Les Rencontres d’Arles 2022

Top three festival highlights

Selected by Tim Clark

1000 Words Editor in Chief, Tim Clark, reports back from the opening of Les Rencontres d’Arles 2022, the 53rd edition of the bright, bushy-tailed festival set across the evocative Roman town in the south of France. Among the many exhibitions to salute are Norwegian-Nigerian artist Frida Orapabo’s How Fast Shall We Sing at Mécanique Générale in the dazzling new Parc des Ateliers at LUMA Arles, Rahim Fortune’s I can’t stand to see you cry as part of the Louis Roederer Discovery Award curated by Taous R. Dahmani and Sathish Kumar’s Town Boy, resulting from the first Serendipity Arles Grant in 2020. However, three particularly ambitious thematic exhibitions stand out for their complex visual dialogues and multiple vantage points onto the world and world of images.


1. But Still, It Turns
Musée départemental Arles antique 

The wall text that introduces But Still, It Turns, the exhibition Paul Graham has curated at Musée départemental Arles antique – which, among many notable bodies of work, features Emanuele Brutti and Piergiorgio Casotti’s Index-G, Vanessa Winship’s she dances on Jackson and Curran Hatleberg’s Lost Coast – states, brazenly: ‘there is no didactic story here, no theme or artifice. None is asked, none is given.’ Isn’t no story, like when artists claim their work as ‘apolitical’, a story in itself? In this case, the ‘story’ – or rather, quasi-framework or exhibitionary complex – is that of a statement of positions on a mode of photography identified as so-called ‘post-documentary’. Its meta-narrative draws from a shared approach, or attitude, propagated by this judiciously selected group of photographers who, in one way or another, turn their lens on intimacies and small episodes of contemporary social realities in the US. Specifically, working in the observational mode, they opt to summon quiet or unremarkable moments as a means of possessing the weight of the world: a town and its inhabitants gripped by industrial decline, sounds and situations at the fault lines of race, environment and economy and so on. Yet there are no easy narratives – all is posed as fleeting and messy but also empathetic and genuine; what Graham refers to as ‘a consciousness of life, and its song’.

Originally staged at ICP, New York, But Still, It Turns in the context of Les Rencontres d’Arles is ultimately a hymn to traditional yet enduring forms of photography, its serious artistic application allowing ‘a kind of pathway through the cacophony – a way to see and embrace the storm.’ Graham writes: ‘It could guide you through the randomness and grant the simple mercy of recognising life in all its prismatic wonder’. That such complex dialogues emerge across these meaningful articulations from life, demonstrates the artists’ deep levels of understanding of the bonds between looking and caring, perceiving and visualising. And, unsurprisingly, there are echoes of Graham’s own work at every turn, redolent of a mountain towering over a landscape, whose image can only be glimpsed through its reflection in a lake below.

2. Songs of the Sky. Photography & The Cloud
Monoprix

More curatorial (in the sense of thematising a group exhibition around a singular subject) is Songs of the Sky. Photography & The Cloud at Monoprix, the vast and industrial first-floor area above the French supermarket of the same name. As its title suggests, the show takes the motif of the cloud in photography as a starting point as well as the metaphor of ‘the cloud’ as a technological network that enables remote data storage and computing power commonly associated with the Internet. Of course, the empirical mass of photographs, i.e. those that exist on our smartphones and laptops – baby and cat photographs, holiday snaps, selfies, sunsets and pictures of food – or, by a similar token, those which have been generated by surveillance cameras and satellites, exist ‘up there’ in the cloud, finding in cables, screens and hard drives material form as part of the techno-capitalist system. Artists, on the other hand, have attempted to subvert and critique its principles, infrastructure and structures, ergo this exhibition.

Upon entering, one’s eyes don’t know where exactly to look; there are multiple sightlines onto numerous works from different artists but that’s certainly not a bad thing. As such, striking juxtapositions between historical material from the 19th century, such as Charles Nègre or Louis Vignes’ photographs, and contemporary works by Lisa Oppenheim, Trevor Paglen, Andy Sewell and Simon Roberts come to bear. What emerges is a tension between the sky as something sublime, as something which, for centuries, represented a way of ‘divining the future’ as James Bridle has put it, versus the far-from-romantic means we conceive of it today: a digital phenomenon that transfers and commodifies our data, with dramatic consequences for climate emergency and geo-politics. ‘Will the immense carbon footprint of the technical cloud accelerate global warming to such an extent that in the future it will be rare to see many faced cloud creatures floating by in the sky?’, is just one of the powerful research questions driving the exhibition. Organised with skill and clear focus, Songs of the Sky. Photography & The Cloud has been curated by Kathrin Schönegg of C/O Berlin, who was also the recipient of the 2019 Rencontres d’Arles Curatorial Research Fellowship.

3. Ritual Inhabitual, Geometric Forests: Struggles on Mapuche Land
Chapelle Saint-martin Du Méjan

Native to the temperate rainforests in southern Chile are medicinal plants and a rich biodiversity that have bore witness to endless cycles of construction and destruction. Monocultures of pine and eucalyptus have now come to dominate in service to the hugely lucrative paper pulp industry in the region, Chile being the world’s fourth largest producer from its 2.87 million hectares of plantations after all. The Mapuche (“people of the earth”), meanwhile, have lived on this land long before the country was founded and now find themselves at the heart of an ongoing battle: their spiritual relationship with the environment is at odds with an aggressive, global economy based on the exploitation of natural resources, leading to violence between nationalist organisations, industrialists’ private militia and the army’s specialist anti-terror squad. In response to this conflict, Chilean collective Ritual Inhabitual, created by Florencia Grisanti and Tito Gonzalez García, embarked on a five year photographic and ethnobotanical investigation that encompasses delectable Wet Collodian plates as well as large and medium format colour photographs of members of the Mapuche community, plants, trees and cloning laboratories of a forestry company. That this project encompasses a broad range of cohorts is one of its strongest features, for it offers a multi-vantage point perspective onto the subject at hand. Deftly translated by the exhibition’s curator, Sergio Valenzuela-Escobedo, whose careful choreography of the space highlights these competing factions, Geometric Forests: Struggles on Mapuche Land mediates the political desire to open up a debate on the nature of consumption at large.

While aesthetics may write the script in other environmentally-concerned exhibitions, here a form of infrastructural activism that reflects on the actual conditions and implications of its own making is evident. The exhibition is therefore highly commendable for harnessing the possibility of thinking and talking otherwise about making art in a less extractive fashion, allied with the admission that an entirely eco-friendly exhibition of images is an impossibility. One obvious example of mitigating impact has been to reuse existing frames from previous exhibitions. Similarly, printing directly onto material surfaces bypassing the need for paper or gluing the print onto an archival cardboard as opposed to an aluminium substrate in the event the former cannot be achieved. Even some of the temporary exhibition structures are stripped back to show the bare bones utilisation of wood, itself dismountable and reusable. There is also a kind of in-built critique present in the blurb of the accompanying book, published with Actes Sud, with a particularly striking section revealing a consciousness and self-awareness. It reads: ‘3029 kilos of Munken Kristall paper and 814 kilos of Soposeet paper were used for the book, as well as 220 kilos of Munken Kristall paper for the cover. Based on 24 trees for one tonne of paper, 96 trees were needed to transform those 4,063 kg of paper into 2,200 copies of this book.’ Clearly, in Geometric Forests, its participants take up the responsibility to call for new socio-environmental-political forms of collaboration. Maybe, via the propositions and practices contained in this exhibition, there is a way forward together, a sustainable means of co-existence.♦

Les Rencontres d’Arles 2022 runs until 25 September 2022.



Tim Clark is Editor in Chief of 1000 Words and Artistic Director for Fotografia Europea in Reggio Emilia, Italy, together with Walter Guadagnini. He also currently serves as a curatorial advisor for Photo London Discovery 2022 and 2023 and teaches at The Institute of Photography, Falmouth University.

Images:

1-Vanessa Winship, from the series She dances on Jackson, 2013, part of But Still, It Turns. Courtesy the artist and MACK.

2-Curran Hatleberg, from the series Lost Coast, 2016, part of But Still, It Turns. Courtesy the artist and MACK.

3-Kristine Potter, Drying Out, from the series Manifest, 2018, part of But Still, it Turns. Courtesy the artist and MACK.

4-Trevor Paglen, CLOUD #865 Hough Circle Transform, 2019, part of Songs of the Sky. Photography & The Cloud. Courtesy the artist and Pace Gallery 

5-Andy Sewell, Known and Strange Things Pass, 2020, part of Songs of the Sky. Photography & The Cloud. Courtesy the artist and Robert Morat Gallery.

6-Noa Jansma, Buycloud, 2020-21, part of Songs of the Sky. Photography & The Cloud. Courtesy the artist.

7-Ritual Inhabitual, Paul Filutraru, Rapper in the group Wechekeche ñi Trawün, Santiago de Chile, 2016, part of Geometric Forests: Struggles on Mapuche Land. Courtesy the artists.

8-Ritual Inhabitual, Biotechnology series, Chile, 2019, part of Geometric Forests: Struggles on Mapuche Land. Courtesy the artists.

9-Ritual Inhabitual, Geometric Forests series, Chile, 2018, part of Geometric Forests: Struggles on Mapuche Land. Courtesy the artists.

1000 Words

Curator Conversations

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Curator Conversations is a collection of interviews with leading curators working within contemporary photography today. It offers precious insights into key modes of thinking behind the curatorial practices that have resulted in influential and landmark exhibitions at galleries and museums across the globe, including MoMA, Tate Modern, Pompidou Centre, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Finnish Museum of Photography, Zeitz MOCAA – Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Instituto Moreira Salles and SCôP: Shanghai Center of Photography, among others.

Set against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, when many institutions were forced to close to the public, these interviews provide wide-ranging discussions and a strong sense of critical self-reflexivity to explore the various ways curating mediates our experience and understanding of the photographic image. Among the fundamental questions engaged in the book are the medium specificity of photography; exhibitions as ‘artwork’; critical contexts for imagery; the curator’s role; collaboration and community; notions of ethics, responsibility and care; relationships between artists and curators, museums and audiences; as well as propositions for decolonisation through forms of curatorial activism. Ultimately, this volume sheds light on the aesthetic, political and personal concerns of creative individuals involved in exhibition-making, generating new pathways for thinking about the display and dissemination of photography.

Featuring Sarah Allen, Mariama Attah, Yves Chatap, Clément Chéroux, Charlotte Cotton, Christine Eyene, Louise Fedotov-Clements, Yining He, Tom Lovelace, Roxana Marcoci, Renée Mussai, Thyago Nogueira, Azu Nwagbogu, Danaé Panchaud, Alona Pardo, Anna-Kaisa Rastenberger, Holly Roussell, Kathrin Schönegg, Urs Stahel, Lisa Sutcliffe, Duncan Wooldridge

Editor Tim Clark
Copy Editor Alex Merola
Design & Art Direction Sarah Boris
Production Assistant Louis Stopforth

Tim Clark is a writer and curator based in London. He is also the Editor in Chief at 1000 Words, and a lecturer at The Institute of Photography, Falmouth University. 

Publication date March 2021
Format Softcover
Dimensions 198 mm x 129 mm
Pages 144
Publisher 1000 Words (1000 Words Photography Ltd)

Press:

Source Photographic Review
El País
Photomonitor
The British Journal of Photography

Curator Conversations is part of a collaborative set of activities on photography curation and scholarship initiated by Tim Clark (1000 Words and The Institute of Photography, Falmouth University), Christopher Stewart (London College of Communication, University of the Arts London) and Esther Teichmann (Royal College of Art) that has included the symposium, Encounters: Photography and Curation, in 2018 and a ten week course, Photography and Curation, hosted by The Photographers’ Gallery, London in 2018-19.

1000 Words

Curator Conversations

#9 Kathrin Schönegg

Kathrin Schönegg is a photography historian and Curator at C/O Berlin, Germany. She holds a PhD in Art and Media Studies from the University of Konstanz. She worked on exhibitions at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, Kupferstich-Kabinett in Dresden, Münchner Stadtmuseum in Munich, and the Folkwang Museum in Essen, including (Mis)Understanding Photography: Works and Manifestos (2014). In 2017 she co-curated Farewell Photography: Biennale für aktuelle Fotografie in Mannheim, Ludwigshafen, and Heidelberg. She is the recipient of the Thomas Friedrich Grant in Photography at the Berlinische Galerie (2017), the DGPh History of Photography Research Award of the German Photographic Association (2018) and the Exhibition Research and Production Fellowship by Les Rencontres d’Arles (2019). At C/O Berlin she leads the funding programme for up-and-coming talents, the C/O Berlin Talent Award, and co-develops C/O Berlin’s exhibition programme. Recent curation for C/O Berlin includes Robert Frank: Unseen (2019); Sylvain Couzinet-Jacques: Sub Rosa – C/O Berlin Talent Award (2019); Christopher Williams: MODEL: Kochgeschirre, Kinder, Viet Nam (Angepasst zum Benutzen) (2019); Francesca Woodman: On Being an Angel (2020); and Sophie Thun: Extension (2020). A regular writer on photography, her most recent publications include Heinz von Perckhammer. Eine Fotografenkarriere zwischen Weimarer Republik und Nationalsozialismus (Berlin 2018) and Fotografiegeschichte der Abstraktion (Köln 2019). Schönegg is currently preparing a thematic group show engaging with photography and the cloud.

What is it that attracts you to the exhibition form?

The exhibition is one of various forms that research can take. Not every project is necessarily an exhibit; some function better as a book, a magazine, or an online format. Compared to these forms, I would describe the exhibition as seeing and thinking in space. This also implies that it triggers not only a visual but also a physical experience. Creating narratives that unfold through a combination of images and objects that viewers explore while walking through the space and constantly changing or expanding their perspective is a thrilling and unique activating form of argumentation.

What does it mean to be a curator in an age of image and information excess?

There was a feuilleton discussion in Germany last summer about the status of the curator in the era of social media. It was started by art and media theorist Stefan Heidenreich who polemically claimed that all curators should be done away with, since they represent a nondemocratic, illiberal, corrupt, and obsolete system of power. By contrast he identified social networks as the democratic future for a curational practice by everybody. Just as Joseph Beuys stated decades ago that everyone is an artist (“Jeder Mensch ist ein Künstler”), Heidenreich now calls for everyone to be a curator (“Jeder Mensch ist ein Kurator”).

Despite the questionable claim that social media ever was or can be a democratic tool (bear in mind the lack of universal accessibility of digital technologies, the racism underlying our algorithms, or human-content moderation that is executively exercised by leading Internet companies such as Facebook and Google, and the standards and categories they set), I believe that this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the tools and tasks of curating in an age of omnipresent images and information. Precisely because we all “curate” our own lives with social media, expert knowledge is needed more than ever to critically mirror those developments inside exhibition halls and elsewhere. As curators of photography we need to shed light on those mechanisms of our everyday use of imagery that are hidden beneath technical infrastructures or intentionally kept invisible to users by capitalist companies.

At C/O Berlin we are collaborating with pictorial specialists to develop an exhibition focusing on our contemporary ways of communicating by means of images (the working title is Send Me an Image: From the Postcard to Social Media, planned for 2021). We aim to explore the utopian dream of global accessibility and, conversely, the boundaries of free image transmission. Being a curator in the age of image and information excess means to deal with this new paradigm of our digitised worlds by, for example, taking it as a topic for an exhibition, working with artists to translate net-based phenomena into the physical space, conquering the institution’s digital space (websites, etc.) with content, and thinking critically about the abundance of images that we are constantly confronted with.

What is the most invaluable skill required for a curator?

The flexibility to be active in various roles and positions at the same time: being a companion for the artist as well as their assistant and adviser, having a curatorial style while being objective and invisible as the selecting subject and author of the show, being an advocate for your medium while also criticising it, being a representative of your institution and also challenging it, being confident and persuasive as an applicant for funding and humble when looking for sponsors, being self-critical of your own role while manoeuvering gingerly through conflicting expectations confronting you every day.

What was your route into curating?

I wrote my dissertation on abstraction in photography, covering a wide historical spectrum from the medium’s early experimental beginnings in the 1830s to contemporary fine-art photography. My sources were scattered all over the globe, and I did a lot of research in museum archives in different countries. This was a starting point, since it gave me an insight to archiving and collecting (and exhibiting) from the user’s perspective. I then switched sides and did several internships, followed by a wonderful scholarship that the Alfried Bohlen von Krupp und Halbach-Foundation runs in Germany. Titled “museum curators for photography,” it teaches photography historians about curating by sending them to various photography collections in Germany and abroad. This experience paved my way into freelance curating, which I did for a couple of years until I joined C/O Berlin as a permanent curator last summer.

What is the most memorable exhibition that you’ve visited?

One that I often think back to is called Großvater: Ein Pionier wie wir (Grandfather: A Pioneer Like Us), an exhibition on the famous “exhibition maker” Harald Szeemann in 2018. As part of the acquisition of the Szeemann estate by the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles in 2011, two shows were developed and then sent on tour; one of the venues was Bern, Szeeman’s hometown in Switzerland. Großvater: Ein Pionier wie wir was also the title of Szeemann’s first curated show following the monumental documenta 5. The exhibition, which was held in his own apartment, tells the story of Szeemann’s grandfather, a prominent coiffeur. The show included many physical objects from the family’s private archive. While at the venues in Los Angeles and Düsseldorf Szeemann’s show was reconstructed in a white cube, in Bern the exhibit was shown in exactly the same apartment in which Szeemann had originally installed it in 1974: a private room with vintage furniture. This total simulacrum still sticks with me, since it demonstrates, in a very powerful way, that the circumstances of the presentation fundamentally change the perception of the objects. In the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf it was obvious to visitors that they were being confronted with a reconstruction made for an exhibition hall. In contrast, in Bern it was impossible for visitors to know if they were walking through a contemporary presentation or not. It was quite baffling, like a throwback in time.

What constitutes curatorial responsibility in the context within which you work?

I am currently curating for an exhibition house that functions differently than most other German institutions. The cultural landscape of Germany is mainly built on museums, exhibition halls, and Kunstvereine. C/O Berlin doesn’t fit into any of these categories. As a nonprofit foundation financed through admission fees, book sales, sponsorship, donations, project funding, and contributions from C/O Berlin Friends, it has not received any regular funding over the past twenty years. However, starting in the financial year 2020/21, C/O Berlin will receive support from the Berlin Senate Department for Culture and Europe. Besides balancing finances, visitor numbers, and content more carefully than public-run institutions, it is my responsibility as curator to sharpen my institution’s profile; that is, in comparison to museums. Similar to general exhibition halls, we foster contemporary perspectives and promote a discourse around our medium through talks, panels, and education, that could be adapted by museums. Our content-related orientation, the design of our presentation, and our historical approach to art and photography often differs from this form of institution and I feel we have more freedom to speculate in our exhibition programme. Unlike general exhibition halls, C/O Berlin is dedicated exclusively to photography. This makes us responsible for the medium itself. We do not have our own collection anchoring us in history. Although we regularly present photographers from the canon of the second half of the twentieth century, our focus lies nonetheless on the developments of the last three decades – precisely the period when photography was freed from all restraints. We deal with a medium in transition and we have to constantly ask ourselves what photography was, is, and will be. Today a photograph can be a high-valued vintage print as well as an Instagram snapshot made by a digital device. The medium increasingly disappears somewhere in between the classical museum presentation of the departments of drawing and prints and digitally circulating net art. I believe that our curatorial responsibility toward our medium is to define its future between those two extreme poles. We need to develop a new understanding of the medium and the material we engage with. We need to think about what types of new displays we can develop to mirror photography’s various forms of applications – that have always been diverse and are becoming increasingly so – in order to put us in the position to deal with fine art, science, press, amateurism, social media, and many other aspects.

What is the one myth that you would like to dispel around being a curator?

If there is a myth about being a curator, it is a misunderstanding. The term is used extensively these days for everything connected to combining – from music and food to art. Since the rise of autonomous curators in the 1990s, the term has taken on a notion of glamour and power. However, the reality is quite different. Most curation is done for institutions that involves a lot of bureaucracy: acquiring funding, writing reports, and doing administrative work. It is a hands-on job that has little to do with drinking champagne at nicely made-up representative events and openings.

What advice would you give to aspiring curators?

You should care about and focus on content. Most of the curatorial study programmes that have been popping up in recent years seem to mainly teach the history and theory of curation or they practice display methods. I am convinced that it is more important to know the field and the subject that you aim to work on well. Aspiring curators should be researchers who view the exhibition as one of various forms for conveying content. Don’t curate to curate.♦

Further interviews in the Curator Conversations series can be read here.


Curator Conversations is part of a collaborative set of activities on photography curation and scholarship initiated by Tim Clark (1000 Words and The Institute of Photography, Falmouth University), Christopher Stewart (London College of Communication, University of the Arts London) and Esther Teichmann (Royal College of Art) that has included the symposium, Encounters: Photography and Curation, in 2018 and a ten week course, Photography and Curation, hosted by The Photographers’ Gallery, London in 2018-19.

Images:

1-Kathrin Schönegg in the exhibition Francesca Woodman: On Being an Angel, C/O Berlin 2020. © Stephanie von Becker.

2-Installation view of Sylvain Couzinet-Jacques: Sub Rosa – C/O Berlin Talent Award 2019, C/O Berlin. © David von Becker.

3-Installation view of How Your Camera Works as part of Biennale für aktuelle Fotografie 2017, Wilhelm Hack Museum Ludwigshafen © Andreas Langfeld.