Ben Reader in conversation with Bastien Rousseau

 
 
 
 

Ben Reader in conversation with Bastien Rousseau


Ben Reader is a Cornish painter currently based in Porto. His first artist book Lyonesse, inspired by early nineteenth century Japanese erotica (Shunga) and Cornish maritime culture and mythologies, was recently launched on the occasion of his first solo exhibition in Portugal. This interview was conducted online by the means of a popular messaging app over two days.


Those already familiar with your work may notice a change in your painting technique, perhaps lighter than two years ago.

Indeed, the panels in the book (in terms of pallet) are lighter and playful. The surroundings have a great influence on my works: the London portraits have an evident dim and slightly monochromatic filter whereas the book holds the buddings of Cornish spring.

I guess I meant in your recent paintings as well. I know you have had kept that London style when you and I met in residency at Deliceiras 18 in Porto. The portrait you had made of myself was alike.

Sure. So concerning the recent paintings: I have remained with a heavy opaque application. This is intensified also by the medium of oil. With the book, however, I have allowed to carry my style in a different street. Taking from the floating dilated simplicity of Japanese Shunga, I applied the richness to the book sparingly, giving the voyeur space to imagine. In this new work I have experimented with creating intense imagery though isolating focal points.

Hence the lightness in style which is similar to Ukiyo-e, the low-key erotic comics production popular during the Edo era in Japan, which has influenced the emergence of later manga. I have noticed quite a few humourous traits placed here and there. Do you enjoy mocking painting (the art form) thus, perhaps as a way to disregard it, even possibly with a disruptive eye?

I would say that I use the medium as an instrument of pleasure! It is after all a means of producing illusions, and if one feels amused then the work has succeeded.

Which has become a rather rare approach to so-called art making. Artists often take on the money-success-fame-glamour game with a deep focus on 'the conversation' happening across the globe and the aesthetic to be sold through specific channels. This performance has become an art form of its own kind.

Yes, but we must not forget individual satisfaction: the book is unhindered by popular genre because it is the first of its own. Alike to the name of an old shunga‘pillow book’, I do not expect the readers to be divulging their unique passages but covertly snatching the copies – similarly to the mysterious disappearance of the first edition from the opening exhibition! (Yes, this did happen.)

Do you feel the urge to make stuff like painting or drawing?

Yes of course as I am a painter, I wouldn't present anything half baked, I must enjoy the work as much as the viewer.

Funny enough, I would have thought of you to be nonchalant towards producing paintings. Although I reckon that the urge about which I am questioning you do apply to the making of your books, Lyonesse and Ictis!

You are right, the stimulating erotic overtone of the book does help to guide the unrelenting hand of the artist, like a dangling carrot tied to a goat. The explorations of sex infiltrate even the geographic bones of the book's landscape.

Do 'the geographic bones of the book's landscape' refer to the narrative or the actual landscape drawn as the ‘metamorphological’ continuation of the body, like a planet without firmament?

Good question. The skeleton refers to the construction of the book. In order to animate the characters, to simulate life they must first have a geography to reside in. This geography can also grow and bear fruit, and in places mimic the interior sexual scenes. And yes, by building this structure, the limits of this little universe are also set – the island contains the voyeur. The other celestial bodies will be revealed in the later volumes!

Exhibition Lyonesse was on view until January 26th 2019 at Junta de Freguesia do Bonfim, Porto, Portugal
Exhibition views © Bastien Rousseau Book snapshots © Ben Reader
Ben Reader’s studio is located in Porto Bonfim at Travessa de Anselmo, Braancamp 48, 4000-085 Porto, Portugal

For order inquiries and studio visits, do contact mrbenreader@gmail.com
instagram @readerben


Bastien Rousseau is a French curator based in Porto whose current work and research focus on the affective experience provided by artist books.

 

Interview with Anna Brody

 
 
 

INTERVIEW WITH ANNA BRODY


“So Far, I think
/
I Was Something That Lay Under The Sun And Felt It“

SCOPIO sat down to talk with Anna Brody about her most recent work, “So Far, I think / I Was Something That Lay Under The Sun And Felt It”. Brody, currently based in Tucson, Arizona, works with photography to both supplement and circumvent the shortcomings of written word. With this project, she photographs people, places and moments who are waiting to become. She hopes to honor them, and crystallize the quiet accomplishment of just being, now.

“I capture so that I can ask them, how did you become this way? Where will you go from here? Do you feel free? Do you know how beautiful you are? I experience a swelling awe at the glowing beauty of what I’m seeing; a compulsive need to capture and save these incredibly ordinary moments for posterity, web-weaving, and in fear of them slipping away from my memory.”

”So Far, I think / I Was Something That Lay Under The Sun And Felt It” is your most recent project, for how long have you been working on it?
For almost exactly a year now – I finished undergrad in November of 2017, quit a job for good reasons, broke my own heart a couple of times, grew it back together again by making new friends and seeing old friends, traveled a bit, drove myself across the country to my new home in Tucson, and started graduate school here in Arizona. It’s been a very full year!

Tell us more about this feeling of being scared of being alone, which is key to your work. What does that mean to you, and what does it feel like?
It’s not so much afraid of being alone as it is of being lonely – being lonely in crowds or around other people has to do with not feeling seen. How another person—a lover, partner, soul mate friend—can hold your non-performative, authentic self and remind you of who that is, and anchor you in that even while you’re performing in public. I think that’s why I often feel lonely in public; I realize I’m performing and I’m not being authentic, and don’t have that anchor to reference back to. Intuition is what I use when I photograph, and what anchors me to my authentic self because I can’t perform intuition, and in that sense my work acts as a partner or friend would – these images hold evidence of my authentic self, and serve to remind me of what that looks like, and to trust myself, that my intuition is worth something.  To feel seen and understood is to share your perspective on the world with someone else and to have them get it, and collecting intuitively captured pictures shows myself back to me. It mirrors my own perspective back to me because I don’t agonize over it in the moment, I’m not trying to explain it at the time I just do it, and then afterwards I see myself more clearly and I think it represents my best self in a certain way? My most open, least cynical self. And sharing that with myself makes me my own anchor. That sounds super sad on paper, but it’s true – it’s a process of intuition, understanding, and affirmation in and of myself. And hopefully, for a handful of other people who connect to my work in a non-logical, holistic and wholly authentic way.

You say you photographed to ‘circumvent and supplement the failures of our written word to express the complex’. What do you mean by that? Could you tell us a bit about your relationship with the medium of photography? When and how did it start?
Rebecca Solnit is an author and theorist who has changed the way I see the world. In one of her best-known books, Men Explain Things to Me, she states: “The tyranny of the quantifiable is partly the failure of language and discourse to describe more complex, subtle, and fluid phenomena, as well as the failure of those who shape opinions and make decisions to understand and value these slipperier things.” I believe photography—and art of any medium—can work around these shortcomings of language and discourse by allowing for imagery to represent, relate, and describe some of the many things that fall outside of what can be quantified or described with words. In doing so, art allows for meaning and value to be recognized in things that might otherwise be deemed unimportant because of their ineffable nature. In photographing the quiet unspectacular nonevents of just being, now, I can elevate and crystallize what would otherwise not be considered notable (literally, that you cannot make note of it because there aren’t the words to do so). In our culture, if you are not productive you are not valuable, and therefore not notable. Productivity is measured by the accomplishments of progress as recognized by colonial institutions that sanction the pursuit of capital above human life, joy, and freedom (especially, in the US, above the lives, joy and freedom of people of color, trans people, people with disabilities, and many other individuals who are deemed expendable in the face of the almighty dollar.) Systems of power need to quantify and categorize in order to maintain control. White supremacy, for example, requires among other things the quantification of melanin in order to construct the social (not biological) categories of race and/or ethnicity in order to maintain control over certain categories with certain ostensibly quantifiable traits. I and many other artists hope to subvert that which makes this control enactable – that which makes it so that a claim to power can be carried out with any sense of justifiable right. Question the claims by which a structure is imposed and leave it up to the viewer to bring their own vision of truth and connectivity to the work and to the world. Art, in all its subjectivity, can honor the personal history, life experience, and perspective of the viewer, and assert that they are equally as authoritative and meaningful as the intentions of the artist or what is understood culturally as truth. My working mission is that authoritative praise for quantifiable achievement should not be a precondition to appreciation; to see the ordinary and unotable as extraordinary—that is love, and that is what I aim to express and affirm.

Who are these people you photographed? How did you approach them to be involved in your documentary project? Where was the balance between privacy and exposure?
They are a mix of friends, family, and complete strangers. I approach with honesty about my intentions, and personal vulnerability that ideally allows for the subject to feel comfortable letting down some of their own walls to create a collaborative connection that achieves that tricky balance between privacy and exposure. This doesn’t always work, but it’s so rewarding when it does that I don’t think I’ll ever stop trying. I will say here though that I don’t consider this work to be a documentary—it is social, built, and residential landscape work, but it doesn’t follow any structure or logic that is consistent or narrow enough to constitute a documentary.

Do you see a common thread in the stories you choose?
The common thread is that my work shows me what the web is that I belong to, and a feeling of belonging is priority #1 for me. When I feel like I belong, I am able to approach humanity with tenderness, hope, and humor that make it so that I can get out of bed in the morning. It’s optimism, I guess. Grief and hope, power and vulnerability, resilience and fragility, discipline and addiction. These are non-binary landmarks of humanity as it is now, as it has always been, and as it most likely will always be until our species is gone – they’re definitely common threads. 

What was most interesting for you about the people/places you photographed?
I’m always curious about the power of association and the mutability of identity according to context and available information. Photographs allow for a deep questioning of the fixed nature of meaning. It is in our nature to categorize something and then quickly move on so we are ready to assess the next situation—that’s how we evolved, and we need to take more time to allow for the understanding of this shifting and changing, how time works to change both subject and viewer. My images freeze the people places and things I see into an immutable sameness - they aren’t going anywhere they aren’t going to change but you and I will and their arrangement might and their context definitely will, and in those variables there is an endless multiplicity of meaning, identity and narrative understanding.

Would you agree that we cannot relate fully with others if we do not accept that we are all alone in this world?
Yes, although I hope we’re both wrong. 
“I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.” 
— Willa Cather, My Àntonia


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Editor: Rita Silva

 
 

PHILIPPE RUAULT: ARCHITECTURE AND PHOTOGRAPHY

 

PHILIPPE RUAULT: ARCHITECTURE AND PHOTOGRAPHY

BY SUSANA VENTURA

SUSANA VENTURA: Do you think photography is able to represent the lived space of architecture? If so, how can it do it? Or, more generally, how would you describe the relation between photography and architecture?

PHILIPPE RUAULT: For me, it’s pretty clear that photography may represent the space. All it takes is simply getting “la bonne distance” (the right distance) between the self and architecture, the architect. But architectural photography is changing so quickly. Does it still exist?

SV: How do you find that “bonne distance”?

PR: Immediately, spontaneously, but after having thought about the architectural pro- ject: the correct rapport between me and the architectural object.

SV: What leads you to take a certain photograph? Or what makes you opt for a certain composition, frame, and luminosity, instead of others?

PR: Architecture and the building work altogether as a coherent whole, an open space both to the exterior and the interior. Architecture is in a state of absence, it is in between the world, nature, and the inhabitants of the place. Photography is in the center of all that like a carrier, a passerby. My photography must express that emotion.

SV: Do you believe that emotion belongs to the work of architecture and can your photographs extract it, allowing us to experience the same emotion through the photograph? Or the emotion we perceive through the photograph is another kind of emotion, one that you have composed (because photography is not the indifferent medium that we sometimes think of; it produces space and fabricates emotions)?

PR: I think that the observer runs through all these different emotions and lives his own emotions according to his culture, his experiences.

SV: When we look at your photographs of the different works of architecture built by various architects, we are immediately sent back to their work. For instance, in your photographs of Jean Nouvel’s work it is common to find a photograph playing with reflections. Immediately, we think of how Jean Nouvel usually plays with the real and the virtual in his buildings or when he adds several layers to generate an ambiguous perception of the real. On the other hand, we also easily perceive your own elements of composition: you don’t use reflections in a traditional way, sometimes you introduce both time and movement in the photograph (such as in that beautiful photograph of the Minneapolis theatre interior), you use color in a very specific way (usually as light)...

What do you think about the relation between the different works of architecture, the different architects that have designed them and your own ideas of photography?

PR: Firstly, it is about understanding the project and how it is formally done. Then photography must have its own means (and the photographic one translates this form). The photographer is a “carrier” who has the privilege of living the experience directly and the possibility of providing it with a form.

SV: What is the role of desire in your work?

PR: What you need is not a particular kind of desire, just the need to feel up for everything: what is there, what may arrive without being judgmental. To feel good in your body and in your head.

 

PHILIPPE RUAULT: LA BONNE DISTANCE

 

PHILIPPE RUAULT: LA BONNE DISTANCE

BY SUSANA VENTURA

SV: I think that it’s almost impossible to understand L&V’s architecture without your photographs regarding the link between the two. How have you met Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal?

PR: Chance and coincidence are essential in that relationship. I work with Jean Nouvel and Rem Koolhaas, who are very much opposed to it at the moment. Anne and Jean Philippe are a third source of discovery and of stimulating interests. I take a bit of both but express it in an original way.

SV: Imagine that you are visiting an L&V’s work for the first time but that you are not supposed to photograph it. As an inhabitant, what would you feel in this first encounter with the work? How would you describe your perception of it?

PR: From the first experience of the architecture of Lacaton & Vassal, all seems effortlessly intelligent and without a demonstrative effect, when, actually, there’s a whole work behind what is apparently evident. The result is a feeling of lightness, well being, simply freedom.

SV: Is there any kind of previous knowledge about the work you’re going to photograph, such as a conversation with Anne and Jean- Philippe about the work – not about the photographs, because I believe they don’t tell you what photographs they want, but about the ideas that we can find in the work from the beginning? Or are you at your own risk?

PR: I met Anne and Jean Philipe after the Maison Latapie, over 15 years ago. We were introduced by a mutual friend, Patrice Goulet, at the Jean Nouvel exhibition at Arc en Rêve in Bordeaux. Then we had passionate discus- sions over a glass of a Bordeaux wine in bars and restaurants. We have some mutual friends and we share common interests in many areas like art, football, or orchids. In fact, it took me a long time to really understand their way of seeing things, of analyzing them, of apprehending the world in general. Their relationship with the world is very original, it stems from all the ideas derived from their great freedom. My character has a very different nature, it is less simple, but I admire their ability of looking at things without a priori moral judgments, so I try to understand and adopt their ways.

SV: When you are taking photos, what happens between you and the work or space that you are photographing? How would you describe the relation between your photographs and the experience you have of space?

PR: Having understood their way of seeing the world, in our conversations, allows me to start the photographic point of view without a specific intent or any preconceived ideas, thus, in total freedom... I would even say in a certain state of indifference, which allows me to escape all the issues, the problems that always arise in architecture photography.

SV: You usually include people in your photographs of an L&V’s work. Actually, all architecture made by L&V has its primary focus on the inhabitants – their desires, their pleasures, their comfort... – and your photographs tend to sublimate the way people appropriate space. But that’s not all: the objects are usually left in space as if they had been casually found and as if there was no one around. We can look at the photographs and see how space is inhabited by the traces we find in it. I believe that there is a kind of realism in your photographs (following a photography tradition) and it’s curious that Dietmar Steiner called the architecture of L&V “dirty realism”. I think this expression is more appropriate if one looks at your L&V’s photographs. What are your concerns, intentions and aesthetic aims when you are shooting?

PR: That distance allows me to photograph people in the same way, without hierarchy, in their simplicity. It is not about making reportage or aesthetically doing sociology, it is not naturalism. I don’t say anything more than what is already there. Everything is there as a finished potential.

SV: There seems to be a perfect harmony between your photographs and L&V’s ideas about the spaces they create. In fact, if one looks at their photomontages (usually made by David Pradel) and your photographs, we sometimes find the same picture or image (we may look at examples of works such as the Mulhouse houses or the Palais de Tokyo). Is it a coincidence or is it on purpose?

PR: It is true that the similarity with the images of David Pradel is troubling, but I believe that we all simply bathe in this same atmosphere of freedom created by the architecture of Lacaton & Vassal.

SV: Nature is a constant presence in your photographs as it is in L&V’s work, and in both it is almost like an inhabitant. What is nature’s importance to you?

PR: Once again, it is important the equality of treatment between all the different elements (nature, objects, and inhabitants) without distinction.

SV: Sometimes, you are asked to photograph an L&V’s work for a second time and after it has been inhabited for long. How do you feel and what do you usually look for when this happens?

PR: Returning to a building by Lacaton & Vassal may be difficult when one had the feeling, thefirsttime,ofhavinglivedthatexperience to the full. The freedom of the first time may be difficult to relive.

APPENDIX: INSTRUMENTS AND TECHNIQUES

SV: What instruments do you use for shooting and, then, for finalizing a picture?

You usually take color photographs. Is there any special reason for this?

PR: I only work in a 4x5 silver color chamber, because there has never been anything different from black and white. It is a false issue, at least, regarding what really matters in architecture photography – i.e., the question oftherelationshipbetweenthephotographer and the thing. Hence, the distance he creates in an original way between himself and architecture.

SV: Do you retouch photographs after shooting to correct anything?

PR:The photographs are taken without retouching, from the very first moment until the time they are used. I don’t touch anything in the building. I try to take advantage of all their potential without artifices.

SV:What makes you reject a photograph?

PR:The photographer’s greatest wish of wanting to create a work of art, of architecture vampirism, makes bad architecture photography. The use of people or objects is a big problem nowadays.

 

PHILIPPE RUAULT: ARCHITECTURE AND PHOTOGRAPHY

 

PHILIPPE RUAULT: ARCHITECTURE AND PHOTOGRAPHY

BY SUSANA VENTURA

This interview should have been kept in French: its original language. There are certain words and expressions that cannot be translated in a literal way because they lose some of the power they evoke, as, for instance, in the expression “la bonne distance”, which Philippe Ruault uses to describe his approach to architectural photography. “La bonne distance” does not simply refer to the distance between subject and object mediated by any photographic apparatus or device, even when this is not a simple relation at all. Moreover, “la bonne distance” is a virtual plane that emerges between the photographer and the space. It’s a plane of composition that the photographer creates when he is shooting. The plane is itself indifferent (another meaning that distance evokes) but it is through this instance that the photographer sets all the elements that are going to compose the photograph and, at the same time, takes out everything that can menace its composition. The realism of Philippe Ruault’s photographs is thus a false issue because, even if what is represented looks like reality as it is, his photographs lead il.cus to move ahead and look beyond that seeming objectiveness. Sometimes we may even have to take a second look to go beyond the photograph and find also “la bonne distance” between ourselves, reality and the photograph. This second distance certainly overlaps the one found by the photographer himself and allows us to look at the space represented in its full meaning, since “la bonne distance” underlines and sublimates the architectural space itself. Even if Philippe Ruault says that he uses photography’s own means, we find a double movement in his photographs. The composition tends to underline spaces’ composition, light emphasizes the high contrasts with which architecture plays, between mass, shadow, light and color, to the very choice of showing how people appropriate the space. The photograph is here the perfect simulacrum. We may also consider these means as architectonic, but then, what separates photography from architecture? “La bonne distance”, which is perception.

 

WITH BAS PRINCEN: INSTRUMENTS 

 

WITH BAS PRINCEN: INSTRUMENTS 

BY SUSANA VENTURA

SV: It’s often said about your photographs that they have an almost surreal, fiction like, atmosphere. One of the most amazing characteristics of photography, as Walter Benjamin put it, is that the camera, the mechanical apparatus, allows you to bring to the image surface an unconscious aspect of the reality which the organic eye is unable to see (what made the first photographs in history so surprising). Although the photograph presents reality, it goes beyond reality, reaching the unknown and the unconscious of reality. I find this very quality in your photographs as they present an unconscious of the contemporary city or of the artificial and natural landscapes. It’s not only due to the frame – which is the one of the basic elements of a photographic composition – but mainly because they are constructed between two intense movements of colour: saturation and rarefaction. A saturation of colours to intensify the idea of a landscape (in some photographs, you even get close to a geological work) and sometimes a rarefaction of colours, of elements in order to bring the volumes at their limit, as pure objects in a rarefied landscape. For example, in your photographs of Dubai, we can feel the desert, its temperature, the dry atmosphere, the tension, only through colour. The colour comes first and only then do our eyes land in the volume and in the limits of the frame and only afterwards do we start to think about the relations between the building and the landscape. What are your main elements of composition? How do you use the frame – which you often speak of – and how do you use colour as light, for example?

BAS: There are many ways how a composition starts but, of course, there are certain types of composition that i like to use, or to start from. I think that is true for every photographer and you somehow search for a similar way to organise the image, this evolves over time. I can tell myself when I made a certain photograph because of the way it is visually organized. But then I use also a lot of, or I have a lot of references to which I look, references out of the history of architecture, or just images that I find appealing. Those images are used in order tomakeastartforanewworkorforanew type of image. So, I have many of these and I would combine five or six in order to imag- ine the new work. Imagining in a way that I imagine myself in front of the place that I would like to photograph. Sometimes when I’m at a place that I think has potential, I start to dig mentally in my memory and find out which type of images could resonate with the place where I am at that point and then I start to organise the camera in a similar way, and if what I see on the camera screen resonates with these images that I have in my head, I’m getting exited, and normally it results in a good image.

SV: Can you give some examples, for instance? I know that there isn’t a direct relation between the image and the photograph, but what do you look for in those images that you store in your computer? Why have they become so important to you?

BAS: They are important, because they are representing a certain image that has already a background. They have been looked at by people, so maybe they have a more universal quality that we can recognise and I like to use that as a kind of unconscious way to make it easier to enter the image. I think that is the main reason why I use them. And also that my images become part of a progression of images that I didn’t make.

SV: It’s a nice idea. It’s almost like the land- scape and the cities are formed, little pieces and parts through time and you add another part that relates to the old parts altogether.

BAS: I think you need it otherwise it is difficult to even see something for other people. If it is something completely new, you lack reference, and there is no point from which you can start to look at the image. It’s some- thing that I am really interested in: you have certain ways how you build an image and those are I guess universal and they keep return over time: from landscape paintings in the Golden age, to the new topographics and the depiction of landscapes in movies, for instance. And I think you have to learn about them and you can use all these presets. I’ve started to collect images that I find appealing in terms of content or composition or colour scheme, and I try to incorporate these givens as – let’s say – unconscious rules into the compositions that I make. Of course, you run the risk of being too classical, but this also depends on the references that you choose, of course.

SV: Everything is evolving, so you are in fact adding another chapter.

BAS: Yes. So, basically, from these refer- ences I make a kind of little booklets – there are about five now and they are just for myself to understand certain things, they are not meant to be published or to be made public. They are filled with images that I find out on internet – they are many, many at  my archive – and I organise these images in such a way that I find it an interesting com- position, in how they follow each other up. In the end, you could say, that these booklets with references are some kind of placehold- ers for a real book. This is the little booklet which I made for the Reservoir book – if you open the Reservoir book on the first page, you can imagine that the first three images – so, page one and two and tree of the refer- ence booklet – if you combine them, they somehow become the second picture in the ‘reservoir’ book (future olympic park).

SV: I would like to know a little bit more about your use of colour.

BAS: I don’t think I do a lot to the colour. I understand that most of the pictures have one type of tone or colour, but it’s not that I change it. It’s more that while I am looking for an image part of the reason for photograph- ing something, is because also the light and colour are in a good organisation.

SV: But in the end, they all seem to have a saturation – as in your Dubai photographs – where you can feel the dry atmosphere and the tension and the temperature – and all comes from the colour and not, for instance, of the frame or of other elements.

BAS: I think that the colour is always quite coolish...

SV: How do you control it? Or are you not really conscious of the process?

BAS: I am conscious. I work always with the same person with whom I am printing and I think that makes a big difference. He knows me well and we speak a lot about a certain continuity in the contrast and colour.

SV: So, is the colour a post-production?

BAS: No... at least not by default, there are two ways. While taking the photograph I take care that the colour palette is in my benefit or that it fits the other pictures I’ve already made. And sometimes, it’s just the technique of how you photograph. I think that it’s similar to the way compositions seem to reoccur, you can also search for similar compositions in colour or colour schemes. I think that if the colour is not good, then I don’t even see the image. It’s part of the decision to photograph a place, that the colour should be in sync with the composition. Then, in the end, in the post-production not a lot is done, just the image is made a little bit cooler or maybe the contrast is a little bit adapted. It’s funny, because the first book that I’ve made was in Holland and it has only with grey skies and sandy colours and at a point I would really freak out if there was a little sun and then I couldn’t photograph, it was impossible. And then I went photographing in L.A., Dubai, and those photographs are taken with blaz- ing sunshine, and people are still telling me that even in the pictures of those places it’s is foggy and they don’t realise it’s sunny.

SV: Yes, Reservoir is pretty grey!

BAS: It should be. When the light is tough or hard, and you photograph against the light, you have a limited set of colours, you will always have that idea of a greyish tone. The colours then are in the same tone. They’re never opposing.

SV: Maybe this has also to do with another feature of your work: the idea of surface. Even when you photograph isolated vol- umes that stand in the landscape, they somehow become flat. They are treated like surfaces and not like volumes. For instance, there are some photographers that like to photograph in black & white, because the volumes are accentuated.

BAS: I believe that they are the same in my photographs: volume and landscape naturally belong together. To me, they are the same surface. The only thing is that one is vertical and the other one is horizontal, differences are in the materiality or the colour and that can indicate a three dimensional shape.

SV: What would you say about that relation between surface and volume?

BAS: The surface is not only the ground and volume is not automatically a building or an object. Definitely in a photograph these 2 can act similar, sometimes a volume is suggested while it is not there, and I’m most interested in the fact that in the photograph you can play with these 2 and let them merge or take each others place. Surface to me is where materials are coming together, and then is all about how these materials interact. So both object and landscape are made of surface and those 2 have surfaces that can come together in an interesting way, that they are naturally fitting. I like this idea of naturally fit- ting: things that are believable when they are combined. This is something I would work on when I am photographing or when I am doing post-production, this is important to me. Well, you could say again – what is natural, what is man-made – is somehow put together and in a way you can say surfaces and colours are very important for that.

SV: It’s often said about your photographs that they have an almost surreal, fiction like, atmosphere. One of the most amazing characteristics of photography, as Walter Benjamin put it, is that the camera, the mechanical apparatus, allows you to bring to the image surface an unconscious aspect of the reality which the organic eye is unable to see (what made the first photographs in history so surprising). Although the photograph presents reality, it goes beyond reality, reaching the unknown and the unconscious of reality. I find this very quality in your photographs as they present an unconscious of the contemporary city or of the artificial and natural landscapes. It’s not only due to the frame – which is the one of the basic elements of a photographic composition – but mainly because they are constructed between two intense movements of colour: saturation and rarefaction. A saturation of colours to intensify the idea of a landscape (in some photographs, you even get close to a geological work) and sometimes a rarefaction of colours, of elements in order to bring the volumes at their limit, as pure objects in a rarefied landscape. For example, in your photographs of Dubai, we can feel the desert, its temperature, the dry atmosphere, the tension, only through colour. The colour comes first and only then do our eyes land in the volume and in the limits of the frame and only afterwards do we start to think about the relations between the building and the landscape. What are your main elements of composition? How do you use the frame – which you often speak of – and how do you use colour as light, for example?

BAS: There are many ways how a composition starts but, of course, there are certain types of composition that i like to use, or to start from. I think that is true for every photographer and you somehow search for a similar way to organise the image, this evolves over time. I can tell myself when I made a certain photograph because of the way it is visually organized. But then I use also a lot of, or I have a lot of references to which I look, references out of the history of architecture, or just images that I find appealing. Those images are used in order tomakeastartforanewworkorforanew type of image. So, I have many of these and I would combine five or six in order to imag- ine the new work. Imagining in a way that I imagine myself in front of the place that I would like to photograph. Sometimes when I’m at a place that I think has potential, I start to dig mentally in my memory and find out which type of images could resonate with the place where I am at that point and then I start to organise the camera in a similar way, and if what I see on the camera screen resonates with these images that I have in my head, I’m getting exited, and normally it results in a good image.

SV: Can you give some examples, for instance? I know that there isn’t a direct relation between the image and the photograph, but what do you look for in those images that you store in your computer? Why have they become so important to you?

BAS: They are important, because they are representing a certain image that has already a background. They have been looked at by people, so maybe they have a more universal quality that we can recognise and I like to use that as a kind of unconscious way to make it easier to enter the image. I think that is the main reason why I use them. And also that my images become part of a progression of images that I didn’t make.

SV: It’s a nice idea. It’s almost like the land- scape and the cities are formed, little pieces and parts through time and you add another part that relates to the old parts altogether.

BAS: I think you need it otherwise it is difficult to even see something for other people. If it is something completely new, you lack reference, and there is no point from which you can start to look at the image. It’s some- thing that I am really interested in: you have certain ways how you build an image and those are I guess universal and they keep return over time: from landscape paintings in the Golden age, to the new topographics and the depiction of landscapes in movies, for instance. And I think you have to learn about them and you can use all these presets. I’ve started to collect images that I find appealing in terms of content or composition or colour scheme, and I try to incorporate these givens as – let’s say – unconscious rules into the compositions that I make. Of course, you run the risk of being too classical, but this also depends on the references that you choose, of course.

SV: Everything is evolving, so you are in fact adding another chapter.

BAS: Yes. So, basically, from these refer- ences I make a kind of little booklets – there are about five now and they are just for myself to understand certain things, they are not meant to be published or to be made public. They are filled with images that I find out on internet – they are many, many at  my archive – and I organise these images in such a way that I find it an interesting com- position, in how they follow each other up. In the end, you could say, that these booklets with references are some kind of placehold- ers for a real book. This is the little booklet which I made for the Reservoir book – if you open the Reservoir book on the first page, you can imagine that the first three images – so, page one and two and tree of the refer- ence booklet – if you combine them, they somehow become the second picture in the ‘reservoir’ book (future olympic park).

SV: I would like to know a little bit more about your use of colour.

BAS: I don’t think I do a lot to the colour. I understand that most of the pictures have one type of tone or colour, but it’s not that I change it. It’s more that while I am looking for an image part of the reason for photograph- ing something, is because also the light and colour are in a good organisation.

SV: But in the end, they all seem to have a saturation – as in your Dubai photographs – where you can feel the dry atmosphere and the tension and the temperature – and all comes from the colour and not, for instance, of the frame or of other elements.

BAS: I think that the colour is always quite coolish...

SV: How do you control it? Or are you not really conscious of the process?

BAS: I am conscious. I work always with the same person with whom I am printing and I think that makes a big difference. He knows me well and we speak a lot about a certain continuity in the contrast and colour.

SV: So, is the colour a post-production?

BAS: No... at least not by default, there are two ways. While taking the photograph I take care that the colour palette is in my benefit or that it fits the other pictures I’ve already made. And sometimes, it’s just the technique of how you photograph. I think that it’s similar to the way compositions seem to reoccur, you can also search for similar compositions in colour or colour schemes. I think that if the colour is not good, then I don’t even see the image. It’s part of the decision to photograph a place, that the colour should be in sync with the composition. Then, in the end, in the post-production not a lot is done, just the image is made a little bit cooler or maybe the contrast is a little bit adapted. It’s funny, because the first book that I’ve made was in Holland and it has only with grey skies and sandy colours and at a point I would really freak out if there was a little sun and then I couldn’t photograph, it was impossible. And then I went photographing in L.A., Dubai, and those photographs are taken with blaz- ing sunshine, and people are still telling me that even in the pictures of those places it’s is foggy and they don’t realise it’s sunny.

SV: Yes, Reservoir is pretty grey!

BAS: It should be. When the light is tough or hard, and you photograph against the light, you have a limited set of colours, you will always have that idea of a greyish tone. The colours then are in the same tone. They’re never opposing.

SV: Maybe this has also to do with another feature of your work: the idea of surface. Even when you photograph isolated vol- umes that stand in the landscape, they somehow become flat. They are treated like surfaces and not like volumes. For instance, there are some photographers that like to photograph in black & white, because the volumes are accentuated.

BAS: I believe that they are the same in my photographs: volume and landscape naturally belong together. To me, they are the same surface. The only thing is that one is vertical and the other one is horizontal, differences are in the materiality or the colour and that can indicate a three dimensional shape.

SV: What would you say about that relation between surface and volume?

BAS: The surface is not only the ground and volume is not automatically a building or an object. Definitely in a photograph these 2 can act similar, sometimes a volume is suggested while it is not there, and I’m most interested in the fact that in the photograph you can play with these 2 and let them merge or take each others place. Surface to me is where materials are coming together, and then is all about how these materials interact. So both object and landscape are made of surface and those 2 have surfaces that can come together in an interesting way, that they are naturally fitting. I like this idea of naturally fit- ting: things that are believable when they are combined. This is something I would work on when I am photographing or when I am doing post-production, this is important to me. Well, you could say again – what is natural, what is man-made – is somehow put together and in a way you can say surfaces and colours are very important for that.

 

WITH BAS PRINCEN: INSTRUMENTS 

 

WITH BAS PRINCEN: INSTRUMENTS 

BY SUSANA VENTURA

 

SV: How many times do you go to a certain place before shooting it? How do you prepare yourself to enter the place through the picture you are about to shoot?

BAS: I visit a place once. Many people think that you need to scout a place and then return when the light is better... I understand photography in a way that allows me to go further. Things are always evolving. If you go to a place twice, it’s going to be different, and most probably I will be interested in something I did not even see the first time around.

SV: Which instruments do you use for shooting?

BAS: I go with my camera and tripod, but what is more important, is the walking with the camera, the slow movement to find an image is more valuable than the camera itself. This idea of a reference image is also an extremely important instrument in conceiving the image, besides the kind of banal technicality of the camera, the fact that you go with a certain image already in your mind, a kind of a set of possible com- positions and objects and relations, are the most important elements for shooting.

SV: Do you use a digital or an analogue camera?

BAS: At this point, I use a digital Back on a TC, but most the photographs that you know are still made with a Analogue 4 x 5 inch TC. This move to digital, I must admit, changes the way of photographing. So, I am still not used to the digital camera, because I really stopped using the analogue at all, because I thought if I would mix them up, it always would be a fight between one and the other, and it is better to make a clean cut. The two give very different results, with their own character, so the move to digital allows me also to see things new again, and that is what I like a lot, but I miss the big upside down matheglass... The fact that you can see immediately what you’ve made is not always an advantage. Or not an advantage yet, maybe it’s the right way to say it (sic).

SV: You say that after shooting takes place an elimination process. Of course, there is an elimination process that occurs during the shooting when you’re looking for the frame and the distance and the colour, but are there any more elimination processes?

BAS: Of course, there are many elimination processes.

SV: Can you describe them in general terms? What are those processes?

BAS: The first, of course, it’s the shooting, where you go, if you’re there and decide to take the picture or not – this is already quite important – then when you review for the first time the image – on the computer or in the print – that’s the moment where you realise if the picture works outside of its context and, of course, this is what you want. You want the picture to work independently. But somehow at least half of the pictures that I make, that I initially make, when the context is not there, they don’t work anymore which is funny, I even try hard to avoid this context, but sometimes without it, it does not work well. So, in the elimination process, I really look for the images that can stand by themselves or are able to depict a landscape in all its ambiguity without refer- ring to its original. Then, after that, the next process is to see if the image works within the series that you’re making, if they add something, if they compliment 2 previous works for instance, that is ideal. If not, it means that the type of place is good and the idea is good, but the image is not yet there, and then I consider that photograph as a test for an image that still has to be made. So, a lot of times, the elimination process means that there is something in the image that has to be found again, because it doesn’t fit yet completely. In the end, there are not a lot of photographs. But I wouldn’t call it a processes of elimination, and rather prefer to call them processes of combin- ing things that make sense. It’s really about finding connections between previously made images and the new ones. If they are completely on their own, without referring to other photographs, there’s no reason to use them.

SV: Finally, what makes you reject a photograph?

BAS: I really have to print them out to decide if they’re good or not. I can’t do it on the screen. And I ask other people to see if the photograph can stands on itself, and how they perceive the image, what it tells them. I don’t trust me, because I know too much about the actual place, if any of these parameters are not met, then I slowly work onward on the same idea, but I just don’t use that particular images.

SV: But do you do photoshop or not?

BAS: Of course, there’s no way around it. If you start to work with these new digital cameras, the image that comes out is so rough that it’s not a useful image. So, you have to use it. You cannot just print that file, otherwise it will look like soft and without depth. In the end, it’s like a negative, it still has to go through a process of making. It’s the same: you cannot show a negative neither. So, you need to use photoshop or any other program in order to have at least one round of determining how the image should be. And then you have to print it and when it’s printed somehow you’re able to see if the image can stand on its own and can become a work on itself.

 

WITH BAS PRINCEN: DESIRE

 

WITH BAS PRINCEN: DESIRE 

BY SUSANA VENTURA

We present an informal exchange of ideas about Bas Princen’s photographs resulting from several conversations. It is divided into three chapters: a first about desire or what makes an image come into being, a second dedicated to composition or about the photographs as autonomous lived spaces and works of art and then a third and last chapter about the instruments and the techniques as modes of connection between the photographer, the camera, the reality and the real that the photograph creates and presents.

SV: A first and basic question: your main education is in architecture (you’ve graduated from the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam), but your main occupation is photography and architectural photography in particular. What drove you into photogra- phy and how did architecture play a role?

BAS: To me it’s not about document at all. It’s about something completely different even though things might look very straightforward that I photograph or very banal how they are photographed, that’s not the intention...

SV: So, what drove you into photography or when did you decided to become a photog- rapher instead of an architect?

BAS: You don’t decide it. This is the funny thing, of course.That’s something that happens. But you could say that there were some ingredients that made it happen. When I was studying at The Design Academy at the time I was there it was called Academy for Industrial Design, I was there or I went there in order to start to design things – well, that was the intention...

SV: But you are still designing things...

BAS: Not really, not anymore, but for instance, when I am teaching, I am teaching architecture, and not photography, so there is quite a lot... I know quite a lot about it, I follow it up, I know what is going on in the world of design and architecture more in architecture than in design – and somehow I use that in my photography, but I don’t practice anymore.  It’s a different occupation and you need to have other different skills and sensibilities.

SV: Yes, but what I was saying is that you are still designing in the space of the photograph, because you’re designing, constructing and fabricating landscape and buildings in the space of the photograph. What lives in the space of a photograph of yours doesn’t exist exactly in reality. There are several techniques that allow you to play with the reality and that make a photograph a construction, a way of seeing things, of seeing light, of seeing volume, of seeing colour... In the end, you’re designing. In architecture, you deal also with light, volumes, colour, empty space, mass...

BAS: You could say that, in The Design Acad- emy, there were a couple of things that set it off, several ingredients of which one was a very strange course that was called – it was in the first year – it was called “Optical Grammar Studies”.

SV: It is quite unusual!

BAS: Yes, it’s quite unusual. It was a course in which you had to start to understand how to organize a piece of paper on which you had to add a certain amount of lines or points, in a way you had to reorganize it. It was super abstract, you never knew if you were doing it right or wrong, because basically it involved putting three dots or a hundred dots... And after a while, you intuitively apply certain rules to follow up one decision after the other. I don’t know if you understand what I am talk- ing about...

SV: Perfectly! It’s a very Bauhaus way of teaching!

 

WITH HÉLÈNE BINET: THE PURE SENSATION OF PHOTOGRAPHY PART II

 

WITH HÉLÈNE BINET: THE PURE SENSATION OF PHOTOGRAPHY PART II

BY SUSANA VENTURA

SV: Taking into account that you may always look at Peter Zumthor’s work with a given frame and an aperture in your mind, how would you describe its perception first as an inhabitant?

HB: It is difficult for me to be in a Zumthor’s building without thinking about my work. Even if I would like to be simply an inhabitant, there is a part of my mind that I cannot control completely, which is aware of the fact that I am a photographer. I think I cannot distinguish the approach of “Hélène Binet, the photographer” from the one of “Hélène Binet, the inhabitant”. In my first visit I like to be able to do something that is not related to my activity as a photographer. While you are doing this activity, there is another part of the brain perceiving information about the surroundings and, as a consequence, the soul of the building comes to you. The result of those perceptions is very valuable for the understanding of a place. But, of course, I also need to have a rational approach by looking at drawings or discussing issues with the architects.

SV: Peter Zumthor says that “we perceive atmosphere through our emotional sensibility - a form of perception that works incredibly quickly”, because “we are capable of immediate appreciation, of a spontaneous emotional response, of rejecting things in a flash”. Still bearing in mind that you are an inhabitant of a Peter Zumthor’s work, how would you describe its impact on you?

HB: All the buildings I visited, I knew I was going to photograph them beforehand, so I could not just sit there and enjoy and feel the atmosphere completely. But I would say that to really understand a place I actually need time, because I do understand a lot through the light and the light is different on the surfaces or in the room in each and every second of the day. I am not able to pass judgement or express appreciation very quickly because I like to see the building as something alive that changes. I think the cycle of the day is very important to get closer to a building.

SV: Yes and your photographs are a reflection of that; as if light was their first material.

HB: Yes, we see the world because of the light and it is difficult to disentangle the complicated relationship between the light, the object that receives it and the surrounding atmosphere. The work of a photographer is to capture the light. If I am to photograph a space, I am not interested in one perfect image or one iconic image, but in the way the space responds to different lights and in analysing how each situ- ation creates a different world. If you have different lights, you have different pictures and you see that there is no single representation of something, one experience that you might say, “this is the building”.

SV: Then, you take a walk, as you say: as “an unconscious act of seeing”. Why is it “unconscious”? What do you think or believe that it is at stake when you wander around the place and the space?

HB: I don’t know exactly in which occasion I used the expression “unconscious act of seeing” but, of course, there are very different moments when you walk through space and it is about the approach I mentioned before, to do something, to allow, no to look in a rational way, but to be looked up by the building, let’s say. And then there is the walk when you walk from point A to point B and somehow what you see is unfolding. Every time you walk there is something appearing or disappearing and, then, by the end of the walk, you have seen many different situations. When you are at the end of the walk, at point B, you will be confronted with one view, one image, but you also remember all the other images and this moment of layering is very important for perception itself. The building is so complex as an experience. As you know, when you are in a space all your senses are involved in perception. All your senses are working: you can smell, you can be cold, you can move, you can hear, you can remember, you can imagine the plan of the building. It is very complex and a photograph is very simple. It is better not to compete with the complexity of the percep- tion of architecture. An image has to be simple and direct. It has to be able to create an atmosphere and to drown you in it and per- haps to remind you of something else.

SV: What is the role of desire in your work?

HB: What is the first reason to do the photo- graph? I think it is an interesting question and, somehow, it is the same for every artist, be it a musician or an artist, a photographer or an architect. At the end, maybe we are all quite romantic and there is a very strong relationship with the world that surrounds us, and we have the desire to identify ourselves with it and maybe to appropriate it. I mean, art and photography are a strong way to appropriate the world. In photography, you frame it and you control it and then it becomes yours. The desire to produce an image is about this tension between our feelings and landscape (or architecture, which is just another form of landscape).

SV: Is there any kind of previous knowledge about the work you are going to shoot, such as a conversation with Peter Zumthor about the ideas or emotions that have been pre- sent in the work from the beginning?

HB: When I work with an architect I try to look at the concept of his/ her work and also to understand his/ her sensibility. And I try

to understand the first reason for a concept, what is behind the initial idea but can still be perceived in a building. With Peter Zumthor, there is not a lot of verbal exchange. It is up to me to be perceptive and ready to capture what sort of photograph is appropriate for his work.

SV: What do you mean when you say you were only able to photograph the Thermal Baths of Vals after diving into the water?

HB: You have to become part of the building to fully photograph it. In that case, in the Thermal Baths, I see the water as one of the building materials. It is maybe light and stone and water. So, you cannot enter this building without swimming... It would be like not walking in the place and merely looking at it through a window. You need that full experience to be able to realise why he made some choices and, of course, it is also unique, because there is no other building typology where the material is something that you can feel in your body in the same way. Normally, you can touch it; see if it is comfortable or if it is cold... In that case, you can really be part of the building physically and that is quite unique, of course.

 

WITH HÉLÈNE BINET: THE PURE SENSATION OF PHOTOGRAPHY_PART II

 

WITH HÉLÈNE BINET: THE PURE SENSATION OF PHOTOGRAPHY_PART II

BY SUSANA VENTURA

SV: When Peter Zumthor explains his idea of “atmosphere”, he gives as an example the photographs that he loves and make him wonder about his ability to design places such as those represented in the photographs. He is looking for a kind of sensation represented in the photograph and we must be aware of the fact that he has never seen one of the buildings and that he is enchanted with a mood that he cannot find anymore on the other one. However, both examples make him desire and pursue those sensations he describes. In your opinion, can photography represent the feeling of an architectural work? Or does photography capture a sensation that does not belong to the architectural work, but lives merely in the plane of the photograph composition, even if that photograph is faithful to the architectural work? Or is it the same sensation, the feeling of belonging to the architectural work that passes through the photograph?

HB: The way I work, I am interested in sublimating the sensation that belongs to architecture. And that brings me to ask myself: Can photography represent a sensation? Yes. If not, it will be not photography. Of course, architecture photography can be seen as a very strict and hard discipline. Sometimes people ask me: “What do you do with photography?” and I answer: “Architecture”. And they say: “Oh!” They think it’s a very unemotional form of expression. But it isn’t. The reason I like to photograph architecture is because I feel that photographing spaces and objects is a way of telling stories that belong to a specific environment. I need them like a musician needs a score. Somehow the camera is a little like an instrument and architecture is the score. You may say that sounds and stories are always very subjective. The camera plays something but someone else has been writing it, has been putting the notes and the harmony together. We need this score... but I’m still doing the sounds, so, it’s a very tight relationship. I need the harmony that was written by somebody else and someone else needs my sensibility to put it together, so there’s no way they exist without each other. I mean, of course, architecture can be visited, but I’m talking about architecture photography. In architecture photography we need to be quite reduced and this is why I like details in B&W. I think Aristotle said “We hear better in the dark”. If our senses are reduced; if we only have one sense available, we may be very impressed, or very concentrated, or hear better.

SV: In the act of creation what allows you to direct yourself towards a certain photograph? Or what makes you decide for a certain frame or angle or a certain luminosity or aperture instead of another?

HB: I think every building is different. I cannot really set a rule and apply it to every building. I think the artist looks at the space and then set the rules. When I frame a building I look for my little inside stories, of course, to decide how to look at the building, but they are never the same.

SV: Can you give some examples?

HB: When I was photographing the Brüder Klaus Kapelle, which is a very good piece of work and is also photogenic and accessible, you see a nice photograph of the place in every way. The landscape around it is also so beautiful and you don’t have to deal with street lights or trucks. I decided not to do any photos at the time of the opening. I wasn’t interested in photographing for the news, but I wanted to tell my story. I went there after one year, when the kapelle was already well known. I thought: “This is a small tool - this kapelle – that is able to connect you with something very big”. If you are religious, it is a God; if you are a thinker, you will want to understand the sky and the stars. So, in all of the photographs I tried to connect you with the firmament. So, there is a series of photos where the clouds somehow become part of the building and there is another series where I am looking up. Then, there is a photo which was made at night using a very long exposure, so the stars move and become a single line and, because the earth moves, they become one circle. So, you are really connected with the wide movement of the planet.

 

WITH ESZTER STEIERHOFFER: UNFRAMING#1_ARCHITECTURE

 

WITH ESZTER STEIERHOFFER: UNFRAMING#1_ARCHITECTURE

BY INÊS MOREIRA

INÊS MOREIRA: Eszter, we have started a conversation some time ago about the ways in which “curating architecture” is conceptualized and practiced so diversely. We have focused on traditionally existing disciplinary disagreements about curating, which can be easily understood and exposed, if we confront art history and architectural backgrounds, as yours and mine. Our dialogues have revolved around joint interests in spatial, urban and experimental art and architectural practices, and it is deeply informed by our curatorial practices and our on-going processes of PhD research. So, to publish our thoughts in a shared article is a way to pull out some conclusions in the form of an informal discussion. However, before we stabilize our knowledges, I immediately propose a twist… instead of exploring the expected divergences and discrepancies of disciplinary practices… I propose thinking of “curating architecture” from a more abstract notion of “unframing”. Notions as framing, capturing, and freezing in a surface, or the bi-dimensionality of a captured image, are central to photography and other bi-dimensional representations of architecture, and, therefore, become central gestures of most architectural exhibitions and to a substantial part of practices “curating architecture”. I am interested in curating as a practice disturbing the ways we see, understand and, above all, the modes in which we know architecture. This position is both informed by interdisciplinary theoretical research and by certain contemporary [art] curatorial practices which underline critical positions and produce active spaces. I believe the notion of Unframing can bring enmeshment and complexity back to the act of depiction in architecture. If depicting, as a curatorial gesture, is a procedure clarifying, framing and delimitating an object, unframing would produce disturbance, focusing simultaneously on the backgrounds, the externalities and the offstage, or to consider the pluri-dimensionality of that which is outside the central focus of a picture. So, what I am proposing is to jointly think if “unframing” can constitute a mode of curating architecture, beyond representation?

ESZTER STEIERHOFFER: ‘Cura‘, the origin of the word curating means taking care or healing, putting back together. One would think about curating conventionally as linking/putting together, orchestrating, engineering or even as building or facilitating and contextualizing – framing in a way. In contrast, your concept of curating as unframing addresses the fundamental problems of focus and definition; your method of producing disturbances reminds me of experimental tools of the avant-garde. The situationist practices for example used chance and chaos to re-introduce complexity in the perception of urban space and reading of architecture. ‘Unframing’ however in relation to curating architecture is also concerned with the problems of the media and display of architecture, which go far beyond simple formal or practical questions of the exhibition making. As most of the times it is impossible to present a building (in its physical reality) within the museum, it is even more difficult to reproduce or translate its surrounding urban context, meaning and signifiers; and the question remains: if in our everyday life we are all (inevitably) subjects of and to architecture, what is its object, or where and how architecture presents itself? If framing and capturing can be described as representation in contrast of pure presentation, I’d like to think about unframing as a search for architecture – an impossible mission in a way... In relation to the drastic boom of international temporary exhibitions there is a significant change in the media (and representation) of architecture - described also as an interdisciplinary space in-between contemporary art practices and architecture. This shift can be noticed even in the case of mainstream architecture exhibitions like the Venice Biennale: the last two editions were focused on the cities and experimental architecture, this year Kazuyo Sejima put emphasis on inviting contemporary artists to participate. Whereas in the museum or gallery an architectural structure (the edifice) provides the infrastructure for showing art, the situation here is reversed: artworks provide the structure to open up and exhibit or reinvent architecture, in a way art becomes the ‘stage’ for architecture.

IM: You are reversing the roles of container and content, suggesting art and spatial installations as a curatorial approach to architectural space… instead of architectural space as a support for art works…

ES: In my research I am interested how certain contemporary art practices like installation art, performance and time based media can be compared or differentiated with architecture as object, medium, experience and environment. I am researching interpretative possibilities for exhibiting architecture by reversing conventional perspectives of site-specific curating, public art commissions and ‘scattered-site exhibitions’. I am also interested in site specific curating, where art is decoding and revealing or activating architecture ‘on site’. This is what I described as staging and you as unframing - I think. Could you maybe give an example?

IM: I will have to be more precise: to understand what I am calling Unframing it is essential to consider the non-representational dimensions of architecture and space. Unframing would proceed by referring the non-representational, whether experiential, phantasmatic, or even aural resonances of space and the architectural. This is what we have explored collectively in a project I curated at the burnt aisle of the Rectorate of the University of Oporto, an (architectural) building curated after an accidental fire. The exhibition-project is an essay with/through/about the space and materiality of a building, about contingency, emptiness and reverberation. In other words, it approaches presences and absences in architectural space. This project is a practical example; the architectural remnants were curated through artist’s installation works: art explored the spatial and material resonances of space, and, together with the building (as a set), the project has curated architecture. Curating is understood as the enactment of space, sometimes through artists work.

ES: So, in a way you describe artistic practices that deal with the notion of space as curatorial gestures?

IM: Not exactly… although some creative spatial practices can be understood as curatorial gestures, I am referring to artistic practices set in collaboration with a curator / architect. Curating as a collaborative spatial practice in which artist are invited to participate. This is a very particular position, not all art practices dealing with space are “curatorial” and it’s not my intention to generalize… My background education as an architect and a practice designing exhibition spaces – installation, set or scenography – is fundamental to understand this particular approach to curating. “Aftermath and Resonance!” project exhibited and interpreted architectural spaces: room, contents, mediation were part of the same concept. Other experiments have been exploring this unframing gesture, the exhibition project “Burn it or not?” at Ataturk Cultural Center (AKM) in Istanbul Biennial 2007 dealt with an existing architecture building from a similar perspective: artists´ work (installation, photography, sound, and video) was invited and installed in the building to think of architecture: the exhibition considered the particularities of the AKM building where it was installed, questioning the modernist politics of its foundation, and its future to come as a structure, whether to be demolished, remodeled or maintained. The response didn´t come from architectural design, as most architecture exhibitions do. The modernist and exuberant building was appropriated, undoing all exhibition conventions of white cube and black box, and notions of technical representation and the endowment of the architect. The sound installation Memories On Silent Walls, by Erdem Helvacioglu, interfered with AKM architecture bringing in the exterior square of Taxim and playing the memories of political moment of Turkish contemporaneity. Both Oporto and Istanbul projects, different in scale and visibility, were experimenting with architecture as an exhibition space, architecture as an autonomous building, the collective memory built through architecture, the resonances of architectural void, a mode of curating architecture by unframing it…. I believe there is something in common with your new project, can you tell us about the project you are developing in a building in Budapest? How can site-specific art produce modes of curating architecture?

ES: It is interesting that you mentioned the “Burn it or not?” exhibition at Ataturk Cultural Center which both of us have seen separately and regard as an important point of reference, one example of our shared inspirations, while there is also a clear difference in our methodology and its interpretation. This might stem from our different backgrounds as you already pointed this out in your introduction. ... but in your question you referred to an exhibition which is still a work in progress, curated collaboratively with Judit Angel, art historian and curator of Kunsthalle Budapest. The exhibition will take place in Ernst Museum and will consider the building of that museum itself. The Art Nouveau style building of the Ernst Museum was originally built in 1912 to host a private collection, a small cinema and a few private flats and artists’ studios. The building went through several physical, formal and functional changes and today functions as a public gallery of temporary exhibitions dedicated to contemporary art. It is not only an interesting historical artifact, but also an important landmark in the Budapest art scene and cultural life. The exhibition focuses on the relation between space, history, vision and architecture, on the phenomenology and analytics of perception as well as on issues related to space / architecture and its representation. Participants come from the field of visual arts, architecture, design and film-making, works include site specific commissions as well as others are linked more implicitly to Ernst Museum and focus on broader problems related to the architectural object and its interpretation. The exhibition is conceived on three levels: site-specific interventions, film projections and a theoretical section. We are working with the title ‚Related Spaces‘ which is a reference to interdisciplinary relation between architec­ture and other art practices, the interrelated discursive fields surrounding architectural issues. With this exhibition we wish to enable new perspectives on the Ernst Museum as well as different understanding of the relationship between visual art and architecture.

see the intire interview in scopiomagazine aboveground: architecture

 

WITH BEATRICE GALILEE: UNFRAMING #2_CITY

 

WITH BEATRICE GALILEE: UNFRAMING #2_CITY

BY MARIANA PESTANA

MARIANA PESTANA: Our last conversation was built around architectural criticism and its expressions in the form of writing and curating. We talked about behavioural codes and informality and how that influences the way people relate to spaces and their programme. We shared experiences in architecture and our common belief in interdisciplinary practice. Lastly, we spoke about objects and their ability to convey messages and exert criticism.

As you know, I am interested in architecture’s potential of using its very language to communicate. I have been conducting experiences accordingly, combining architecture curation with a careful choice and manipulation of the space where it happens. An example of this is ‘Pub Talk: spatial settings to eat and drink’, a conference we (DE Magazine) organised with MA&DE (with Paulo Moreira) at London Met last month. There, a group of young practitioners from different disciplines presented projects on eating and drinking, themes that I have identified as the key ingredients to start a good conversation. The fact that this talk happened in a pub (The Bailey) intended not only to test the influence of spatial background in the development of the conversations but also to grant informality to them. The pub is historically a place of encounters and exchange of ideas, thus we aimed to situate the talk between an organised event and a spontaneous evening at the pub where people came but not necessarily because there was a talk happening.

BEATRICE GALILEE: I love the idea behind Pub Talks.
When I consider the best conversations I’ve had about architecture, they have been on long tube journeys across London or over the eat on a late-night easyJet flights. It’s when I’m stuck in queues, traffic jams, stranded by weather or ending up on the wrong vaporetto that ideas and connections happen. The Venice Biennale is a fantastic thing but only rarely do I return to London inspired by what I’ve seen. For me, the loosening of the mind and flashes of inspiration rarely happen when the dictaphone is running.
I’m interested in how the conversations in The Bailey went. Did highlighting the spontaneity of the space put it under too much scrutiny? Did it perform? By promoting the conversations on a poster and organizing a time and providing an expecting audience affect the flow of a pub conversation you were aspiring to? Did the discussion take on a different tone and nature? Or did the space maintain its informality?

MP: Well, during the presentations I wouldn’t say that being at the pub was any different than at a conference room, except for the moment where James Gilpin offered a sip of his Export Whisky… this wouldn’t happen so naturally in a conference room. Thus, the most interesting moment was the conversation after the presentations, moderated by David Khon. There, everyone was sitting on the sofas and all over the floor. The conversation was very long and vivacious, to the point that people were fighting over the microphone as everyone wanted to talk at the same time…so, it was quite informal. Then the conversation continued outside as the pub had closed. I would argue that there was an informality that is not common to this sort of events! During the conversation, the dominant theme was speculation, the building of fictional scenarios and the narratives conveyed through architecture. Then it inevitably fell into a self-reflection around the fact that we were in a pub, talking about pubs, drinks and food. David Knight mentioned that the most interesting conversation about architecture he had ever had was at a pub and that epic conversations are often triggered by the consumption of alcohol.
Hans Ulrich Obrist once said that the more intersting moments of a conference are those immediately before and after it happens, where people meet and share ideas.
Could you tell me about your project space ‘The Gopher Hole’, which is in itself a place between a bar and an architecture gallery, and how the fact that you now operate within a specific place is generating a community around it?

BG: We’ve had a few debates at "e Gopher Hole and I’ve always felt that the conversations before and afterwards are what make the event worthwhile. We had a talk on critical futures in architecture and nearly every professional architecture writer in London was in the room. "at kind of cross-fertilsation is what makes our space valuable. We hope it’s going to be the kind of place where interesting people meet and plans are hatched. In the weeks before we opened I met Kyong Park, the founder of Storefront for Art and Architecture, in Seoul. He told me that the social aspect of Storefront always trumped its exhibitions and events. It was primarily a social club, a convergence of people and ideas, and that’s why it still maintains itself as such a huge presence, despite being pretty puny in size.

The Gopher Hole is a project I am running with aberrant archite!ure. As a group we want to explore ideas in contemporary culture and to provide a platform for others to do that too. It’s not an architecture gallery – I find that idea a bit perverse. The two words don’t belong together at all. But, like you, we do have an intrinsic interest in architecture as a medium. There is a lot of discussion and debate about curating architecture at the moment but essentially our space is circumnavigating it by being as open as possible to ideas. We had a TEDx conference streaming content directly from Ramallah at the weekend and we had speakers from the Russell Tribunal as well as some incredibly moving speeches about the situation in Palestine. What’s more, we can host a Pecha Kucha on young archite!s; we are having band nights and hosting dinner parties. By removing ourselves from ideology and not associating with one dogma or another, we are free to be a platform for other people’s ideas.The Gopher Hole is essentially a political idea – it is a nickname given to the informal tunnels that are dug beneath the Mexican/US border and used to smuggle people and goods. While there are other more playful connotations (we are in the basement of a Mexican restaurant; we are spontaneous and informal; we are totally independent) we do take that notion of interstitial spaces of under-the-radar and not officially sanctioned quite healthily. We definitely share an enthusiasm for this kind of interdisciplinary collaborations – who do you work with and why?

MP: It is true that there is a certain amnesia threat to exhibitions. Unlike texts, to which one can always return to, exhibitions live only in a very particular time and spatial frame. However, I strongly believe in the power of intuitive, nonverbal communication, and despite working as a writer as well, I feel more inclined towards a form of criticism that operates beyond the textual, verbal outline. Exhibitions are spatial for a finite period in time but the physical objects displayed – pieces – have the potential to evoke experiences from the past or to suggest ideas for the future. In that sense, they transcend the time and space of the exhibition in itself. Furthermore, the use of analogies, metaphors and allegory are processes of highlighting dimensions that usually remain under the shadow of slightly more linear or limited approaches. Therefore, I’ve been working with different mediums, from photography to jewellery design, allowing the audience to interpret, question and take a position, exploring the potential of the exhibited material to evoke ideas beyond the very object on display. Different people look at different aspects and qualities of the objects. This is very valuable for me and less likely to happen with a written piece, where it seems to be easier to persuade the audience to agree with your opinion. Perhaps more than text pieces, are objects open to interpretation?