Memory and Identity Explored in 4 New London Photography Shows

Thomas Zanon-Larcher, Nicolle, Smithfield I, London, May 2009 Courtesy of the Artist and Wapping Project Bankside (above)


There’s a bunch of new shows to visit this month, as galleries gear back up after the Christmas holidays.  Here’s my pick of the ones to see, some included to stimulate rather than please.

First up is Thomas Zanon-Larcher with ‘Falling: A part’ at Wapping Project Bankside.  The show consists of several images from various series Zanon-Larcher has made over the last 20 or so years.  They all form a part of an on-going fascination with narrative staging and the potential for capturing what the artist calls the ‘Gestus’: the unification of thought, emotion and gesture. Zanon-Larcher hires actresses and stages urban scenes in which the female protagonists (mostly glamorous and well-attired) seem mired in existential ennui whilst carrying out the day-to-day, like taking the tube or having a shower, stills form an imaginary film. This process recalls the work of Gregory Crewdson who also uses a cinematic production process to capture still images, and who also seeks out those pregnant pauses when his protagonists would seem to catch a glimpse of the void, but Zanon-Larcher, with a background in Fashion and Editorial, seems more attuned to the potential aesthetic enmeshing of narrative and production-design.

Thomas Zanon-Larcher, Nora, Deichmannske Library, Oslo, August 2006 Courtesy of the Artist and Wapping Project Bankside


These women, protagonists in their respective series, inhabit a coherent, developed, fictional world, albeit highly influenced by the works of others, be it Bergman, Bertolucci or Polanski.  The ‘Gestus’ also works, as these ‘Stills’ do seem to position themselves within a narrative arc of some kind, providing a sense of imminence and foreboding. The images are thus suffused with a melancholy loneliness, the stars of these potential narratives having lost something it seems, searching for something new with which to banish their grief. This work falls somewhere between Conceptual, Editorial and Fashion photography, refreshingly earnest in its intentions, yet highly sophisticated in its execution.  An immersive experience.

Thomas Zanon-Larcher, Nora, Trainstation II, Oslo, August 2006 Courtesy of the Artist and Wapping Project Bankside

Brancolini Grimaldi delivers another excellent show with Heidi Specker’s ‘Termini’. Termini takes its name from the main railway station in Rome, where Heidi Specker was based during a residency at the German Academy’s Villa Massimo in 2010. This series of images ranges in subject matter from the home of the Surrealist artist Giorgio de Chirico in central Rome, to the apartment of architect and designer Carlo Mollino in Turin and to the modern architecture of Sabaudia and the fascist era EUR district. Essentially, these cryptic and elliptical images are an attempt to chart the surfaces of an Italian past, when cultural forces may have been co-opted by ideology, when the traditional materials, like paint and marble, with which the country’s great past had been forged became appropriated and transformed into signifiers of history, rather than act as a point of continuity.

Heidi Specker ‘Terminus’, Image  copyright Jorge Herrera, courtesy Brancolini Grimaldi.


Specker has three projects on show, with the two in the main space, ‘Piazza di Spagna 31’ and ‘Ultimatum Alla Terra’ being the most successful. Both are shot in black and white and presented in differing scales .In ‘Ultimatum Alla Terra’ Specker engages with the EUR district of Rome. This part of the city was developed by Mussolini during the 1930s, but work was halted by the Second World War and the buildings weren’t completed until the 1960s. Specker filters this strange space through oblique details of surfaces, clocks and street lighting. Through repetition and juxtaposition, the images together create the impression of an aborted dystopia, a nonchalant stab at making something ugly, from within a system that would have found even that generous or inefficient. The photographs are snapshot in their aesthetic, yet also thoughtful, as if culled from a more precise body of work. It’s a very deliberate series that evokes a sense of the alien, as well as that of a future frozen in time years ago.

Heidi Specker ‘Terminus’, Image  copyright Jorge Herrera, courtesy Brancolini Grimaldi.


It’s appropriate, therefore, that ‘Piazza di Spagna 31’ be the documentation of a museum, in this case the house of seminal artist Giorgio de Chirico. De Chirico was a surrealist, and Specker seeks out those interior details that might suggest the spirit of such a man. A very large image of a silver bowl dominates the series. Undulating waves of silver, in which the reflection of the artist is just visible, suggest a fluidity of thought on the one hand, and the deadness of an ornamental artefact on the other. The rest of the images are smaller, charting intimate details within the space with a similar ambivalence about its preservation, as if here, also, a process of fossilization has taken place. Taken together, the work forces the viewer to question what Italy makes of its past and where these Roman spaces belong in the country’s collective memory.

Heidi Specker ‘Terminus’, Image  copyright Jorge Herrera, courtesy Brancolini Grimaldi.


Also engaging with notions of memory is Nicola Tyson’s ‘Bowie Nights at Billy’s Club, London,

1978’, showing at Sadie Coles HQ, an archive of photographs by British artist Nicola Tyson documenting the London club scene of the late 1970s. Taken in the autumn of 1978 while Tyson was an eighteen-year-old student at Chelsea College of Art, the images capture the earliest genesis of the New Romantic scene that was to define the decade ahead. They form a record that is at once autobiographical and social, beginning with shots from a family holiday and bearing witness to Tyson’s immersion in the scene revolving around Billy’s Club on Dean Street.


Presented as a series of large canvas contact prints, with some selections laid out in strips, this show is a fun document of a small cultural landmark, insignificant largely, but fascinating nonetheless. The retrospective unearthing of a subculture bears testimony to the contemporary hunger for such types of gathering in the days of Vice Magazine and social networking. Documentation is now live.  Another reason for staging  this exhibition, on the other hand, might be the presence of then unknown celebrities such as Boy George, Simon LeBon and Siobhan Fahey, itself telling of current obsessions.

Bettina Rheims’s new show at Hamiltons,’Gender Studies’ is an interesting exploration of issues of gender through portraiture. Some trans-gender, some intent on straddling the boundaries between femininity and masculinity in trying to foster a ‘third sex’, the subjects for these portraits were culled from a Facebook page Rheims set up in order to re-cast a project she had made 20 years previously, itself exploring notions of gender fluidity.

The subjects of these photographs are languid, subdued even. Despite the subtle gender straddling at play, Rheims eschews the standard provocative poses and confrontational looks. She also avoids too much focus on the physical details that might have appealed to a more voyeuristic image-maker. Instead she presents a sensitive series of portraits with which to explore the calm strength these subjects must have had to foster in creating such ambivalent identities.

Words: Kerim Aytac

Thomas Zanon-Larcher / Falling: A Part Until March 19th at Wapping Ptoject Bankside

Heidi Specker / Termini until March 16th at Brancolini Grimaldi

Nicola Tyson / Bowie Nights at Billy’s Club, London, 1978 until February 23rd at Sadie Coles HQ

Bettina Rheims / Gender Studies until March 1st at Hamiltons


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