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Corinne Silva WANDERING ABROAD                  

                             

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rd First published   online,  3   November   2012,   by  the  International  New  Media  Gallery  on     the  occasion  of  the  exhibition:  

Corinne Silva WA NDER ING ABR OAD th

 

                           

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       5  November  2012  –  2  March  2013                                                  www.inmg.org.uk   Exhibition   curated   by   Edwin   Coomasaru,   Tom   Snow,   Lauren   Rotenberg,   Charley   Lintern,  Isabella  Smith  and  Joy  Stacey.         Edited   by   Edwin   Coomasaru.   Assisted   by   Isabella  Smith.     All  rights  reserved.     ©  International  New  Media  Gallery,  2012.   Texts  ©  the  authors,  2012.   Artworks  ©  Corinne  Silva,  2012.     Front   and   back   cover:   Detail   of   ‘Waterfront,   Knostrop’,   from   Wandering   Abroad,  2009.         Wandering   Abroad   was   commissioned   by   Leeds  Art  Gallery,  with  support  from  Arts   Council  England.  

       

 

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Corinne Silva WANDERING ABROAD

Edited by Edwin Coomasaru

Contents    

p.3      Foreword    Edwin  Coomasaru

p.5      Reflections  on  Corinne  Silva’s  Wandering  Abroad  (2009)        Lauren  Rotenberg    

p.11    Corinne  Silva  in  Conversation    Edwin  Coomasaru  and  Charley  Lintern  

p.17    Corinne  Silva:  The  Uncompromising  Image   Tom  Snow  

 

   

 

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Published Online,  3rd  November  2012 INTERNATIONAL NEW MEDIA GALLERY


Foreword

The   International   New   Media   Gallery   (INMG)   is   pleased   to   present   its   inaugural   exhibition,   Corinne   Silva:   Wandering   Abroad.   As   an   online   museum,   the   INMG  aims  to  place  contemporary  art  outside  the  physical  gallery,  to  situate  it  in  an   educational  framework  and  foster  both  online  and  offline  debate.  The  exhibition  will   be   accompanied   by   talks   and   discussions   at   University   College   London   and   University  of  Sussex.   Wandering   Abroad   (2009)   draws   attention   to   highly   important   aspects   of   current  political  discussion  and  recent  history.  In  the  film,  three  migrants  speak  of   the  life  and  murder  of  David  Oluwale  (1930-­‐1969)  and  their  own  parallel  experiences   of  racism  and  survival  in  Northern  England.  While  Wandering  Abroad  offers  complex   and   multifaceted   accounts   of   diaspora,   Silva   also   alludes   to   the   potentially   marginalising   effects   of   urban   redevelopment   and   gentrification   today.   The   film   explores   the   transformation   of   Leeds   through   juxtaposing   old   abandoned   sites   of   industrial   labour   with   recently   built   luxury   residential   complexes,   many   of   which   are   still   standing   empty.   Concerned   with   conceptions   of   social,   cultural   and   economic   dislocation,   Silva’s   work   engages   with   significant   points   of   contemporary   artistic   debate;  issues  made  increasingly  poignant  in  the  light  of  the  recent  financial  crisis.   I  would  like  to  thank  Charley  Lintern,  Lauren  Rotenberg  and  Tom  Snow,  who   have   all   contributed   to   this   catalogue.   Rotenberg’s   essay   is   a   reflection   on   Wandering  Abroad:  examining  migration  and  urban  renewal  in  Leeds  and  exploring   the   ‘imagined   landscapes’   enacted   through   the   film   and   its   narrators.   The   interview   with  Silva  allows  the  artist  to  offer  a  valuable  insight  into  the  intentions  and  thought   processes   behind   the   artwork.   Our   discussion   of   Wandering   Abroad   situates   the   film   alongside   Silva’s   recent   works,   Imported   Landscapes   (2010)   and   Badlands   (2008-­‐ 2011).  These  two  photographic  projects  are  subsequently  discussed  by  Snow,  who   argues   that   Silva’s   images   instigate   a   space   of   reflective   examination,   in   contrast   to   spectacular  nature  of  commercial  imagery.   I  would  also  like  to  offer  my  thanks  to  Corinne  Silva,  who  has  been  a  pleasure   to   work   with   and   very   generous   with   her   time.   My   thanks   are   also   due   to   Isabella   Smith  and  Joy  Stacey,  who  have  assisted  in  the  curation  of  the  exhibition.  Finally,  I   must   thank   Dr.   Ben   Burbridge   for   the   advice   he   has   given   me   over   the   last   year;   I   greatly  appreciate  it.         Edwin  Coomasaru,  Director   International  New  Media  Gallery  

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Warehouse, Knostrop  Cut,  Aire  and  Calder  Navigation.  

Waterfront, Knostrop.  

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Reflections on  Corinne  Silva’s  Wandering  Abroad  (2009)   Lauren  Rotenberg    

Once  you  have  traveled,  the  voyage  never  ends,   but  is  played  out  over  and  over  again  in  the  quietest  chambers.   The  mind  can  never  break  off  from  the  journey.    

– Pat Conroy,  The  Prince  of  Tides     London-­‐based   artist   Corinne   Silva   proves   not   all   who   wander   are   lost.   Seducing   the   viewer   to   embark   on   a   river   journey,   Wandering   Abroad   (2009)   is   a   poetic   video   tracing   Leeds’   urban   landscape   and   exploring   themes   of   human   mobility   and   physical   environment,   migration,   colonisation   and   (in)visibility.   The   experience  of  migration  is  opened  for  viewers  as  we  navigate  along  the  River  Aire,   following   the   path   of   the   invisible   protagonist,   David   Oluwale   (1930-­‐1969),   a   Nigerian  migrant  who  arrived  in  the  UK  as  an  illicit  stowaway  in  1949,  struggled  to   integrate  into  society,  and  was  eventually  found  drowned  after  a  brutal  assault  by   police   twenty   years   later.   The   structure   of   the   video   lingers   on   views   of   old   manufacturing   warehouses   and   new   urban   developments   to   capture   Leeds   as   a   declining   industrial   city   in   the   processes   of   regeneration   and   gentrification.   In   traditional   documentary-­‐style,   the   landscape   footage   is   interspersed   with   interviews  of  three  men,  Gabriel  Adams  and  Abiye  Hector  Goma  from  Nigeria  and   Arthur   France   from   the   Caribbean,   who   offer   anecdotes   of   Oluwale   and   reflect   on   their   dreams   of   “making   one’s   own   way”   in   a   place   Arthur   describes   as   “cold   and   very   foreign.”   As   the   title   suggests,   Silva   redirects   the   colonial   legacy   of   documentary   and   photography   back   onto   the   ‘Mother   Country’   while   also   conscientiously   examining   how   slippage   between   these   mediums   can   open   new   modes   of   seeing   and   visceral   experiences   of   landscapes.   Combining   the   strength   of   the  camera’s  indexical  proximity  to  the  ‘real’  with  literary  devices,  stabs  of  pathos,   and   a   poetic   overlay   of   upbeat   African   and   Caribbean   music,   Wandering   Abroad   opens  an  imaginative  space  in  between  utopian  dreams  and  socio-­‐historic  realities.1   The   video   shares   similar   impulses   with   works   by   contemporary   artists   such   as   Matthew   Buckingham   and   Ursula   Biemann   that   examine   tensions   between   documentary’s   status   of   the   real   and   video’s   constructed   and   inherently   artificial   form,   as   well   as   Steve   McQueen’s   strategic   use   of   fragmentation   and   moving   images  to  create  new  narrative  possibilities  that  are  not  definitive  or  authoritarian.   Wandering   Abroad   can   be   similarly   aligned   with   Francis   Alÿs’   cyclical   narratives   of   land-­‐based   poetics   that   are   also   political,   Zineb   Sedira’s   linguistic   uses   of   photography  and  video  to  address  issues  of  mobility  and  colonial  legacies,  and  Yto   Barrada’s   interest   in   the   intersection   of   botanical   and   urban   landscapes,   borders,    

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migration and   globalisation.   While   Wandering   Abroad   stresses   the   role   of   artistic   authorship   to   reflexively   acknowledge   the   work’s   artificial   form,   Silva   also   constructs   what   she   calls   an   ‘imaginary   landscape’   –   a   highly-­‐mediated   space   between   the   imaginative   and   the   material   that   operates   as   a   medium   for   questioning   the   notion   of   human   separation   that   is   so   deeply   embedded   in   the   genre’s  documentary  and  photographic  traditions.2   The   video   opens   with   views   of   an   old   warehouse   in   Knostrop   Cut,   framed   from  a  perspective  similar  to  Victorian-­‐era  artist  John  Atkinson  Grimshaw’s  Knostrop   Cut,   Leeds,   Sunday   Night   from   1893.   Unlike   Grimshaw   who   basked   the   sky   and   water   in   a   golden   light,   suggestive   of   hope   and   optimism   with   the   rise   of   industrialisation,   Silva   casts   the   desolate   warehouse   in   muted   colours   to   evoke   a   sombre   mood   that   continues   to   build   as   the   video   meanders   down   the   river,   meditating  on  dilapidated  historic  buildings  that  stand  as  a  monumental  relics  of  a   past   era   of   economic   prosperity   generated   through   industrial   manufacture.   The   massive   Wilkinson   Flax   Mill,   the   last   of   its   kind   built   in   1838   has   now   fallen   into   disrepair,   and   the   Tower   Works   chimneys   once   used   by   Harding   &   Sons   for   manufacturing  pins  and  needles  is  downgraded  as  a  backdrop  for  new  a  commercial   development.   The   chipped   paint,   bricked   up   doors   and   drawn   window   curtains   of   the   Crown   Hotel   signal   the   accompanying   decay   of   social   life   and   contraction   of   public   spaces,   as   this   disused   public   house   was   once   a   centre   of   social   life   for   workingmen   in   Hunslet.   The   empty   Leeds   and   Liverpool   Canal,   train   tracks   and   motorways  –  transport  links  that  served  as  vital  trade  routes  –  are  unnervingly  quiet,   while   men   in   suits   walk   briskly   along   the   newly   refurbished   waterfront,   symbolising   the   city’s   new   source   of   energy   as   a   capital   for   law   and   commerce   outside   of   London.  Yet  the  promise  of  regeneration,  personified  by  the  rushing  waters  in  the   city  centre  and  signalled  by  the  construction  of  newly-­‐built  skyscrapers  and  luxury   flats  on  East  Street,  is  threatened  by  billboard  signs  advertising  ‘50%  Lower  Rents’   and  dark,  ominous  clouds  that  foreshadow  another  cycle  of  economic  decline.   The   pathos   of   the   video,   carefully   constructed   by   the   artist,   evokes   a   bittersweet  feeling.  Intense  contrasts  between  light  and  dark,  chiaroscuro  effects  in   the   sky   and   water,   not   only   recall   the   heightened   sense   of   drama   in   18th   century   Romantic  British  landscape  paintings  of  J.M.W.  Turner  and  John  Constable,  but  also   operate   as   pathetic   fallacy   echoing   the   oral   stories   of   the   interlocutors   that   are   projected  onto  the  visual  imagery.  As  Arthur  describes  his  dream  of  coming  to  the   UK,  for  example,  Silva  presents  posters  of  new  housing  developments  that  advertise   aspirational   living.   Sturdy   brick   walls   and   steel   fencing   with   signs   warning   against   entry   block   off   access   to   these   luxury   flats   and   upscale   commercial   spaces,   mimicking   Gabriel’s   tales   of   social   exclusion   at   the   dance   halls.   Yet   the   upbeat   music,   at   times   interspersed   between   or   added   onto   the   migrants’s   tales,   punctures   the   sombre   tone   and   adds   a   poetic   layer   of   hope   as   one   man,   for   example,   sings   nostalgically  of  travelling  and  his  dreams  of  Africa.  This  combination  of  the  camera’s   indexical   proximity   to   the   ‘real’   with   aesthetic   and   poetic   devices   present   the   landscape   as   both   a   functional   and   discursive   site,   an   ecological   space   in   flux   and   symbiotically   shaped   by   material   objects,   animals   and   human   interventions.3   It   also   complicates   clear   readings   of   Wandering   Abroad   as   a   strict   portrayal   of   failed   utopian   promises,   as   the   bittersweet   journey   also   finds   poetic   beauty   in   everyday   life  while  illustrating  how  ‘all  that  is  gold  does  not  glitter’.  

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The music  and  men’s  voices  establish  a  double  narrative  (oral  and  visual)  that   adds   a   psychological   dimension,   another   layer   that   builds   the   artist’s   notion   of   landscape   as   palimpsest   –   a   more   mediated   mental   and   physical   terrain.   Importantly,   interviews   with   each   man   are   held   separately   within   interior   spaces   that  contrast  sharply  with  the  landscape  footage,  developing  the  tensions  between   visibility/invisibility   that   lie   at   the   heart   of   Wandering   Abroad.   Unlike   the   idealised   family   and   businessmen   who   are   shown   in   public   spaces,   Gabriel,   Hector,   and   Arthur   are   not   visually   represented   outdoors   and   Oluwale’s   presence   is   evoked   only   in  the  path  his  body  flowed  down  the  river  and  through  the  interlocutors’s  stories.   This  points  to  how  power  shifts,  socio-­‐economic  and  political  structures  are  played   out  in  the  landscape  –  in  terms  of  land  use  and  common  lands,  the  freedom  to  roam,   and   the   desire   for   people   with   spending   power   to   occupy   the   city   centre.   These   politics   of   space   are   also   suggested   in   the   title:   Wandering   Abroad   emanates   from   the  Vagrancy  Act  of  1824,  a  law  that  labelled  “every  person  wandering  abroad…  in   any   public   place,   street,   highway,   court   or   passage…   a   disorderly   person”   and   punishable  by  law  to  “the  house  of  corrections  …  [and]  hard  labour”.4   Paradigmatic   of   post-­‐colonial   and   post-­‐modernist   works,   the   video’s   overlapping  layers  intersect  to  tell  a  different  piece  of  a  multi-­‐sided  history  shaped   by   a   collection   of   individual   voices.   Although   initially   introduced   separately,   there   are  obvious  overlaps:  Gabriel,  Hector  and  Arthur  all  arrived  to  the  UK  via  a  long  boat   journey   and   confronted   social   and   economic   barriers,   indicating   a   commonality   of   experiences  in  migration  and  hardships  with  integration.5  Silva  plays  with  the  easy   slippage   between   individual/collective   experiences;   as   the   film   progresses   the   specificity   of   each   man’s   reflections   on   friendship,   solidarity,   isolation,   music   and   hope   diverge   at   the   same   time   as   it   becomes   increasingly   difficult   to   distinguish   who   is   narrating   and   anecdotes   of   Oluwale   collapse   into   their   personal   accounts.   Wandering  Abroad  reflexively  questions  documentary  video’s  viability  as  a  medium   to   present   factual   accounts   of   incidents   that   unfold   in   a   particular   time   and   place.   The  cyclical  rhythm  of  the  video,  a  key  feature  of  the  work  generated  through  the   alternating  oral  recollections  of  each  man,  the  repetitive  rhythms  of  the  water,  and   oscillating  overlay  of  music  blends  the  time/space  of  history  –  Oluwale’s  drowning  in   1969   continues   to   speak   to   enduring   problems   of   police   brutality,   gentrification,   hidden  histories  and  immigrant  dreams  that  resonate  with  today’s  asylum  seekers.   The   specificity   of   Leeds   also   dissolves   as   the   city   becomes   as   a   synecdoche   for   global   processes   of   change   and   the   symbiotic   relationship   between   landscapes   of   post-­‐industrial  societies  and  socio-­‐economic,  geo-­‐political  struggles.     This  collapse  of  time-­‐space  in  the  narrative  structure  highlights  Silva’s  artistic   authorship   in   her   selection   of   distinctive   architectural   landmarks,   music,   and   framing   decisions   in   the   duration   and   angles   of   each   slow-­‐moving   image.   The   video’s   cyclical   structure   and   use   of   fragmentation   strategically   construct   a   documentary   that   leaves   only   traces   with   nothing   fully   explained:   the   portrait   of   each  speaker  is  unfinished,  their  relation  to  Oluwale  ambiguous,  and  the  exact  story   of   what   happened   to   Oluwale   remains   unclear.   This   multiplicity   of   layers   severs   a   linear   narrative   and   opens   space   for   viewers   to   navigate   through   the   fragmented   terrain   of   oral   stories,   visual   imagery,   and   music.   It   also   pushes   the   landscape   towards  abstraction,  fracturing  it  as  a  unified  field  and  reassembling  the  landscape   as  a  collage  of  vignettes,  or  short  stories.    

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Wandering Abroad   is   a   large   piece   of   multiple   fragments,   a   collection   of   snapshots,   and   it   is   here   that   video   slips   into   photography’s   domain.   As   the   slow-­‐ moving   video   lingers   on   particular   scenes,   the   very   still   and   quiet   video   adopts   photographic   qualities   since   each   shot   is   carefully   constructed   with   strong   uses   of   line,   balanced   colours   and   perspective,   and   strategic   contrasts   between   dark   and   light.   Static   gaps   in   music   and   long,   meditative   pauses   produce   the   freeze-­‐frame,   still-­‐image  quality  of  photographs  while  the  video’s  time-­‐based  protocols  also  act  on   each  still-­‐image,  releasing  its  bond  to  a  singular  moment  in  time  and  expanding  its   narrative  potential  by  multiplying  the  imagery.  This  further  develops  the  politics  of   (in)visibility,   interrogating   how   photography   and   video   may   dictate   certain   modes   of   looking.   Shots   of   the   wind   blowing   through   the   trees,   movement   of   clouds,   alternating   paces   of   calm,   rippling   and   rushing   waters   open   the   possibility   of   a   multi-­‐sensory   experience   of   landscape,   as   viewers   can   almost   hear   the   sound   of   the   wind  rustling  through  the  leaves,  sense  the  heavy  weight  of  the  dark  clouds,  feel  the   dynamic   energies   of   the   water   and   motion   of   drifting   along   the   river.   The   lulling   pace  of  the  river  journey,  with  its  hypnotic  and  soothing  sense  of  the  water,  draws   viewers   further   into   the   seductive   imagery.   This   more   affective,   embodied   experience  of  the  landscape  induces  different  modes  of  seeing  and  a  visceral  sense   of   person/place   that   is   unlike   the   cold,   distant   gaze   of   early   landscape   photographers  such  as  Francis  Firth  and  Timothy  H.  O’Sullivan.   While   Silva   directly   references   photography’s   colonial   legacy   with   her   use   of   large   photo   plates   and   themes   of   migration   to   ‘foreign’   lands,   Wandering   Abroad   reflexively   inverts   the   function   of   photography   as   a   tool   to   survey,   categorise   and   contain,   suggesting   its   uselessness   as   a   medium   to   communicate   information.   Instead,   the   artist   stresses   the   work’s   materiality,   where   slippage   between   photography   and   video,   along   with   accentuated   aesthetic   elements   and   poetic   devices   highlights   the   artist’s   presence   in   the   construction   of   this   landscape   and   invites   viewers   to   do   the   same.   The   practice   of   survey   photography   –   a   lone   experience  of  traversing  and  bearing  witness  to  the  land  and  its  people  –  becomes  a   collective   process   of   construction   and   interpretation,   opening   spaces   for   imagination  within  representations  of  the  real.     Lauren  Rotenberg  writes  art  criticism  and  teaches  19th  and  20th  century  art  at  University   College  London.  

Notes   1

Photography’s   indexical   quality   is   famously   explored   by   Roland   Barthes   in   Camera   Lucida:   Reflections  on  Photography  (London:  Cape,  1981).   2  For  analysis  on  the  illusory  separation  of  humans  from  the  landscape,  see  Rachael  Ziady  DeLue  and   James   Elkins   eds.,   Landscape   Theory   (London:   Routledge,   2008);   Robin   Kelsey   and   Blake   Stimson   eds.,   The   Meaning   of   Photography   (Williamstown:   Sterling   and   Francine   Clark   Art   Institute,   2008);   Anne  Whiston  Spirn,  The  Language  of  Landscape  (New  Haven:  Yale  University  Press,  1998).     3   For   elaborations   on   functional   and   discursive   sites,   see   James   Meyer,   ‘The   Functional   Site’,   in   Documents   7   (Fall   1996),   pp.20-­‐29;   Miwon   Kwon,   One   Place   After   Another:   Site-­‐specific   Art   and   Locational  Identity  (Cambridge:  The  MIT  Press,  2002).  For  notions  of  landscapes  in  flux,  see  Barbara   Bender  ed.,  Landscape:  Politics  and  Perspectives  (New  York:  Berg,  1993)  and  Contested  Landscapes:   Movement,  Exile  and  Place  (Oxford:  Berg,  2001).     4   Vagrancy   Act   1824:   An   Act   for   the   Punishment   of   idle   and   disorderly   Persons,   and   Rogues   and   Vagabonds   in   England   (Published   n.d.,   Accessed   25/10/2012,   legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo4/5/83),   Chapter  83,  Section  3:  ‘[E]very  person  wandering  abroad,  or  placing  himself  or  herself  in  any  public  

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place, street,   highway,   court,   or   passage,   to   beg   or   gather   alms,   or   causing   or   procuring   or   encouraging  any  child  or  children  so  to  do;  shall  be  deemed  an  idle  and  disorderly  person  within  the   true  intent  and  meaning  of  this  Act;  and  it   shall   be   lawful   for   any   justice   of   the   peace   to   commit   such   offender  (being  thereof  convicted  before  him  by  his  own  view,  or  by  the  confession  of  such  offender,   or   by   the   evidence   on   oath   of   one   or   more   credible   witness   or   witnesses,)   to   the   house   of   correction,   …for   any   time   not   exceeding   one   calendar   month’.   Passed   in   response   to   people   sleeping   on   the   streets   of   London,   this   pre-­‐Victorian   legislation   has   been   deployed   against   people   in   public   places   targeted  by  authorities,  including  gypsies,  prostitutes,  suspected  witches,  fortunetellers,  artists  and   beggars.   While   many   aspects   of   the   law   are   now   repealed,   the   Vagrancy   Act   still   remains   on   the   statute  books.   5  Gabriel  arrived  a  year  before  David  in  1948  as  an  illegal  stowaway  from  Nigeria.  Arthur  arrived  in   1952   from   the   Caribbean   island   of   Nevis,   a   British   colony,   and   so   had   legal   status   to   settle   in   the   UK.   Hector   never   met   Oluwale,   having   arrived   years   later   as   a   doctor   from   Nigeria   with   the   right   to   work   in   England.   Despite   this,   the   similarities   of   their   experiences   speak   to   enduring   commonalities   in   the   struggles  of  migrants.  

               

9


Crown Hotel,  Hunslet.  

Waterfront, River  Aire,  near  Leeds  City  Station.  

10    


Corinne Silva  in  Conversation   Edwin  Coomasaru  and  Charley  Lintern    

Edwin Coomasaru:  How  did  you  seek  to  represent  migration  in  Wandering  Abroad   (2009)?     Corinne   Silva:   I   wasn’t   seeking   to   represent   migration   in   any   way   as   a   whole.   I   wanted   to   talk   about   the   specific   story   of   David   Oluwale   through   the   voices   of   African   and   Caribbean   migrants   in   Leeds;   forming   multiple   narratives   as   both   David’s  story  is  discussed  and  their  own  stories  emerge.  There  are  many  layers  and   different  experiences  –  I  think  that’s  a  way  of  being  able  to  suggest  the  complexities   of   immigration.   Each   scenario   and   situation   is   absolutely   different,   but   there   are   some  shared  themes  of  the  alienation,  separation  and  aloneness  that  David  Oluwale   encountered,  and  that  present  day  asylum  seekers  continue  to  face.  These  themes   are  also  reflected  in  the  dual  narrative  of  the  film,  which  is  about  regeneration  in  the   city   and   its   often   marginalising   effects.   That   relates   not   only   to   migrants,   but   to   people   who   don’t   have   the   economic   means   to   occupy   these   new   glossy   city   centre   spaces.       EC:   Since   hearing   the   stories   of   the   interviewees   is   crucial   to   the   work,   why   did   you   specifically  choose  to  speak  to  Gabriel,  Arthur  and  Abiye?     CS:   Abiye   Hector   Goma   was   previously   the   chair   of   the   Nigerian   Community   Leeds,   so   he   was   a   very   natural   choice.   Gabriel   Adams   was   somebody   Kester   Aspden,   a   friend   and   author   of   Nationality:   Wog,   The   Hounding   of   David   Oluwale   (2007),   had   interviewed   before.   He   was   just   wonderful.   He   discussed   his   understanding   of   what   had  happened  to  David,  and  his  parallel  experience  of  arriving  in  England  only  a  year   earlier,  also  stowed  away  on  a  ship.  But  he’d  obviously  gone  a  completely  different   route.  He’d  put  his  head  down  and  worked  hard  in  a  foundry  for  forty  years,  married,   had   kids   and   a   nice   semi-­‐detached   house   in   a   cul-­‐de-­‐sac.   Arthur   France   is   a   big   figure  in  the  Leeds  African-­‐Caribbean  community.  He  was  very  involved  in  the  music   scene,   one   of   the   people   who   first   brought   carnival   to   Britain.   I   think   they   complimented   each   other   very   well   because   they   all   talked   about   the   music.   Reading  through  my  notes  the  other  day  I  noticed  that  somebody  had  said  ‘music   preserved  us’.     Charley   Lintern:   I   noticed   some   of   the   music   was   from   the   ‘40s,   like   the   West   African  Rhythm  Brothers.  You  then  have  the  story  –  the  murder  –  occurring  in  the  

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late ‘60s,  and  the  contemporary  narratives  and  visuals.  What  relationship  between   past  and  present  are  you  suggesting  through  this  form  of  historical  trajectory?     CS:  I  wanted  to  make  these  criss-­‐crosses  all  the  time,  drawing  connections  between   past  and  present,  so  that  the  film  is  always  moving.  As  the  language  of  the  film  is   about   moving   down   the   river,   it’s   very   rhythmic.   There’s   this   real   sense   of   something  being  constantly  in  motion.  What  I  wanted  to  do  with  this  work,  and  all   my   work,   is   to   make   a   space   for   this   consideration   of   past   and   present   and   through   that,  for  potential  futures.       CL:  So  how  did  you  intend  this  work  to  affect  your  viewers?  It  seems  to  ellicit  less   political  provocation  than  quiet  contemplation.     CS:  I  always  think  of  my  pictures  and  film  as  a  ‘wash’,  washing  over  you  -­‐  it’s  visceral.   It’s  not  just  aiming  to  work  on  an  intellectual  plane,  or  with  a  very  forceful  political   intent,   but   rather   leaving   the   viewer   with   a   trace   of   something.   I   don’t   want   to   prescribe   meaning.   Of   course   I’m   constructing   something,   but   in   that   construction   I   want   to   leave   space   for   the   viewer   to   have   agency.   For   me,   that   feels   much   more   powerful.  Roland  Barthes  talks  about  the  pornographic  image  and  the  erotic  image.   It’s   the   same   thing,   it’s   about   not   showing,   and   what   you   don’t   quite   see   lingers   more  and  feeds  you’re  imagination,  makes  you  inquire.  I  see  my  still  photographs  as   acting   ‘filmically’   in   that   they   suggest   there   is   something   beyond   the   frame.   I   construct   sequences   of   photographs,   purposefully   allowing   this   accumulation   of   pictures   to   build   up   whilst   still   not   actually   giving   a   whole   lot   of   information   –   reminding   the   viewer   to   imagine   what   is   between   each   picture   as   well   as   above   and   below,  behind  and  beyond  the  frame.         CL:   When   you   were   discussing   Imported   Landscapes   (2010)   at   the   Brighton   Photo   Biennial  (2012)  conference,  you  said  its  impact  was  supposed  to  be  ‘quite  quiet’.1  Do   you  think  Wandering  Abroad  uses  a  similar  technique?     CS:  Yes  I  do.  There  was  a  certain  bittersweet  quality  that  I  wanted  the  work  to  have.   I   didn’t   know   how   that   quality   was   going   to   materialise,   but   it   was   both   a   melancholy   and   joyfulness   as   you   encounter   the   steadfastness   of   somebody   like   Gabriel.     EC:  At  the  end  he  says,  ‘so,  that  is  the  life,  I’m  happy  because  I  think  God  gave  me  a   lot  of  knowledge  that  I  didn’t  have  from  the  book  but  I  have  from  experience.  See,   there’s   a   lot   of   things   that   we’ve   gone   through   in   life,   you   know,   but   I   know   my   way   of  surviving’.     CS:   That’s   just   so   key   for   me.   All   of   the   work   that   I’m   doing   feels   interconnected   by   this  lone  figure  in  the  landscape,  trying  to  find  their  way  in  a  hostile  environment.     What   was   important   in   this   film   was   the   contrast   of   documentary   language   and   the   suggestion   of   the   ‘imagined   landscape’   of   Britain   that   some   migrants   have.   Many   have  an  image  of  what  the  ‘Mother  Country’  is  going  to  be  like,  particularly  migrants   that  have  come  from  countries  previously  colonised  by  Britain.       12    


EC: Abiye  Hector  Goma  says,  ‘we  try  our  best  to  tell  people  that  all  that  glitters  is   not  gold’.  Why  did  those  words  resonate  for  you?  Why  did  you  include  them?     CS:  Because  that’s  the  recurrent  story  I’ve  heard  from  people,  particularly  economic   migrants.  For  the  project  I  did  before  this  in  2006,  Róisín  Bán,  I  interviewed  people   from  the  west  of  Ireland  who  had  come  to  Leeds.  They  were  talking  about  living  in   Leeds  nine  people  to  a  room;  guys  working  in  the  building  industry,  digging  roads,   working  in  really  harsh  conditions  to  send  money  home.  But  then  also  saving  money   up  so  that  when  they  did  go  home  for  their  two-­‐week  annual  holiday  they’d  have  a   new   suit   and   money   to   flash   in   pub;   buying  everybody  rounds,  they’re  talking  about   how  wonderful  it  is  in  Leeds.  So  it’s  very  complex  because  it’s  about  pride,  isn’t  it?   It’s  about  not  wanting  to  tell  people  how  you’re  living,  how  your  suffering  to  try  and   improve   your   life.   And   I   know   it’s   the   same   with   the   young   Moroccan   men   whose   shanty   houses   I’ve   been   photographing   in   southern   Spain.   They   do   exactly   the   same.  Their  family  would  be  ringing  them  all  the  time  from  Morocco,  not  realising   that   they   were   living   in   a   plastic   shanty   with   no   running   water.   But   Abiye   Hector   Goma  is  saying  something  different.  He’s  saying  that  despite  telling  people  of  the   real  hardships,  many  people  still  want  to  believe  in  an  imagined  landscape.  I  think   that  we  all  live  in  hope.         EC:  I  found  the  motif  of  water  and  the  river  particularly  important.  Not  only  for  its   allusion  to  the  history  of  colonialism  and  migration,  but  it  also  made  me  think  of  a   quote   by   Hans-­‐Rudolf   Wicher:   ‘culture   can   no   longer   be   represented   by   the   metaphor   of   the   timeless   and   suspended   complex   whole.   A   much   more   fitting   allegorical   expression   for   a   new   view   of   culture   is   a   river   …   its   liquid   nature   as   a   process’.2   If   the   river   is   a   metaphor,   do   you   feel   it   points   to   syncretic   cultural   exchanges  that  are  a  part  of  migration?     CS:  There  is  always  a  process  of  hybridisation  occurring.  Of  course  hybridity  is  a  very   problematic  term  because  nothing  ever  begins  as  ‘pure’,  which  is  why  I  say  a  process   of   hybridity.   But   I   agree,   a   river   is   a   potent   metaphor   for   that   process.   I   think   about   landscapes  as  being  in  constant  motion  and  flux.  People  shape  landscapes  as  much   as   landscapes   shape   people.   The   idea   that   many   people   had   of   Leeds   and   Britain   was  projected  onto  this  place.  Which  is  also  about  aspiration.       EC:  This  idea  –  of  aspiration  –  is  also  encapsulated  in  the  film’s  shots  of  planned  or   partly-­‐constructed  urban  developments.     CS:   Yes   definitely.   It   is   also   very   quietly   suggesting   questions   about   regeneration   or   gentrification   which   is   tied   in   with   aspiration   and   an   image   of   city   living   that   has   been   sold   to   people;   but   is   now   obviously   emerging   as   rather   unsuccessful.   There   are  not  many  people  in  the  film  at  all,  but  then  when  Abiye  Hector  says  ‘for  some   people  coming  to  Britain  is  like  striking  gold’,  there  is  a  shot  of  a  very  nice,  neat  and   wealthy  looking  white  family  waking  down  the  riverside  alongside  lovely  landscape   gardening.  It  looks  like  it  could  be  a  commercial  for  a  new  development.     CL:  Do  you  think  it  was  significant  that  you  placed  the  interviewees  within  domestic   settings  that  felt  very  separate  from  the  shots  of  the  city  landscape?    

13


CS: Yes.  They  are  shot  on  video  as  opposed  to  being  shot  on  high  definition,  in  order   to   have   a   very   different,   intimate   feel.   There   is   juxtaposition   between   the   homeliness   and   familiarity   of   those   spaces,   with   the   gloss   of   the   new   city   centre   buildings,   which   are   absolutely   about   the   facades.   In   every   sense   they   are   about   facades  –  many  are  very  poorly  constructed  and  often  flood  when  it  rains.  There  are   also   so   many   unoccupied   buildings,   even   several   years   ago   they   didn’t   attract   the   kind   of   people   they   hoped   for,   which   has   only   been   made   worse   by   the   economic   crisis.  In  fact  there  is  no  infrastructure  in  the  city  centre;  there  is  no  doctor,  nursery   or  paper  shop.  But  it  is  about  selling  the  idea  of  a  city,  to  boost  confidence  and  to   encourage  investment.       EC:   With   reference   to   Badlands   (2008-­‐2011),   you   have   described   Almeria   as   ‘a   microcosm   of   a   rapidly   unravelling   neo-­‐liberal   fantasy’.3   Can   the   residential   developments  depicted  both  in  Wandering  Abroad  and  Badlands  be  thought  about   in  connection  with  the  recent  global  financial  crisis?     CS:  Yes  absolutely.  When  I  started  Badlands  in  2008,  we  were  just  entering  into  it.   What  was  interesting  for  me  about  that  work  was  the  way  it  changed  through  the   unfolding   of   the   global   economic   crisis.   When   I   began   working   there   I   was   really   thinking   about   how   the   ‘castles’   of   the   gated   communities   belonged   to   a   privileged   elite   living   in   controlled   fantasy   environments,   while   there   was   so   much   ‘human   waste’   beyond   their   walls.   But   then   the   more   I   worked   on   the   project,   the   more   I   realised   that   those   people   living   in   so-­‐called   ‘castles’   are   equally   suffering   under   global   capitalism,   and   are   equally   victims   of   it.   Those   people   aren’t   the   1%;   they   have  saved  all  their  lives  to  retire  and  buy  a  second  home  in  a  gated  community  in   Spain,   where   they   can   have   year-­‐round-­‐sun,   cheap   booze,   and   be   ‘safe’.   They   are   equally  aspiring  for  the  ‘good  life’  but  now  find  themselves  with  properties  that  they   can  neither  afford  nor  sell.  So  I  understand  that  the  situation  is  too  tangled  to  make   strong   statements   such   as   ‘this   is   the   rich   versus   the   impoverished’,   or   ‘this   is   the   elite   versus   the   marginalised.’   I   hope   Wandering   Abroad   also   makes   that   clear.   I   didn’t   want   to   make   overly   simple   juxtapositions;   the   whole   process   is   far   more   complex  than  that.     EC:  T.J.  Demos  has  recently  written  that  some  of  your  work  lays  bare  ‘the  logic  of   privatisation   and   walling’,   which   you   counteract   by   disseminating   your   images   outside   (as   well   as   inside)   the   physical   museum.4   Does   this   relate   to   your   interest   with  working  with  us  at  the  International  New  Media  Gallery?     CS:   I   want   each   project   to   have   multiple   lives   and   be   able   to   be   seen   on   multiple   platforms.  Wandering  Abroad  was  made  as  a  room  installation  for  Leeds  Art  Gallery.   It   was   a   huge   eight   metre   wide   screen   in   a   conventional   black   box   with   surround   sound   and   really   high   production   values.   But   then   it   has   also   been   shown   at   a   conference   for   Refugee   Week,   it   has   been   screened   for   Black   History   Month,   and   has  been  shown  at  several  universities.  It  is  also  going  to  be  projected  onto  a  gable   end  of  a  building  in  Leeds  next  year.  Each  of  these  platforms  has  enabled  different   discussions  and  even  different  elements  of  the  film  to  emerge.  I  want  the  work  to   have   life   beyond   the   physical   gallery,   so   having   it   on   the   web   and   contextualised   14    


through the   International   New   Media   Gallery   is   really   exciting.   I   could   be   really   precious   and   say   that   I   don’t   want   it   to   be   seen   on   a   tiny   screen   or   watched   on   somebody’s   phone   but   I   have   to   trust   that   the   film   can   carry   that.   I   trust   that   the   work  can  act  as  a  foundation  for  discussion.     Edwin   Coomasaru   and   Charley   Lintern   are   History   of   Art   MA   students   at   University   College   London,  specialising  in  contemporary  art.  

Notes    

1

Corinne Silva,  ‘Panel  Discussion:  Photography  Beyond  the  Gallery’,  Brighton  Photo  Biennial  Opening   Weekend  Symposium,  University  of  Brighton,  6/10/2012.   2   Hans-­‐Rudolf   Wicher,   ‘From   Complex   Culture   to   Cultural   Complexity’,   in   Pnina   Werbner   and   Tariq   Modood   eds.,   Debating   Cultural   Hybridity:   Multicultural   Identities   and   the   Politics   of   Anti-­‐Racism   (London:  Zed  Books,  1997),  p.39.   3   Corinne   Silva,   ‘Badlands’,   in   CorinneSilva.com   (Published   n.d.,   Accessed   29/09/2012,   corinnesilva.com/badlands-­‐statement).   4   T.J.   Demos,   ‘Spaces   of   Global   Capital:   On   the   Photography   of   Jason   Larkin   and   Corinne   Silva’,   in   Photoworks,  Issue  19  (Brighton:  Photoworks,  2012),  p.12.    

                           

15


East Street,  Leeds.  

Leeds and  Liverpool  Canal,  Leeds  City  Centre.  

16    


Corinne Silva:  The  Uncompromising  Image   Tom  Snow      

In recent   years   photography   has   attempted   to   overcome   alleged   crises   in   representation,   negating   commercialism   and   refuting   photographic   limitations   founded  on  the  convictions  of  a  televisual,  spectacular  world.1  Rather  than  succumb   to   set   parameters,   photographers   and   filmmakers   today   have   attempted   to   restore   the   representative   possibilities   of   their   mediums,   beyond   the   apparent   ends   of   photography,   in   order   to   reimagine   the   capacity   of   documentary   and   other   photographic  forms  to  offer  faithful  representations  of  their  subjects.2   Classic  accounts  of  photography  begin  to  imagine  an  image-­‐drenched  world,   where  the  photograph  falls  victim  to  its  own  depictive  powers.  Roland  Barthes  for   example,   considered   that   the   meaning   of   photography   was   ‘too   impressive,’   and   was   too   ‘quickly   deflected;   we   consume   it   aesthetically,   not   politically’.3   Advertising   imagery  or  secular  propaganda  rendered  a  society  that  ‘mistrusts  pure  meaning:  It   wants  meaning,  but  at  the  same  time  it  wants  this  meaning  to  be  surrounded  by  a   noise’.4  Photography  then,  risked  the  configuration  of  its  own  prohibitions  through   an  internalised  set  of  prefigured  conventions  and  affects.  In  the  end,  Barthes  writes,   ‘Photography   is   subversive   not   when   it   frightens,   repels,   or   even   stigmatizes,   but   when  it  is  pensive,  when  it  thinks’.5   The   photographic   work   of   contemporary   British   artist   Corinne   Silva   engages   urban   and   rural   topographies,   collating   past,   present   and   future   human   landscapes.   Silva’s  research-­‐based  activities  can  be  seen  to  incorporate  a  set  of  new  possibilities   associated   with   lens-­‐based   practices   today,   suggesting   photography’s   ability   to   offer   uncompromising   visual   reflections   through   a   rejection   of   sensationalism.   Works   rarely   feature   human   figures;   instead   human   presence   is   measured   firstly   through   the   invocation   of   subjects,   and   secondly   through   the   co-­‐optation   of   the   viewer.     The   photographic   project   Badlands   (2008-­‐2011)   initiates   a   visual   dialogue   between   two   migrant   groups   impacting   on   the   landscape   of   Almeria   in   Southeast   Spain,   interconnected   through   agriculture   and   leisure   industries.   Migrants   from   northern  and  sub-­‐Saharan  Africa  construct  ‘bricoláge  shanties  from  salvaged  plastic’   and  other  repurposed  detritus,6  whilst  northern  European  plastic-­‐pioneers  construct   Donald   Trump-­‐style   golf   courses   and   other   equally   soulless   domestic   units.   Photographs   of   contemporary   villas   show   a   range   of   pastiche   architectural   styles,   walled-­‐in   as   though   jealously   guarding   their   borrowed   innovations   from   the   desolate  dusty  setting.  Other  images  show  domestic  innovation  of  a  different  kind.   A   sub-­‐category   included   in   the   series   are   labelled   Temporary   settlement   –   or   Shaded   settlement   if   close   to   a   tree   –   which   picture   detached   slum   dwellings   constructed    

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from materials   including   plastic,   tarpaulin   and   wooden   crates.   More   photographs   depict  walls  of  waste  plastic,  piled  high  and  awaiting  recycling  (or  re-­‐appropriation   as   building   materials).   Off-­‐set   against   images   of   luxury   leisure   compounds,   complete  with  fibreglass  modelled  “rocks”  similar  to  the  ones  found  in  Disneyland   or   on   film   sets,   serial   comparison   of   the   two   social   spheres   is   in   the   first   instance   obvious:  they  are  worlds  apart.       Episodes   of   domesticity,   leisure   and   agriculture   are   all   figured   more   as   encyclopaedic  or  archival  than  overtly  descriptive  images.  There  is  a  sense  in  which   the  pictures  relate  to  the  deadpan  photography  of  Ed  Ruscha’s  Twentysix  Gasoline   Stations   (1963),   as   indices   in   the   landscape   rather   than   dramatised   portraits.   However   Silva’s   pictures   are   more   inert   than   Ruscha’s   drive-­‐by   photographs,   in   part   through  the  instilling  of  a  static  camera  position,  alongside  the  frequent  negation  of   perspective.   Instead   of   claiming   the   rejection   of   stylisation,   I   want   to   suggest   that   these  images  are  forthcoming  in  their  utility  of  documentary  modalities.  It  would  be   naïve  to  suggest  a  total  de-­‐aestheticisation  of  the  image.  But  through  a  denial  of  the   spectacular,   and   an   appeal   to   a   kind   of   anti-­‐monumental   composition,   Silva’s   photographs   are   staged   in   such   a   way   as   to   evoke   a   universality   that   calls   for   a   reflective   or   subjective   examination   of   the   space   articulated.   Of   course,   these   photographs  should  not  be  claimed  to  operate  under  same  kind  of  conditions  that   constitute,   for   instance,   Ariella   Azoulay’s   designation   of   the   ‘citizenry   of   photography’.7  Rather  than  compel  the  viewer  to  address  desensitisation  centred  on   the   addressees   of   photography,   Silva’s   pictures   omit   human   presence   and   instead   ask   the   viewer   to   reflect   on   a   series   of   images   in   relation   to   an   index   of   human   residence.   Each   image,   whether   set   against   the   dimensionless   blue   sky,   or   unremarkable   dusty   earth,   is   universalising   and   anonymous.   Recalling   the   standardized   photographs   of   industrial   landscapes   by   Bernd   and   Hilla   Becher,   Silva’s   images   represent   an   impulse   to   record   rather   than   illustrate   architectural   innovation   or   any   whimsical   geographic   landscape.8   Here   we   might   say   that   the   uncompromising  image  is  one  that  utilises  pre-­‐existing  photographic  vocabularies,   whilst   simultaneously   departing   from   an   objectivity   often   associated   with   the   documentary-­‐type   image.   Attention   is   drawn   away   from   the   larger   setting   of   Almeria  and  towards  specific  pictorial  instants  concentrated  through  the  crop  of  the   photograph.   Questions   are   posed   with   regards   to   the   gaps   or   interstices   in   visual   narrative,   where   attention   is   directed   towards   a   series   of   instances   as   well   as   intermissions.   Amongst   the   most   rarefied   photographs   featured   in   Badlands   are   those   labelled  by  Silva  as  ‘empty  lots’.  These  images  picture  vacant  plots  of  land,  ready,   we   might   suspect,   to   be   incorporated   into   the   new   precarious   topographies   of   Almeria.  In  relation  to  other  images,  these  contain  a  kind  of  extra-­‐vacancy;  human   presence  is  not  some  much  absent  as  it  is  anticipated.  Elsewhere  the  utility  of  plastic   as   a   building   resource   suggests   scavenging   to   be   necessarily   in   submission   to   the   waste  products  of  the  elite.  A  world  shaped  by  the  prosperity  of  plastic,  something   Barthes  incidentally  described  as  ‘the  quick-­‐change  artistry  of  plastic’.9  The  ‘empty   lots’   however   are   found   spaces.   Matching   deadpan   labels   (that   simultaneously   act   as   parodic   descriptions)   designate   the   natural   landscape   as   a   development   opportunity.       18    


Castle II,  from  the  series  Badlands,  2008-­‐2011,  c-­‐type  print,  101  x  81  cm.  

Shaded settlement  I,  from  the  series  Badlands,  2008-­‐2011,  c-­‐type  print,  101  x  81  cm.  

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T.J. Demos,   in   a   recent   essay   on   Sliva’s   work,   has   usefully   likened   the   luxury   living  units  and  manmade  golf  oases  to  a  ‘post-­‐natural  fantasy-­‐based  manipulation   of  the  landscape-­‐become-­‐simulacrum’.  The  slum  dwellings  are  described  otherwise   as  ‘an  informal  architecture  of  survival,  based  on  an  ecology  of  found  and  recycled   materials   and   a   by-­‐any-­‐means-­‐necessary   way   of   living’.10   As   geographical   composites,  the  Badlands  series  describe  a  disproportionate  distribution  of  wealth   and   raise   important   questions   regarding   uneven   infrastructural   development.11   As   Demos   observes,   visual   comparisons   between   the   two   kinds   of   images   are,   ‘notable   for   [a]   juxtaposition   that   brings   into   view   the   crisis   of   economic   inequality’.12   Thought   of   as   singularized   inquiries   into   the   landscape   however,   a   further   comparison   may   also   be   pointed   out.   Despite   the   inequalities   evident   throughout   the   series,   each   subject   is   treated   with   the   same   impartiality   at   the   hand   of   the   artist.  In  light  of  the  current  economic  crisis,  the  kind  of  muted  isolation  portrayed  in   each   instant   of   domesticity,   agriculture   or   leisure   is   rearticulated   and   repeated   in   the  equanimity  of  the  photograph  –  which  in  turn  works  to  complicate  initial  visual   comparison.  Here  we  realise  that  the  walls  surrounding  the  gated  communities  are   providing  shelter  only  from  the  immediate  terrain,  and  not  from  the  larger  on-­‐going   economic  crisis  in  Spain  and  much  of  the  western  world.  A  plastic  that  forged  itself   on   economic   prosperity,   as   it   turns   out,   has   fallen   short   in   an   insatiable   plastic   economy.  Walls  become  as  worthless  as  waste  in  their  capacity  to  offer  shelter  from   financial   upheaval.   Maria   Lind   and   Hito   Steyerl   have   suggested   that   the   ambivalent   nature   and   uncertainty   of   the   documentary-­‐type   image   have   led   to   the   most   innovative   forms   in   contemporary   art   practice,   ‘hovering   between   art   and   non-­‐art   […]   between   the   aesthetic   and   the   ethic’.13   Considered   in   their   relative   autonomy   therefore,   Silva’s   images   give   rise   to   no   immediate   aesthetic   drama.   On   the   contrary,  her  lens  is  used  to  mediate  rather  than  to  sensationalise.     Philosopher  Jacques  Rancière  has  suggested  that  a  ‘politics  of  aesthetics’  is   not   merely   an   aestheticisation   of   the   political,   nor   the   result   of   messages   of   sentiments  an  image  might  portray  with  the  intention  of  representing  social  groups,   conflicts  or  identities.  ‘It  is  political  because  of  the  very  distance  it  takes  with  respect   to   these   functions,   because   of   the   space   and   time   it   institutes,   and   the   manner   in   which  it  frames  this  time  and  peoples  this  space’.14  That  is,  a  delimitation  of  space   that   takes   into   account   what   is   visible   and   what   is   not   according   to   the   logic   of   a   visual   medium,   determining   a   politics   of   aesthetics   as   a   form   of   experience.   In   Silva’s   photographs   then,   we   can   suggest   an   interpretation   of   photography   as   a   medium  that  interrupts  and  fixes  an  instant,  but  does  not  seek  to  expose  beyond  its   own  limitations  and  terms  of  exposure.  Images  presented  by  Silva  require  a  kind  of   participation,   obliging   the   viewer   to   engage   their   knowledge   with   the   visual   information   offered,   establishing   the   inherent   foreclosures   of   the   photographic   image  are  matched  with  the  inscription  and  reception  of  its  reading.  As  art  historian   Yates  McKee  has  suggested,  ‘every  image  is  a  kind  of  text  that  requires  both  looking   and  reading,  or  rather  looking  as  reading,  regardless  of  whether  an  image  contains   or  is  accompanied  by  text  in  the  narrow  sense  of  the  word’.15   Another   set   of   works   by   Silva   respond   to   the   topographical   uncertainties   along   the   Mediterranean   through   photographic   interventions   set   in   the   landscape   itself.   For   the   project   Imported   Landscapes   (2010),   a   number   of   photographs   were   made  depicting  the  northern  Moroccan  coast  from  Tangier  to  the  border  of  Algeria.   These  photographs  were  then  mounted  on  billboard  advertising  space  across     20    


Resort town   of   Al   Hoceima   placed   in   former   industrial   zone,   Cartagena,   from   the   series   Imported   Landscapes,  2010,  c-­‐type  print,  179  x  143  cm.  

Installation, Murcia,  Spain  2010.  

   

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Murcia in   Spain.   Other   contemporary   practices   have   engaged   with   continuing   injustices   regarding   civilian   status   and   travel-­‐injunctions   determined   by   passport   restrictions  imposed  on  Moroccan  passage  to  Spain.  Take  for  example  Yto  Barrada’s   Life  Full  of  Holes:  The  Straits  Project,  which  has  focused  on  human  anxiety  and  risk   regarding   illegal   passage   across   the   Strait   of   Gibraltar.16   Silva’s   work   however,   once   again   departs   from   the   immediately   confrontational.   Bypassing   direct   political   antagonism,   the   placing   of   one   landscape   in   another   works   to   couple   certain   geographic  similarities  including  climate,  flora  and  fauna  across  the  dual  locations.17   The   mounted   photographs   are   subsequently   re-­‐photographed,   producing   an   image   of  one  photographic  landscape  in  another  photographed  landscape.  Here,  we  might   suggest   a   kind   of   double-­‐intercession.   In   the   first   instance   we   note   a   seemingly   casual  visual  intervention.  In  the  second  however,  a  more  critical  juxtaposition  may   be   considered.   Images   of   the   Moroccan   landscape   are   mounted   on   space   usually   reserved   for   advertising.   Thinking   back   to   the   logic   suggested   in   relation   to   the   ‘empty   lot’   images   included   in   the   Badlands   series,   Imported   Landscapes   further   complicate   the   traditional   role   of   the   photography   in   relation   to   the   space   of   advertisement,  exhibition  and  land  acquisition.     One  photograph,  showing  the  installation  of,  New  suburb  of  Tangier  placed  in   former   mining   region   La   Unión,   Murcia,   contains   a   figure   looking   back   towards   the   billboard   as   he   walks   his   dogs.   As   mentioned,   it   is   rare   for   Silva’s   photographs   to   feature   human   figures.   This   picture   on   the   other   hand   works   to   demonstrate   the   anticipated   effects   of   visual   strategies   deployed   throughout   these   and   other   works.   Intrigue   is   evident   from   the   figure’s   twisted   body   position,   as   though   he   has   repeatedly  returned  his  gaze  to  the  image  as  he  continues  his  journey  in  confusion.   The  man  pictured  assumed  the  image  to  present  future  development  proposals  for   his   area.18   He,   like   the   viewer   in   general,   is   confused   yet   captivated.   Rancière   has   further   suggested   that   visual   emancipation   comes   only   through   our   active   engagement  with  the  image  or  aesthetic  world:     Like   researchers,   artists   construct   the   stages   where   the   manifestation   and   effect   of   their   skills   are   exhibited,   rendered   uncertain   in   terms   of   the   new   idiom   that   conveys   a   new   intellectual   adventure.   The   effect   of   the   idiom   cannot   be   anticipated.   It   requires   spectators   who   play   the   role   of   active   interpreters,   who   develop   their   own   translation   in   order   to   appropriate   the   ‘story’  and  make  it  their  own  story.19     Testified   to   in   this   photograph   then,   is   something   like   Barthes’   pensive   image;   an   image   that   causes   the   viewer   to   think   and   reject   a   passive   non-­‐participation   that   might   be   associated   with   the   quick-­‐fire,   subliminal   space   of   advertisements   and   other  spectacular  imagery.     The   photographic   forms   identified   in   Silva’s   practice   do   not   negate   the   political.   Rather,   the   rejection   of   sensationalism   resists   the   kind   of   anodyne   seductions  imparted  on  the  overtly  aestheticised  image.  Here  Silva  restores  faith  in   photographic  forms,  constituting  an  image  that  speaks  to  the  mobility  of  the  viewer   and  allows  reflection  on  a  number  of  representational  dilemmas.  It  is  in  this  sense   that  Silva’s  photographs  impart  the  political,  not  through  an  evocation  of  sentiment   or   aesthetic   conviction,   but   through   a   sensitive   negotiation   of   medium   and   skilful   22    


manoeuvring of   contemporary   visual   culture.   In   the   end,   it   is   not   so   much   that   aesthetics   or   the   photograph   have   reached   an   impasse,   but   that   through   an   aesthetically   indulged   or   image-­‐drenched   world,   there   is   an   intention   on   behalf   of   the   artist   to   cause   –   and   obligation   on   behalf   of   the   viewer   to   draw   –   important   distinctions   between   looking   and   seeing.   The   spectator   then,   ‘is   not   some   passive   condition  that  we  should  transform  into  inactivity’.  But,  as  Rancière  suggests,  ‘It  is   our  normal  situation’.20    

Tom Snow  is  a  research  student  at  University  College  London  and  a  freelance  writer.      

Notes  

1

See   Guy   Debord,   Society   of   the   Spectacle   (1967),   for   a   neo-­‐Marxist   account   of   a   world   in   submission   to   ‘spectacle’.   See   also,   Hito   Steyerl   ‘Documentary   Uncertainty’,   in   Re-­‐Visiones,   Issue   1   (Published   n.d.,   Accessed   15/10/2012,   re-­‐visiones.imaginarrar.net/spip.php?article37)   for   a   discussion   of   contemporary  documentary  and  media  forms.   2   See   Maria   Lind   and   Hito   Steyerl,   ‘Reconsidering   the   Documentary   and   Contemporary   Art,’   in   Maria   Lind   and   Hito   Steyerl   eds.,   The   Green   Room:   Reconsidering   the   Documentary   and   Contemporary   Art   (Berlin:   Strenberg   Press,   2008),   p.12:   Lind   and   Steyerl   present   a   range   of   historical   and   recent   examples   of   how   documentary   forms   have   come   to   prominence   in   contemporary   art,   ‘Historically,   the   documentary   is   a   form   that   emerges   in   a   state   of   crisis:   it   is   no   coincidence   that   many   documentary   art   works   remind   us   of   quests   for   suitable   forms   and   provide   methods   for   discussion   of   social   content’.   See   also,   T.J.   Demos   ed.,   Vitamin   Ph:   New   Perspectives   in   Photography   (London:   Phaidon  Press,  2009).   3  Roland  Barthes,  Camera  Lucida,  Richard  Howard  trans.  (London:  Vintage  Books,  2000),  p.36.   4  Ibid.  See  also,  Roland  Barthes,  ‘Photography  and  Electoral  Appeal’,  in  Mythologies,  Annette  Lavers   trans.  (London:  Vintage  Books,  2009).     5  Roland  Barthes  (2000),  p.38.   6   Corinne   Silva,   ‘Badlands’,   in   CorinneSilva.com   (Published   n.d.,   Accessed   11/10/2012,   corinnesilva.com/badlands-­‐statement).   7  See  Ariella  Azoulay,  The  Civil  Contract  of  Photography  (New  York:  Zone  Books,  2008):  Azoulay  seeks   to  show  how  contemporary  photography  that  focuses  on  crisis  areas  or  zones  of  conflict  necessarily   engage   a   tripartite   relationship   between   people   photographed,   photographers   and   the   eventual   receptors  of  photography  (see  particularly,  Chapter  2,  ‘The  Civil  Contract  of  Photography’).   8   For   example   see   Sarah   E.   James,   ‘Subject,   object,   mimesis:   the   aesthetic   world   of   Bechers’   photography,’   in   Diamuid   Costello   and   Margaret   Iversen   eds.,   Photography   After   Conceptual   Art   (Oxford:  Wiely-­‐Blackwell  and  Association  of  Art  Historians,  2010).     9  Roland  Barthes  (2009),  p.117.   10  T.J.  Demos,  ‘Spaces  of  Global  Capital:  On  the  Photography  of  Jason  Larkin  and  Corinne  Silva’,  in   Ben  Burbridge  and  Celia  Davies  eds.,  Photoworks,  Issue  19  (Brighton:  Photoworks,  2012),  p.12.   11   Regarding   uneven   geographical   development   and   the   compromising   of   land-­‐rights   under   the   acquisition   of   capital,   see   David   Harvey,   Spaces   of   Global   Capitalism:   Towards   a   Theory   of   Uneven   Geographical  Development  (London  and  New  York:  Verso,  2006).   12  T.J.  Demos,  p.12.   13  Maria  Lind  and  Hito  Steyerl,  p.16.   14   Jacques   Rancière,   Aesthetics   and   Its   Discontents,  Steve   Corcoran   trans.   (Cambridge:   Polity   Press,   2009),  p.23.   15   Yates   McKee,   ‘“Eyes   and   Ears”:   Aesthetics,   Visual   Culture   and   the   Claims   of   Nongovernmental   Politics’,  in  Michel  Feher  ed.,  Nongovernmental  Politics  (New  York:  Zone  Books,  2007),  p.330.   16  See,  Anthony  Doweny,  ‘A  Life  Full  of  Holes,’  in  Third  Text,  Vol.  20,  Issue  5  (Routledge,  September   2006).   17   Corinne   Silva,   ‘Imported   Landscapes’,   in   CorinneSilva.com   (Published   n.d.,   Accessed   11/10/2012,   corinnesilva.com/imported-­‐landscapes-­‐statement).   18  Corinne  Silva,  in  conversation  with  author,  6/10/2012.   19  Jacques  Rancière,  The  Emancipated  Spectator,  Gregory  Elliot  trans.  (London:  Verso,  2009),  p.22.   20  Ibid.  

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INTERNATIONAL NEW MEDIA GALLERY

                   

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Corinne Silva: Wandering Abroad  
Corinne Silva: Wandering Abroad  

Catalogue for the International New Media Gallery exhibition, 5th November 2012 - 2nd March 2013. Edited by Edwin Coomasaru. (c) Internation...

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