Photo London / Self Publish Be Happy

Photo London was a slightly overwhelming experience, a vast display of photography from over seventy different commercial galleries presented in the impressive space of Somerset House.

Stepping into the tight warren or roofs and corridors, after the grand space of the central courtyard – the most impressive space in central London ? – I pulled out my notebook and started scribbling down notes in black-spider script.

Inevitably the images I saw earlier in the day had the biggest impact, the sheer number and range of photography on show packed into the warren on rooms and corridors began to have a numbing effect as the day wore on. What, yet another Margaret Cameron photo? So the following notes probably reflect my initial excitement than a truly objective list of the fair’s highlights.

So bearing this in mind, Thomas Zander was the lucky gallery to be the one I stumbled across first and got the full weight of my appreciation, un-dimmed by niggles about my aching feet or regrets about wearing quite such a warm jacket. Lewis Baltz ‘Sites of Technology’- large-scale photographs of sparse, sterile rooms filled with monolithic, featureless boxes housing unspecified technology – the antithesis of sci-fi tech with its fetish for complexity; flashing lights and and cat’s cradle cables – here whatever computing is going on is hidden behind clean lines and slightly incongruous pastel pinks and powder blues. In one shot [*], two cheap plastic electric desk-fans sit on the floor beside a row no-doubt highly expensive servers – a few dollars protecting how many thousands?

The accents betrayed the hot-beds of contemporary art photography scene – French, Japanese, American. Gallery people – all air kisses and West London wealth.

The whole experience was like the compilation albums, a greatest hits collection bringing together all the big names of photography past and present – Now That’s What I Call Photography 2015. But like those albums, after a while it all seemed a bit too much. I began to long for a display with a narrower range but more depth – room to explore a photographer or an idea, to follow something through to a conclusion. Album tracks rather than a succession of hit singles.

By the time I made it to the Mezzanine level photography fatigue was beginning to set in – and perhaps that explained why I found the quality on this level seem to dip considerably. There were still gems, Eva Stenram’s ‘Drape (Colour 1)’ [*] made me think of clumsy censorship but also John Stezaker’s surreal photo-collages. Another highlight was Noemie Goudal‘s large-scale images of natural phenomena sculpted out of man-made materials – a polystyrene waterfall, a waterfall formed from plastic sheeting. They look majestic, and obviously throw up questions about how man spoils his environment, but they also elevate the materials themselves.

With the fashion for large scale, hyper-detailed prints it would have been easy to miss Karl Martin Holzhauser‘s Mechanical Optische Unterschung 1975 – a grid of ghostly symbols [*], which despite being in black and white, looked strangely modern – although that may just be because they reminded me of the buttons on the Playstation controller.

Photo London
Somerset House
21st – 24th May 2015

Self Publish Be Happy – Project Space
Tate Modern

Supersymmetry – Ryoji Ikeda

Multi-storey car parks seem to be as integral a part of hip London life as overly precious coffee, craft beer, tattoos and extravagant facial hair. They’ve become cafes, cinemas and art galleries – no-one does anything as mundane as park a car in one anymore.

Ryoji Ikeda’s is a Japanese visual artist and composer of electronic music, and Supersymmetry represents his first major solo exhibition in the UK. The vast, dark space was divided into two rooms. The first contained a series of light boxes, on which tiny spheres, like ball bearings, move in shifting patterns as the surface gently tilts below them. It’s a simple but hypnotic display – moving between the organic – the elements seeming to take off in loose formation like the murmurations of starlings, then group and settle again. The sounds of them rolling across the surface is reminiscent of the tide washing onto a sandy beach. But then you notice as they settle, patches of geometry, brief glimpses of order – straight lines temporarily forming into fragile shapes then break apart again just as quickly.

I could have done without the strobe-lighting though – there’s something about those health-and-safety notices that always precede anything containing strobes that puts me on edge.

The second room consisted of two banks of monitors facing each other so they receded into the darkness, forming a corridor of light.

CERN seem to be on a mission to capture hearts and minds, or at least arts and minds. Author Will Self was recently invited to tour the complex for a radio 4 documentary, Self Orbits CERN – an unusual choice of writer if they intended to de-mystify their work for a wider audience as his writing is often as challenging as anything that comes out of the experimental physics community.

Ryoji Ikeda
Brewer Street Car Park
23rd April – 31st May

Thomas Struth – Marion Goodman Gallery – 2015

Standing upstairs in the large, white space of the Marion Goodman gallery, alone except for the tops of the heads of two gallery assistants poking above the minimalist stockade of their work area, it struck me that this could in fact be a new work by Struth, a study in absence, perhaps his first move into installation art.

This is Struth’s first major exhibition in London since his Whitechapel retrospective of 2011 and some of the themes are familiar. The exhibition is split between photographs of technology shot in California an images taken in Israel and Palestine as part of the ‘This Place’ project. Whilst there doesn’t seem to be much to link these two themes I actually enjoyed the contrasts between the two sets of work.

The Middle East photographs show vast, bleached landscapes largely devoid of human life but scared by their presence. ‘Al-Ram Quarry, Kafr’ Aqah, 2011′ shows an ancient landscape, the sides of the valley shaped by by erosion, rivulets etched into the rock like stretching fingers. This organic, natural shaping of the landscape is contrasted with straight cuts and precision of the neighbouring quarry. The scene is framed by the concrete buildings, that like much of the habituation in these works seems to be in a weird flux between new construction and decay.

These strange edgelands appear again in ‘Har Hama, East Jerusalem, 2009’. Here a row of new buildings is lined up along a ridge, like the cavalry of an ancient army waiting to charge onto the battlefield below. A carpet of pale-coloured aggregate creeps across the dark scrubland like a lava flow.

The most striking image from this group of images is “City Hall, Tel Aviv, 2011” – however the modernist building, shot square on and corrected for vertical perspective and printed on a grand scale like a vast abstract artwork, feels a little like a cliche however impressive the result. This could be an image by his fellow Dusseldorf School of Photography alumnus Andreas Gursky, or a thousand photographers on Flickr (myself included) mimicking the style.

Of the other theme of the collection, two images caught my attention.

“Polymer Head, JPL, Pasadena 2013” shows a dummy head wearing an outrageous blonde wig, with more than a touch of the Boris Johnson about it, stuck on a pole in the middle of a crowded desk in some undefined research department. It’s an amusingly surreal image, but my favourite image was less immediate; “Epitaxy, JPL, Pasadena, 2014” shows a complex piece of scientific machinery, its purpose obscure, but a cat’s-cradle of wire and cables emanate from it like tendrils, giving it an almost organic feel. It wouldn’t look out of place in a Hollywood sic-fi movie. It’s only once you have stood there a while wondering what strange, esoteric function it carries out that you notice, hidden away to the left, it is wired up to an old-fashioned monitor propped unceremoniously on an upturned plastic bucket. A red, rubber mallet rests on top.

Thomas Struth,
29 April – 6 June 2015,
Marian Goodman Gallery