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Art Review
 Hannah Collins,Tomoko Yoneda,Richard Billingham , Photography
Hannah Collins Leads Three Must See London Photography Exhibitions - ArtLyst Article image

Hannah Collins Leads Three Must See London Photography Exhibitions

18-07-2015
 
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As the dry months approach, there’s still some strong work on show around London. some of it in unlikely venues. The idea of ‘Space’, both allegorical and literal, seems an overarching theme in the work of three different but very important photographic artists.

First up is the Hannah Collins mini-retrospective at Camden Arts Centre. I welcome any excuse to visit this comforting space; less gallery-like than homely, but always the host to an excellent and diverse programme. Shown in three rooms, the exhibition charts several of Collins’ projects in diverse displays.  The first room includes images from two of Collins’ early works made in East London - Thin Protective Coverings (1986) and The Violin Player (1988) - involving makeshift furnishings, mattresses and cardboard that provide temporary comfort and refuge to the homeless. Huge monochrome prints on vinyl, unframed,  pinned to the wall and almost life size in scale, these images convey the tragic fragility of the structures they depict. As with all of Collins’ work, the theme of inhabited but absent spaces is engaged with, charged as these photographs are with the imprint of their residents and the memory of their presence. So big, the images on display offer contemplation rather than confrontation, in that they are more concerned with an effective (yet sensitive and by no means topographical) representation of the space, rather than with issues of scale and monument.

 

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The Interior and the Exterior - Noah Purifoy (2014)’ is an installation of sound and photographs filling an entire gallery that is an homage to the celebrated West-Coast artist (1917 - 2004). Photographed with a plate camera, and presented in classic black and white framed prints, these images document the sculptures Purifoy made when he moved to Joshua Tree in the Mojave Desert. There, using the desert as a vast workspace, he created incredible assemblages of recycled materials and objects. Collins documents these dutifully, but not without compassion and elegance. The site of this work is now a preserved monument. In the room there is an audio mix of testimony by many of Purifoy’s peers and colleagues, that helps provide the work with a sense of space. Outside the room, a recent publication of the work is placed aside one of Walker Evans’s original books in which he documented the interiors of the impoverished farmers enduring the Great Depression, and the influence is clear. This is Collins as documentarian then, working with a space, still, but more in the service of telling the story of this great artist Purifoy and his incredible work. To leave an impression on the desert is no mean feat.

 

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In the third and final room, we are presented with The Fertile Forest (2013-15),  an installation of photographs with accompanying text, gathered during periods spent with Cofan and Inga tribal peoples in the Amazon basin. Presented on shelves are many images of plants that these indigenous tribes use for either medical or psychotropic purposes. RIch in colour and small in scale, these images are accompanied by text recounting the journeys members of the communities took to find the plants, and their spiritual import. ALthough somehow less poetic than some of her other work, this is a nevertheless fascinating display that reminds the viewer of the role a habitat can play directly in providing sustenance, and in fostering a spiritual connection with one’s environment

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In a fortuitous parallel, Grimaldi Gavin are also showing a mini-retrospective of a female artist engaged with the theme of space. Tomoko Yoneda’s images are politically charged landscapes that are beautiful on the surface, but suffused with the negative energy of conflicts past beneath. Though some of the images are of the actual sites where destructive conflicts have occurred, most of the projects on display take a more sophisticated approach to the theme. As a result, the work is less about time passing in these spaces (where terrible  things have happened or will happen) but more about how they bear the imprint of time. For instance in ‘Japanese House’ (2010), Yoneda has photographed homes built in the capital of Taiwan, Taipei, during the period of the Japanese occupation from 1895 until 1945. The influence of Japanese design and taste can be seen in her prints titled Former House of General Wang Shu-Ming.  The Japanese grid-like structures have been adulterated by the more recent addition of wallpaper and (according to the press release) “ ‘Chinese’ dark red paint’ . These images convey the conflicting aesthetics of violently competing ideologies via the subtlest of modifications to the smallest of structures: the macro as reflected by the micro.




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Beyond Memory' by Tomoko Yoneda ,Grimaldi Gavin 2015 (photo: Guy Bell)

 

In the triptych Beyond Memory and Uncertainty: American B52 Returning From a Raid in Iraq. Fairford, England (2003), B52's are pictured in blue skies returning from bombing raids in Iraq as they land at a military airport in the UK . The picturesque quality of the peach skies is offset by the context of the plane within them; the journey it has taken and that it will no doubt take again. Presenting them as a triptych connotes both the passage of time and the repetitive nature of an ultimately fruitless bombing campaign.

 

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Beyond Memory' by Tomoko Yoneda ,Grimaldi Gavin 2015 (photo: Guy Bell)

 

Yoneda repeats the trick of beauty besmirched in 'Rivers Become Oceans', (2008). Photographed in the delta of three major rivers in Bangladesh, these gorgeous landscapes are in fact of the site where the sea might eventually encroach the land and start to destroy one of the countries most at threat from global warming. Rather than the past then, the destruction is about to happen in these spaces, making of the memory a future event.

 

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Beyond Memory' by Tomoko Yoneda ,Grimaldi Gavin 2015 (photo: Guy Bell)

 

What’s most impressive about Yoneda is her ability to fuse the aesthetic with the conceptual. By making such pleasing images, she unsettles the viewer with humanity's capacity for evil more effectively.

 

Just beautiful, RIchard Billingham’s landscapes in ‘Panorama’ for Anthony Reynolds Gallery at Annely Juda Fine Art, seek to do little more than evoke the lyric of the land. The exhibition comprises work taken over more than a decade in several regions of the UK, including the New Forest, the ‘Constable Country’ of Norfolk and Suffolk and South Wales. Tied together by the panoramic aspect ratio but differing in scale and equipment used, these landscapes are beautiful, pure and simple. Such a statement may seem an effort to trivialise the work, especially in our post-conceptual, post-internet age, but there is a rare honesty to this pictures.  BIllingham does not question the nature of photography, push at its representational limits (although he does experiment with throwaway cameras in the smaller work) nor does he photograph spaces of particular import, apart from their art-historical lineage and the biographical significance that is. There is no real conceptual conceit serving to scaffold these image; they stand on their own. For an artist like BIllingham, a Turner-prize nominee no less, this takes courage.

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Richard Billingham,Horses, 2011, copyright the artist, courtesy Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London.

 

BIllingham is known for his seminal project ‘Ray’s a Laugh’ (2000)  in which he documented the devastating effects of alcoholism and poverty on his family. A diaristic documentary, in the vein of Nan Goldin or Larry Clark, ‘Ray’ was the kind of project that could cripple an artist; tie him into an aesthetic from which he might not easily escape. But Wentworth had wanted to be an artist in the classical sense, not a hot-shot photographer of the early noughties,not a YBA, and with the early landscape work he did subsequent to that time ( RIchard Billingham, Landscapes 2001-2003, Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2008), he started to transition into the thoughtful and considered artist/photographer on display here. It’s pleasure to behold, and testament to how, on some occasions, the relationship between a gallery and an artist can be nurturing and supportive.

 

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Richard Billingham, Untitled, 2011, copyright the artist, courtesy Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London.

Words/Photos Kerim Aytac © artlyst 2015

Hannah Collins @ Camden Arts Centre until 13 September

Tomoko Yoneda, ‘Beyond Memory’ @ Grimaldi Gavin until 7 August

Richard Billingham for Anthony Reynolds Gallery @ Annely Juda Fine Art until 28 August


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