Magazine Contemporary Culture


Samuel Aranda, Yemen 15 October 2011

Samuel Aranda, Yemen 15 October 2011

The international jury of the 55th annual World Press Photo Contest has selected a picture by Samuel Aranda from Spain as the World Press Photo of the Year 2011. The picture shows a woman holding her wounded son in her arms, inside a mosque used as a field hospital by demonstrators against the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, during clashes in Sanaa, Yemen on 15 October 2011. Samuel Aranda was working in Yemen on assignment for The New York Times

Comments on the winning photo by the jury;
Koyo Kouoh: ‘It is a photo that speaks for the entire region. It stands for Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, for all that happened in the Arab Spring. But it shows a private, intimate side of what went on. And it shows the role that women played, not only as care-givers, but as active people in the movement.’

Nina Berman: ‘In the Western media, we seldom see veiled women in this way, at such an intimate moment. It is as if all of the events of the Arab Spring resulted in this single moment, in moments like this.’

Read Full Article

Magazine: Mono.Kultur #31. Michaël Borremans: Shades of Doubt.

Michaël Borremans, Shades of Doubt, It is not something of beauty underneath, 2012

When Belgian artist Michaël Borremans first presented his paintings to the world at the tender age of 37, he immediately caused a stir in the art scene. His realistic yet mysterious figurative images subtly draw one to the centre of a question which remains permanently unspoken. Through the combination of his immaculate painting techniques, using muted tones and classic compositions, and the puzzling scenarios that are at the heart of his work, the artist brings together both:
melancholy and humour.

Signed by the prestigious David Zwirner gallery in New York, Borremans represents the modern reincarnation of the classic painter, in the same league as his colleague and friend Neo Rauch. Recently, Borremans also started translating his mysterious scenarios into abstract short films, which have been shown at Berlin Biennial 2006, among others. He lives and works in Ghent.

With mono.kultur, Michaël Borremans talked about the mystery at the heart of painting and life in general, his commission for the Belgian Queen, and why he needs to wear his Sunday suit when he goes to work.

The issue features a whopping 20 plates of Michaël Borremans’ paintings, all printed in lifesize scale, allowing you to examine the technical mastery behind his work in breathtaking detail.

Read Full Article

Books: Housmans Bookshop

Housmans is London’s premier radical bookshop
Housmans, Peace House, 5 Caledonian Road, Kings Cross, London N1 9DX

A not-for-profit bookshop, specialising in books, zines, and periodicals of radical interest and progressive politics who stock the largest range of radical newsletters, newspapers and art magazines of any shop in Britain.
In the basment, a vast, diverse, and ever-changing selection of second-hand books.

Read Full Article

Post Internet Survival Guide, 2010

Katja Novitskova, Post Internet Survival Guide , 272 pages, 180 x 230 mm, Revolver Publishing, 2010

You are holding a guide to the ecology of a severe ongoing merging of matter, social and (visual) information in the present world. The shift to a multi-polar, mobile, post-democratic, gated, real-time set of conditions effectively redistributes the global balance of powers. The existing structures of our (Western) mode of thinking and being, including the flows of energy and value, the domain of aesthetics, the currency of art, and our role in the process that is civilization are being reshaped and re-articulated. The scale of these changes are reflected in the dynamics of formats, files, gadgets, species, identities, ideologies, brands, styles, cultures, natural disasters, memes, technologies, entering the ultimate platform and player of dissemination: Internet.

Post Internet Survival Guide 2010 is organized into chapters according to the first page of Google search results for ‘survival guide’: Size up the situation, Use all your senses, Remember where you are, Value living, Improvise, Vanquish fear and panic, Act like the natives, Learn basic skills. It crosses streams of seemingly unrelated information flows, from art and news, to corporate stock photography, screenshots and scientific renderings. Post Internet Survival Guide elevates selected content from its original fragmented online environment and solidifies its temporary values and meanings in a collection of guiding narratives.

This book is a tool to assist in stepping above our daily online routine, to reach a realm that lies somewhere between reading a principal religious text, watching a colonial documentary on savages, or looking at yourself in the mirror. This is the space where we ask ourselves what it means to be a human being today.

The book features texts and works by AIDS-3D, Aaron Graham, Adam Cruces, André Carlos Lenox & Evan Lenox, Anne de Vries, Artie Vierkant, Brad Troemel (The Jogging), Brian Khek, Constant Dullaart, Chris Lee, Christian Oldham, Damon Zucconi, Daniel Chew, Emily Jones, Gene McHugh, Iain Ball, Jaakko Pallasvuo, Jack Latham, Jacob Broms Engblom, John Transue, Jon Rafman, Kareem Lotfy, Kari Altmann, Kate Steciw, Katja Novitskova, Lance Wakeling, Lauren Brick, Lauren Christiansen, Laurence Punshon, Lorenzo Bernet, Louis Doulas, Martin Kohout, Matei Samihaian, Matteo Giordano, Micah Schippa, Mike Ruiz, Orlando Orellano, Pierre Lumineau, R-U-INS?, Rachael Milton, Sam Hancocks, Sebastian Moyano, Sterling Crispin, Tabor Robak, Timur Si-Qin and Yannic Joray.

Read Full Article

Books: Thomas Demand, La Carte d’après Nature

La Carte d'Apres Nature curated by Thomas Demand, Matthew Marks gallery, new york

Thomas Demand, La Carte d’après Nature, 2010

La Carte d’apres Nature, published to accompany an exhibition curated by Thomas Demand at Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, takes its title from a short-lived art magazine created by René Magritte between 1951 and 1954. Magritte’s publication ran for just fourteen issues and each consisted of a postcard, featuring loosely connected poetry, illustrations and short stories. In a similar fashion,Thomas Demand has selected artworks by eighteen artists that are related to each other in an associative manner. The selected work is connected by two ideas: tamed nature and Surrealism as an artistic form fashioned by Magritte. Just as Magritte himself related ideas from different eras, Demand chose works by different generations of artists: Saâdane Afif, Kudjo Affutu, Becky Beasley, Martin Boyce, Tacita Dean, Thomas Demand, Ger Van Elk, Chris Garofalo, Luigi Ghirri, Leon Gimpel, Rodney Graham, Henrik Håkansson, Anne Holtrop, August Kotzsch, René Magritte, Robert Mallet-Stevens, and Jan and Joel Martel.

The book, designed by Thomas Demand and Naomi Misuzaki, takes Margritte’s notion of free association further, combining the wide range of works into an elaborate exploration of the disjuncture between the representation of art and the representation itself. Christy Lange’s engaging essay traces this idea that a representation of nature is always a simulacrum through the work of the different artists, for example, relating the surrealist resonance of Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri’s ‘impossible landscapes’ to Margritte’s playful canvases and Demand’s photographs of his paper sculptures. Texts by Tacita Dean, Rodney Graham, Luigi Ghirri and Thomas Demand are threaded through the segue of images and the object is completed with a second book housed in an envelope neatly built into the back endpaper of the catalogue, a facsimile of a Luigi Ghirri manuscript for a small book of photographs.

Read Full Article

Annie Lennox; HIV Positive


While she is working to alleviate the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS, Lennox herself says she is not HIV-positive. “It will raise questions, I know, as to whether I am HIV-positive,” she said of the shirt. “And I can tell you, actually, the good news is I am not. However, many people are.”

“I think stigma is everywhere and I think that’s one of the biggest challenges anyone has to face when it comes to HIV whether it’s in a developing country or whether it is here, I’ve met people here who are HIV positive who can’t disclose their status because they are too afraid of the impact it will have.”

“At the moment we have had 33 million people die because of Aids, The scientific discoveries are proving that we can actually make a huge difference if people can get access to treatment.”

In the 1980s, when AIDS was first being talked about, Jean Kalilani travelled to other countries in Africa to persuade them that the disease existed. Many leaders were in denial. Others claimed it stopped at their borders.

Read Full Article

Escaping Earth: Kepler-22b, The first planet found in the “habitable zone”

NASA’s Kepler Mission Announces Latest Planetary Discovery

The Kepler mission’s science team announced its latest finding at a press conference on Monday, Dec. 5, 2011. The team announced the confirmation of Kepler-22b, its first planet found in the “habitable zone,” the region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. The planet is about 2.4 times the radius of Earth, orbits around a star similar to our sun and is located 600 light-years away.

Scientists don’t yet know if Kepler-22b has a predominantly rocky, gaseous or liquid composition, but its discovery is a step closer to finding Earth-like planets. The planet’s host star belongs to the same class as our sun, called G-type, although it is slightly smaller and cooler.

Read Full Article

“Equally significant is the decline of the critic as a culture broker. Today that role is played by the curator. That, too, will change.”


In october 2005 Frieze asked 33 artists, collectors, critics, curators, educators and gallerists How has art changed?
With the proliferation of museums, biennales and fairs, and the sheer amount of work now being made, shown, and sold, the art world has obviously changed substantially over the last 40 or so years. But what have been the most important shifts in art and the structures that surround it?

Iwona Blazwick
A critic, art historian, lecturer, broadcaster and Director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London

The last four decades are both a legacy of the 1960s and a betrayal of their revolutionary potential. We can thank the Feminist and Civil Rights movements for making our art world massively more inclusive. The dematerialization of the object of art and its expansion into idea or phenomenon have made it possible for a text, an action or an environment to be understood as art and for Modernist realism to continue by other means. Early experiments with Super 8 and video laid the groundwork for the colonization of the art world’s time and space by the moving image, while the lens has attained equal status with the paintbrush. The entry of Structuralism, psychoanalysis and anthropology into theories of art has rocked the boat of aesthetics and evolved into an insistence on subjectivity and participation as integral to meaning. The spirit of collaboration and the co-option of empty property that was a hallmark of so many artists’ groups in the 1960s continues to live on generating a mobile but sustained network of laboratories for art. It’s an expanding field that has also become increasingly professionalized, commercialized and spectacularized. The last 40 years have marked the rise and proliferation of curators, collectors and architects specializing in making museums into powerful corporate brands that are intended to provide mass entertainment, generate tourism or solve social problems. Art has moved from margin to centre, with all the losses and gains that this entails.

Teresa Gleadowe
Director of the MA Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art, London.

In the summer of 1966 the Arts Council presented at the Tate Gallery ‘The Almost Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp’, the first major retrospective of the artist’s work to be held in Europe. It was selected by Richard Hamilton, who wrote the one-page introduction to a catalogue designed in classic Modernist style by Gordon House. With its Monotype Univers text, monochrome illustrations shown approximately to scale, modest selection of six colour plates and discreet scholarly tone, this understated but informative publication speaks eloquently of a particular set of assumptions about the purpose of art. There is no expectation of box office or of universal appeal. Forty years on the continuing influence of Duchamp on art theory and practice is still felt, but the world of art is no longer a separate sphere. It is now permeated by the art market, by business and political interests, and by the values of the ‘creative industries’. The museum building boom of the late 1980s continues, linked to agendas of economic regeneration. Biennials have proliferated, and supranational museum brands have been established. The audience for art has exploded in size, with a growing emphasis on diversity and education. Electronic communication has increased the speed at which an exhibition or publication can be realized, and international travel has become an essential component of the activity of the artist or curator. Art has become a globalized field, no longer bounded by the physical presence of the work of art.

Dave Hickey
An art critic who lives in Las Vegas, Nevada.

First, I am not a part of this any more. I am still writing but obsolete, a dead man walking. Most of my younger colleagues, the art critics who should be in the ascendant today, died of AIDS in the 1980s. Those that survive are academics or tabloid celebrity geeks. Art dealers who once represented an informed aesthetic now show one of each. Museum directors and curators who once proudly promoted an engaged view of things now show one of each. Magazines that once implemented an informed agenda, now publish one of each, pro and con. With the exception of collectors, everyone in the art world today is either a public servant or journalist, a poll watcher or a bean counter, implementing ‘fairness’. With the defection of critics, curators, museum directors and editors from the realm of informed decision-making, only collectors vote on new art, so they drive the market, which, as a consequence, is radically front-loaded, frivolously quixotic and egregiously sentimental. Other than that, everything is peachy.

Matthew Higgs
Director and Chief Curator of White Columns, New York.

My feeling is that only a nostalgic (or curmudgeon) would argue that things were better (or, even, more interesting) in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s or 1990s. ‘Right now’, i.e., the present tense, is always the best time for what we do. Certainly there have never been more people interested in and involved with contemporary art, which is a good thing. (‘Art for all’, as Gilbert & George might say.) I know that some people grumble about art fairs and biennials, but these are probably the same kind of people who would grumble about their favourite bands becoming popular. Technology insists that things happen and are absorbed a lot quicker these days, but that’s OK too. (Only romantics would have it another way, and don’t forget: Ars longa vita brevis.) What’s sad? Call me old-fashioned, but art seems to be losing its regional dialects and accents, becoming instead a kind of visual Esperanto, but, hey, you can’t have everything. What’s bad? The art world remains too professional and too bourgeois … some things, I guess, will never change.

Olu Oguibe
An artist who has exhibited his work in biennials and triennials around the world, and also curated major exhibitions for numerous spaces, including Tate Modern and the Venice Biennale.

Over the last 40 years contemporary art has witnessed few significant changes besides the numerous trends and fads that provide the art world with much-coveted entertainment. Photography gained prominence. Video art failed to fulfil its early promise. The much-touted dematerialization of the art object proved to be a mere discursive fantasy, as even ‘new media’ artists continue to privilege the marketable object. Eventually cynicism has replaced genuine curiosity and engagement even in post-colonial contemporary art. More significant, however, is the consolidation of women artists’ place in discourse, display, documentation and practice. Despite continued gender disparity in visibility and remuneration, women artists have registered their presence beyond contest or erasure. This is particularly important because younger artists can now take the possibility of success and recognition for granted. Equally significant is the decline of the critic as a culture broker. Of course, critics remain important arbiters of taste, but the all-powerful, fate-determining critic that emerged especially in mid-century America and brokered careers, movements and canonical paradigms, leaving powerful imprints on the discourse of contemporary art, is no more. Today that role is played by the curator. That, too, will change. Regrettably, artistic autonomy has also declined. In the 1960s and early 1970s artists boldly and consciously distanced themselves from the establishment, and in the process opened refreshing avenues for expression. However, that independence is all but completely ceded today as artists jostle for position and jockey to mortgage their work, careers and convictions for success, thus relegating themselves to pawns in the culture game.

Read Full Article

Talks: The Trouble with Productivity, ICA


The Trouble with Productivity, 11 January 2012
Institute of Contemporary Arts

Artists, writers and curators today, more than ever, take part in a time-pressured culture of high performance.

Can you be productive by not being productive? Are there artistic possibilities in exhaustion, failure and laziness? Those were among the questions posed at the ICA last week during a discussion between the writer and critic Laura McLean-Ferris, the curator Paul Pieroni, and the writer and philosopher Lars Iyer (all of whom are unusually productive, we audience members couldn’t help noticing).

McLean-Ferris opened with reference to a number of articles written a few years ago when the art market was at an “overblown” level: Dan Fox observed in Frieze Magazine (of which he is associate editor) that the art world had developed into “a high-turnover, high-visibility international activity that everyone wants a slice of”, and expressed an uneasiness about galleries’ sleek corporate architecture and vague but authoritative-sounding art-speak, which he suspected to be somewhat at odds with the ways in which artists actually work. In a piece entitled “I Can, I Can’t, Who Cares”, the critic and curator Jan Verwoert, troubled by the relentless pressure on creative types to “perform”, looked around for interesting and amusing examples of “unwillingness, non-compliance, uncooperativeness, reluctance or non-alignment”.

One example is the work of the Croatian artist Mladen Stilinović, whose photographic series “The Artist at Work” (1978) shows him lying in bed. Stilinović is the author of a manifesto, “In Praise of Laziness” (1993), in which he describes laziness as “the absence of movement and thought, dumb time – total amnesia. It is also indifference, staring at nothing, non-activity, impotence. It is sheer stupidity, a time of pain, futile concentration”. Those “virtues of laziness” are important factors in art, he says: “Knowing about laziness is not enough; it must be practised and perfected”.

McLean-Ferris pointed out that Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener – who discombobulates his Wall Street colleagues with the refrain “I would prefer not to” – has become a sort of model for non-compliance among artists. Étienne Chambaud produced a neon sign that reads “I would prefer not to too” (2007), which never gets switched on. Pilvi Takala spent a month in the marketing department of the accountancy firm Deloitte, where she filmed herself doing nothing all day for her installation The Trainee (2008). Only a few people knew that she was not an ordinary worker. As it says on Takala’s website: “these acts, or rather the absence of visible action, slowly make the atmosphere around the trainee unbearable . . . . What provokes people in non-doing, alongside strangeness, is the element of resistance. The non-doing person isn’t committed to any activity, so they have the potential for anything”.

Paul Pieroni was keen in his talk to “recalibrate ideas about how we might understand procrastination”. While acknowledging that it can be straightforwardly evasive – he confessed that when he was supposed to be preparing for his ICA appearance he went out and bought a carbon monoxide detector, having created ”a ridiculous context where I might die” – he said that procrastinatory “counter-activity” can be important in art production, “especially when we’re not sure what the priorities of our actions are”.

Counter-activity can have value even if the original goal is discarded entirely, he said: his friend Mike Harte, who at one time aspired to be an artist but always seemed to find something else to do (sitting about, karaoke, eating Choc Dips – we were treated to a little slide show), used to write letters full of trivia, newspaper cuttings and “general nonsense” to his friend Jamie Shovlin, who was then studying at the Royal College of Art. Shovlin kept the letters and made them into an art project of his own, Mike Harte – Make Art, which was commissioned by the collective art collection V22. Pieroni has lately been researching what he calls the effluvia of office work – which include humorous pictures and signs such as the ones on this page (other slogans include “A tidy desk is a sign of a sick mind”) – for the exhibition Xeroxlore, which opens tomorrow, January 20, at SPACE.

Lars Iyer’s subject was the common view of consumers versus producers: consumers are suggestible and easily manipulable, while producers are in control, in charge. He finds the modern notion of the producer problematic: in an age of neoliberal capitalism, he said, to be a producer is to be a capitalist entrepreneur; and very often what producers are marketing – through social media, for example – are not artworks, but themselves. The ICA audience, a large, mostly young crowd (Mike Harte was there – I spotted him in the bar afterwards), asked some interesting questions in relation to this; McLean-Ferris answered one about productivity and internet use with the comment that people who upload a lot of material tend to be particular kinds of people, who can set the agenda in ways that may not be obvious.

Iyer suggested in a recent article in the White Review that great literature was over, and that modern writers were sullied by their active involvement with the marketplace. At the ICA he told us that if writing is to be successful today, it should respond “to the ways in which we arse about when no one’s watching us”. Iyer’s compulsively readable, funny and touching novel Spurious (2011) started as an attempt, in the form of a blog, to answer a serious philosophical question. “What I found myself doing instead”, he told us, “was recording the stupid conversations I’d had with a friend of mine”.
Read Full Article

Valerio Spada, Gomorrah Girl

Valerio Spada, From the Book, Gomorrah Girl, 2011

Valerio Spada’s self-published photo book Gomorrah Girl, the grand prize winner of 4th annual Blurb Photography Book Now Competition. The book explores the murder of Naples resident Annalisa Durante, a young woman caught in the crossfire of violence in “the land of Camorrah,” (the name for the Mafia in Naples). It is an artfully made documentary about adolescence in one of the most dangerous places in Italy to grow up.

“Gomorrah Girl shows the problems of becoming a woman in a dangerous, crime-ridden area,” says Spada, who studied in Milan and has worked as a fashion photographer. “At age 9 they make themselves up as TV personalities and dream of becoming one of them. At age 13 or 14 they often become mothers, skipping the adolescence which is lived fully everywhere else in Italy.”

The story comes together in the books innovative design—Spada’s own documentary photographs, along with a smaller book of photographs detailing the police investigation, are bound together. Captions offer details into the personal tragedies suffered by the subjects alongside stone-cold factual information provided by police evidence.
“As each page unfolds, the viewer is challenged by layers of meaning,” Says Larissa Leclair, a photography curator/writer and a judge in this year’s contest.

Spada wanted to take pictures of the original murder evidence, but the Italian police denied him permission. Handing over photographs of the crime scenes, “the police told me, ‘If you want, you can take pictures of the pictures.’ I remember I was depressed, thinking, ‘I cannot get what I want,’” says Spada, “But I shot every single page. And while I was shooting, all was clear once again. This had to be a book within a book.”

Read Full Article

“There is a dialogue to be had about sex. All the information out there, whether it’s about sex parties, Internet sex, or pornography, is overwhelming. There is a real need for an edited voice.”

Classy pervs, rejoice: The coffee-table sex magazine Richardson is back from the dead. British fashion stylist Andrew Richardson (no relation to the similarly licentious photographer Terry) put out three glossy issues featuring porn stars and pontification between 1998 and 2002 before going on hiatus amid the post-9/11 economic downturn. In the years since, Richardson refined his business plan. (Sex = still interesting! Website = necessary!) “It’s the perfect time,” Richardson says. “There is a dialogue to be had about sex. All the information out there, whether it’s about sex parties, Internet sex, or pornography, is overwhelming. There is a real need for an edited voice.”

“Sorry I was being polite because you had put me in a public and difficult position. I actually think the magazine brings nothing to the potential art of pornography and do not want to be quoted in any way. Sincerely, Richard Avedon.”

That was a letter written by the legendary photographer to Andrew Richardson that is proudly reprinted in the opening pages of the third issue of the magazine published in 2002. With its confrontational, potent mix of sex, politics, art and a hefty dose of punk rock attitude, Richardson was never going to be to everyone’s taste. But even if Avedon passed on it, plenty of the highest calibre of photographers ranging from Glen Luchford, Mario Sorrenti and of course, Terry Richardson have shot for its pages, elevating it far above the realms of the mere sex magazine. That the magazine more closely resembles a beautifully put-together coffee table book is probably due to British-born Richardson’s background as a highly-sought after fashion stylist. But inside its pages, stories on group sex, sadomasochism, internet hook-ups, a guide to sexual fetishes represented by handkerchiefs and contributions from the likes of Bruce LaBruce, Harmony Korine, Richard Prince, Jack Pierson, Larry Clark and anarchist, Stewart Home serve to discomfit and entice in equal measure.

After a seven-year hiatus, the magazine returns with an unflinchingly honest look at the female gaze in A4. Crossover porn star, Sasha Grey gives a full and frank interview whilst posing seductively, whereas elsewhere Amy Kellner dishes on Riot Grrl, and transgressive artists like Annie Sprinkle, Valie Export and Carolee Schneeman are profiled in detail. At a time when the conservative nature of advertisers means that sexual provocation in magazines has become a rare commodity, the return of Richardson provides a much needed jolt and frisson of excitement.

Read Full Article

Narcissism is back in fashion

Who, Me?
Pretty pretty good

Narcissism is back in fashion

It may come as a surprise, but narcissism was facing extinction by 2013. That’s when the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – also known as the DSM–V – was due to appear without its traditional entry on the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Published by the American Psychiatric Association, the manual is the reference for American practitioners (the rest of the world relies on the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases). In the current DSM–IV (1994), NPD is one of ten personality disorders. But in the forthcoming edition, these were to be reduced to only five basic types: antisocial, avoidant, borderline, obsessive–compulsive and schizotypal.

In The New York Times, the Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Gunderson called the change ‘draconian’. It seems to be part of the American trend to make mental disorders biological (and thus treatable with drugs) instead of relying on old psychoanalytic terms and the traditional talking cure, which even Freud once described as ‘interminable’. Last summer, the American Psychiatric Association must have buckled under the pressure; according to its website, narcissism has been saved from woblivion and is back in the mix of personality disorders for the next edition of DSM–V.

For narcissists, it’s a victory they may be hard-pressed to acknowledge (‘Me? A narcissist?!’). I find the volte-face dismaying, not because I’m for prescribing drugs and against talking cures. You don’t need to be a psychiatrist or a psychoanalyst to see that narcissism has shifted from a pathological condition to a norm, if not a means of survival. Melancholy also shifted historically from a medical illness to a state of mind. But narcissism appears as a necessity in our society of the spectacle, which runs from Andy Warhol’s ‘15 minutes of fame’ prediction through reality TV and self-promotion to today’s YouTube hits. While the media and social media played a role in normalizing narcissism, photography has played along with them. We exist in and for society, only once we have been photographed. The photographic portrait is no longer linked to milestones like graduation ceremonies and weddings, or exceptional moments such as vacations, parties or even crimes. Photography has become part of a daily, if not minute-by-minute, staging of the self. Portraits appear to have been eclipsed by self-portraits: tweeted, posted, shared.

A brief historical review of attitudes towards narcissism and self-portraiture may be in order. According to Greek mythology, Narcissus was the man who fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water. According to the DSM–IV, 50–70 percent of those diagnosed with NPD are men. But according to my upbringing in Canada, looking at one’s reflection in a mirror for too long was a weakness particular to the fairer sex and an anti-social taboo. I recall doubting Cindy Sherman’s ‘Untitled Film Stills’ (1977–80): wasn’t she just a narcissist taking pictures of herself all day long? At least she was modest enough to use a remote shutter trigger. By contrast, Helmut Newton had openly displayed his camera when he captured his reflection in a bathroom mirror for Self-portrait, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City (1973). Then again, the exceptional situation – his naked body hooked up to wires for an electro-cardiogram – made the self-portrait look like a moment of documentation.

There’s no modesty about staging the self in Patty Chang’sFountain (1999), although this work is a video and not a photographic self-portrait. A modern-day Narcissus, Chang gazes into a mirror covered by a thin layer of water and can’t stop licking it all up. Digital narcissism has recently gained attention in the popular press with Gabriela Herman’s portrait series ‘Bloggers’ (2010–11), which captures bloggers gazing into their glowing screens alone at night. But closer to our narcissistic norm are Wolfram Hahn’s portraits of people taking pictures of themselves (‘Into the Light’, 2009–10) or Joan Fontcuberta’s book A través del espejo (Through the Looking Glass, 2010), a collection of online images of self-portraitists posing with their cameras.

Unabashed self-portraiture has a purely formal side, which seems to have escaped recent discussions about photography. Today, no one bothers to use the remote shutter trigger or even the camera’s timer to make a self-portrait. We contemporary narcissists – me, myself and I – simply hold the camera or the phone in front of our faces and push the button. But this approach has led to a profound shift in the vanishing point, which has historically been understood as a point disappearing on the horizon in a landscape, whether drawn, painted or photographed. What disappears today is the hand of the photographer, holding the camera and aiming it at himself. While the hand lies outside the frame, the outstretched arm seems to vanish into the foreground. The vanishing point is not outside in the world and off in the distance, but on our own bodies. If we once directed our gaze outwards, we now look inwards and invite the world to watch as we lose ourselves.

Published in Frieze d/e Issue 143, November-December 2011. By Jennifer Allen

Read Full Article

Spectacle: “Thousands queued up to view the corpse in a ­supermarket cold store”

Muammar Gaddafi, the deposed leader of Libya, died on 20 October 2011 during the Battle of Sirte. Gaddafi was found hiding in a culvert west of Sirte and captured by National Transitional Council forces. He was killed shortly afterwards. The NTC initially claimed he died from injuries sustained in a firefight when loyalist forces attempted to free him, although videos of his last moments show rebel fighters beating him before he was shot several times.

The interim Libyan authorities decided to keep his body “for a few days”, NTC oil minister Ali Tarhouni said, “to make sure that everybody knows he is dead.” To that end, the body was moved to an industrial freezer where members of the public were permitted to view it as confirmation. Gaddafi’s body was publicly displayed in a freezer in Misrata until the afternoon of 24 October. Video shows Gaddafi’s body on display in the center of an emptied public freezer in Misrata. Some people drove hundreds of kilometres across Libya to see proof that he had died. One viewer of the body said about the public display of his corpse, “God made the pharaoh as an example to the others. If he had been a good man, we would have buried him. But he chose this destiny for himself.” A Reuters reporter who saw the body said that there was gunshot residue on the wounds, consistent with wounds of people when they are shot at close range.

Gaddafi’s body was displayed alongside that of his son, Mutassim Gaddafi, who also died in the custody of Misratan fighters after his capture in Sirte on 20 October. The younger Gaddafi’s body was removed from the refrigerator for burial at the same time as his father’s on 24 October.

Read Full Article