Sicily Workshop and portfolio reviews

http://www.mimimollica.com/workshopdates/september2020

Lat week I attended a six-day workshop in Sicily run by Mimi Mollica. This was similar to the workshop I attended last year but I was tempted to attend again by the fact that Martin Parr would be the guest tutor and would not only be reviewing the work produced during the workshop but would also be doing portfolio reviews of existing work at the beginning of the week.

At the initial portfolio review I showed Martin Parr three pieces of work:

  1. My short book A Slice of life…and death which includes the work for which I won the 1997 RPS Documentary Photographer of the Year and the British Life Photography Award for documentary series.
  2. My book 100 Women 100 Years which I produced during the OCA Level 2 Documentary course.
  3. The work which I submitted via a video for Assignment 5 of OCA Body of Work Here I was able to show the physical work, which was a great opportunity.

Martin Parr was complimentary about all the work, but of course the main discussion was about my current body of work as a work in progress. He felt that the work on the New Forest in A Slice of life…and death showed plenty of scope for development, both around the Commoners and around the gentrification of the Forest.

We had a long discussion about my body of work, Streams of Consciousness. At first he was slightly sceptical about the printing on linen, but after my explanation of the link to British colonialism he was convinced. “Why didn’t I know about that’ he said. He suggested I contact the Seamus Heaney Gallery and Belfast Exposed about potential exhibitions and gave me contact details for the directors.

Martin Parr and Mimi Mollica reviewing my Body of Work (photo Jonathan Lamb)

On location

The brief for the work we made during the week was to contribute to the ongoing project Fracture about the consequences of the redevelopment of the Belice valley in western Sicily after the huge earthquake in 1968. The earthquake virtually destroyed the villages of Gibellina, Salaparuta, Poggioreale, Santa Ninfa, Partama, Montevago and Santa Maria di Belice. (Haas, 1969) The government saw this as an opportunity for an urban experiment, invite famous architect to design completely new villages from the ground up, in some cases such as Poggioreale, some miles away from the original village (Tondo, 2018). These modern, concrete settlements now seem empty and soulless. It appears no-one thought to ask the villagers what they wanted.

A word or two about the workshop itself. It begins with a portfolio review with Mimi and the guest tutor. This was very friendly and non-judgmental, and Martin invited comments from everyone in the group. The next few days are spent on location, photographing for the Fracture project. Each day you return to the comfort of the shared house and the culinary delights provided by Mimi’s sister Paola. Food for the body as well as the mind is provided.

During the week, Mimi continues to review the work you are making, and also any personal projects you are working on. Mimi is a generous reviewer but equally he is focused and direct in his comments. He will always make the time to discuss your work with you. He is keen to talk about selection and sequencing as well as content.

By the end of the week, everyone has prepared a sequenced selection of the work they have produced. Mimi presented this to Martin and the group, and Martin offered a critique. To anyone who has not had Martin review their work, I can say that he is amazing knowledgable, insightful and thoughtful. He is direct but never harsh. I guess he has done this before…

It is worth saying that the idea of a common project works well, I think, rather than each participant pursuing their own ends. Of course, it is challenging, as the subject is chosen for you and is not one that everyone would choose for themselves, but each participant can find their own approach. It takes you outside of your comfort zone. Reviewing everyone’s work at the end of the week is revealing as you see how everyone had a different take on the same locations. It is also satisfying to see the project grow on Mimi’s website.

I had already made a series of work for this project last year, and now I had to decide whether to continue to develop that work or to produce a different series. During the week I explore various ideas, having in mind both of these possibilities. In the end I decided to go with a series which included some of last year’s images but expanded and developed the theme I had begun.

This is the series I presented at the end of the workshop. Martin said “I think you are on to something’ and awarded me best image of the week, jointly with one other participant, for the final image in the series.

References

Haas, J E and Ayre, R S (1969) The Western Sicily Earthquake of 1968: A Report USA: National Academies Press

Tondo, L (2018) ’50 years since Sicily’s earthquake, an urban disaster of a different kind’ in The Guardian 15th January 2008 online at:
https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/jan/15/sicily-earthquake-1968-50-years-belice-valley-poggioreale

Hazel Bingham – Virtual study visit

A first today, for me and perhaps for OCA – a virtual study visit. OCA SYP student Hazel Bingham is one of the unlucky ones who have planned an exhibition only to find it cancelled due to the Covid-19 lockdown. The solution she has chosen is to create a virtual exhibition space online, that is to say a virtual space that the viewer can move around, with virtual copies of her work hanging on virtual gallery walls. This approach is of particular interest to me as I have been evaluating similar solutions for showing my own body of work.

I have seen this type of presentation before, but what was new to me was having a online study visit to a virtual gallery. The visit was led by OCA tutor Andrew Conroy with technical assistance from OCA student Rob Townsend.

Bingham has chosen the Kunstmatrix platform for her exhibition, which I explored just prior to the start f the online study visits that it would be fresh in my mind. as for a real-world study visit. I will consider the experience of exploring the virtual exhibition later, as the primary purpose of the study visit was obviously to view and discuss Bingham’s work.

Bingham’s exhibition is titled London’s Hottest Postcode N1C and its subject is the redevelopment around London’s King’s Cross station. In her introductory text, she positions the work as addressing concerns about the ‘privatisation of space’ and how it increasingly compromises the way we live.

The photographs undoubtedly capture a sense of place. The main approach is rectilinear representations of the architecture

Bingham also raises in her introduction the question of the future effects of social distancing in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, measures which were obviously not considered during the development of the site. Nor were they in force during her execution of the project, so it interesting to see what aspects of this unforeseen issue become apparent from viewing the pictures.

As a postscript, I will briefly comment on the experience of viewing the work in a virtual gallery space rather a than physical one, or simply as a slideshow online. It is important to say that these are just my observations on the experience as I consider approaches for presenting my own work. I imagine that the way the experience is viewed and explored is a function of the platform with little room for manipulation but the artist, so any criticism is of the platform rather than the artist.

The first thing to say is that entering the virtual gallery does go some way towards replicating the experience of entering a real-world gallery. One gets an impression of space and something of an overall impression of at least part of the work, rather than being immediately presented with a single images as in a slide show. Unfortunately it feels rather more like materialising inside the gallery via some kind of Star Trek transportation device than entering through a door. I found myself using the controls to move backwards away from the pictures to get a better overview.

The controls are straightforward to use and allow the viewer to virtually ‘walk’ around the gallery.

Unfortunately these controls – understandably – do not replicate well the sensation of moving around the gallery. Notably, since it is necessary to look at the controls rather than the pictures while moving, or at least when starting to move, the experience of looking while moving is to some extent lost. I found that the natural movements ones adopts in a real gallery, turning to face each picture as we come to it, difficult to achieve.

It is a little frustrating trying to manoeuvre oneself into the right place in front each picture. For this reason I felt that looking at the pictures in a simple slideshow would make it easier to evaluate the work and do justice to individual images.

There are in fact two ways to view the exhibition: as a freeform exploration or as a guided tour. The guided tour, while abandoning some of the sensation of moving around a physical space, has the advantage of automatically positioning the viewer in front of each picture in turn. Presumably this also allows the artist to predetermine the order in which the viewer sees the pictures.

All in all, I think this kind of virtual exhibition has a role in recreating something of the experience of a gallery visit, but the means of interaction and the visual presentation require some improvement in order to be worthwhile replacement for a straightforward slideshow. What it does achieve, however, is a means for the artist to demonstrate how they would organise a real-world exhibition, something which has a value in itself as a planning tool or as an academic exercise.

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it

Life for everyone in the UK changed drastically last night with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that with immediate effect we all have to stay at home and only go out for a limited amount of exercise and essential food shopping.

According to the Guardian (2020), the restrictions are as follows:

UK lockdown: what are the coronavirus restrictions?

People in the UK will only be allowed to leave their home for the following purposes:

Shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible

One form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household

Any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person

Travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home

Police will have the powers to enforce the rules, including through fines and dispersing gatherings. To ensure compliance with the instruction to stay at home, the government will:

Close all shops selling non-essential goods, including clothing and electronic stores and other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship

Stop all gatherings of more than two people in public – excluding people you live with

Stop all social events, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, but excluding funerals

Parks will remain open for exercise, but gatherings will be dispersed.

 

This is bound to have some significant effects on the pursuance of my studies, but exactly what remains to be seen. These are certainly extraordinary times, and not in a good way.

References

The Guardian (2020) ‘Boris Johnson orders UK lockdown to be enforced by police’ in The Guardian 24th March 2020 [online] At:
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/23/boris-johnson-orders-uk-lockdown-to-be-enforced-by-police
Accessed on 24 March 2020

The ‘closed’ signs go up

Today the government announced that schools will close at the end of this week. Straight away  I started to receive emails from all the galleries where I have a membership telling me that they are closing. While the National Gallery says ‘we have decided to temporarily close from 19 March until 4 May 2020, in line with the latest advice from Public Health England’, the National Portrait Gallery says it will ‘temporarily close from Wednesday 18 March 2020 until further notice’. The National Gallery seems rather too optimistic I think.

Presumably all galleries will have to close, which is going to make it very difficult to arrange an exhibition of my work. The alternative of making a book, which I have discussed with my tutor, is looking like a good option.