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Artist Feature

Every week an artist is featured whose single image was published by Der Greif. The Feature shows the image in the original context of the series.

Federico Clavarino - Hereafter

Jul 19, 2017

Hereafter

The premise of Hereafter is the story of the photographer’s maternal grandparents. For twenty years John and Mary worked in the Sudan, Libya, Oman, Jordan and Cyprus and witnessed the progressive decline of the British colonial empire, in which they had lived since childhood and which shaped their lives. Federico Clavarino recovered letters, photo albums, photographs, documents and some memories written by his grandmother Mary that he used as a guide to carry out his photographic study in Oman, Jordan and the Sudan. In addition he has photographed every nook and cranny of the house where his grandmother lives in Horsham, a small town in Southern England. His family’s past prompts thoughts about the final years of Europe’s colonial history and its traces in the present day: the Empire as a ghost.


Artist Blog

The blog of Der Greif is written entirely by the artists who have been invited to doing an Artist-Feature. Every week, we have a different author.

Meetings with Remarkable People #7: Massao Mascaro

Jul 26, 2017 - Federico Clavarino

I have had the privilege of witnessing the evolution of Massao Mascaro’s photography during the last few years. “Ramo” was his first foray into his peculiar mix of documentary and poetry, “Jardin” the conscious application of a mature visual form of expression, and the photographs you can see here are part of the first harvest of his newest body of work.

The photographs have been taken in Ceuta, a Spanish autonomous city on the north coast of Africa, just opposite Gibraltar, and one of the main gateways for migrants who try to enter Europe. The series is meant to be part of a larger project Massao is working on around the Mediterranean, using the journey of Ulysses as a loose guideline.

Massao’s work is always a delicate balance between autobiography, topography and politics, and as such it is a good starting point for a novel definition of poetry.

His point of view is always intimate, his use of a soft focus, a tight cropping and a narrow depth of field evokes touch. If his narrative style were to be translated to a literary form, it would be something like a stream of consciousness. His work often revolves around territory. In “Ramo” it was his ancestor’s Calabria, in “Jardin” the mythical space of the garden, found in the streets and parks of Madrid, here it is the coast of the Mediterranean, cradle of many civilisations. The scope of his work is profoundly political, as it is rooted in the need to explore how humans relate to the spaces (both cultural and geographical) they inhabit.

Massao’s photography is always somehow understated but at the same time capable of powerful metaphors. He prefers to photograph a plastic bag hanging from a barbed wire fence, shaken around by the wind, or a discarded door amidst trash cans, than photographing the six-metre fences surrounding Ceuta. He turns his lens towards piles of coins, the most ridiculously material incarnation of economy. He makes us look at how a plant sticks its thorns in its own body, and I can’t avoid thinking about our current predicament.


Meetings with Remarkable People #6: Gloria Oyarzabal

Jul 25, 2017 - Federico Clavarino

Travelling to Africa can take a white European person to an uncomfortable spot: you can see the vestiges of colonial occupation, its consequences upon present-day African societies, the signs left in our imaginations, the implications of racism and Eurocentrism. The easiest reaction to all of this is guilt, and guilt often only leads to temporary self-loathing and a feeling of impotence, or just to the cynical acceptance of a situation. Historical contingence is thus transformed into destiny, which amounts to a reaffirmation of existing prejudice and to ruinous strategies based on charity and the like.

Another option is to assume that history and culture are living entities we can act upon: a feeling of responsibility seems to me a better starting point than white middle-class guilt. Part of this effort stands in deconstructing cultural stereotypes and working on our own narratives.

After living in Mali for three years, doing research on what she refers to as “the idea of Africa that Europe has created for its own benefit”, Gloria Oyarzabal started work on “La Picnolepsia de Tshombé”, a complex project that consists of a photobook and a multimedia installation, and that explores the connections between Franco’s Spain and the international intrigue that shaped an important moment of the history of the DRC (the murder of P. Lumumba).

“Elmina Strategy”, of which you can see a few photographs here, is a short photography-based essay about present day Elmina, that was the base for centuries of slave trade in Ghana. It is a meditation on how the welfare of Europe was built on suffering and terror. Some of the best photographs of this series are very dialectic images that try to establish links between the past and the present, or that highlight the interplay between reality and its image.

Gloria is now working on a longer, more ambitious project called “Susanna and the Elders”, and that addresses the extremely complex issues of Afro-feminism and ideological decolonisation.


Meetings with Remarkable People #5: Mattia Parodi & Piergiorgio Sorgetti

Jul 24, 2017 - Federico Clavarino

Piergiorgio Sorgetti and Mattia Parodi’s ongoing series “La Ferita” (i.e. The Wound) is a poetical archeology of the everyday in which the city and the landscape are treated as the organs of an enormous body they explore with their photography, while looking for its wounds.

A wound is an ambivalent object: it is both the opening through which we can surgically enter a body, and the fracture through which blood comes oozing out. A wound is the liminal space in which an exchange between two worlds takes place.

Wounds, in Piergiorgio and Mattia’s work, are present within the very frame of each of their photographs, sometimes they are shadows (or the space between light and shadow), sometimes they are shards or fractures, they may also be knots and tangles, or just leftovers or discarded things that become mysterious objects, once photographically severed from their everyday context.

Like the eye in George Bataille’s “Story of the Eye”, the wound becomes an object that is continuously incarnated into something different, it is constantly present but always different. There is no total image of it, there is only the constellation brought about by the sum of its incarnations.


Meetings with Remarkable People #4: Clara Remondo

Jul 23, 2017 - Federico Clavarino

“Ragpicker and poet: both are concerned with refuse” 

                                                                       (Walter Benjamin)

Value is a key problem in our contemporary experience of the world. It has become more and more complicated to assign a stable value to something. Think of real estate, think about bubbles and crashes, the stock market, people shouting and moving their hands. What about the stuff you buy? What about the stuff you throw away? What is that worth?

Scrap collectors know the value of something by touching it: the very opposite of stock market brokers, they only work with very tangible things.

The flow of waste our culture produces as a side-effect of its oversized consumption is akin to a force of nature, to a river overflowing. The scrap collector is the gold hunter of this new environment, a key part of its cycle, yet one formally excluded from the rest of society.

Photography too is a landscape of waste. Think about forgotten photographs in hard drives and lost memory cards. Forgotten images on social media walls. Rolls and rolls of film and family albums and little black & white prints in flea markets. But let us go one step further: what about everything you avoid looking at? What about all that visual waste? There is a landscape of the overlooked that is the realm of photographers.

The work of Clara Remondo is the result of the encounter of these two contemporary types of scavengers: the photographer and the scrap collector. What you can see here is the partial result of a collaboration that has been going on for two years now. They look for metal and she looks for pictures. Stop for a second to compare the heaviness of metal pushed around in a cart to the lightness of a digital photograph. The photos are coated in darkness, as their work goes on mainly at night, unseen by the rest. The heaps of scrap resemble satellites and spaceships.


Meetings with Remarkable People #3: Vojtech Veskrna

Jul 22, 2017 - Federico Clavarino

“I told the pilot that in my childhood I flew with lots of toys but I also imagined my hand was an airplane. It was enough for me those days but I was curious how the proper flying by hands could look like when done by someone like him. He flew for me for a couple of seconds and I can’t be thankful enough. It was just so nice to see it. Thanks.”


This is the kind of stuff you can find on the blog Vojtech used as a notebook while working on “My Air Force”. I feel it sums up a lot of what is behind his work. I think what I’m trying to say is that Vojtech is able to be amazed by the world that surrounds him, and to be possessed by the will to play with it. Projects like “My Air Force” or “Grand Prix” are born out of the child and the scientist’s desire to find out “how things work”, but also of the artist’s need to mould things into another form as a means of understanding them better. Which is why Vojtech doesn’t only use photography to dissect the Czech airforce by repeatedly visiting an air base with his camera, but he uses all of the strategies he can think of to create his own airforce, from launching a rocket, to building different prototypes of planes, dressing up as a pilot or asking an actual pilot to emulate flight with his hands.


When I first met Vojtech last summer in Latvia my tripod had broken and he offered to mend it. A broken thing is an opportunity for reconstruction, to see if the dots can be joined in a different manner. Ikea furniture can be made into a humanoid being, and a tangerine can be rebuilt inside-out. Photographs are also bits and pieces of something else, some other exquisite corpse brought back to life when pieced together like the scenes you remember from a dream.


Vojtech often talks about dreaming, his heroes are Richard Feynman and Buckminster Fuller.


“The sound the jet made was so strange. It covered everything like water or maybe like honey. There was nothing else, just this noise, people didn’t exist, their noisiest expressions had no meaning. The noise of the jet sticked to the inside of everyone’s head, it was too much. But I enjoyed it. In all this noise I enjoyed my own silence.”


Meetings with Remarkable People #2: Andrea Grützner

Jul 21, 2017 - Federico Clavarino

These photographs have been selected from two of Andrea’s bodies of work, “Das Eck”, and “Erbgericht”. The former is made up of pictures taken in the city of Koblenz, while the latter consists of a visual dissection of a traditional guesthouse in east Germany.

Both works focus on a particular place, and operate on at least three different levels of experience: space, colour and memory.

Andrea’s photography is a visual fragmentation of the visible world. It feels like looking at something you see every day through a microscope: you know it is the same object, but it looks completely different, which opens unprecedented routes to all kinds of discoveries. Still, although there is something scientific in Andrea’s approach to reality, we are not invited to look at the world through her lens so we can crack its code. We are instead encouraged to confront our own perception of it.

Space is turned inside out by an extremely technical use of photography. Artificial lighting in “Erbgericht” and the clever framing of modernist architecture in “Das Eck” are used to create colour fields reminiscent of concrete art, but that here are serving a different, and less analytic, purpose: that of unlocking the private space of memory. There is no math, no lyricism, no symbolism to be seen in Andrea’s pictures. There is instead something playful, although never childish, in the places she invents. Most importantly, although the images are apparently flat, there is always some depth, there is always enough shadow: that of a door half opened, that of the dark blue area beyond wooden banisters, that coming out of an attic and projecting itself down on a flight of stairs. And as we know from Bachelard, but also from Tanizaki, dark corners and niches are inhabited by reveries and sacred things.


Meetings with Remarkable People #1: Cristiano Volk

Jul 20, 2017 - Federico Clavarino

The photographs shown here are part of Cristiano Volk’s series “Marmo”, which in Italian means “marble”. Both words derive from the ancient Greek “μάρμαρος”, which meant something like “shining stone”.

Light and stone are some of the main ingredients of Cristiano’s photographic research into the surface of Venice. Others are baroque theatre, sculpture, architecture and painting, with a constant reference to the concept of “Vanitas” (the series includes various photographs of bubbles, skulls, and other references to mortality, as opposed to the apparent immortality of marble and stone). Venice is a vain city, whose marketed beauty is also based on the asset of its precariousness (Venice is also a sinking city).

Cristiano’s colour work also relates to the venetian pictorial technique of “tonalismo”, which meant depth was achieved by means of the use of colour. In “Marmo”, the use of flash and of a limited colour palette points to a different end: illusionistic space is constantly challenged by overexposed areas and awkward angles, the marble curtain of representation is thus magically thrust aside to reveal the open eyes and mouth of Medusa, and beyond them the whiteness of blank pixels. Cristiano’s Venice is also an empty city (the Latin word “vanus”, after all, means empty).