Study Visit – Brighton Biennial

Posted on November 5, 2014


I attended an OCA Study Visit to the Brighton Biennial Festival recently. Other priorities meant that I could only attend for one day, but it was a full and excellent day. It is difficult with events such as this festival to get one’s mind around the sheer volume of work on show. I have therefore been highly selective and this post discusses just a few works, which particularly caught my attention.

After Image (2012-2014) by Cornford & Cross, part of the Plane Materials exhibition at University of Brighton gallery  — //

This was the first exhibition we visited and in many ways the most fascinating as no photographs were presented. After Image is a series of works created by the removal and destruction of earlier photographs. These photographs had been  previously mounted onto aluminum substrates. All that now remained was the shiny aluminium surfaces and the frame surrounds. There were several images of different sizes and aspect ratios. In a sense a photographic work had been transformed into a sculptural form.  I took this work as being  a conceptual piece which alludes to the nature of photographs (per The Physical Level in Stephen Shore’s The Nature of Photographs). (1) The absence of an image emphasises the fact that a ‘photograph is flat, it has edges, and it is static’ (2). The different aspect ratios of the works signals the conventions with regards to aspect ratios, which is largely driven by historic film sizes — 4×5 inches, 6 cm square  and so on. The way in which photography is bounded by the physical media and by convention is foregrounded. The illusory nature of photographs, which simulate, but don’t replicate three dimensional space is exposed.

During the discussions I began to realise that others were reading the work differently — it is indeed an Open Work. The shiny surfaces of the aluminium substrates reflected the shape of the viewer(s). In a sense the work could also be read as a demonstration that the way we read photographs is in a way a reflection of ourselves — our personal background and cultural conditioning.


After Image (2012-2014) by Cornford & Cross Installation view Brighton Biennial 2014


Amore e Piombo: The Photography of extremes in 1970s Italy, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery —

This exhibition was a collection of largely black and white press photographs made by a group of photographers working for the Rome-based agency Team Editorial Services. The images deal with the turbulent times in Italy leading ultimately to  the Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan in 1969 and on to Aldo Moro’s 1978 kidnap and assassination by the Red Brigades.

What fascinated me most about this exhibition was not so much  the photography, which I read as a sometimes gruesome record of these events, but rather the way in which the exhibition has been curated. The room in which the photographs were displayed had bookcases around the walls. Most of the photographs were placed on these so that the images were categorised into groups by virtue of the shelves on which they were placed. In a sense the curator was forcing the viewer to make connections between images through juxtaposition.


Amore e Piombo: The Photography of extremes in 1970s Italy, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery Installation view

Close to the entrance of the room there were some very large poster prints, which for me seemed to emulate the kind of posters one sees on the streets. This emphasised that the photographs were taken on the streets of Italy. At the top end of the room the curator was even more inventive. Single photographs were placed lying flat on what appeared to be truncated pillars. The intriguing nature of this display drew me in and I was compelled to bend over and give the photograph close scrutiny. It was certainly the case that I gave these images more attention. I have been thinking about how to engage the viewer/reader in interacting with my Lifting the Curtain works. Whilst this approach is not one I would consider, what it did demonstrate that the way in which a work is presented can be used to promote a more thoughtful engagement with the work.

Amore e Piombo: The Photography of extremes in 1970s Italy, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

Amore e Piombo: The Photography of extremes in 1970s Italy, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

Another part of the installation which really captured my imagination was the way in which the photographs dealing with Alberto Moro’s funeral were displayed. Moro had said that when he died he did not want a memorial. The installation however went against his wishes and presented the photographs as a memorial. The photographs, which were in bright colour, were placed leaning against a low wall that looked like a stone wall carrying a memorial plaque. The subject matter of the photographs was directly referenced by the form of presentation, strengthening the message they communicated.

Amore e Piombo: The Photography of extremes in 1970s Italy, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

Amore e Piombo: The Photography of extremes in 1970s Italy, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

I have a lot to learn from the curatorial decision taken with this exhibition, about both the engagement of the viewer and using the form of presentation to strengthen the underlying messages being communicated.

City Gorged With Dreams by Alex Currie, Peter Gates and Heather Tait —

There were vert many small exhibitions presented at the Brighton Fringe. City Gorged with Dreams particularly caught my eye. This is probably because the subject matter was the urban environment and with Lifting the Curtain  I am very attuned to work in this genre. The photographers state that the work is ‘responding to Baudelaire’s poem ‘Les Sept Vieillards’ from the book ‘Fleurs du Mal”. It aims to highlight the ‘discrepancy between the projected glossy media view of Brighton, and the often gritty reality that is often overlooked or ignored’. In the poem Baudelaire presents a series of tableaux of urban scenes based on his wanderings (as flaneur) around Paris. There is a sinister, almost supernatural, atmosphere to the poem.

I have come to enjoy photographic works which refer to other sources, literary or artistic. Intertextuality, is the right term to use I think. My fascination with this stems from the way in which intertextual references influence how we look at images and what meaning we derive from them.

I shall Say Goodbye by Johanna Ward —

This work was attention grabbing not because of its scale or boldness. It is very subtle, quite small and very quiet. Ward describes the work as exploring the possibility of a narrative through a combination of landscape, still life and vernacular photography. It reflects on love, land, morality and control. The work is presented as a series of concertina books that are roughly A5 in size. At the start and end there are brief texts. The photographs are arranged in a variety of ways and are very small. Meaning is open. The viewer/reader is left to ponder on what is being shown and the relevance of the sequencing. Very likely the work will signify different things to different people. The overall effect is quite beautiful and evocative. The mode of presentation is a vital element of this work. It directs the viewer/reader to consider a narrative. The small images seem to suggest (to me at least) that the work deals with intimate and personal subjects subjects. The viewer is given great scope to use their own imagination and to interpret the work in their own terms and in relation to their own experience. Johanna has published a video about the work that is well worth viewing see here.

I shall Say Goodbye by Johanna Ward — Installation view

I shall Say Goodbye by Johanna Ward — Installation view

Shot at Dawn by Chloe Dewe Mathews –

We had the opportunity to listen to an artist talk by Chloe Dewe Mathews. For me this was the highlight of the day. She spoke about two of her projects, but the one which particularly interested me was her project Shot at Dawn.  Chloe was commissioned to go back to places in continental Europe where deserters (of all nationalities) had been executed. In her book she presents the images alongside the names of those executed. The work is about absence. The images are devoid of people. Given that one knows that these are places where’ people have been shot, we look for signs of what happened and project our own version of event into the scene presented.

The work is seasonally accurate in that when the executions took place in winter the corresponding landscape image was made winter. They were all literally shot at dawn, photographically. These details strengthen the work conceptually.

I feel that Lifting the Curtain  has much in common with Mathews work and I have posted my thoughts about this already in another post. I asked Chloe how she planned to display the images and text in her upcoming exhibitions. She indicated that the prints would be very large, so that the viewer can emerse themselves in them, but admitted that she was a bit uneasy about the smaller scale of the text in the gallery context. She had apparently thought long and hard about this and was still a little uncertain. I hope to get to see her work when it comes to Tate Modern as part of a group exhibition later this year.

Chloe Dewe Mathews Artist Talk — Brighton Biennial 2014

Chloe Dewe Mathews Artist Talk — Brighton Biennial 2014




1) Shore S. (2007) The Nature of Photographs New York: Phaidon, p. 15

2) Ibid., p. 15