This is part three of my Arles 2019 review. Start with this post if you want to read it in order.
For ease of reading and page loading I have divided the overall festival review into three categories of my own invention:
The remaining exhibitions don’t really fall into a neat subject matter category like the others, but are rather the expressions of individual artists and their visions. This is, broadly speaking, the kind of show I really like to see – getting inside a particular artist’s head and experiencing how they see the world. The subject matter is disparate but the thread is the personal vision.
Evangelia Kranioti: The Living, the Dead and Those at Sea
Chapelle Saint-Martin du Mejan
Kranioti has a distinctive personal vision, strongly composed and colourful. Her work is centred around people in unorthodox or marginalised communities such as the Rio queer scene, or long-distance sailors, or immigrant maids.
It’s a beautifully-presented, immersive installation, with one section presented in a darkened room with black walls and backlit images and another in a brightly-lit part of the church between colourful glazed windows. Each of the four projects stands alone visually and yet the whole collection carries a strong sense of personal voice.
Christian Lutz: Eldorado
Maison des Peintres
Lutz turns his camera onto what you might call ‘artificial paradises’ such as Las Vegas and Macao in China. He has produced a body of work that not only juxtaposes the highs and lows of these kinds of places, but more specifically what Las Vegas has turned into over the decades and by implication what fate awaits the currently shiny-clean Macao.
The presentation format is part of the message: the Macao images are around the outside of the hall, and show clean, bright, often minimalistic scenes of wealthy decadence, while the Vegas images are in a self-contained circle in the centre of the hall, with darker walls and more subdued lighting; these Vegas images are downbeat and grimy – the archetypal seedy underbelly. What makes the separation of the images work even better is that there are stairs up to a viewing platform so that you can literally look down on the ‘lower class’ Las Vegas photographs – once I realised this I felt slightly manipulated but simultaneously cheered the photographer (or the curator?) for this interactive touch.
Mohamed Bourouissa: Free Trade
This is what you might call a mid-career retrospective bringing together a number of recent projects by the prolific and eclectic Bourissa. The subject matter is, broadly, contemporary western society, more specifically the effects of globalisation. It comes across as a kind of critique of late capitalism. In a wry display of self-awareness, the supermarket chain Monoprix hosted this exhibition.
What I loved about Bourouissa’s work is the sheer breadth of it – he is an artistic machine. He varies the medium, the materials, the presentation method and the aesthetic in a way that could be jarring in someone else’s hands, but he succeeds as it is all shot through with such a distinctive personal voice.
I was particularly impressed with the variety of presentation methods. My favourite was the video that showed a load of small photographic prints coming off a printer, very tightly cropped so that it actually resembled a digital slideshow. I can’t quite put my finger on why but I thought that was one of the coolest things I saw all weekend…
Kurt Tong: Combing for Ice and Jade
Tong’s childhood nanny Mak was one of the last of an imperial China tradition known as Comb Sisters: women who chose to live independently of men. This project is what he calls a love letter to Mak, mingling a handful of photos from her own life with her presence in his own family archive and the wider context of decades of Chinese history.
There were some really interesting presentational touches here: the paucity of photos of Mak herself is illustrated by a set of frames, mostly empty but for the eight official photos taken for identity cards. Given her avowed ‘independent’ status as a Comb Sister, Mak’s tangential presence in Tong family photos is poignant – with the family but not in the family.
Tong tries to make Mak the focal point of photos in which she wasn’t, via the technique of covering up his own family’s faces with photographs of objects – but to me this had the opposite effect and made me focus on the ’employer’ more than the ’employee’. This made me feel slightly ill-at-ease; a sense that even while trying to make this about his nanny, Tong was making this about the master-servant relationship. While I don’t doubt his positive intentions, it still came across as slightly patronising.
Louis Roederer Discovery Award
This is the ‘up and coming talent’ award that selects 10 artists and gives them a mini-exhibition each. Not all were worth writing up so I will pick out the few that impressed me.
Mate Bartha’s Kontakt is a look at Hungarian military-themed summer camps for children.
What lifts this above standard documentary fare is the intense and distinctive aesthetic of the images he produces, especially the portraits.
Shinji Nagabe’s Banana Republic is a surreal and satirical look at political and social disillusionment using the humble banana as a stand-in for a range of much more serious objects.
In choosing the banana – the phallic symbolism, the bright sunny colour, the connotations of the phrase ‘banana republic’ – Nagabe unlocks a serious point about the absurdity of political situations. It’s funny, but it’s also not.
Laure Tiberghien’s Suite… is a collection of camera-less images, made by combining light, chemicals, paper and time without traditional lens-based equipment. The end result is, unsurprisingly, abstract rather than representative. Very painterly; quite Rothko-eque.
I love this kind of work. It doesn’t particularly fit with my own OCA body of work, but I have been experimenting with lensless photography and other methods of more impressionistic work. Tiberghien’s work was right up my street.
Steeve Bairas’s White Dreams Extended is included here only because the artist’s statement made me laugh out loud. I thought I’d become immune to art-speak bullshit but this is another level.