and judgment. It celebrates the value of the unknown, the importance of imagination and unreason and ultimately reflects upon the role of the artist in society.


 

[1] German Virgin of Mercy, who protects and shelters mankind under her cloak

Developing photographs is a biographical exploration of my disenchantment with the medium’s magic potency due to photography theory exposure. It is a quest to reconstitute photography’s otherworldly power. The unconscious is used as a photo lab where to develop family album photographs and our emotional attachments with them. Laws of shamanism, witchcraft and alchemical symbolism rule the piece. This body of work questions and challenges the possibilities of a different approach to photography, arguing for restoring intuition as a valid tool to understand, critique and consume photography.

The piece is being shown in Hangzhou, China, as part of the collective show Three-Fold. May-July 2017.

A live performance was part of the piece on the opening night.