Two exhibitions took place at the CCAE, Copley Street as part of the There There series of photography shows organised by Stag & Deer which took place in a number of locations around Cork in October.
Chinese artist Zhang Kechun’s The Yellow River consisted of ten photographs, stuck directly on a wall facing the glass frontage of the building. This exhibition space was light and airy and gestured towards the neutral space of the white gallery cube. Roseanne Lynch’s Show-, by way of contrast, was exhibited in what could be described as the bowels of the building. The light in the space was low and atmospheric, the walls were of unfinished concrete, cables and wires lay exposed. The inside of the building remained unfinished, stalled at the stage before the surface adornments, which would have brought it into the shiny world of neo-liberal hyper-capitalism, were applied. The eruption of the shadow world of creative accounting and financial speculation through the seamless surface of global capital has resulted in a proliferation of these buildings, the ghost estates of Ireland, the ghost cities of China. The materials and style of the abandoned new buildings – the unfinished wood constructions, the plasterboard, the insulation foam – have found their way into the work of many artists. A feedback loop appears to be in operation: artists absorb the aesthetic into their practice, the resulting art work then gets displayed in the traditional space of the white cube or more ironically in the DIY galleries popping up in unused buildings around the country.
Roseanne Lynch at a talk she gave at Copley Street spoke about the space itself being on show. Her photographs occupied this space in a very subtle way. She exhibited four large-scale pieces, three photographs and one sheet of aluminium. The sheet of aluminium was a dull silver monochrome which reflected back aspects of the space and possibly alluded to the use of silver-based processes for capturing images in the early years of photography. Two of the photographs, which were printed onto vinyl stuck directly to the wall, were placed side by side. They depicted an architectural space, which looked very similar to the space of the exhibition: on turning my back to them I discovered they seemed to have been taken from about the spot where I was standing. The place where the third photograph was taken was harder to identify, it seemed to be a photograph of a wall, perhaps it was a photograph of the wall that it covered? The photograph seemed to picture both scars and gouges on the wall and scratches on the print itself. Lynch’s photographs seemed to prompt the viewer to spend time looking at the space of the exhibition as opposed to the work displayed. At her talk she spoke about attempting to get the viewer to experience what she experienced, so the photographs are used as tools, as a way to prompt the viewer to pay a heightened attention to the space itself. Entering an exhibition space asks of the visitor that they become more attuned to their surroundings, that they perceive things with a heightened sensitivity. But do the photographs actually do anything to increase this attention to the surrounding environment? The placing of the photographs in the space in which they were taken certainly foregrounds this question – but it would recede once the photographs were moved to a different location. They function in this particular space, they are site specific – I’d even propose that the show is an installation. Boris Groys in Politics of Installation, after all, claims that ‘the installation transforms the empty, neutral, public space into an individual artwork—and it invites the visitor to experience this space as the holistic, totalizing space of an artwork.’
The photographs in Zhang Kechun’s show measured approximately 24 inches by 16 with a white border of approximately one inch. The prints had a beautiful quality, they seemed to combine sharpness and diffusion, and suggested to me a particular dewy quality of skin. They invited a dual mode of viewing: to look at them as photographs, to admire the particular surface quality of the print, while also looking through them, treating the photograph as transparent, looking through them to the scenes depicted. A group of people wearing orange swimming hats accompany a portrait of Chairman Mao balanced on a black rubber ring, the water and sky are virtually indistinguishable from each other, the horizon disappearing into the all-over washed out foggy haze. A man sits in a small pagoda, atop a structure which looks like it was built by giant termites. Two men up to their chests in water approach a circular stone ruin, perhaps the giant leg of an unfinished bridge. As a viewer I can see through the picture to the scene depicted but I don’t have the ‘local knowledge’ to interpret what is happening. I can’t know if the diffusion of the light is a result of pollution, if the flooding is the recent result of global warming, dam building or something stretching much further back in time. Zhang Kechun in his statement about the work at the show describes how in following the course of the river with his large format Linhof camera and tripod he was able ‘to quietly watch on the river for the season, stare at it through this journey’. The artist through the use of photography is given the opportunity to look for longer, to spend time in a particular place. The photographs are artefacts resulting from this time spent absorbed within the landscape and, as in Roseanne Lynch’s Show-, they seem to function as aids to heightening a sensitivity and appreciation of place, for the viewers in Lynch’s case and for the artist himself in Zhang Kechun’s. Both artists use analogue cameras and so retain the link with the photograph as index, a sign which is a physical manifestation of a cause, light reflections captured on a sensitive surface.
There There ran from 19 October – 3 November 2012.