Apr 24, 2013

Art vs Fine Art and more (1)

Since completing my MFA degree I have been asked to photograph a number of Fine Art exhibitions and works. Which, in turn has prompted me to think more, and now write a little about the endeavor. This will be the first of a number of entries.

Maria's Story. Maureen de Jagger. Sculpture, video and two dimensional works on steel, Maria's Story centers on the memoirs of the artists' great-grand mother and becomes a contemporary exploration that points at the universal currency of history's recurring themes of conflict, hardship, survival, loss and precariousness.

Without writing a thesis/antithesis/synthesis on the matter (and without unearthing then opening the  historical worm-box) it would be useful from the get go to try and pin what I mean by 'fine art'. For many, especially given the glut of 'photographers' enabled by digital technology, 'fine art' is work that is hung on a wall (shop wall or gallery wall - which often  means the same thing) and sold, likewise to be hung on a wall at home, the office etc. I would call this 'art' but would steer clear of 'fine' as a prefix. This is not to say the work is not good. Art after all is subjective through and through.

Three Days. Randolf Hartzenberg. Performance and installation which explores the unease that results from humankind's misdirected acts.

Personally, I believe 'fine art' is far more intense, both in its production and in its consumption. Fine art tends to be deeper, richer and voluminous - not just pretty. Fine art is often difficult, critical and seeks obscure/d truths. Because of this it is often very personal (again in both its making and its seeing) and because of this it can be mis/understood, perhaps a better word would be dismissed or beyond reach, elusive at least.

Restitution. Paul Greenway. Photographs, digital scans and stop frame animation. Subtitled Seeing Past Loss and Abandonment, Restitution seeks to challenge the duplicity of our perceived 'common dignity' and to problematise existential and ethical questions of rights (rites), dignity and duty.

There is an enigmatic authenticity to the work. This is more realistically an aspiration of the artist or curator and cannot ever be achieved - hence the tormented artist battling against the obstinacy of words, wood, stone, paint, pixels or chords (or whatever their chosen media). Photographically documenting a piece of work or a collection in/on exhibition needs contemplation. This is because one cannot ignore/escape the 'artistry' involved in taking the photographs. The 'artistry' even at its most rudimentary comes through photographic choices like perspective, angle of view, exposure etc. This 'artistry' adds a layer of meaning to the works/space which is inescapable. It is a new, or re-interpretation. From the artist's point of view we might call it a corruption, a step away from that aspired for enigmatic authenticity to which I referred earlier. For many artists, the photographing of their work signals a letting go, some control is yielded to the dangerously unsubtle camera. Imagine handing over to an equally unsubtle photographer. Small wonder the fine artist often hovers, has ideas as to how it should be done and what the resultant images should look like.

Intimate histories: Remembering the traumatic past. Amie Tarr. Using aspects of a train crash near Grahamstown in 1911, which claimed the life of the artist's great great-grandfather, the work is concerned with issues surrounding the difficulty of representing trauma and how alternative kinds of histories can be created through the deployment of memory.
Coming Clean. Cassandra Willmot. An exhibition of etchings, momotypes, photographic prints and ready made objects, Coming clean is both detachedly scientific and sincerely intimate, Referencing the ritual act of washing and cleaning the exhibition deals with themes of loss, memory and narrative inheritance.

Making Way. Curated by Ruth Simbao. An exhibition of contemporary art from South Africa and China that seeks to forge new pathways physically, socially and conceptually.

In the next post I will talk about the need to align with the artists vision, so as to remain true to their purpose, thus avoiding being responsible for contaminating their work, their message and their authenticity.

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