Digital Wondering 12
Digital Wonderings are a series of online speculations around the curatorial theme of TRUST. They can take any form, from a conversation, a short statement, a film or a photographic series. Invited contributors come from a wide range of disciplines and can respond and react to the theme and the format as they wish.
A conversation on the exhibition TRUST/vertrauen between Susan Bright and Nina Strand
Nina Strand: Picking up on our conversation from November last year, when we started these Digital Wonderings, we finished by speculating who would be able to visit the festival in June. Now, six weeks before the opening, the pandemic is still preventing us from meeting in large groups. We will have to invite the inhabitants of Leipzig in to the Werkschau at the Spinnerei in smaller groups with pre-booked time slots. But we are very happy that we are launching! Let us use this Digital Wondering to talk a little about the program and the artists. As we said in November, we wanted to do several different things so the festival is not an ‘iceberg’ in the calendar. We began this digital program as an important part of the festival. This is the 12th, and the Wonderings will continue until the opening.
We wanted to make numerous zines in the run up to the festival instead of a fixed catalog, something that funding has not yet allowed. Another important element of the festival is the outside commission, to make the festival go wider than just in The Spinnerei. We wanted to have Carmen Winant make new work, which she will. This is posters shown on the City Light Boards all around the city, as well being the opening exhibit in the Werkschau. Winant will make collages of her on-going archival research. Winant’s work utilizes installation and collage strategies to examine feminist modes of survival and revolt.
Susan Bright: For me the Digital Wonderings have been a really wonderful way to think through the theme and to be able to interpret it in different ways and consider ‘trust’ as a concept, a feeling and one of intellectual inquiry. As mentioned in Digital Wondering 08 with Anthony Luvera its lack of definition is something that attracted us to it as a theme. Its myriad of ways it’s interpreted is both its strength and weakness when thinking through the artists we are working with. Despite other elements of the festival not being able to take place due to funding issues or COVID restrictions the Digital Wonderings have allowed us a place to explore ideas and artists that we might not otherwise have had an opportunity to work with. In addition, it’s been a really fascinating working methodology, a more organic and reflexive way of working. As the program has progressed it’s been important to make links across artists, thinkers and others that we have invited to be involved.
Regarding Carmen’s new commission it’s made me think about trust and authority figures and how our trust in them is so conflicted, suspicious or even hostile. This has only increased recently. It’s hard to look at the motif of hands in her posters and not consider George Floyd and the connotations of ‘hands up’ or of falling down. Again it’s that use of linguistics and image that is so crucial to her work.
NS: I agree! Also being able to include Dannielle Bowman in the program with her image text piece where she recounts visits to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate, first as a pupil in 5th grade, then again as grown up was important. She brings up trust issues in terms of memory. She asks if we can trust what we remember and if you can trust what you are told by teachers.
Her photograph of a column on the West portico steps of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate, just outside of Charlottesville, VA was a powerful encounter, she writes that she touched those fingerprints and the column pictured to touch an object that had been touched by an enslaved craftsman, Thrimston Hern. By photographing his work, she hopes the marks of his labor, the truth of his labor, can be seen. After the murder of Floyd it has felt crucial to revisit our history, look closer at what is hidden, creating new and truer narratives.
I am excited that we have secured work by Paul Mpagi Sepuya for the exhibition. Sepuya works with presenting a new representation for people of colour – with a black queer gaze. He works collaboratively, creating photographs that emphasize the relationship and trust between artist, camera, audience and image. By photographing friends and himself, he is interested in deconstructing the making of images, the moving of subjectivity and identifying how those images are made and seen. In recent work he invites friends to bring their cameras and make photographs with and alongside him in the studio. Curious at how an image taken by him depicting his reflection alongside a separate person also aiming their camera (two depicted) could be collapsed into one photographer and one camera.
For TRUST we will present his early work, his portraits of friends that has led up to his more known mirror studies. These come from a private collector from Berlin. On show will be portraits, polaroid’s, zines and magazines, giving a thorough insight into his practice. I am so happy that we can show his work through this wonderful and very generous Paul-enthusiast.
SB: Yes, it’s a real privilege to get this insight into Paul’s early work, and simultaneously into the passions of a collector. What is key to the exhibition is not only that it considers the theme of trust, but also the medium of photography itself, as you say. This is seen both through subject matter and also through presentation and installation.
As with Paul (but in a very different way) Viktoria Binschtok also considers the place of photography and the photographic act and the role of the ‚single image‘. For Paul it is collapsed, and for Viktoria it becomes irrelevant and it’s the association and visual similarities that come into play and are the focus of her work. Removing any linear narrative Binschtok points to the seemingly random computational decisions presented with every refresh made online. Working with the algorithm ‘google image search’ she selects one image to be matched with others visually. By placing her searches in clusters associations are made that are seemingly random. Of course the images presented to the artist change daily depending on her location, past searches or spending patterns. This ties in with work by Clara Hausmann who we featured in our Digital Wondering 07 and also with Digital Wondering 13 in a conversation between Katrina Sluis and Jonas Lund. Sluis first coined the phrase ‘Networked Images’ in 2008 in an essay with Daniel Rubinstein titled A Life more Photographic. This was one of the first academic works to consider photography online in terms of politics and aesthetics in algorithmic culture and its social circulation and cultural value.
NS: I was happy for us to be able to include the work of Hausmann, who has laser-jet printed a selection of photographs of roofs on ready made envelopes. As she wrote in an interview she liked the lines showing how the envelope was folded underneath the image, as well as the construction and de/constructing of the envelope as an object. Leaving them open and empty, closing and opening them again, she sent them by mail, finding them to be both playful and symbolic. While Hausmman’s work was not made with the current situation as a fulcrum, it makes a comment on an old form of communication and, according to Hausmann, the necessity of being in touch in a playful way.
Speaking of touch and playfulness, I don’t know any other artist than Laure Prouvost who masters this so elegantly and whose two videos we are showing comment on touch. I have loved her since I saw her Ring, Sing and Drink for Trespassing at the Palais de Tokyo, in Paris. Still on my mind is a text painting, placed near the end of the show, with the message: ‘Ideally here would be a door to lost hopes’. Who does not want to open that door?
Last year Prouvost screened the film, Taking Care (Love Letters to Fellow Art Work) from 2019, on her website, offering comfort in these trying times. The camera is focused on her torso and gesturing hands, which appear to be attempting to caress the camera, as she whispers: ‚I will take care of you … kiss you, I will caress you every day … make sure you are in the best place … next to the right people … If you feel old, if you feel out of time, or not in fashion anymore … I will be there for you’. It is a small pearl of a film to be watched wherever and wherever you want. We are showing this alongside I Need To Take Care Of My Conceptual Granddad (2010). This was the inspiration for the love letter. It refers to her conceptual Granddad, who is said to be a good friend of Kurt Schwitters. However, the book in the video could be a reference to the British artist John Latham as she is smothering moisturizer over a catalogue of his work. Latham was an influential artist for Prouvost early in her career. The films are both part of Prouvost’s monitor video series, in which she anonymously, without showing her face, speaks to the viewer about the object or relic placed in front of her. She makes her hands the main character of the films, as they also are with Ingrid Eggens’ work.
SB: Yes, it’s interesting how hands have become a motif for this festival. Not surprising really given the times we are living through. This is addressed in Digital Wondering 03 by Dr. Susanne Ø. Sæther who focuses upon the haptic in recent video art. She charts the motif of a hand touching the screen and a distinctly layered spatiality this creates. She highlights that the hand exceeds space and plane in the frame and enfolds the viewer.
What Eggen does is almost the opposite. Instead of enveloping the viewer she examines the body’s non-verbal communication and symbolism often dismantling and distorting body language. In a world where emojis that have come to stand in for complex emotions and feelings, these photographs touch on our involuntary gestures, reflexes and instinct and the unspoken messages these portray. These gestures offer another perspective, a potential fracture or opening, a moment away from the language of social media that favours the quick thumbs up. These feel ever more pertinent these days as they show us how important involuntary gestures are and how much has been lost on screen communication over the last year and a half. It is these silent moments between people – a glance, a touch, and a flinch that builds human trust and is at the core of relationships. She has made eight new works in the series for the festival.
NS: I had fun interviewing Whitney Hubbs on her upcoming book Say So for our eleventh Digital Wondering. She continues her quest to explore and challenge the relationship between the camera and the female body. This began with Woman in Motion (2017). ‘Hubbs does something completely new with the artist self-portrait’, Chris Kraus writes in the accompanying essay in the book. Hubbs explained that ‘the ideas she is performing for the photographs came out of isolation, boredom, failure; certainly not for a lack of imagination.’ Many people are wondering what isolation has done to us; maybe this is also what resonates in Hubbs images. Her collage of self-portraits will be seen in our Reading Space when we open TRUST.
There is something about feeling isolated and alienated that for me resonates with another artist in the show, Guanyu Xu. His work considers the outsider in a complex investigation of personal and political history and identity. Xu highlights the disparities and connections between the USA where he lives, and China where he was brought up.
In Temporarily Censored Home (2018-2019), Xu made an intervention into his parent’s home in Beijing and intricately layered photographic images all over the space, queering the heterosexual space. His on-going series Resident Aliens addresses the conditions of immigrants in the U.S. His photographs depict large collages made with images of his collaborators belongings, interiors, private photographs and pictures from their travels around the world. In these works his aim is to question the familiar and foreignness, belongings and alienation and the legality of a person. For immigrants, home is never private and secure, but a perpetually temporary state. As he states, his practice extends from examining the production of power in photography to the question of personal freedom and its relationship to political regimes.
SB: The final artist in the show is Hoda Afshar. I remember when she first showed us this project how positive our reaction was. We knew immediately that we wanted to include her in the exhibition. She’s a fascinating artist who subtly and intelligently questions and responds to traditional modes of documentary. This is the first showing of her work Speak the Wind that comes out as a book published by MACK in June. The project questions and explores the how faith and belief can be captured visually. Both are concepts that are so deeply intertwined, and at times inseparable from notions of trust.
In the islands of the Strait of Hormuz, near the southern coast of Iran, there is a belief that the winds, generally understood to be malevolent, can possess a person, causing them illness or disease. The inhabitants practice a ceremony to placate these winds and exorcize the sprits from the body. Afshar spent time with the people and their customs, the winds and the landscape. The almost alien appearance of the vast rocks resembles organic sculptures – almost as if the air has been made solid. Having been shaped by the winds over millennia they also chime in the organic shapes of the dances Afshar has captured. It’s a beautiful and powerful body of work. We will install this work as an immersive slide-show projection to highlight the many parts of this project. I love how the fluid shapes of the landscapes contrast so greatly with Winant’s vintage prints. This immediately demonstrates the different approaches to photography we embrace, and indeed the different relationships to trust, as soon as you enter the exhibition space.