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Published in The Financial Times, 26 April 2013
From the Venice Biennale to the Hayward Gallery, photographer Dayanita Singh is having a big year.
In an age of Google Maps, hardly anyone gets lost. Yet on a bitter January morning, I find myself asking for directions in a Japanese supermarket in London’s Soho en route to a show by Dayanita Singh.
The experience could have been the fruit of Singh’s imagination: no one is better than the Delhi-based photographer at hinting at labyrinths beyond the image in her lens.
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Her exhibition, when I do find it, encapsulates those metaphysical gifts. Entitled File Museum, it gathers photographs of the archives of India’s public offices prior to digitalisation. Taken over decades, Singh has chronicled a neglected kingdom: shelves sinking under box files; a cupboard colonised by volume-spilling sacks. Room after room walled in by racks of documents: abandoned, dusty, unseen by all but their elderly custodians.
Published in Time Out, 25 April 2013
In John Riddy’s sombre series of cityscapes, the seasoned British photographer envisions the Sicilian capital as an empty stage, devoid of players or inhabitants. Absence and ruin linger here, hinting at our own mortality in the face of an enduring urban landscape. The debris of human existence litters each frame; an abandoned car lies drenched in shadow and empty fruit and veg boxes swim through dark, concrete streets. Riddy exploits this greyscale to its full advantage, finding moments of pure pictorial poetry against a backdrop of neglect.
Published in The Guardian, 24 April 2013
John Riddy opens up the world and he hems you in. His black and white photographs of Palermo in Sicily, now at London’s Frith Street Gallery, are filled with endless detail. No painting could record so much and with such clarity; no eye could take it all in. You’d go mad thinking about it all.
Each photograph is a lexicon of light and dark, rubbish and dirt, patched-up stucco and rotting stone. And every day, every moment, is different. The streets are swept and more rubbish gets strewn about. New graffiti is sprayed over old. Lights go on and off, shutters are raised and lowered, chairs appear outside doorways and are brought back in again. The cars parked on the street are different from the ones that were here yesterday. Why photograph this day and not the next? The light wasn’t the same. On New Year’s Day in 2012 the streets are empty. Only the Afghan grocers have their shutters up on a street called Carmine. It rained last night, while Palermo was celebrating. In the distance, one street lamp is still on, its light as white as the sky reflected in the puddles.
Published in Art in America, 4 April 2013
On the exterior of the L-shaped configuration that I saw, the photographs were mounted on what looked like moveable screens, and jostled for breathing space in their rows of three and columns of five. In contrast, the cabinetlike interior seemed empty; only two photographs were displayed in smallteak boxes, with the rest viewable upon request. A third box had migrated to the wall of the gallery’s smaller space, where it contained the inspiration for the series, a photograph from 2000 taken at Kerala’s Trivandrum Museum Library.
Like the eerie nightscapes captured on daylight color film in “Dream Villa” (2010), Singh’s last exhibition here, the images in “File Museum” are largely unpeopled. Exactly 39 of the displayed works show the archival custodians alongside the documents in their care, and all were arranged in three parallel rows on the left wall in the large space. The others feature Singh’s characteristically emptyinteriors, so redolent of human presence yet so oddly abandoned-looking. Amid the disintegrating paper documents stuffed into boxes or bags and piled high on cupboards or shelves, we find vague allusions to sanitation and revenue, to polls and governor generals, even to war. Some of the documents are dated as early as the 1860s, others as late as the 1950s; true contextual specificity falls by the wayside. Here the artist assigns priority to viewing conventions engendered by themuseum and the book—two categories she treats as interchangeable.
Indeed, the prevailing sense of archival depersonalization in “File Museum” marks a shift from earlier, more compelling works such as Myself Mona Ahmed (2001), Singh’s beautifully personal account of a eunuch who lives in a New Delhi graveyard and dreams about building a marriage hall there. “File Museum” also dispenses with the keen sense of social nuance in Privacy (2004), in which Singh turned her camera on the secret familial world of India’s elite. Memorably featured in the Serpentine Gallery’s “Indian Highway” (2008-09), the former photojournalist will also be exhibiting with Romuald Karmakar, Santu Mofokeng and Ai Weiwei in the German Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale. Her inclusion in this group feels very timely: working from the ascendant margins, Singh deals with the globalized condition without capitulating to the documentarian impulse.
Published in The Guardian, 2 February 2013
With a parallel show at Ghent’s prestigious SMAK, the Italian installation artist infiltrates the main Fruitmarket space with La Strada di Sotto (The Street Below), an installation of typical aesthetic enchantment. For those of us who have been captivated by Palermo’s nocturnal festivals, Bartolini’s work here will take us all back. The artist floods the gallery floor with a patterned maze of festival illumination. Relieved of their religious context, the lights still retain a melancholic and mournful aura. Bartolini is a true installation artist, not so much placing pre-existing sculptural works in a gallery as transforming the whole gallery space with atmospheric magic and turning it into something else entirely.
Published in ArtForum, September 2012
In a short video made to accompany FILM, her 2011 piece for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in London, Tacita Dean begins by describing the making of ‘The Green Ray’, 2001. The title alludes to the last flash of light from the setting sun - which is ‘just slower than the red or the yellow ray.’ To capture this elusive aura, often witnessed by sailors, she watched the sunset off Madagascar. Positioning her camera, loaded with its spool of celluloid, she began the exposure and waited. As the sun disappeared under the horizon, Dean ‘believed byt was never sure’ she saw a flash of green. Next to her were two observers with a video camera. They neither saw nor captured the phenomenon, and insisted their video proved that Dean had not seen it either. But when Dean’s film was developed, there - unmistakable in the fleeting movement of film frames - was the green ray. It had been too elusive for what she calls ‘the pixelation of the digital world’.
The rest of the article can be read in this month’s issue of ArtForum.
Related Artists: Tacita Dean
Published in Modern Painters, 11 September 2012
They are photographs of strangers, yet we’ve see them countless times: toddlers grinning from foamy bathtubs, teenagers awkwardly showing off their first party dresses, granddads cuddling newborns. Local variations aside, they could be found pretty much anywhere, stuck on the yellowing cardboard pages of hefty photo albums. These pictures form Fiona Tan’s primary material for “Vox Populi.” In this series of wall pieces and books begun in 2004, the Indonesian-born, Amsterdam-based artist has selected and rearranged images she sourced in locations as varied as Norway, Switzerland, Tokyo, and Sydney, each time creating a multifaceted portrait of the place through the photographs of the people who live, or lived, in each locale.
Related Artists: Fiona Tan
Published in Artforum, Summer 2012
If you cross London’s Waterloo Bridge heading south, you will see a familiar complex of large buildings that make up the Southbank Centre - the Royal Festival Hall, the National Theatre, the Hayward Gallery. To the right you will see the more recent gigantic wheel of the London Eye. And currently, perched on the roof of a convenient concert hall, you will see what looks like a new, small, stranded houseboat. It is a sort of houseboat, but it isn’t stranded. It has been designed (by the artist Fiona Banner and the architect David Kohn) to float there for a while. It is modeled on a Belgian river steamer called the Roi des Belges, once captained by Joseph Conrad in the Congo before he mythologized boat, river, Africa and all in ‘Heart of Darkness’ (1902).
Related Artists: Fiona Banner
Published in Modern Painters, 6 July 2012
An artist best known for her photographs, Dayanita Singh has of late been investigating the archive. Her most recent series, “File Keepers,” developed out of “File Room,” a 2011 series of 36 black- and-white photographs depicting the crowded interiors of document archives in India; it was originally shown at the Venice Biennale last year. “File Keepers” focuses instead on the individuals who maintain those facilities. The two projects were first presented together in the exhibition “Monument of Knowledge” at King’s College London earlier this year. It makes sense that Singh has focused on the ways in which information is stored and preserved, considering her interest in collecting photographs in book form. To date she has published 10 volumes, often with unique structural conceits — inventive bindings, or photographs arranged and presented in a box — that challenge and provoke the customary modes of digesting images.
Related Artists: Dayanita Singh
Published in The Guardian, 11 June 2012
A gentle but relentless breeze, courtesy of British artist Ryan Gander, blows through the Fridericianum in Kassel, one of the world’s oldest museums. Three small sculptures by Julio Gonzáles, first shown at the second Documenta show in 1959, stand in the draught. It’s the wind of history, an air of uncertainty and impermanence. We are blown about.
Kassel’s history and Germany’s are unavoidable at Documenta 13, which opened on Saturday. The show fills the city, from the train station to Karlsaue park, from Kassel’s museums to its theatres and cinemas, from houses to hotel ballrooms. Documenta takes place every five years, lasts 100 days, and features 200 artists. You might even be tempted to travel further: to Kabul, where an Afghan outpost of the exhibition continues; or to Alexandria, Cairo and Banff, where more related events are taking place.
Tacita Dean has brought the mountains of Afghanistan to Kassel, filling a former banking hall with enormous, beautiful blackboard drawings. Some are near-empty, just turbid blackness; others are filled with moiling rapids and rushing rivers. There are sunlit mountaintops, dusty avalanches, chalky wipe-outs. The six panels are a sort of storyboard, an evocation of an elsewhere. Dean’s drawings are, I think, about time: geological time, the flash of a life, a passing thought.
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