GETTING TO NOORDERLICHT FOTOFESTIVAL

In which I make my way to the Noorderlicht International Fotofestival . . .
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Ottawa to Amsterdam by plane. Leave Thursday afternoon, arrive Friday morning. Six hour time difference. They’re ahead.

Airplane, Amsterdam

Amsterdam to Groningen by train.

Dutch countryside

Arrive Groningen.

Groningen Station

Walk through drizzle to the Noorderlicht offices where I meet Regina Broersma, who cooly and calmly coordinates the festival. She wrangles a million little and large details, makes the whole thing smooooth.

Regina

She takes me down the road and up a flight of steep Dutch stairs to the hotel they have arranged for me. A modest place where 8 or 10 other Noorderlicht exhibitors will be staying. I smile. It’s my kind of place.

My room
The view from the roof

Won’t sleep. Walk around Groningen, get a feel. It’s still Friday.

Friday night, thirty six hours without sleep. I crash. Twelve hours later, eight Saturday morning, I get up and bump into David Klammer, who has work in the festival. A funny, enthusiastic guy. He’s here with his friend, Herbert Wiggerman. We go for breakfast. I’ll end up spending a lot of time with these two. Big, eccentric fun.

David Klammer at breakfast

Back at the hotel David and I trade books. His, FORST, shows the time he has spent in a forest outside Hamburg. A mining company wants to clear those trees so they can dig more. Anarchists and forest-savers are occupying the forest. Putting up a fight. David hangs with them, photographs.

David showing Herbert the dummy of his book. Below, a small version of FORST.

All that took a while. Lunch and then a walk to De Zwarte Doos where my work was hung.

I had sent files of the 27 images in the show. The folks at Noorderlicht would print, frame and hang the work. A scary prospect because you’re never sure how that’s all going to turn out. I enter the building with some trepidation. Please let it look good.

As soon as I saw it I relaxed. No, that’s not exactly right . . . I didn’t relax, I became excited by how great the prints looked and how wonderfully the work had been hung.

I looked at my wall of pictures and couldn’t figure out how they had done it. Each image a block in a puzzle that, somehow, meshed perfectly.

The Dutch are masters of exhibition design and that inventiveness and attention to detail was apparent at all the exhibitions at the festival.

Here are a couple of examples: Photographs by (top) Marvin Leuvrey, at the Oude Conservatorium and (bottom) Daniël Siegersma, at the Noorderlicht Gallery.

And speaking of design, have a look at the catalogue. The folks at Noorderlicht wanted to make it affordable (in keeping with the theme of the festival this year). Foldable/pocketable newsprint for €5 (less than $7.50). Lots of photos, lots of writing. Context.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s get to the opening.

Some drinks at the Noorderlicht International Fotofestival opening

On second thought, I’ll end this here. This is already too much information. You have other stuff to do, right?

Tune in next week when I’ll finally have a look at some of the work exhibited at Noorderlicht . . .

OTTAWA NOTES

CHRISTINE FITZGERALD AT STUDIO SIXTY SIX

Christine Fitzgerald has been photographing at-risk/threatened species for a while now. Her commitment to this is hard to ignore.

Captive, her new work on display at Studio Sixty Six, shows us parrots.

Installation shot: CAPTIVE, Christine Fitzgerald at Studio Sixty Six

Parrots are trafficked. Sometimes someone “needs” a parrot and, like a good consumer, they buy one. After a while the thrill is gone so they resell the bird or let it “escape”. As well, like any animals “owned” by humans, a certain amount of abuse and neglect occurs. The lucky (if that’s even the right word) parrots are rescued and rehabilitated. These are the birds that we see here.

The images are shot with a digital camera and then transformed through a number of complicated and labour intensive historical techniques involving glass plates and exotic chemicals and pigments. This results in very beautiful prints. But here the sentimentality, heroic scale and overwrought qualities that infused much of Fitzgerald’s earlier work has been dialed back.

Hyacinth McCaw ©Christine Fitzgerald

What we see are images that, while romantic, also have a slightly forensic feel. As well, the modest scale of the prints lends them a feeling of intimacy which suits the subject matter. These tweaks to her approach make the images in Captive Fitzgerald’s best photographs yet.

With work like this, though, it’s difficult to know where to draw the line between the commodification of a commodity (precious prints of trafficked parrots) and the photographer’s deeper agenda.

At any rate, these images have me thinking and talking about parrots. I suggest you go have a look and draw your own conclusions.

Cacuta moluccensis ©Christine Fitzgerald

UNPACKING THE BLACK BOX

Next week drool. will bring you a full report from the Noorderlicht International Fotofestival . . .

This week, though, it’s all about the anatomy of the exhibition at De Zwarte Doos. This was one of eight locations scattered throughout Groningen that mounted exhibitions for this iteration of the festival.

Invitation, front and back

The folks who run the festival, I’m pleased to report, are a smart, caring, together, totally professional bunch. A joy to work with.

As well, the fact that they traditionally pick political themes draws me to them. I’m so tired of the decorative, lyrical approach to photography that just caters to the bread and circuses aspect of this modern life, in these unsettled times.

Anyway . . .

De Zwarte Doos

As I was saying . . . Noorderlicht (translation: Northern Lights) happens in various venues throughout Groningen. De Zwarte Doos (translation: The Black Box, which is what the locals call this building) is where my work is being shown, along with photographs by (in alphabetical order) Michele Borzoni (Italy), Alan Gignoux (UK), Sergey Novikov & Max Sher (Russia), and Martin Toft (Denmark)

Martin Toft taking the photo below . . .

De Zwarte Doos is a recently vacated government Social Services building, and most of the photographs hung here are enhanced by that association. (Not to mention the fact that the theme at Noorderlicht this year is Late Capitalism and the effects of neoliberalism.)


Michele Borzoni‘s photographs are shown to great effect in the tiny rooms that had been used to conduct one-on-one interviews with social assistance seekers when the building was being used for that. This placement of these images is just so fitting.

Open Competitive Examinations portrays the bureaucratic procedure aspiring police officers, nurses and teachers must undergo to have a chance at a job. Workers Buyouts shows group portraits of employees who had taken over their companies when the original owners of those companies were threatening to shut them down.


My work, on the main wall, is from After the Fact, which imagines some possible future. Here’s an excerpt from the statement I sent to Noorderlicht:

The Earth is changing, our societies are too. These changes are causing upheavals planet-wide. The rich don’t need to worry though, the constant crisis provides opportunity for them. They have the resources to construct their own realities and safe havens. The rest of the world is becoming, for them, redundant.

After the Fact imagines what life in the First World might look and feel like for those who have been deemed, in these changing times, surplus to requirements. 


From the UK, Alan Gignoux traveled to the oil sands in Northern Alberta. There, mostly from a helicopter, he photographed that blight on the landscape.

Attached to many of these aerial photos are smaller images that show aspects of life on the ground . . . farmers, monster houses, churches and the like.


Sergey Novikov & Max Sher are exhibiting large panels of photographs with text. This work visualizes the ideas, techniques, tactics and narratives the ruling powers in Russia use to exercise their power.


Finally, Martin Toft, originally from Denmark but now living in the Channel Island of Jersey, uses that proximity to probe aspects of that island’s transformation into one of the world’s leading offshore International Finance Centres (read: tax haven).

The images shown here are but one aspect of a long, deep investigation Martin has been conducting that tells the story of Jersey’s contemporary prosperity.

The five projects in The Black Box consider various aspects of the times in which we live, and the show is stronger because of that. It’s so great to be involved in an endeavour that features and contextualizes photography that’s about more, really, than just what’s in front of the lens.

The festival runs until December 1st. If you find yourself within striking distance of Groningen you should go have a look.

The Noorderlicht venues in Groningen

(ANTI) ARTIST-STATEMENT

1/

A while ago, in a fit of inspiration, I dashed this off on my Twitter feed:

Not decorative, not lyrical, not framed as art.
– My (anti) artist-statement.

This isn’t a statement against artists. No, it’s kind of what I’d like my artist statement to be. Except it’s too simplistic. Though it must be said that there’s a beauty to simplicity and to lack of explanation, to leaving it up to the viewer to come to their own conclusion(s).

But, because I embrace my contradictions, let me explain . . .

I don’t want my photographs to be about the history of art, nor for their meaning (whatever that might be) to be reliant on the viewers’ education. I don’t want their form to supercede their content. I don’t want my work’s “success” to be defined by its acceptance into the white-cube-gallery world that signifies “important” work (and here I initially misspelled important as impotent, yup).

And, yes, I know that meaning of (almost) all Art is available for everyone, no matter what; that you don’t need an education to think and to feel or to be affected by any form of expression.

But I hope you catch my drift here . . . I’m talking about Art (photographs) who’s success (acceptance) relies upon the kind of in-thinking (and in-breeding) that forms the closed loop of so much that is considered valuable these days. And in these Late-Capitalism, neoliberal times value is most often equated to monetary worth and acceptance by rich motherfuckers. Let’s call it: collectability.

2/

I just returned from coffee and discussion with another photographer. He was bemoaning the fact that the art world has changed. (Has it?) The gate keepers of those white-cube spaces are too busy (or something), he said, to even look at, let alone consider the work of (senior) artists. Or at least those artists that don’t mesh with their (the gatekeepers) scheme.

I’m sure there are exceptions to what he said, just as I’m sure there is a certain amount of truth to it. But it seems obvious that the system is skewed. Kind of like it has always been. (Of course, if you are an in-demand artist you’ll probably be thinking the system works just fine, thank you very much.)

What is true, though, is that there is a surfeit of photographers clamouring for the limited sanctified wall space in the power-structures we call art galleries. Getting seen and then chosen by the choosers is very difficult and, seemingly (within certain bounds) kind of arbitrary.

I suggested to my friend that if the people who hold the keys to the galleries, and thus to bluechip acceptance (and sales) won’t consider your work perhaps it’s time to look for ways to circumvent those gate keepers, to redefine success, to find other ways of disseminating the information you call your art.

After all, if the door is blocked, it makes no sense to keep banging on it, thinking (hoping) that this time it will be opened.

3/

Now, I’m not saying that galleries have no place in the art world. What I am saying is that showing in galleries is not, or needn’t be, the be-all and end-all; that in this new age there are so many other options available for the dissemination and monetization of art. The problem seems (to me) to be the lack of imagination artists display when it comes to rethinking their place in the current system.

Perhaps it’s time to devise and implement new strategies and tactics, schemes and alternate means, different definitions of success. If you are compelled to create and communicate it might be time to move past (or around) the art-system as it exists now.

Of course, if the approval of the power brokers that represent the status quo is what you need, if your validation will only come from having your work placed on the white walls of the white cubes, I’m afraid you’re pretty much stuck with playing their game, using their rules. And you will change nothing.

OTTAWA NOTES

FURTHER

In the coming months, here on drool., I’ll be thinking out loud about the ideas expressed in the above paragraphs. Tune in to keep up.

OLIVIA JOHNSTON at CUAG

Opening today (Sunday, September 15th) at the Carleton University Art Gallery.

From the CUAG website:
In this new series of photographic portraits, Olivia Johnston invited peers to pose as Christian saints and Madonnas, as well as other biblical figures. As an artist with a secular upbringing, Johnston has been investigating the influence of Christianity within the visual language of Western art and wider culture. Exploring the collection as CUAG’s fifth artist in the Collection Invitational series, the Ottawa-based artist has selected artworks that depict or reference Madonnas, as well as works that contain symbols or narratives associated with saints that are brought into conversation with her own works.

LAUREN BOUCHER and KAT FULWIDER at EXPOSURE GALLERY

Opening Wednesday, September 18th. 6 to 8 PM.

From the Exposure Gallery website:
Heal represents a pilgrimage back to the self. In a dialogue of expression, Katherine Fulwider and Lauren Boucher utilize the photographic medium as a vehicle for introspection, exposing the active process of healing.

In Fulwider’s project Womb, elements of nature and the female form are brought into union through exploring the disconnection between humans, nature and Spirit. Through her dreamlike cyanotypes, Fulwider highlights the universal need for connection and refuge in growth. In You Are Safe Here, Boucher examines ephemera and how the photographic medium plays into recording impermanence. In her visceral, poetic imagery, Boucher enacts performative release by vocalizing personal prayer and affirmation.

Together, Boucher and Fulwider reclaim voice and access inner truths through connection to both the external world and the intimate self.