On the 16/09/2020 I visited the Photographer’s Gallery to see the 4 sets of work nominated for the Deutsche Börse prize 2020 and I went there with a dual purpose. The first purpose was to look at the work from an artistic perspective and try to decide which of the four nominations was my favourite. The second purpose was more practical and involved looking at how the exhibition was put together and paying attention to details like the framing and layout of the four selected works. The reason for this second purpose was that the course asks me to look at how a gallery exhibition is laid out. I feel this is a second exercise is a good one as often I often overlook these details because I am so absorbed in the work on show. If I was to exhibit my one work in some way, looking at other people’s presentation methods would surely be helpful.
The project The Blue Skies Project by Aston Kusters was the first nominee’s work I came across and it was also the one I found most absorbing. Having said that, this was not the case initially. As I first looked at the project in the space, all 1,078 polaroids laid out in a grid, I thought it looked impressive but I wondered what relevance they had. I found it necessary to look for external information to understand that each of the blue sky polaroids was taken at all the concentration camps of the 2nd world war. By reading the introductory text and by listening to the artist talking about his work (which was located on the floor downstairs) the work began to take on new meaning. I suppose this is one of the limits of more conceptual work; it often needs something else to explain it.
In the video playing downstairs Kusters spoke about the polaroids fading with time like our collective memories of the holocaust. All we are left with is our own trauma. This struck me as very profound because it speaks of something that can’t be changed which we can only reflect upon. One way to reflect upon the holocaust is through Kusters’ work. I feel the artist is interrogating the medium and linking it to memory.
In terms of the presentation of the work, as mentioned earlier I thought the massive grid of polaroids was an impressive spectacle. Unfortunately the accompanying sound was either off or I couldn’t hear it so it was less impressionable than it could have been. Nevertheless, I found the sight of the vast grids of polaroids a powerful and haunting experience when I realised their relevance. Incidentally, I found the dark lighting to be an appropriately sombre environment to view them in.
The second project I viewed was Mark Neville’s Parade. I found this project to be of a more documentary nature even though many of the shots were staged in some way. In contrast to Kusters’ polaroids which contained very little content (namely only blue skies), Neville’s parade photographs contained lots of information packed into each image. Viewed as a series, it is possible to begin to see a narrative of animals and farming across the images. When I connected this to Britain leaving the European Union and the project being based in “little Britain”, the narrative became much stronger. I could also discern both sides of optimism and disquiet at Britain’s decision affecting the lives of those in “little Britain” in the faces of those people photographed.
Of course this is a very topical project and I was fascinated to see Neville is attempting to both photograph and then directly affect the people involved. He endeavours to do this by exhibiting the project at locations within “little Britain”. Because the project was collaborative and the photographs were deliberately intended to speak to people who weren’t versed in the art-world, I feel this project can talk to people in Guingamp (“little Britain”) effectively. This is especially true if the accompanying book interviewing famers and other people involved in agriculture in Guingamp is factored in.
Looking at the presentation of Parade, all of the photographs were surrounded by a wooden frame. Although I appreciated the consistency the choice of frame didn’t appeal to me that much aesthetically. Maybe the wooden frames reflected something about Guingamp but I couldn’t work it out. Instead I was left thinking which colour frame I would have chosen. Some of the photos were printed bigger than others, perhaps denoting significance within the project or maybe just to save room within the limited amount of space.
The third project I looked at was actually a set of different projects by one artist: Mohamed Bourouissa. Although they were similar in some regards they differed in other ways. I actually found this a bit disconcerting while looking at the 4 projects of Mohamed Bourouissa because I was unsure whether to look at the projects individually or as a collective. In the end I looked at them as a collective and it was apparent that Bourouissa was representing communities from certain races which can be underrepresented in photography. I found this refreshing, being from a mixed ethnic background myself. I thought the people represented in Nous Sommes Halles were portrayed sensitively and this made sense when I read the supporting information beside the photos. Here, I learned the images were taken in Paris’s banlieues and depicted youth culture.
The projects on show by Bourouissa connected with power in relation to the image. For example Shoplifters showed vulnerable people caught in the act of stealing basic provisions from a shop on polaroids which Bourouissa had repurposed. I learnt from research subsequently it was the shop owner who actually took these as a condition for the shoplifters to take the items for free (Warner, 2020). To me this act seemed a way of commanding power over the shoplifters. It made me think of how images have the potential to be highly influential in peoples lives. In the context of the shop owner it was negative power over the shoplifters. However, in the case of Bourouissa repurposing them the context becomes one of ethics and questioning. For me personally I questioned the ethics of the shop owner and simultaneously felt compassion for the vulnerable shoplifters. In this context the images have the potential to mark positive change or at least contemplation from the viewers.
All of Bourouissa’s projects were presented differently. I found this helpful not only to distinguish between the projects but also so I could compare the presentation methods of the different projects. I found the project Shoplifters to be framed in an interesting way. Like Mark Neville’s Parade series the images were in wooden frames but in the case of Mohamed Bourouissa’s Shoplifters they had massive white mounts in which the comparatively small (slightly enlarged) polaroids were placed. I thought this presentation worked well because it made me think of how vulnerable the shoplifters seemed in relation to the large white mounts. Nous Sommes Halles in contrast was not framed and appeared on vast prints hanging from the ceiling in poster-like form. These prints immediately grabbed my attention as I came into the space. The Périphérique images were similarly printed very large but were surrounded by white frames. Meanwhile the video piece Temps Mort was placed right in the middle of the room, commanding attention despite the small screen size.
The varying approaches in presentation worked well to differentiate the projects on show by Bourouissa. As well as this each project captured my attention because of their presentation for the differing reasons outlined above. However, having 4 projects by one artist located in such a small space detracted from each project singularly in my opinion.
The final artist nominated for the Deutsche Börse 2020 prize was Clare Strand. Her project The Discrete Channel with Noise differed from Mark Neville and Mohamed Bourouissa’s work and was instead very conceptual, like Aston Kusters’ project. Unlike Kusters’ work, I found it relatively easy to understand the concept of Strand’s The Discrete Channel with Noise without reading any supporting information. In this regard it was rewarding working out how the two sets of images related to each other. I got that the numbers overlaid on the photographs corresponded to the light and dark tones, kind of like the Zone System. This in turn correlated with the larger and simpler images on the opposite wall. However, I didn’t realise the larger, more simplified corresponding images were paintings. When I read the supporting text and learned the tones of light were transcribed via telephone to create the paintings, I was quite impressed. I thought it must have been a painstaking process but also one that touched upon topical issues. These issues include simplification of information by coded means and then by extension, how we then question or don’t question this information.
I feel The Discrete Channel with Noise was laid out well in the Photographer’s Gallery and the two sets of images were framed appropriately to show off the coded photographed and the paintings to their potential. The vitrine containing the paintbrushes and paint used by Strand was a nice touch also and gave evidence of the work that went in to creating the paintings.
Overall I found the process of visiting the Photographers’ Gallery to see the Deutsche Börse 2020 prize and also making notes on presentation of the work very useful. I liked the variety of work on show and all 4 nominations made me stop and think, although in different ways. I discovered I favoured consistent presentation that let the viewer immerse themselves in the work itself. This was evident in Mark Neville’s Parade choice of framing, although I might have chosen a different colour frame. Also, if there was an opportunity for the framing to be appropriate for the type of work on show, then that was a beneficial attribute for it to have. For example Mohamed Bourouissa’s Shoplifters were framed in a way that highlighted the shoplifters vulnerability in my opinion. As well as this I thought the vitrines used by Clare Strand gave extra insight into her work The Discrete Channel with Noise and could be something I might consider if exhibiting my own work.
The Photographers’ Gallery (2020) Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2020. [Exhibition] London: The Photographers’ Gallery. 21/02/2020 – 20/09/2020.
Warner, M. (2020) ‘Mohamed Bourouissa: “Photography is a way to leave a mark of my generation”’ In: British Journal of Photography 14/09/2020. At: https://www.bjp-online.com/2020/09/mohamed-bourouissa-free-trade-deutsche-borse/ (Accessed 09/10/2020).