The eighth Brighton Photo Biennial drew on the UK’s current immersion in the geopolitics of the ongoing Brexit negotiations which have dominated the mass media and thus people’s thoughts, beliefs and feelings since the Referendum in June 2016.
Much of the photography in Brighton in Brighton Photo Biennial 2018 responds to this current uncertainy. Visitors are invited to examine Britain’s geography as an island: simultaneously divided and connected. They can also reflect on the ongoing refugee crisis and photography’s role in the construction of national identity. (Photoworks 2018)
We had a very busy itinerary for Day Two with a guided tour around the curated shows. Our group met tutors Jayne Taylor and Gina Lundy at the University Gallery in Edward Street, and were then introduced to Julia and Lisa from Photoworks who would be with us as guides for the rest of the day. This was an excellent idea as it gave Jayne and Gina the time to interact with us as a group and discuss the various Exhibitions we visited across Brighton.
As previously, I’m focussing this blog post on Exhibitions which particularly struck me.
Émeric Lhuisset grew up in suburban Paris. He graduated in both Arts and Geopolitics and considers his work as “an artistic transcription of geopolitical analyses”.This project L’Autre Rive is a tribute to my friend, Foad, who disappeared in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach Europe. The work is comprised a collection of cyanotype prints which are progressively disappearing as they are exposed to sunlight”.
In the video below he explains how shocked he has been by the way in which refugees are represented by populists such as the extreme right and he feels it is his responsibility to fight against this. Many of his friends are on the refugee route – some arriving in Europe, others vanishing. He follows their journeys through selfies and messages but his friend, Foad, never arrived and this project is a tribute to him.
Lhuisset decided to meet his refuge friends in Europe and photography their everyday life – the banal pictures which “….can be your life; the life of anybody”. The pictures were then printed through the cyanotype process, an old method which creates images in blue monochrome. For him this monochrome is a metaphor for the colours of Europe and the sea where some people disappear. Usually cyanotypes are ‘fixed’ through a rinsing process but he left his cyanotypes ‘unfixed’ which means they are progressively disappearing as they are exposed to day/sunlight – just as many on the refugee routes disappear.
As Lhuisset talks in the video above (presumably filmed early in the Exhibition) you can see the cyanotype prints behind him Usually, if cyanotypes are left ‘unfixed’ they gradually fade in the light – yet, by the time we saw them his cyanotype had darkened over the time they were exhibited in the gallery. (You can see some of them in the photograph I took when we were listening to the talk by Lisa, Photoworks). Some of us spent quite some time discussing how this could be and wondering whether he had introduced some other process. I carried out some experiments myself when I returned home and will write about these in a later post .
I think his concept certainly complements his theme but felt concerned that the importance and tragedy of the situation he portrays can be dissipated somehow by too much wondering on how the technique works – style taking on too much importance over content. However, I was struck by the thought of ‘Time’ – how it changes everything and nothing stays the same despite our desires to hold it fast, to fix it in a photograph, to stay in an unsafe place because it is “Home’.
“…exploring how meanings of home and plans for the future are now shaken and in limbo”
Tereza Cervenova was born in Bratislava, Slovakia and moved to London. She travelled around Europe to create this series which is an autobiographical response in 2011 to the June 2016 Brexit referendum. She discusses the series here
At first she had thought the series seemed disjointed but then she realised the connections with dates of various events and how they could affect people in her situation. The work was presented as unframed images on walls; loose booklets by different dates, on a plinth and available to be looked through; bound by rings and also in a glass-topped display case, alongside their enfolding slipcase, made from a deep-blue velvety textured cloth.
Her aim was to use the work as a voice, to give it a physicality, and to use the structure of the theme as a ground for a conversation. What, I took from this series was this sense of people living their lives in infinite variety whilst events unfolded elsewhere which could have an enormous impact on their lives.
From the University Gallery we moved on to view several other Exhibitions around Brighton. – stopping off for a photoshoot on the beach along the way – and finally ended up at 23, Dukes Lane to see an Exhibition installation of the work of Hrair Sarkissian.
As a young teenager in school, this Syrian photographer witnessed a public execution in Damascus – a common sight before the Civil War broke out. The memory of what he saw drove him as an adult to photograph squares where execution had taken place. He now lives in London.
In 2014 Hrair Sarkissian began to create his first two-channel video Homesick . He recreated and destroyed an architecturally accurate scale model of the apartment building in Damascus where his parents still lived, having refused to leave Syria. He asked his father to photograph the façade of the actual building and then worked with an architect to build the model over a period of a month. This building represents more than just a house – it acts as a representative for sense of belonging, container for memories and a place for the collective memory of his family. In destroying its model he attempted to regain some control over what was happening, the destruction and fear for the future; asking the question “Can we fast-forward the present and acknowledge loss and begin reshaping a collapsed history before the event?”.
The first project of the video shows the demolition of the model, without sound, in various stages of damage leading up to a pile of rubble. The second projection, with sound, shows Sarkissian taking a sledgehammer to the model which sits off-screen. You can see the emotion on his face as he wields the sledgehammer; the sweat pouring off him and his increasing exhaustion.
Watching the video installation had a powerful effect on me as I identified with the grief he expressed over the destruction overshadowing his homeland and circling around his parents. Will this conflict ever end so that people can re-build their lives? An article here begins with a quote from Edward Saïd, Reflections on Exile(2002)which I think is so relevant:-
Exile is predicated on the existence of, love for, and bond with, one’s native place; what is true of all exile is not that home and love of home are lost, but that loss is inherent in the very existence of both.
Gathering up some of the threads
I was particularly struck by the way in which these artists acted as a ‘voice’ for themselves and others who have been affected by this “Brexit” fiasco which seems to be unending. I’m imagining that even though it may not happen they may never feel the same about this Country that they might have seen as a safe haven. The cracks occurring on our democratic veneer have revealed what can lie underneath (as it has in some other EU member States). On the one hand there’s the sense of people carrying on with their everyday lives whilst, on the other hand, there are others who are having to come to terms with the loss of a safe homeland and culture that is unable to sustain them.