maZine: a photo project developed between 2009 - 2012 consisting of 60 composite images, each formed by a 3 x 3 grid of individual photographs. Individual images were shot at various urban locations in Europe and Australia, and most of the photographs are spontaneous responses to situations encountered or discovered while walking through different cities.
An ongoing project based around an image-gathering practice conducted in various different cities in recent years. The images, selected from a large and ever-growing archive, are arranged in grids, which can be printed at a variety of sizes. These are then displayed in larger grids composed of multiple sheets.
Each grid is a spatial composition. The sequence of images can be read in any direction, vertically, laterally and horizontally, while at the same time, the whole grid of nine images is itself a single, composite image. The term “composition” is used intentionally for its resonance in both the visual and auditive realms. The series of grids use notions like rhythm, repetition, harmony, counterpoint, resonance or dissonance as a way of combining individual images. At the same time, it is clear that the images often have quite apparent linguistic and symbolic content, and that each line in a grid may be both a “sentence” and a musical “phrase”.
The project is concerned with observation and recording. Images are gathered whilst walking in the streets, the public spaces and sometimes the forgotten or overlooked areas of cities. But this is not a documentary practice, it is not about illustrating a theory or an ideological position. Situations are responded to according to an intuitive impulse or a well-evolved preference. There are certain rules. Nothing is touched, manipulated or altered, everything is recorded exactly as it is found. Using flash in low light is permissible, but beyond this, intervention should be kept to a minimum.
This slideshow, or document, can be seen as a sketch book, a proposition, a starting point, a collection of materials from which artworks are to be constructed. This document is not the artwork itself. The artwork can be reconfigured in either physical or virtual spaces.
See below for texts by Sean Cubitt and Jeremy Welsh.
See below for texts by Sean Cubitt and Jeremy Welsh.
maZine / on colour
By the beginning of the 21st century, colour had become finally abstract, as if fulfilling a destiny first mooted by the Divisionists, the Fauves, der Blaue Reiter, Kandinsky, De Stijl. That formal autonomy was intended as freedom, in the same way Schönberg's twelve-tone row freed notes from the tyranny of the dominant key. Be careful what you wish for. The formal autonomy of colour broke the final chains that anchored it to the hierarchies of meaning that had guided and governed its use in the late middle ages: the heraldic and priestly codes anchoring colour allegorically to only certain military of theological significance. If shreds of those allegiances remain – the white wedding dress or the red, the black funeral clothes of the white, the competing colours of the football terrace, it is as residua of a tide long since swept out to the open sea.
In its place, after a long journey through the objective colour of Newtonian physics and the subjective colour of Goethe's optics, we arrive at free colour. No longer strapped to the organic or mineral origin of pigments and dyes – red madder, blue indigo, saffron yellw, lapis lazuli and ivory charcoal – colours come from oil and the vast chemical industry founded on William Perkin's discovery of aniline mauve. Each colour is free because it no longer signifies. Or rather: colours signify today in the same way as sounds in language, not by intrinsic meaning but by their simple difference from one another. Any colour can be exchanged for any other, and the green milk crate could be swapped for the blue or the red without endangering its caste or creed, provenance, ownership, future trajectory. Colours have the freedom of the free market, the freedom of exchange one for another, without the old anchorage of use that made colours meaningful in earlier epochs.
It is such free colours that Jeremy Welsh encounters on the streets.
The Newton-Goethe dialectic is not over, not yet, not ever, as long as folk have eyes. The explosion of colour between Matisse and mass production changed the streets from drabs – the rapidly fading cheap vegetable dyes of the poor – to riots of fashion, advertising, paints and plastics. They did not change either the physiology of the retina or the effects of air and glass. The rain falls, sun crackles, salt etches even the most resolute of polypropylenes. Colour is as it always was; ephemeral. But physical colour is only one part of the conjuncture where eyes see light reflected from things through atmospheres charged with damp, fumes, dust, reflections and diffusions. The camera is not the retina but it sees, with its idiosyncratic clarity, the field of view in front of it, not as humans do but as a scientific instrument, a photon counter.
The quantum life of light, and the neurobiology of vision, are the terminals between which light is for us: beyond them lie realms beyond intuition and for now beyond the sciences. And in this realm between the two great darknesses, behind the optic nerve and below the Planck length, the phenomenologist is queen. These printed images are records of the phenomena. Not the phenomena themselves. Certainly not the objects caught up in the irreplacable event of seeing.
A digital camera, CCD or CMOS, converts photons into electrons, and electrons into code. The code is shaped by the protocol of the machine that reads it, and again by the processes it passes through – colour management, digital intermediaries, compression-decompression algorithms – and once again on the screens and printers that deliver it back to the photon realm. The random flux of light is ordered into grids, the colours sampled, coded, transmitted, translated, and emitted as the gamuts of whatever output device we see it through. We do not see the image, but a presentation, on RGB screens with typical maxima of forty per cent of the visible spectrum, printers with the same but in the different colour space of CMYK, internet videos in YCbCr with less than twenty per cent of the spectrum, each hue convoluted to retain a sense of difference across the available range . . .
. . . exchange, translation . . .
If these arithmetic processes give the lie to the geometries of physical space, they do no more than perspective or map projections, or for that matter spreadsheets and databases, or any scientific instrument: they cling to reality while knowing that they can only sample, average, enumerate, probabilistically. It is a new order of colour, but it is an order. And it is in this order that the artist works - with it, against it, for another order yet to emerge – as the mediaevals worked in, with, and against the semantic hierarchies of theocracy.
So it is that the moment of perception is the matter of the work presented in maZine. It is in such moments that colour comes to the eye, once as surprise, and once more as a symbol, albeit a symbol without intrinsic function, only a place in an unparsed language whose phonetics are as unknown as its grammar, but which in the passage through the streets emerges as a morphology.
Each instant has its own intersection, where the artist's walks cross the paths of other nomads of the street, other lives lived in their own trajectories and times. The dropped can, dropped as it may be unconsciously, or after a kick about, or left as a signal, is evidence, but without there being any possible archeology or forensic science to retrace the journey that brought it to this spot, or to explain why it should have grabbed the aesthetic of an instant, motivated a shot. Only the intersection, which is its own morphology: this is what the serial form of the sequernce has to offer: modes of apprehending the possibility of other orders lurking under the randomness, just as the randomness lurks under (at the margins of) the ordered biopolitics of urban planning, architecture, traffic management. A hidden order which it is the artist's work to assemble, experimentally, tentatively or in conscious attempt to prove or disprove a thesis of order, order which is the only alternative to chaos and entropy, and which if it is capricious and inauthentic is at least no more so than the order imposed by the CCD chip's rectilinear grid, the grid of the raster screen or the inkjet printer, and has the great and adventurous property of pointing towards an other order than the imposed order of the digital network, another order than the imposed chaos of the market which, in its freedom, has robbed the poor and despoiled the planet.
In the great war between orders that stifle and flows that drift and drain away, artists makes their alternate orders, the necessarily incomplete diagrams of possible worlds subtending the given (the worlds of the artist's body captured in his own image, enabling and blocking the light, the networks of reflections and tampering perspectives that are the existential reality of seeing, scripts which are images of comments on experiences that we either cannot retrieve or which, like billboard holidays, never existed). The artist is the one who experiments with the future, and in pointing towards the resources of hope makes us recognize the splendour and collapsing of the present moment. Colour reminds us that beauty is possible, even as in its fleeting, ephemeral presence to vision it reminds us that it is so rare, too rare.
maZine / places, times, objects, images, colour.
Forms and colours
maZine / places, times, objects, images, colour.
Forms and colours
maZine: a word found by chance in the city street. Part of a word, in fact, stencilled on a wall in black paint that has peeled and faded. A borrowed term, then, as the title of a project that is concerned with things found, discovered, noticed, happened-upon while walking through the streets of a city, of several cities. As it happens, this word that seems to lack meaning, a word that is only part of a word, exists nonetheless; as a design bureau in Finland; as a German online fashion store; and as a Chinese blog, among other things. But I choose to take the word and apply it to a collection of images, because it appears itself as an image in the series, because it includes many possibilities and privileges none.
On one level, this is a project about colour, though colour is only a part of it - an important part. The colours in question are mostly to be found in cities, in architecture, in consumer products and consumer waste, in the objects, signs and images that surround us in an urban environment. It is about things we value or do not value; things that are significant and things that are overlooked. Sites of potential, at which events may occur and narratives may unfold, and then sites of abandonment or forgetting, where memories are buried.
It is, of course, about time and space. Every photographic image, no matter how abstract, is a record of a given space at a given time. It is about the time it takes to navigate the space of the image series, which is a map, so to speak. Its relation to geography, however, is subjective; at best it is a partial index of places visited and sights seen.
It is, to borrow John Berger’s term, about “ways of seeing”; about how your way of seeing coincides with my way of seeing when the two encounter each other at the surface of the image. There is a push and pull, a tension on the surface of the image, which holds the appearance of the image in place, but allows its contents to emerge under your gaze, allows your interpretation to seep into the image so that its meaning is enhanced or even radically altered.
An image in the first series of images that constitute this work is a red rectangle containing two letters; S E. I don’t know what the letters stand for in the context in which I documented them, but in the Norwegian language, “SE” is an imperative: Look, See. This one image, then, accidentally encountered, plucked from a series of images gathered on a walk through a city, becomes a key, a referent for the project as a whole.
The images are collected into sequences in which associations and connections that are sometimes surprising add value to each individual frame. Let’s say the sequences are like sentences, sentences of an oblique sort whose meanings are not fixed, certainly not logical constructs or arguments. As grids, the sequences can be read spatially - laterally, vertically and diagonally. As linear sequences, their structure takes on a narrative form, in which the progression from one image to the next suggests a cinematic reading.
There are fragments of stories here. We don’t have access to these stories or to their tellers. All we have are these fragments, but from them we can reconstruct, through imagination, personal history and reference, possible narrative developments, possible contexts in which a story might be recounted or written down.
I’m interested in how others might write in response to these images; what they might see, what associations may be triggered, what stories may be evoked in their imaginations. I’m interested in how the responses of others, expressed in text, might lead me to look again, re-evaluate and think differently about these images, this project and my own practice.
To return to the question of colour - I am interested in the way that colour carries a charge, contains an energy that animates the image sequences. I am interested in this spectral energy and in the linguistic tension between “spectrum” and “spectral”. If the visible spectrum represents the range of frequencies of light perceivable by the human eye, the registration of these frequencies within the colour space of the image is a kind of haunted memory. Each “colour event” that has been recorded persisted for a short period of time and disappeared; its reappearance in the image is like a ghostly echo of a situation that existed in space and time, within the continuum of time and space that we are able to experience and comprehend. The reality of space-time in the universe may well be that everything always exists all the time, simultaneously, for ever, but it seems that humans are hard-wired to experience time sequentially and are therefore apt to consider the re-emergence of the past in the present as something uncanny, haunted, not of the here and now.
Hunting / Gathering
The process of collecting images and then combining them into sequences is a practice that has developed over time and has evolved its own set of methods. Image-gathering becomes a form of visual research, a way of knowing - or getting to know - a particular place; a way of mapping that place according to perceptual acts and intuitive responses. It is often a question of “following a lead” - a certain situation resonates in such a way that it triggers associations and ways of looking that lead to the discovery of related situations, sites or events. This “way of looking” has to do with both focus and diffusion - choosing to focus on a particular aspect of an environment (often that which is overlooked) - and at the same time, allowing for a diffuse gaze that can be “caught out” by the unexpected. On any given image-gathering expedition, an initial “moment of recognition” will suggest a theme and set the agenda for the task at hand, which then becomes a question of discovering related situations, objects, events or sites. A process of hunting is initiated.
The initial stage of image-gathering is followed by a long and arduous process of sorting, categorizing, editing, filtering, sequencing and composing. An archive is gradually built and it becomes the basis upon which individual artworks are constructed. Keywords are used to group images into categories that can then be cross-referenced and combined. Initial selection criteria are refined, collections and sequences take shape. The criteria may be legible - based upon easily recognizable typologies, or may be more intuitive, personal and idiosyncratic. What is crucial is that these selection strategies should result in the construction of image series that can be read and interpreted by the viewer without recourse to the methods and criteria that have been employed. In the end, the artwork itself either functions for a viewer, or it does not. The integrity of the method does not necessarily guarantee the artistic result - a paradox that distinguishes artistic investigation from academic or scientific research. So it is a combination of applied method and intuition, of acquired knowledge and gut feeling, that is needed in order to transcend the “mechanics” of image-gathering, sorting and categorising to then arrive at a coherent artistic statement.
Decontextualizing and recontextualizing are central to the production of these works. Many images depict an object, a word or phrase, a fragment of a situation isolated from the context in which it was observed. Objects are not moved or altered in any way - the act of framing and recording is the only active intervention in the environment. Afterwards, the construction of series functions as recontextualization.
Lines and Grids
In maZine, two structures are utilized in the organization of image sequences. 3 x 3 grids are used to construct sequences spatially, where the connections between individual images can be read laterally, vertically and diagonally, and where the grid as a whole can be seen as a composite image. Linear constructions, by contrast, demand that the images be read sequentially like words in a sentence or frames in a film clip. The same structural principle would be used for moving- image material, where multiple screens, or frames within frames, would duplicate the graphic construction of the photographic series. maZine takes the form of an archive, one that documents a period of time that was devoted to intensive sessions of image-gathering conducted while walking the streets of a number of cities in Australia and Europe. The archive incorporates photographic and video images, audio and texts. Exhibitions or publications can be seen as an interface to the archive and as a sort of definition - the defining of a word, maZine, that is itself the project.
And still the investigation proceeds, driven by an imperative that exists below conscious choice, a need even. To discover and uncover. To focus attention upon. To build fragile monuments to the fleeting, the overlooked, the inconsequential, the unspectacular. To submit to the urge to gather and reassemble images, even as the activity of image-making descends into an abyss of total over-production. Every image has a value, but every image has also become worthless in age of untrammeled visual excess.