by Jeremy Stevenson
Issue 6 Winter 1995
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The second Fotofeis can justifiably claim to be the UK's leading photographic festival because of its country-wide involvement. Its Director Alasdair Foster said that it "seeks to embrace both the photographic specialist and those who rarely, if ever, enter a gallery", It should become clear that a diversity of practice is Fotofeis's greatest asset as it celebrates an openness to photography or lens based media that helps to push an appreciation of photography beyond the walls of the specialist galleries, and beyond its own restrictive medium specific history. It is the inclusive nature of the festival that has to be praised as it sites work in museums and galleries, in shopping and leisure centres, on billboards and monuments and even shop windows or bus shelters. This may bewilder the fine print specialist but gives public access to the broad range of cultural activities of artists, brought out into the open and not just conducted in the dark (room); this should encourage a questioning of the meanings and manipulations that condition us all, giving a chance for alternative images to take over the sites most often used for promotional propaganda.
One ambitious project to tackle consumerism is Trans Action Public by Glasgow based artist David Michael Clarke and his collaborator Pierre Allard from Montreal, Canada. They have responded to the architecture of the St. Enoch Shopping Centre in the heart of Glasgow, with its pyramid like structure providing for an environment of competing temptations. In order to create a confrontation with their images in the context of this 300,000 square foot glass canopy, the artists have installed 2 sixteen foot square screens and 3 equally striking forty foot two feet tall banners, and 3 panoramic B/W montages. These stylish prints are almost too slick as they play on the appearance of advertising. The screens are roped onto the decorative grids of the Centre's walls, mimicking the cross structures of the support beams. But the images printed onto the screens are surreal enough to generate questions concerning the artificiality of the environment. They play on the public's sense of isolation from the elements (with figures shot in an old fashioned shower area, or images of open skies), and of the isolation of the individual in this kaleidoscopic world of glass, mirror and reflection. This is the transient world in which Walter Benjamin noted that "buildings and activities interpenetrate", leading to a blurring of social and spatial definitions in a transitional society. In the large square images, the artists have contrived to display the commodities that could have previously offered some spiritual nourishment in this secular parthenon, or could be mere semiotic signs selling nothing, removed from meaning? Can such musings be enough to divert shoppers?
As with the previous work, Jane Brettle, an Edinburgh based artist has chosen to work without the confines of the gallery. For Fotofeis she presents Allegorical Blueprint at the National Monument, overlooking Edinburgh city centre It was designed to externally replicate the Parthenon in Athens. The building should have celebrated the aspirations of the renaissance-like period for the city, with its integration of arts, industry and education, harking back to its classical roots. In the end only the 12 columns seen today were built. Working directly with the structure of the Monument, Jane Brettle creates an ephemeral work that radically changes the experience of standing before the columns. The 5 polished aluminium banners are inclined between the columns to reflect the sky and the structure of the Monument. This mirroring could set up the comparison with the glass exteriors of (corporate) contemporary architecture, but the Trompe L'oeil effect also reflects on the buildings own structure to prompt questions as to its own meaning in history, and as part of the institution of the city within Nature. The artist is concerned to highlight the implicit encoding of 'gender' within the ideology of western architecture. She comments on the Doric columns, the only male Order, and most commonly placed outside buildings to represent culture and the public domain. The Ionic and Corinthian Orders are used to decorate the private or domestic interior.
It is the simplicity of this idea, as with the lasting appeal of the Doric form, that keeps the enframed reflections alive and vivid, not letting the constructs cloud the enjoyment of this work. The work can hold and refract many meanings at once and echoes the medium of photography, which in its own way involves the manipulation of light, time and space and relies on the mechanics of mirroring and reflecting light for its images (SLR camera). The autumn skies provided an ever changing spectacle, and special blue evening illumination unified stone and metal to create a frieze that appeared to be suspended in time and place. The White Space installation utilised two digitally processed banner prints suspended from the wall in a room dominated by the pillar that supports the base of the telescope above and the Doric half columns that line the walls. Viewing these banners by looking down into mirrors placed on the floor, framed the viewer in the image and involved that person within a game of depth perception that echoed the function of the still active Observatory. Calling into the Sky shows the top of a column (a sky support?); Out of the Blue shows a (female?) foot reaching to touch such a column. These works have succeeded in creating alluring and engaging images from potentially sparse material and again potentially overly intellectualised references.
These two large projects are the kind of work which is inspired by Fotofeis. It has to be said that these works, as well as the myriad of other shows during the Festival do occur at other times. And it is a testament to the commitment of each of the organisations and artists who have given of themselves so that Fotofeis has something to promote. But the focus provided by this festival and the long preparation time allowed by having the festival every other year encourages ambitious and inventive strategies of interest both to the curator and the shoppers at the St. Enoch Centre.
Other articles on photography from the 'Architectural' category ▸