looking into the archives at past exhibitions
The popularity of the BBC’s Coast series may be an indication of the fascination we have with the edges of our country. As an island people, the sea is in our blood, part of our collective unconscious as Jung would have it, and it draws us to paddle in it as children and to sit and contemplate it in old age. Some, like the artist Laetitia Yhap, immerse themselves in it, literally and metaphorically.
Mark French’s biographical film, which accompanies Yhap’s exhibition at the Memorial Art Gallery, shows her swimming in the sea but, more significantly, it reveals an extraordinary and meaningful engagement. Over a twenty year period, finishing in 1995, she made a series of remarkable paintings of the fishing beach in Hastings and the men who work there. In French’s film she speaks of finding the human theme in this most male of all places and discovering, amongst other things, a community that can trace its fishing ancestry back hundreds of years. That past is referenced in the monumentality of the figures, reminiscent of Masaccio or Piero della Francesca, whilst the mystery of the beach is hinted at by some that almost float, Chagall-like, transcending routine and toil. Composed in shaped canvases, suggestive of Alfred Wallis, himself a fisherman, the distressed frames recall the stained and weathered patina of driftwood and ships’ hulls, and the tangibility of it all is captured in the dry, tempera-like paint surfaces that are textured, worked and vigorous.
Whilst photographs of Hastings’ fishermen might document their working life, Laetitia Yhap’s paintings actually tell us far more. Looking at them, we hear screeching gulls and the winding of winches, smell the sea, feel the cutting wind on a grey day; we are transported to the beach, amongst the fishermen and we know them, privileged to enter their private world of work. Only someone who herself is intimately familiar with this world and, most importantly, is able to convey it, can give us this.
Vertiginous Liquidity Martin Everett
In regarding these images it appears at first as if the work invites confusion on several levels, and that ‘essence’ of meanings are generated in the process of de-coding – literally, ‘sorting things out’. On the most obvious level, we always expect photographs to be pictures of something. We assume that the photographer observed a place, or an event or person in the world and wanted to point at it and record it. There is always something that motivated the taking of the photograph. The challenge, could be argued, that these images are not really of anything in that sense; they register only an essence of what is incidental and peripherally implied. Instead there are some clues to indicate that what we are looking at is the surrounding information. Many of the compositions, whilst clearly deliberate and carefully arranged in relation to the picture’s edge, formally suggest a missing element (a loss of memory even). Slowly it emerges that what we are being presented with is a sort of empty container, or vessel, and it is at this point that people begin to project identity into the space as it begins to read more than mere traces on an empty screen.
A second aspect might be that many viewers may relate to the images in terms of memory. As time is inevitably ‘floating’ through the optical machinery, the images themselves begin to burrow deep down. The works are saturated almost within the formal conventions of portraiture and one can read a sense of inescapable familiarity when looking at them – we are all transfixed, daydreaming even, when we gaze out of a window, at a cross, at the sea for example. What comes to mind is an entire inventory of other pictures seen in an ongoing moment.
A further of engagement that is of interest to me though, has to do with one’s perceptual reorientation in relation to the pictures when trying to decode the space described. If the subject is not ‘fixed’, or lacks ‘fixity’, within the image on the wall, but instead is indicated to be in front of that, then the ‘location’ of the work hangs somewhere between the viewer and the wall, in that empty space that we are looking through. In some of this work, when you locate the point of focus, one finds it to be that of an extreme close-up. The location of the implied subject is pushed forward so that it aligns itself with the very space one is standing, in front of the picture. So, suddenly, ‘traces’ of the ‘subject’ and the viewer are residing in the same place – essence of memory and identity colliding. This dynamic seems to bring to mind one of the questions raised about minimalist art: what has happened to the subject, where is the subject located when you are looking at an empty room or seemingly blank wall? The answer being that the viewer is the subject both inside and outside of this work.
Instead of images that are consistently united by focus, or one disunited by a disparity between what is clear and what is not (the ‘fixity’), my photographic works seeks to present the near and far in terms of what might be compared to what Heidigger refers to a ‘remotion’. His claim is that it is because “everything is ‘remote’ that there is something like nearness as a mode of distance”.
He invents the word ‘re-moting’ (literally removing distance, or ‘making distance disappear’), to describe how one experiences, or thinks, one’s relationship to the world at large.
This seems comparable to the phenomenon that would seem to pre-occupy me, in that, in my respective visions I want the image to engage what is also a mode of being, of becoming present, which is nothing other than time becoming present as much as it is about making distance present and this would seem to be reflected in the studious repetitiveness, yet fragile variety, of the work.
In the ‘preamble’ to ‘Let us now Praise Famous Men’, (James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1939), Agee comments on his friend Walker Evans’ efforts to perceive the cruel radiance of what is. Perhaps the opposite claimed could be made in my work in that it is perceiving the soothing radiance of what is not.
Here, there exists a narrative of a kind of visual poetry were the meaning is not automatically or logically presented. Photography is inherently indexical, and is absolutely linked to physical places in the world, but I am trying to take away as much as possible from this – yet still provide a trace by visually conflating time, information and location within the ongoing moment. I am interested in representing in such a way that it does not feel like an illustration, and seem to be asking the question; how linked to the subject does the meaning of a photograph have to be?
No Particular Place to Go
An Installation By Philip Sanderson
Private View: 6th June 2009, from 6.00 – 9.00 PM
Exhibition runs from: 7th June to 21st of June 2009
On the night of the Private View there will be a screening of videos by Philip Sanderson at 7.30 PM
Criminally underrated, fly-tipping displays all that is best in contemporary sculpture. Combining a range of media, fly-tips can rival early Bruce McLean or Anthony Caro in their inventive composition. At ease in both rural and urban landscapes these seemingly effortless public art works stand out in any location.
In No Particular Place to Go Philip Sanderson has selected photographs of fly-tips from all over the UK. The photos were taken and uploaded by numerous people to the Geograph British Isles project; a website that aims to collect photographs of every grid square of the British Isles and make them available under a creative commons licence.
Using this pool or raw images as a starting point Philip Sanderson has assembled the fly-tip photographs into a video. Using a custom digital process each photo was scanned to produce a musical note. Putting the images together a musical sequence emerged; a pastoral accompaniment to the images.
No Particular Place to Go presents the resulting video on discarded TVs which together with hand selected detritus form a fly-tip installation. Each fly-tip’s location, grid reference, and the name of the photographer is identified on an index card displayed on the walls of the Memorial Gallery.
The installation can be viewed at the Private View at the Memorial Gallery Hastings on the 6th of June 2009 and thereafter for two weeks by appointment. During the Private View there will be a thirty-minute screening of recent videos by Philip Sanderson including Product Recall, Fleshtones, and examples from the Chronocut series.
Viewing by appointment, please ring 07919 577661
Memorial Art Gallery, 7 Cambridge Road, Hastings TN34 1DJ
firstname.lastname@example.org / www.memorialartgallery.co.uk / www.psouper.co.uk