Narcissus’ Reflection

Narcissus’ Reflection

Piercing eyes, still as a lake, printed on the glossy images by photographer Adi Nes entice viewers to peel off these well-crafted veneers and reveal an autobiographical search of identity and the reason of a nation. With his art, Nes is the master storyteller. Yet, his career seems to hit its critical juncture only now after a five-year hiatus since Nes’ last series The Village in 2012. Like something is brewing and about to begin.

Adi Nes’ iconic image, Untitled (The Last Supper), from the photographer’s Soldiers series produced in 1999 once graced the front page of the New York Times, not only represents a high point in his artistic career, but also summarises many of his ideologies of what we should consider now as Nes’ first period of work. The reason to the previous assertion is the photographer’s motivation to depart from his archetypal staged photographs into researching the crux of the photographic medium, the raison d’être of propagating images. “I feel that photography has changed from the roots – how an image starts.”

Adi Nes- Soldiers

Untitled, 1999, from the serie “Soldiers” – 90 x 90 cm & 140 x 140 cm. © Courtesy of the Artist.

Flipping back the pages to the day when Nes registered for courses at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design Jerusalem after serving in the army and has mistakenly checked the box for the Photography department, his method of drawing out sketches and storyboarding prior to shooting was unusual in the late 80’s in Israel. Nes’ dramatic style and audacity are drawn from his experience working in the television and cinema industry as well as from Postmodernist figures from North America like Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall and Philip-Lorca diCorcia. In Guy Debord’s definition of life being “presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles”, Nes bases his photography heavily on introspection, or rather his association with his world, his reality and his people.

“I deal with homoeroticism and masculinity because I’m gay; with Israeliness because I’m an Israeli. Because I’ve grown up in the periphery, I deal with the gap between the centre and the boundary; because my parents immigrated from Iran, I deal with ethnic issues and minority groups; because I’m an artist, I pay tribute to classical art; because I’m Jewish, I deal with Judaism.” Underneath the parallelism drawn from staged actors posing as contemporary homeless people and the moment before the Binding of Isaac in Untitled (Abraham & Isaac) (2004) or the tribute to Picasso’s Boy Leading a Horse (1906) and its allusion to the mythological beast Pegasus in Untitled (2008) from The Village series, Nes wishes to relate the viewers on an exceedingly intimate level.

Adi Nes - Biblical Abraham & Isaac

Untitled (Abraham & Isaac) 2004, from the serie “Biblical Stories” – 100 x 100 cm & 140 x 140 cm. © Courtesy of the Artist.

The elicited ambiguity in Nes’ images, which is also the reason to their unyielding fascination, often obfuscates the truth of its message that oscillates between its commanding visual language with its dark tones and contrasts, the allegorical stories,  the alluded drama and the underlying tensed atmosphere, and Nes’ concept in discussing identity. This collection of images by Nes is almost a by-product of the photographer’s state of mind and worldview during that specific period. His desire to piece together his inner identity struggles while living in and telling stories of “a young nation that started from a dream” and having his ideals shaped by Hebrew, an ancient and colourful language whose modern usage can still be considered to be in its infancy.

Nes bases his photography heavily on introspection, or rather his association with his world, his reality and his people.

It is not illogical to analyse that everything which has been created until now in Nes’ career is a long exposition to his story and of what is brewing up in his ongoing research. Upon the completion of the series The Village in 2012, Nes participated in a project at the science faculty at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Alongside scientists, the photographer delved into how the core of matters remains as materials fall apart. “I thought to create a project that follows the way of how I feel about contemporary life. My body, at the age of 51, starts to break apart but my identity is always there.” Far different from his situation during his creative proliferation, Nes finds himself leading a comfortable life. Yet, conflict ensues. “I’ve got to a place where I can feel that everything is settled down and suddenly, it starts to all break apart again.” This crisis in his identity as an artist solicits him to look for new expressions, new colours, new textures, and new ways of thinking.

Like when a star collapses, its nebular energy might birth another solar system. Nes is currently taking on a trepidatious task to rejuvenate his photographic discipline by incorporating motion in juxtaposition with still photographs. However, the results may not come for another couple of years.

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Where life and dreams are as one

Where life and dreams are as one

 

Nostalgia to some is a feeling leading to sadness, a yearning for the past accompanied with regrets. American writer Michael Chabon defines it rather as a straight connection with the past: “is the emotional experience – always momentary, always fragile of having what you lost or never had. (…) It’s the feeling that overcomes you when some minor vanished beauty of the world is restored.” Evgenia Arbugaeva, a Russian photographer, born in the small town of Tiksi has undertake the task of, if not restoring, at least rendering visible the almost vanished beauty of the world. Her projects, Amani, Tiksi, Weather Man and Mammoth Hunters explore the relation between man and nature accentuating the latter’s force.

 

 

Whether it is an abandoned laboratory in the forest of Amani in Tanzania or the splendorous Russian Arctic, Evgenia’s photographs position isolated or abandoned geographical regions in our radar: “I realize that my work (…) contributes to a certain preservation of, or allows to have some information about the place because most of the places where I go, there is no much information about them.” What we thought lost, what we ignored becomes existent and while she unravels the marvels of magical places frozen in time, the spectator learns that present and future are in reality commingled temporalities. In her most recent series Amani, Arbugaeva portrays an abandoned laboratory in the jungle of Amani, in Tanzania. Although abandoned by the scientific community after the country’s independence during the 60’s, the last keeper of the building, John Mganga preserves it zealously. Isolated by the forest and the neighboring natural reserve, the laboratory is struck in a limbo working as a memento from the golden years.

Chabon’s definition of nostalgia reverberates in the photographer’s images as they don’t relinquish the past but construct bridges interconnecting as well as questioning what we consider to be modernity. Old furniture and the laboratory’s shabby equipment contributes to the picture’s atmosphere soliciting the spectator’s imagination to recreate the rest of the photographic decor: “I ask myself this question, why I keep going to places struck in the limbo, struck between two worlds? I think this space of memory is very interesting for the artist because it’s so open for interpretation, that’s what really excites me”.

Her series Weather Man offers a similar stylistic device, Arbugaeva photographed the character’s measuring apparatuses underlining with this simple gesture the cleavage between today’s technology and that used by Weather Man. Objects metamorphose through the artist’s lens into taciturn accomplices conferring to the vernacular the ability to speak.

Analogous to furniture or gadgets, landscape communicates an unspoken message disclosing yet other components of her character’s personality. Quietness and reverie are conveyed in her series Tiksi, where a young girl from the region joyously plays in the Russian tundra, unfolding before our gaze her inner universe. Moreover, the artist’s approach mimics the methodology adopted by filmmakers associated with the “cinéma vérité” where the camera is acknowledged by the person filmed or photographed. Unlike other documentary sous genres, cinéma vérité envisions and permits the director to participate in the field experience, he is not there to purely contemplate, he’s a catalyst triggering action and emotional responses.

Arbugaeva follows this same precepts for she establishes a relationship with the people she photographs, her lyrical images externalize an internal feeling and are palpable imprints of the connection she shares with her protagonists. Her series Mammoth Hunters is probably the most “objective” one, as it illustrates an article for National Geographic. Yet, even within her journalistic production her aesthetics prevail with dreams and fantasy permeating her images. An example to this is a photograph of a mammoth hunter asleep in his tent, an image of a mammoth decorates the ceiling evoking what might be part of his sleeping universe. In the end “it’s not about photography”, as Arbugaeva stated in a recent conversation we held over the phone, it’s more about life and human relations. Beyond solely documenting what she sees, the photographer’s essence fill her clichés thereby unraveling her own doubts and psyche: “every time I photograph I try to figure out who I am, as many photographers do”. The power of Arbugaeva’s images lies in her ability to express in the blink of an eye what she and her character feel, the intangible and inexplicable become visible as affection materializes in her photographs.  

 

 

But what is real and what belongs to the realm of dreams? The problem of truth is indirectly posed in each photograph taken by the artist; nonetheless her intention isn’t the pursuit of ultimate objectivity rather the opposite: Arbugaeva’s captivating images question the structure of the world. In a society colonized by reason and practical thinking, her images propound an alternative existence in which dreams hold a leading role. Life’s futilities have no room in Arbugaeva’s work, she focuses on philosophical questions urging her spectators to interrogate themselves. In this respect, light can be considered as a metaphor of the mental activity occurring in her protagonists mind, such as in the series Weather Man where we see a portrait of this character looking blissfully into the void. When looking at the subtle lightning in this photographs, it is impossible not to think of Vermeer’s paintings, both artistic practices favouring contrast over harmony.

“What is life? a tale that is told; what is life? a frenzy extreme”, such were the words of the Spanish author Calderon de la Barca to poetically analyze the difference between dreams and life. In the writer’s universe, such as in Evgenia’s, the two are interwoven together and merge as one.

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Inspiring Actions, Martin Schoeller at Paris Photo with Pernod Ricard

Inspiring Actions, Martin Schoeller at Paris Photo with Pernod Ricard

Elna Nordstrom - Pernod RicardAry_Ganeshalingam - Pernod RicardIlargi_Leturia_Ugarte - Pernod Ricard
Ary Ganeshalingam – Global Marketing Manager
Chivas Brothers Ltd – London, United Kingdom
© Martin Schoeller pour / for Pernod Ricard

 

Elna Nordström – Product Development Manager Operations.
The Absolut Company – Ahus, Sweden
© Martin Schoeller pour / for Pernod Ricard
Ilargi Leturia Ugarte – Global Brand Manager
Pernod Ricard Winemakers – San Sebastian, Spain
© Martin Schoeller pour / for Pernod Ricard

German photographer, Martin Schoeller worked conjointly with the French company Pernod Ricard to photograph some of the faces that constitute the company’s spectrum of employees.

The idea behind this project was to take 18 portraits of Pernod Ricard’s employees all over the world in order to show to the public the people who construct and expand the brand’s name. With the texture and light characterising Schoeller’s portraits, the photographer highlighted the brand’s work ethic and aimed at bearing witness of the importance of each employee. Every portrait is different and captures the detail of the person photographed, Schoeller thus highlights the uniqueness and beauty of the members of the company.

Pernod Ricard Group often calls upon contemporary artists to campaign with them to put under the spot their employees and their importance within the company. Among other artists who have participated we can cite Omar Victor Diop, Li Wei, Olaf Breuning, Vee Speers, Marco Lopez and more. Martin Schoeller  (b. 1968, Munich, works and live in New York City)  is the 42th artist invited to participate in this kind of project, perpetuating the tradition and bearing witness of Pernod Ricard’s commitment to contemporary art.

At the end of 2017, the campaign will be exhibited at Paris Photo 2017 international fair from 9  to 12 of November at the Grand Palais.. “This people are our ambassadors for our values and become a source of inspiration,” stated Olivier Cavil, director of communication for Pernod Ricard.

A Matter of Blood

A Matter of Blood

In the Jewish religion, blood is a cornerstone embodying the religion’s precepts. From their diet to whom belongs to the faith, the red liquid is replete of numerous connotations. The Israeli artist, Sigalit Landau centers part of her artistic practice in blood and the land where she was born.

Navigating Israël allows the wanderer to understand the visual poetry and the significance of the symbols in the artist’s oeuvre. Starting with blood one can read her work as a metaphor of the violent events that have agitated the country from its creation in 1948. Growing during the Intifada years, Landau witnessed the commence of the brutality that continues – perhaps less deadly now – to shudder the region. As mentioned before her work favours red, her sculptures reminds us often of the Viennese actionism and of Francis Bacon taste for fleshy compositions.

 

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The Dining Hall a sculptural installation mimicking the interior of a house is flooded with structures with red and visceral textures. If there is amy similarity to the Viennese Actionism in this work is not by mere coincidence as Landau’s grandparents were very close to the movement during the 60’s. “I grew up inside some Viennese Actionists, my grandparents were very radical. (…) I’ve always been very interested in this, it’s in my DNA”, declared the artist during our conversation.

Human anatomy is dissected constantly in her work reflecting her background as a dancer. As she studies human body and gives it a political meaning, she touches upon femininity and the way it is viewed through the male gaze. Dead Sea for instance is a video in which the artist is floating naked on the sea with watermelons surrounding her body. The body here is freed and shamelessly presented in a natural context, it is acknowledged and put under the spotlight. Furthermore in her salt sculptures the spectator is introduced to feminine cloths reminiscent of Victorian fashion. During this period of English history, women were confined to the household, their rights were no less than non existant.

Starting with blood one can read her work as a metaphor of the violent events that have agitated the country from its creation in 1948.

The submersion of this dresses in salty water transforms them into crystalised objects mirroring the customs and values from that epoch, same that prevail and preserve women stigma. Another video exploring this is Barbed Hula wherein Landau dances the hula with a barbed wire. Although not directly mentioned during our exchange, the artist did alluded to the importance of pain in her artistic practice. The previously mentioned shows Landau dancing without any protection moving the barbed wire all over her naked body. While she examines feminine pain, she too delves on Jewish suffering.

 

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Symbols of Jewish traditions and rituals appear in Landau’s work, such is the case of salt and blood. As stated before, she submerges objects in the Dead Sea, a salty body of water so saline that no animal or living being can survive to the levels of salt. The Dead Sea is a symbol for both, Jordan and Israel and serves even as a border between the two countries. Traditionally, salt is used to dry and preserve food, and in the rituals rabbis recommended it to drain the blood from the meat which is a procedure to purify food and make it proper to eat according to the Bible, another term for this practice is Kosher. Sigalit Landau’s body of work manifest contemporary Israeli society, from its roots and its ideology, to its metamorphosis over the years.

 

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Sigalit Landau’s work touches upon different aspects on Israeli culture and lineage, it explores present day customs as well as subjects such as identity and the bridging of cultures. One of her most ambitious projects yet to date is to construction of structure joining Jordan and Israel through a salt bridge built with the salt of the Dead Sea. This particular enterprise testifies of the state of mind of Israeli contemporary artists encouraging dialogue and peace instead of deaf conflict. Through the prism of sharing, blood gains a different connotation as it units rather than tear apart.

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Andres Serrano, The Way, the Truth and the Life

Andres Serrano, The Way, the Truth and the Life

“I say that my work is in the eyes of the beholder. How you see those people says sometimes more about you than about me. My work is intended to be a mirror, a reflection for you to see yourself in.”  Andres Serrano sits down with ArtPremium in Paris, 10 years after his last interview, and it is as if his utterance had inadvertently paralleled Oscar Wilde’s Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), that art merely mirrors the spectator, not life.

Unacceptability: a value that transcends the binary construct of our society – rich and poor, good and bad, sacred and profane. It is a solitary stillness in a world of noise and can be found recurring in Andres Serrano’s work.

Untitled XXVI-1

The artist visited Cuba for the first time in 2012 and subsequently released a body of work paying homage to this Caribbean island, its nation and its inhabitants. Serrano’s subjects roam in the mystery of individuality and in a very realistic personality. He photographs people and things as individuals and also, as archetypes and symbols. Voices seem to emanate from the remnants of a building in Abandoned, Havana (Cuba) (2012), or the algae-infested pool in Family of Enrique Rottenberg. Miramar, Havana (Cuba) (2012) and from the eeriness of the portrait and the peeled-off paint on the wall of Family Portrait (Cuba) (2012). Material takes on a strange persona in Serrano’s photographs that is wholly other than us. Otherworldly, unfamiliarity and strangeness entice Serrano and through his style, the artist awards himself such individuality.

Serrano: I have always felt like an outsider and I think part of it had to do with the fact that I was an only child. What ignites in me is the existential feeling or even a feeling of loneliness. In my work, I like to go to territories where no one else has gone before. In the art world, I feel separate from my peers and I like that sense of separation. I need to do what I need to do. I feel apart from the rest. Even if we exist in the same world, I am still in my world. My world is not their world and vice versa.

Consider The Klan series (1990-1992). Portraits of Raphaelic sombreness and presence deliver a subject that elicits the ultimate fear of man and confronts visually the manifestation of the ugliness of humanity. Serrano’s works offer an Aesthetic reading into the inherent separation of art and morality, or rather the elevation of art rid of didactic motivations.

There is a strong presence of reality in photography, which Serrano recognises, that evokes innocence and breaks pretences.

Serrano: It is simply about the beauty in something that is not supposed to be beautiful. I find beauty in the Ku Klux Klan. I find beauty in Donald Trump’s portrait (America, 2004). I find beauty in things that some people do not think beautiful but I make them beautiful

ZenaidaGomesJimenesHere, Serrano draws out the question of  the agency of the artist. Formally trained as a painter and a sculptor, he has chosen the medium of photography to convey a shared reality. Serrano’s photographs require the construction of an “agreement of purpose” (Freeland, 2001). His portraiture urges the spectator’s augmentation of perceptual consciousness, to see again what Andres Serrano saw.

The artist has, on multiple occasions, compared himself to the truth telling child in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale The Emperor’s New Clothes (1837). There is a strong presence of reality in photography, which Serrano recognises, that evokes innocence and breaks pretences. His Torture series (2015) is illustrative of this power in images. There is no longer the preoccupation to condone a meaning behind the artist’s intention to photograph the hooded victims from Northern Ireland, Fatima or a tortured captive in Sudan. This is demonstrated by the initial pictures commissioned by The New York Times to accompany the essay on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in 2005, which prompted the commencement of the series, and perhaps more recently, the article by art critic Jonathan Jones for the Guardian. These photographs are about the actuality of the perpetual human condition of conflict.

At once subjective in his perception and universal in his concept, there is simplicity to Serrano’s operation: three lights, a Mamiya RB 67 camera on a tripod and for most of the time, a backdrop. The artist focuses on the idea of the photographs. Within his simplicity, Serrano finds an infinite variety of subjects and methods of immersion for himself as well as for his spectator.

ArtPremium: When we look at the various subjects you have taken over the years, we see groups of people, religion, and even places. What would you say is the inspiration of your choice?

Serrano: A lot of the time, it comes naturally to me. You can see the progress [of my work] and it makes sense. It is about life, race, and poverty, about social injustice, religion, and sex. One usually leads to another in a very natural way. When I do something, I try to do it in such a way that exhausts the subject; but religion, you cannot do enough about it. Religion is a funny thing because you have to do it when you are motivated, when you are inspired. I would love to be able to meet Pope Francis and to get a commission from him – that would inspire me. I would love to do something for the Church, like religious artists of the past.

Fortune_Teller

In truth, Serrano’s reflection does not stray far from art history. A crucifix submerged in an amber-tinged medium with an almost crepuscular ray shining upon the suffering Jesus Christ. Without the acknowledgment of the work’s title, Immersion (Piss Christ) (1987), the spectator continues to be encapsulated within the mysterious consciousness of the aesthetic beauty created by Serrano. Justly intimated by the British philosopher Owen Barfield on the art of poetry, a similar strangeness in Serrano’s photographic beauty arouses wonder in those who do not understand. Serrano’s larger-than-life photographs are the testament to the artist’s pursuit of Beauty, creating art for art’s sake.

ArtPremium: It is intriguing for us to reflect upon the fact that your work, in general, has always been subjected to a variety of interpretations or even condemnation. Your photographs, however, are not intended to irk your spectator. So why do you think people would want to label your work as provocative?

Serrano: People react in such a way because they see things that make them feel uncomfortable. After Piss Christ, it has always been controversial. They expect that from me. I would like to make pretty pictures but I would also like for them to mean something – not just on flowers, kittens and puppies. People want their beauty with provocation.

Family of Enrique Rottenberg. Miramar, HavanaContrary to the Dorian influence of decadent Romanticism, Serrano pursues a centripetal impetus in his work. The executor’s silent presence in the photographs allows the spectator to enjoy a greater freedom of interaction with the world of the subject. The titles employed in Serrano’s works however, function as a self-referential narrative to the photographs.  For example, from his early Mondrian-esque “fake paintings” like Milk, Blood (1986) to his using of the names of his subjects in Residents of New York (2014) or of the hooded figures in Torture (2015). They break the quiet murmurs of the reverie from the images and consequently distance the artist in a playful, coquettish manner like the character Puck from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595/96).

William Hogarth identifies that “beauty is seen and confessed by all” (The Analysis of Beauty, 1753). In part, Serrano subscribes to the ideal, nonetheless, his canon of beauty proves to be challenging. The idea of beauty has been ruminated over and over by the greatest thinkers of humanity, from Plato and Aristotle to our contemporary, Harold Bloom. Creating since 1983, Serrano’s modus operandi becomes apparent. The artist searches for the intrinsic value of Art, to illuminate the beauty within the matter.

ArtPremium: Your work has taken you to Cuba, Jerusalem, Brussels, Northern Ireland and many more places. Where will you go next?

Serrano: The next place I would like to go is the place where I am going to do my next work. It will probably be in Paris in May. It has nothing to do with the homeless nor the immigrants. Someone once asked me to go to Texas to photograph the Mexican immigrants, I might do that. I have something more conceptual for Paris in mind. Actually, next year [2017] during FIAC and Paris Photo, I am going to have a show at the Petit Palais in October. The show will include more or less thirty to forty works of mine throughout the museum. Considering the range of my work, there is a big selection of pieces to choose from to decide the pieces they [the Petit Palais] will have at the venue. In addition, I am going to do another body of work here [in Paris] in May most likely. 
The world holds its breath as the supposed enfant terrible divulges this information about his new works in Paris. We are sure to be one step closer to dissecting this curious mastermind with the debut of these works.

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