Panel 1: Landscapes of Ruin
Surrealism in Crisis: An Analysis of Lee Miller’s Grim Glory Photographs of the London Blitz
Lynn Hilditch (Liverpool Hope University)
Lee Miller’s photographs of the London Blitz, including the twenty-two published in Ernestine Carter’s Grim Glory: Pictures of Britain Under Fire (1941), effectively demonstrate what Susan Sontag described as “a beauty in ruins” by documenting a city in crisis. However, as the former student and muse of Man Ray in Paris during the late 1920s and early 1930s and a close associate of the Surrealists, Miller was able to utilize her knowledge of Surrealism, and other art forms, to create an essentially modernist reportage of a broken city ravished by war. In Miller’s case, her war photographs may be deemed aesthetically significant by considering her Surrealist background and by analyzing her images within the context of André Breton’s theory of “convulsive beauty”—his idea that a scene of destruction can be represented or analyzed as something beautiful by convulsing, or transforming, it into its apparent opposite. Miller’s war photographs, therefore, not only depict the chaos and destruction of Britain during the Blitz, they also reveal Surrealism’s love for quirky or evocative juxtapositions while creating an artistic visual representation of a temporary surreal world of fallen statues and broken typewriters. As Leo Mellor writes about these dualities, “The paradox of Miller’s wartime reportage was announced in the title of her book of documentary photographs, Grim Glory; that is to say the coexistence of darkening mortality and ideal exaltation, like a Baroque conceit”.
Sketching Suffering: the Illustrated London News and the visual representation of the GreatIrish Potato Famine
Ian Bamford (University of Ulster)
The first long running and enduring humanitarian crisis to receive widespread coverage within the developing structures of modern news media in Britain was the Great Irish Potato Famine (1845-50). Lasting for more than five years, this apparently intractable humanitarian catastrophe, characterised by substantial population displacement, widespread starvation and mass mortality throughout the island of Ireland, an ostensibly fully integrated part of the United Kingdom during this period, produced multiple crises for the emerging structures of the modern state and society. Prevailing ideological concepts surrounding social organisation, the limits of governmental intervention, economic orthodoxy, as well as religious and moral responsibility in response to distant suffering, were all challenged by the advent of famine within the boundaries of the modern British state. The Great Potato Famine was also the first time that middle class metropolitan viewers were confronted with images of distant suffering through the auspices of the newly formed illustrated press. In particular, the Illustrated London News, founded in 1842, published numerous images depicting the effects of starvation and suffering throughout this unfolding emergency which were instrumental in influencing British public opinion in regard to the appropriate response towards this humanitarian crisis. Yet the manner by which the Illustrated London News visualised the Famine was by no means coherent throughout these five years, as both the newspaper and the artists employed by it struggled to reconcile the aestheticisation of suffering within the representational boundaries of mid-nineteenth century Victorian visual culture. This visualisation of humanitarian suffering also had profound implications in terms of both the creation and maintenance of affect on the part of an audience distanced both spatially and culturally from the victims of starvation. In particular, the reports produced in 1847 by James Mahony for his series Sketches in the West of Ireland proved to be pivotal in terms of the establishment of representative conventions used within journalism for the reporting and witnessing of suffering in both word and image. These early comparative encounters between the distant viewer and the suffering body were instrumental in producing affect in terms of both official action and charitable responses on the part of individuals to the plight of victims. Furthermore, this paper will argue that the representative strategies adopted by the Illustrated London News in response to the Famine have both informed and assisted in the creation of visual conventions and the formulaic reportage of distant suffering which have been directly implicated within the contemporary crisis of pity.
Imagining empire in the 1920s: Gerald Spencer Pryse’s ambivalent registering of modernity in his West Africa watercolours of 1927
Tim Buck (Paul Mellon Centre)
In 1927, the British artist Gerald Spencer Pryse was commissioned by the Empire Marketing Board (EMB) – a government quango that promoted empire trade – to produce posters depicting aspects of life in two of Britain’s West African colonies, Nigeria and the Gold Coast (present day Ghana). During a three month tour of the region Spencer Pryse produced over one hundred watercolours. These studies provided source material for posters published by the EMB which were widely displayed throughout Britain in 1928 on purpose-built hoardings.
The watercolours, too, were extensively exhibited in England, Europe and Canada at the time, and reproduced in contemporary journals. However, unlike the vetted posters (before publication the content of EMB posters had to be approved by members of the Board to ensure a desired projection of the British Empire as a modern, peaceable, commonwealth of trading nations) they remained unmediated studies. As such they offer an invaluable insight into how a British artist directly responded to a part of the colonial empire in the 1920s.
More so than the posters, the watercolours reveal Spencer Pryse’s disquiet over western-introduced modernity that was then transforming colonial West Africa. As the paintings and his own contemporary writing disclose, it was indigenous West Africa’s highly aesthetic quality – a characteristic he believed had been lost in the modern West – to which he was primarily drawn and which he grants pictorial dominance in images ostensibly conveying West Africa’s modernity. Commissioned by the EMB to project West Africa as an increasingly technically modern contributor to the trading empire, Spencer Pryse, I argue, draws upon the character of indigenous West Africa to criticise that very modernity, which though undeniably registered in the watercolours, is invariably done so ambivalently.
Utilising the Spencer Pryse watercolours as a case study, I argue in this paper that this is only one example of work dating from the 1920s in which we see British artists wrestling with the reconfiguration of empire as not only a site of timeless exoticism – an art-historical conception cemented over the preceding three decades – but now also, often at the behest of government, as a site of more prosaic modernity. Conditioned by their training, as Spencer Pryse’s inclination perhaps shows, to highlight the aesthetic over the mundane, some artists depicting empire in the 1920s had to navigate a path between these alternative conceptions and resolve a temporally specific visual ‘crisis’. The manner in which they did so, the reception accorded to their novel projections of empire, and the appropriation of their work by supporters of British imperial endeavours at this time invests, as I will argue, some of the British art depicting empire that is produced in the 1920s with a multi layered complexity.
Panel 2: (Dis)locating Identity
“We Set Up Our Own World”: Crisis and Kinship in the Art of Keith Vaughan in the 1950s
Greg Salter (University of East Anglia)
The British painter Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) was an artist whose life and art were consistently coloured by a specific though not easily defined sense of personal crisis, rooted in the experiences and limitations of family and domestic life for a queer figure in Britain in the 1950s. Beginning with Vaughan’s seemingly harmonious and idealistic figurative works of the 1950s, such as Assembly of Figures I, 1952, this paper will explore the influence of this sense of crisis on his art, his attempts to confront or ease it, and the implications that this may have for thinking about family life and domesticity.
I will place Vaughan in the context of the post-war, family-oriented welfare state in Britain and, drawing on recent studies by historians on queer life after the Second World War, highlight how individuals who deviated from hetero-normativity at this time found themselves subject to significant social surveillance. Queer sociality at this time became confined to specific contexts, particularly cruising or the private, domestic interior.
Neither of these possibilities were entirely satisfactory for Vaughan, and my paper will explore how his 1950s figurative paintings are influenced by the seeking out of and desire for relationships and community at this particular time. I will show that works like Assembly of Figures I are built as much around memories of relationships past as they are to those of the present. I will demonstrate their connection to Vaughan’s pre-Second World War visits to Pagham on the south coast of England, preserved in a photo album dedicated to his younger brother Dick, who was killed in action with the RAF in 1940 and who was also present on these trips. I will also show how they are also influenced by the memories of Vaughan’s own wartime experiences as a conscientious objector, serving with the Non Combatant Corps in camps around England. Here, Vaughan found comfort in the temporary, all-male environment, though also experienced anguish when these makeshift communities were continually disrupted and broken up.
My paper will draw on material from Vaughan’s journals, which he kept from 1939 up to the moment of his death in 1977 and contain reflections on his joy in these moments of community as well as extended passages that explore his frustrations and isolation. Bringing all of these sources together, my paper will suggest that Vaughan’s paintings are deeply affected by memory and a continuous searching for sociality. I will draw on contemporary queer theory, including the possibility of ‘queer kinship’ put forward by Judith Butler, to suggest that Vaughan’s paintings allow familial and non-familial relationships to coagulate tentatively and unsteadily, in an attempt to momentarily transcend the personal crisis that he faced.
St Ives 1938-60: Crisis & the Colony
Rachel Smith (University of York/Tate Britain)
This paper seeks to understand how art made in St Ives in the middle of the twentieth century has been placed within or between the notions of crisis and escape, and how our understanding of the works involved can gain from these enquiries.
Much of the art associated with St Ives is recognised as having been borne out of the material crises of how to depict and express modern life in a modern way. However, the geographical location of St Ives (at the country’s south-westerly edge) has, paradoxically, led to the spatialisation of its art as being, in some ways, located outside of – or ‘Other’ to – the spaces of historical crises. By studying the written history of this ‘colony’, it can be seen how this spatial and contextual othering has come into practice. This will be brought out by reference to texts which have emphasised associations between Cornwall and evacuation, or between its landscape and childhood memories, retreat and rehabilitation.
I will question the validity of several approaches by looking at the artists’ works and the impact of contemporary authors’ texts (e.g. Adrian Stokes’s writings on the theme of reparation). New archival research will also help to ascertain the ways in which artists associated with Cornwall felt they were able to deal with the crisis of the Second World War and its aftermath within this place, and how their works reflect those feelings. As well as artists usually considered at the forefront of St Ives modernism, attention will be paid to Oskar Kokoschka and Karl Weschke, both exiles of Austrian and German origin who made works in Cornwall (though at different times and in different places) which specifically responded to political events and/or their own exiled identity.
It is hoped that by introducing art in St Ives in relation to the themes of crisis and escape, a more critical understanding of the place of the ‘colony’ in modernism can be approached and, furthermore, that those claims for St Ives artists as being an ‘exiled’ or ‘holidaying’ community can be thought-out or challenged.
Crisis and Catharsis: The destruction and displacement of statues of British monarchs in twentieth-century Dublin.
Eoin Martin (University of Warwick)
Historically, the destruction and displacement of public statues has been a powerful symbol of rupture in the political status quo. This paper looks at the erection and destruction of statues of British monarchs in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Dublin. Between the late seventeenth and the early twentieth century, statues of British royals were erected across Dublin. Their erection was a proclamation of faith in the longevity of British monarchical rule in Ireland and the ostensibly indissoluble link between Britain and Ireland. Their displacement/destruction in the twentieth century, in the wake of the Easter Rising (1916), Irish War of Independence (1919-1920) and Civil War (1921-1923), became a potent symbol of the traumatic rupture of that relationship.
The paper focuses on two monuments: one to the memory of Albert, the Prince Consort, the other to the memory of Queen Victoria, his wife. They were commissioned in 1862 and 1901 respectively. In the first part of this paper, I argue that the two monuments were supposed to reflect a return to normalcy and embody the enduring strength and stability of the British Empire in the wake of two of its most traumatic crises – the Great Famine in Ireland and the Boer War in South Africa. Such aspirations soon proved untenable. Within fifty years of the death of Victoria, all statues of British royals in the streets of Dublin had been displaced or destroyed. The Victoria and Albert memorials were not destroyed, ironically because they were safe within the grounds of Dáil Éireann, the Parliament of Ireland. In the second part of this paper, I argue that their displacement was nonetheless a product of an anti-monarchical visual culture forged out of the 1916-1923 crisis.
Dr. Eric Stryker (SMU)
On the Precipice: Towards a Social Art History of Instability
Considering the various approaches to figuration in British visual culture in the years since the Second World War, this paper proposes a model of social art history which is reconciled with the incoherencies of a social and political climate of crisis. These were the years of unsteady developments in postwar reconstruction; notably, the rise of the welfare state, the influence of American consumerist prosperity, the decline of Empire, the rise of youth and other subcultures, and shifts in the nation’s urban cultural geography. The art historical field for this period is equally divergent. However, the especially durable persistence of figuration in Britain in the middle of the Twentieth Century is one of the few constancies. It is possible, in this uneven historical field, to focus on the various approaches to figuration as a set of visually and materially mediated responses to the competing ideological visions and social experiences of the era of reconstruction. The period yields a cultural historical process in which changes in the urban and social landscape motivated distinct forms of artistic production. The resulting visual geography of postwar Britain shifts between three registers: local urban situations, a post-imperial imaginary, and symbolic sites in the remaking of national identity. Moving from site to site, this paper focuses on several dynamic efforts to stabilize the figure against these moving political, ideological, and social grounds.
Panel 3: Disrupt / Interrupt / Erupt
Elizabeth Robles (University of Bristol)
This paper will consider the crisis of canonicity instigated and explored by black British artists during the late 1980s and 1990s. Following the radical discourses and debates around black aesthetics and visibility of the earlier 1980s, during this period artists including Lubaina Himid and Yinka Shonibare initiated nuanced reassessments of art historical narratives and canonicity that highlighted their position both within and outside of them. This paper will begin with an assertion by artist-activist Rasheed Araeen that during this period black art lost its critical potency and became reliant on ‘manifestations of facile deconstructions of history painting, silly jokes, ethnic buffoonery, and self-mockery.’ He argues that these elements reified the marginal position of black British artists as ‘celebrated guests’ within the national art historical narrative by emphasizing discourses of ‘Otherness’ rather than radically engaging with and occupying its epistemic, canonical centre. The aim of this paper is to offer a critical reassessment of two ‘facile deconstructions’ of images by William Hogarth: Himid’s A Fashionable Marriage (1986) and Shonibare’s Diary of A Victorian Dandy (1998). In Himid’s A Fashionable Marriage the artist engages directly with Hogarth’s Marriage a-la-Mode (1743) re-crafting the primary elements and figures from the painting using collage and stage techniques. She produces a three dimensional facsimile of her source image mediated through the lens of late twentieth century cycles of cultural and political power. She allies herself with the canonical artist as a fellow artist-critic, a craftsman and a purveyor of Britishness to negotiate the liminal spaces and interstices of national canonical hierarchical structures in a simultaneous collusion with and subversion of their reification from within. Like Himid, Shonibare plays with the implications of collusion and subversion. Whilst Hogarth’s painting is integral to Himid’s work, Shonibare only loosely draws on a specific image for Diary of A Victorian Dandy. He reappropriates elements of Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress (1732-3), such as the serial format and the figure of the dandy, to recreate the notions of Victoriana created and consumed within the context of the 1980s and 1990s. He does not initiate a direct relationship with the source imagery or the artist and engages with both from a temporal and critical distance. He does not attempt to revise or reshape a past veiled by the traumas and erasures of colonialism or to expose the hidden spaces and stories of the colonial era; the history that he invokes and restages is a contemporary invention. This paper will examine the ways in which the gestures of restaging in these works go beyond the tongue-in-cheek re-presentations of discourses of cultural differences dismissed by Araeen to represent a valuable tool available for the disruption of art historical canons of Britishness and the identity politics that accrue to it.
Performing diaspora struggles: Diaspora experience as performance art in ‘Kali’ (1985) by British-Indian artist Sutapa Biswas
Eva Bentcheva (SOAS)
In the period of 1960-1970, African, Caribbean and Asian diaspora artists in Britain were analyzed with the theoretical tools of European modern art. This resulted in an incomplete understanding of their artworks, bypassing in particular the artists’ reflections on their ‘outsider’ statuses in Britain. In the 1980s, the British Black Arts Movement took up this problem, appropriating diaspora works and analyzing them by and large through political discourses. Although this presented a more agency-driven angle, the full cross-cultural complexity of the works was missed yet again.
Diaspora artists’ works cannot be perfectly ‘fitted’ into either of these schemes. They have used aesthetic and conceptual influences from their ‘homelands’ as well as from Britain, their new ‘host’ nation, to reflect on their diaspora experiences. With these two influences in mind, I propose to redress Sutapa Biswas’ Performance ‘Kali’ (1985).
Biswas, an artist of Indian descent, joined the British Black Arts Movement in the 1980s after graduating with a degree in fine arts from Leeds University. ‘Kali’ was first performed at Leeds University when Biswas was studying under Griselda Pollock. In this under-acknowledged performance, Biswas raised the problem of memories and legacies of colonialism which she felt lingered in British institutions. The performance comprised a dance ritual by Biswas and an assistant. Griselda Pollock was asked by Biswas to participate in the work, but was given no prior knowledge of what it entailed. Mid-way through the act, she entered into the performance space, her head covered by a pillowcase with eyeholes. Seated in the midst of the performance ritual, a complex, dialectic relationship between her and Biswas developed. Biswas subverted the role of the Western professor from authoritative speaker to a silenced and masked spectator. I would here propose a reading of the work as a comment on lingering cross-cultural miscomprehension. The cultures and practices of the ‘Third World’ (here Biswas’ dance ritual) were often viewed through a ‘bubble’ of ignorance (symbolized by Pollock’s covered head). However, the very fact that Griselda Pollock, a forefront challenger of the Western canon of art, was asked to sit in as the representative of the ‘West’, complicated Biswas’ representation of post-colonial relationships. Who could be held accountable in the 1980s for Britain’s colonial past? Where do the borders of ‘otherness’ begin and end in a country with numerous diaspora communities embedded in its social structures? Such are the questions raised through the artwork’s interactive, time and site-specific nature.
‘Kali’ thus presents a multifaceted reflection of the struggles of diasporas to come to terms with their positions in Britain in the latter half of the 20th century. This paper will use this work as a case study to argue that, in order to develop a better understanding of diaspora art, the latter must be analyzed on its own terms. Although tools of both European contemporary art and the British Black Arts Movement may provide an entry point to the dialectical narratives suggested by the artists, they provide an incomplete picture. ‘Kali’ thus stands exemplary of the need for a deeper and more sensitive approach to the genre yet to be explored, namely diaspora art.
The Negotiating Table: Speech, War and Violence in the performance work of Mona Hatoum
Konstantinos Stasinopoulos (University of York)
Mona Hatoum’s The Negotiating Table was first performed in 1983 at SAW Gallery in Ottawa. The performance duration was three hours and viewers entered a dark room where a table was lit by a single light bulb creating a circle of glow around it. The artist lied on the table, firmly covered in gauze, wrapped in plastic, covered with entrails and breathing heavily. Three empty chairs surround the table and the soundtrack consists of news reports and peace talks by Western leaders about the war in Lebanon coming out from the loudspeakers. Hatoum came to England on a trip in 1975 and when war broke out in Lebanon, she found herself in exile and unable to return. The Negotiating Table is part of the body of work Hatoum produced in the 1980s, which was mainly structured on performance and video. According to the artist this piece ‘was the most direct reference to the war in Lebanon’ and it was made right after the Israeli invasion and the camp massacres, which for Hatoum ‘was the most shattering experience of [her] life’. The performance is charged with the interplay of aggression and violence against the (in)ability to speak, psychic forces that art history often neglects or frequently attributes to naïve biographical intention. The Negotiating Table stages these psychic tensions with personal, historical and political urgency when read through the productive dialogue of art history and psychoanalysis. With an overt focus on the drives -particularly a consideration of oral-sadistic aggression, fantasied muteness- speech and violence take center stage in this carefully constructed yet elusive interplay of ‘positions’ for the viewers, who find themselves in uncertain and troubling identifications with the constructs of the victim, the perpetrator and the witness. Interestingly, the performance was re-enacted in 2012 as part of the ‘Meeting Points 6 Biennial’ that took place in Brussels, Berlin, Athens, Beirut and Amman despite Hatoum’s assertion in the past that she was finished working with performance as a medium. Repressive and repressed psychic, historical social and political structures are illuminated in The Negotiating Table and can be analyzed with particular historical and theoretical resonance that also sheds light to our current moment. These circumstances give voice to subjectivities lost in the past and foreclosed from art historical record but omnipresent in times of war and crisis.
The Civil Contract of Photography in India
Chris Pinney (UCL)
Panel 4: Social Unrest and Social Reform
National anxieties in the wake of war: the foundation of the Naval Gallery, c.1823-1845
Cicely Robinson (University of York / National Maritime Museum)
The National Gallery of Naval Art was initially proposed in 1795 and finally installed in the Painted Hall at Greenwich Hospital in 1824. Also referred to as the ‘Naval Gallery’, this collection of admiralty portraiture, naval battlescapes and maritime ‘curiosities’ was the first ‘national’ collection to be opened to the public, preceding the foundation of the National Gallery by a matter of months.
The Naval Gallery projected a cohesive, chronological narrative of British naval dominance, imperial expansion and total victory. This paper will examine how the gallery constructed and conveyed a specific type of national naval identity to the nineteenth-century public in order to counter a number of anxieties within both the naval and social system. The construction of an unfaltering history of naval victory was certainly one way to reassert the status of the navy in a period of peacetime and in the wake of the army’s triumph at Waterloo. The predominantly hierarchical display of admiralty portraiture can in many ways be seen as an attempt to assert the necessity of the British autocratic system, under the guise of naval victory and national success over French meritocracy. The collection itself was predominantly formed from the donations and bequests of members of the aristocracy. This also can be seen as an attempt to shore-up the British social system, reinforcing the necessity of social hierarchy disguised by aristocratic generosity to the nation.
However, the formation of this national gallery was also in many ways an act of social reform. In 1823 Edward Hawke Locker, the Secretary of Greenwich Hospital and founder of the gallery, proposed that this collection would be ‘interesting to the visitor, honourable to our gallant countrymen, and encouraging to those who are entering the profession’. This paper will explore how this first national gallery was intended to relate to and educate a varied public audience. It will also address how the gallery responded to a period of continued social unrest and reform. In the 1840s, the Naval Gallery participated in a national scheme to open all the London national galleries to the public free of charge. This coincided with a series of gallery catalogues which employed a variety of biographical material, poetry, song lyrics and engravings in an attempt to appeal to and inform the broadest possible audience.
The Naval Gallery, founded in the wake of war, responded not just to episodes of national victory but also to the extensive individual sense of loss and casualty experience by the British populace. This paper will consider how these juxtaposed themes of celebration and national mourning were brought together within the gallery space as a means to unite the British public in a national act of commemoration.
The Old House by the Thames: The Thames Imagery as Response to the Capitalist Nation in Crisis, c. 1880-1890
Jeong-yon Ha (University of Edinburgh)
The Art Journal’s reproduction of the Royal Academy exhibits in 1890 included two paintings of contrasting scenes along the course of the Thames: Meeting of the Thames and Isis at Dorchester by George Vicat Cole and The Dock Strike, London, 1889 by Dudley Hardy. Juxtaposed on a full single page of the magazine, the landscape of agrarian practice in the river’s upstream at its most rural and untouched by industry and modernity and the depiction of dockers’ protest for a minimum wage of six pence an hour in the East End of London are manifestations of ‘retreat’ and ‘crisis’ in capitalist late-Victorian Britain. Taking inspiration from this suggestive placement of images of pre- and post-industrial social orders by England’s river, this paper considers its representations to investigate the ways in which the Thames became a site of varied artistic responses to social and economic crises in the heart of the British Empire during the closing decades of the nineteenth century. It situates the imagery in the contemporary contexts of a rapid and intense modernisation, economic recession, growing doubts about the Imperial project, the emergence of a national awareness of the nation’s social state and of socialist movements, and critiques of capitalist modernity.
Riots, Strikes and Mass Mobilization: A Contemporary Account of the “Conflict Image”
Andrew Witt (University College London)
The city we see is already in crisis. It is grasped through the image of conflict: a surging riotous people, tossed projectiles and fleeting occupations. These oblique actions meet the bruising clout of the police baton and water canon, the searing mist of pepper spray. The conflict-image is the force of a general will, a people appearing in space. The image measures the situation and comes to think the state’s excess. It functions as a potent experience between worlds. Image and experience overlap through conflict. Such moments of intensity ramify worlds resistant to capital and state repression. They create an oblique vision that unbinds the clots of a selective myopia.
This paper will take Deep State (2012), a film by Karen Mirza and Brad Butler scripted in collaboration with author China Miéville, as a means to think through the current economic crisis, its popular response and its future fate. The disjunctive montage of archival material and new footage forms a counter-history that travels across time. Past, present, and future are superimposed to re-imagine the temporality of the current crisis. In this paper, I want to think the counter-history of the image, as a means to interject a counter-tendency in film’s critical documentary tradition. I seek to think the image as worked matter, as a means to frame the image as an active, inexhaustible, contradictory power — a hostile power that does its own work on the viewer. It seeks to think the contradictions, cleavages and fissures in the documentary image as a means to re-think the obscured history of a progressive documentary tradition.
In Deep State, the swerve and errancy of revolution is constellated. It measures the state through the excess of its appearance. It is an image of unending collapse. Crisis, here, is not seen as an abrupt phase, cataclysmic caesura, or fleeting moment. Rather, Mirza’s and Butler’s conflict-images seek to think the growing social and economic crisis as coterminous with the current neoliberal crisis-state. It deals with the logic, fate, and destiny of social life in the midst of capital’s constant, unyielding and dynamic restructuring.
Contemporary Landscape Photography on the Political Equator
Artist Corinne Silva in Conversation with Chad Elias
In her series ‘Badlands’ (2011) artist Corinne Silva photographs two forms of architecture constructed by the new denizens inhabiting the frontier territory of Almeria in southeast Spain: the first, the strange landscaped environs (most apparent in the fiberglass rocks, manicured lawns and artificial lakes) that decorate the luxury housing settlements of the region; the second, the improvised dwellings that irregular migrants from northern and sub-Saharan Africa fashion from the discarded refuse of poly-tunnels. In dialogue with contemporary landscape photography, anthropological studies of trans-national migration and labour, and architectural theory, Silva’s artistic practice addresses questions that are aesthetically challenging and politically urgent. Is it possible to picture, and so reveal, the built environment of Europe’s ‘borderlands’ as product and waste of a post-industrial economy? If wealth is today increasingly produced through the immaterial flow of financial capital and images, then how does photography help to understand the hidden underside of that economy at this moment of global crisis? Interrogating the divisive impact of contemporary borders and other practices of territorial control, this discussion of landscape photography on the ‘political equator’ (a straight line drawn from left to right across a world map intersects at three highly contested territories: the Mexico/USA border; southern Spain and northern Africa; and Israel/Palestine) will also take up Silva’s most recent images of suburban gardens, parks and public spaces in Israel.