You Are Looking at Something That Never Occurred
PUBLISHED: 08:00 04 April 2017
ZOE PASKETT visits a striking photography exhibition at the Zabludowicz Collection that pushes the boundaries of fact and fiction
Taking photographs is easy. Point and shoot – a monkey could do it. Really, a Celebes crested macaque got hold of nature photographer David Slater’s equipment and started taking selfies, even smiling for the camera. Aside from the controversy over copyright that emerged, it also brings up questions of how photographers can go about producing works that will engage the viewer.
If everyone and their mother can take a photograph in seconds, how do artists separate themselves?
This is one of the questions on which new exhibition You Are Looking at Something That Never Occurred is based. Today the photographic image feels perhaps overly pervasive and much street and documentary photography is taken at face value as being truthful because it’s instantaneous.
Set in the vast space of the Zabludowicz Collection in Prince of Wales Road, the 14 artists use the recognisable image as a starting point, but move past the “decisive moment” to “embrace slower methods of picture-making”.
The title is taken from a conversation between two artists in the exhibition, Jeff Wall and Lucas Blalock, in which Wall argues that, through experimentation, art can exceed our everyday realities. Rather than ignoring the commercial images, personal pictures and cultural iconography that we interact with daily, these are used as a starting point for the artists’ work.
Spanning a 40 year period from 1977 to present day, the collection of works traces how artists have used the camera to blur boundaries of time and of fact, using three main strategies: appropriation of existing images, staging of new situations and digital manipulation.
In the main hall, Prince’s Untitled (four women looking in the same direction), 1977 shows a group of anonymous individual women brought together in a shared gaze, alluding “to the power of manufactured desire”.
The most striking installation is the short film by New Yorker Sara Cwynar: Soft Film, 2016, which explores how objects of desire lose and gain attraction over time. The 16mm film combines studio footage using gathered items from eBay or second hand stores and is narrated by a male voiceover reading from a script written by Cwynar.
Running through the work is a fascination with the “soft misogyny” of previous decades and how this returns to us through kitsch and faded textures. Hearing Cwynar’s female voice instructing the male voice on how to perform correctly acts as a disruption of the ironic male narrative of the film.
In the middle gallery, Lucas Blalock’s layered images (including Gaba with Fans, 2012) create confusion and evoke cubist painting.
In the back gallery, Natalie Czech’s Hidden Poems series connects photography and text, finding and revealing existing poems within magazine and book pages.
Elad Lassry’s distinctive aesthetic runs through his work. Subjects range across people, animals, fruits and ornaments and have the look of curated magazine pages.
Here is an exhibition to make you question the “truth” of the photographic image and the weight of impact it has that we often fail to observe.
Curated by Paul Luckraft, the exhibition runs until July 9.
Admission is free, Thursday – Sunday 12-6pm or by appointment. Zabludowicz Collection, 176 Prince of Wales Road, NW5 3PT. zabludowiczcollection.com