Postgraduate exhibition 2013
To Marry the Widow of a Childless Brother*
Samantha Adler De Oliveira / Guy Eytan / Judith Kakon / Uri Tuchman / Tom Porat
CSP (the curatorial studies program gallery)
CCA The Center for Contemporary Art
Kalisher St. 5 Tel-Aviv, Israel
The exhibition “To marry the widow of a childless brother” dealt with appropriated images as a contemporary artistic practice in the post-internet age by the snowflake generation. A practice of creating with an awareness that the photographic discourse may be based on lies or irrelevant notions and in fact has a split biography. The medium is accounting issues like image producer identity, photographic image value, and photographic subject relevance.
Art-making comes with a struggle to produce “new” imagery with photography while at the same time it is highly critical towards the unbearable lightness of stealing. Representation with appropriation wishes to defy the sources of a photographic discourse and reveal its weak points while still states commitment to it. Existential and melancholic results propose that the digital revolution is a (personal) disaster with victims in an already postmodern hell leaving the artists a choice to save (appropriate) with compassion and true romanticism.
It was my first time curating a show. Inspired and guided by a class of my beloved teacher, curator, and photographer Yair Barak. I intend to curate a second exhibition following the ideas of this one in the future.
The term appropriation is used in writing about art to describe the use of existing images or objects without (or barley without) transformation ."Good artists copy, great artist steal." This quote, misattributed to Picasso, was in fact made by T.S. Eliot paraphrasing Shakespeare. The Israeli Penal Law defines Theft as: "A person commits theft if he – (1) takes and carries away a thing capable of being stolen, without the owner's consent, fraudulently and without the claim of a right in good faith, intending when he takes it to deprive its owner of it permanently;” ". The word stealing in daily use is mostly known from the legal-moral discourse. In order to define the kind of appropriation that the artists exhibited here are doing, there is a need to find a more suitable word. One that doesn't have the connotations of stealing. Reclaim seems to work here. The artists are not stealing photography but “reclaiming” it. It's possible to call the kind of photography reclaimed in this exhibition as"stock footage". That is, a pool of familiar images, that seem to have neither a point to make nor nothing to point at. The artists choice to reclaim these specific images is not only for aesthetic value or in order to reference some inner photography discourse, but for saving a photograph from drowning.
In the works "The Caspar Friedrich Project" (2010) by Samantha Adler (b.1985) and "Pornographic Nature" (2012) by Guy Eytan (b.1985) are reclaiming found footage out of an existing pool, adopt it and arrange it as art. The act of reclaiming is done here in relation to photography that did not intend to be artistic, didn't want to be more than what it was supposed to be. The base for Samantha's work is a visual quote from the art history of Painting - Caspar David Friedrich Monk by the Sea (1808-10). The artist lifts from Google street view camera images of people staring at the horizon of the sea, she creates a collection that is set as a panorama.
This action joins a line of works from recent years that are based on similar acts of appropriation. For example the artist Penelope Umbrico in her work from 2011, Sunset Portraits where she collected and arranged pictures of couples with sunsets from Flickr. The artist Jon Rafman is appropriating images from Google street view in his ongoing work 9-Eyes. While Umbrico is creating a typology of kitsch and Rafman is picking out “pretty” pictures, in Samantha's work the voyeuristic element is somehow absent and it allows a moment of empathy.
Guy downloads pornographic films from the Internet and by editing salvages the sexless scenes from them. He reclaims those photographed scenes and binds together to form a pastoral travel film with a voice-over of an original text which praises the human gift of forgetting (in the spirit of Le Jetée by Chris Marker).
The image pools that these two artists approach invite a more evident choice from the one the artists actually make. Surveillance cameras and hardcore pornography contain harsh and direct imagery. Instead of picking those, the artists reclaim what is most often overlooked over, what remains unnoticed. They fish out from a vast image pool what is missed. By doing so, they deny the original destiny of the stock footage and give it a new life. They dismiss the function: a Porno that never intended to be a nature film and surveillance cameras that never learned to appreciate German Romanticism. The artists insist on finding beauty even there, in this sphere of nothing. Precisely because those images were taken from a body that is functional and not necessarily aesthetic, we get this kind of disappointing beauty, which is not spectacular but has surprising and comforting qualities: just enough to not get you sad. The viewing experience of these works takes effort. It’s like being moved by something so faded that is borderline depressing, trying to take in something that was already seen endless times as if it's the first time, or falling in love a second time after we are already broken-hearted.
The artists Uri Tuchman (b.1987) and Judith Kakon (b.1988) make a deliberate choice to take a photograph. They are choosing to use the camera to take an image and not create it digitally. In the artworks, they trace the visuality of images that exist outside the art-world and they reclaim those aesthetic characteristics. Uri takes pigeons in black and white, without technical sophistication, resembling amateur photography. The Black & White becomes an effect that gives the photos an "Artistic feel". Even though there are a lot of photos in the book, it doesn't seem to be typological and doesn't even seem to have a deep interest in the subject. The feeling of arbitrariness brings up the question why were the photos taken at all. Uri's photos are bound into a book under the name "The Big Book of Black and White Pictures of Pigeon". The book is handmade and designed in an old-fashioned and naive graphic design. It imitates the coffee-table book genre, where the titles are often phrased as "The Big Book of X". Almost always the photos' common ground is the subject in the narrowest sense of the term - i.e. women, cats, dogs, etc. These are the books that will be buried in the large bookstore chains under the title "Photography/discounts".
In her work "Nine Out of Fourteen Nights in Tel Aviv", Judith takes photos of the sky from her apartment window at twilight. She photographs without an indication point, so what comes out is a colored surface. She shoots for fourteen days and picks nine photographs, samples the pure hue onto a computer, and then processes it into an oil color on a 20/30 cm canvas frame which she presented as a grid in 2009. The artist returned to the work in 2013. She sampled the colors from the documentation and printed them for a renewed showing. The process of sampling in the computer, painting and then returning to the photographic printing is hidden from the viewer's eye but crucial to the artist's practice. The production system of the image could have been made straight with a Photoshop picker (which is a legitimate and known practice nowadays). However, the stages that seem to be unnecessary on the technical level of producing an image indicate awareness for the differences that lay within the manufacturing procedures of painting and photography: you make a painting but you take a photo. Viewing the work while considering the process comes with emotions echoing the seriousness of the actions. These actions insist on the process of memory, experience, time, and personal process. We come to think of Roni Horn's Still Water series (The River Thames, for Example) or Yve Klein's paint plains, the photography-minded paintings of Gerhard Richter, or the practice of Wolfgang Tillmans. It is possible not to think about those or submerge into the changing image that looks like a wall of paint samples or an eye shadow blow up. The work is easy on the eye but yet disturbing, seems to want to fall apart and come to rest, reach the decorative potential as an object in a Bourgeois living room or to become this high value product that its phantasmagorical value is too high for it to be just looked at.
In the same kind of attitude that Judith shoots this general sky, Uri "shoots" pigeons. These banal, common, and urban birds (that for some reason are a tourist attraction in every main square in Europe). are not rare birds shot by ornithologists who travel the world to catch those rare breed in their natural habitat. The Insistence on photographing the needless yet personal somehow points out on the importance of their existence and place in the world, as well as the act of photography.
Tom Porat (b.1981) photographs images that are already printed, implemented and scattered in the world, Which means that someone believed in them enough as pictures to hang on a wall. The artist reclaims this act done to the image and repeats it. In both works, the footage appears from two ends of the spectrum of photography -the reproduction (the transparent photography), and the commercial, one which is also pictorial. In "The Mona Lisa", a reproduction is photographed. The reproduction of the most famous painting in the world behind the glass door of an arts and crafts store in Jerusalem. This moment echoes Japanese tourists at the Louvre constantly taking photos of the original painting, located behind glass due to justified fear of theft. In "Perfect Day" two taboos of artistic photography are broken -feet and the sea. This "collage" that brings us back to the moment in history when artists tried to release photography from being something that represents or exchanges reality. The works are based on proper photography: Tom looks straight at artistic photography, while he also considers its existence as a commodity. Both works were originally exhibited in two different commercial fair exhibitions and were not shown together before. The artist's choice of which photos to print and frame in order to sell is well though and intended. This also can be considered as a collectors/curatorial decision regarding one's living room. The way the artworks are shown, sized and framed reclaim again the place where a photo becomes a picture and a picture becomes a photo. The photographic nature, direct, pointing out, appropriates, smiles, seems almost as if Tom is photographing himself taking a photo. We feel his presence. There is no denying the technique but the outcome isn't Hedonist, it's just nice enough to match an imaginary quality standard. There is a sense of belief in photography - the artist obliges, commits, offers us to observe, and not to give up on a second look.
The idea of using appropriation in order to deal with the consumption of imagery is something that was addressed in the pivotal 1977 exhibition "Pictures". In the exhibition catalog, curator Douglas Crimp noted to a growing extent to which our day-to-day experience is governed by images from the media. He said: “Next to these pictures our firsthand experience begins to retreat, to seem more and more trivial…It, therefore, becomes imperative to understand the picture itself". The participating artists, whether they are photographers-artists or artists-photographers, are not committed to pure photographic discourse, yet they operate in a postmodern tradition of photography and its use, culminating in the eighties, as clearly visible in the works of artists like Richard Prince. For the artists, who were born in the eighties, this road has already been paved: appropriation is a proliferated practice. The current situation of absence of source affected that action by emptying itself from drama and pathos, so here it is referred to as reclaim. These artists were born to a world that perceives itself completely mapped out. Their search is for the unknown within the too-familiar.
This photography exhibition title describes an act of saving, referencing to the known Peter Galassi claim regarding the status of the medium within the art: ”Photography is not the bastard child left on the doorstep of Art, but a legal son to a longtime pictorial tradition”. Using the same terminology regarding photography is meant to be thought about a parallel universe where no son is born and the husband died. The saving act is of the husband brother, who is to marry the widow in order to guarantee a bloodline, is a metaphor for this kind of love behind the appropriation exemplified by the presented contemporary artworks. Appropriations are actions of the commitment made in order to redeem images from being neglected and forgotten.
*The original title in the original language is a consonance and assonance two-word title literally translate to save photo / saved photo.
Photography By Tom Porat