Biennale für aktuelle Fotografie
No Image Is an Island
09.09. - 05.11.2017
*1962, United States of America
Natalie Bookchin’s work examines the shared self in an age of permanent connectivity. Her Testament series is based on video diaries collected online—so-called video logs, or vlogs, in which people use their webcams to tell stories from their lives, recounting dramatic events as well as banal, everyday occurrences. In Testament they speak about the loss of their job, their daily medication, their sexual orientation and their body weight. Bookchin groups the diaries thematically, cuts them, and then montages the excerpts to create a polyphonic, ever-complementary chorus. In its synchronization of the individual confessions, Testament reflects on the relationship between intimacy and public display, between isolation and community, and between spontaneity and performance.
Hans-Peter Feldmann’s book brings together a selection of photographs from a collection of over one thousand photos produced in the context of the swinger scene of the 1970s and 1980s. The explicit images served to initiate sexual acquaintanceships and were exchanged between private individuals by post, accompanied by no less explicit letters and often as a response to corresponding newspaper ads, which would generate the first contact. The pictures were, of course, only shared among the intimate circle of the direct recipients of the letters—the admonition Private Only, which provides the title of the work, is added to the back of many of the photographs.
Andreas Horlitz & Reinhard Matz
1955-2016, Germany & *1952, Germany
A photographic network that was completely analogue and existed well before the use of the term “network” became ubiquitous, was established in 1983 by photographers Andreas Horlitz and Reinhard Matz. The project Fotonetz was meant to offer the possibility of disseminating contemporary photography beyond exhibitions and magazines with all the limitations peculiar to them. The key feature was the compression of photographic works onto postcard-sized microfiches, which were handy and thus easy to send, making it possible to show complete series of work. To look at the fiches, an eightfold magnifier and a light table were recommended; readers were typically the preserve of libraries and archives. From the outset, the idea of creating a community was part of the project: “We want to connect the producers of today’s photography with the people who are interested in it,” wrote the editors in 1983. Fotonetz was discontinued in 1985, after a total of sixty editions had been sent to the subscribers.
Stefan Karrer’s desktop video is a dive into the depths of the directory structure on the hard drive of his computer. The folders are full of images that Karrer downloaded from photo-sharing sites. Here, individual images are always accompanied by a mass of similar pictures. A voice-over leads viewers through the folders and reads out the comments that were originally posted in tandem with the photos of cloud and wave formations. The enthusiasm with which the images are tagged as “cool clouds” and “crazy waves” goes hand in hand with a sense of regret that they sometimes fail to match reality, a recurring motif.
In recent months in election campaigns all over the world, the supporters of opposing parties have engaged in fiercely waged wars of images on social media. Germany’s elections have also long since ceased to be won on the street or in the traditional media—Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and other services have become the digital market place for political disputation. For Bundestagswahl, which was commissioned for the Biennale für aktuelle Fotografie, Swiss media artist Marc Lee has programmed a bot, a piece of software, that is, that filters the latest Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube posts according to the leading candidates of the parties in the election for the German Bundestag. The bot weaves the posts into a frantic live TV broadcast in which images, tweets, and videos flicker across the screen in real time, and icons in the colours of the combatants indicate their current online market value. While, as users of social networks, we only ever see variants of our own opinions mirrored back to us, Bundestagswahl confronts us with a view beyond the bounds of these echo chambers.
Our day-to-day online communication has long since taken on visual form in the shape of smileys and emojis. The reality TV personality and entrepreneur Kim Kardashian has perfected the sharing of her own image as a business model. She has continued the aggressive marketing of a staged version of her private life and of her body, seamlessly carrying it over from the early days of her career in television into today’s Web 2.0. In 2015 she published an app that gives users, at a price of around two euros, a set of Kardashian icons that can be used instead of the standard emojis in instant messenger services like WhatsApp. Besides offering Kardashian’s likeness in a range of different moods, the so-called Kimojis also show various parts of her body, including her bottom, which has now become her trademark, taking the commodification of her own image to an extreme.
The front of the 2014 winter edition of New York’s Paper magazine provided a demonstration of how to dominate the Internet’s attention economy. The cover image, photographed by Jean-Paul Goude, shows a naked Kardashian from behind, accompanied by the headline “Break the Internet”. This headline thus envisaged the viral potential of the cover photo, its propensity to be shared, as an augury, an incitement, and as its primary purpose.
Eva & Franco Mattes
Memes are an inevitable part of any discussion about sharing. A meme is a viral phenomenon in which a picture or a video, for example, shared via social media, image boards, or messenger services, is rapidly disseminated on the Internet. The meme undergoes repeated mutations in the process of sharing—it is changed by users and appears in a wide variety of contexts. Eva & Franco Mattes’s Ceiling Cat picks up on one such meme and moves it from the virtual realm of the Internet into the physical space of the exhibition. The Ceiling Cat meme combines two obsessions of the online discourse: cats and surveillance. In its most popular form, which was shared for the first time in 2006, it consists of the picture of a cat looking out of a hole in the ceiling and accompanied by the words “Ceiling Cat is watching you masturbate”.
For their video installation Dark Content Eva & Franco Mattes conducted a series of interviews with so-called content moderators, who act, as it were, as human filters, trawling through platforms like Vimeo, Instagram, YouTube, or Facebook for offensive visual content. Their mentally exhausting, precariously paid, Sisyphean work remains as invisible to ordinary users as the constant current of explicit images that the moderators remove from the sites. What is deleted varies depending on the company and country involved and mirrors prevailing moral codes, ideologies, and commercial interests. The confidential catalogues of guidelines that was leaked to the artist duo in the course of their research, and which the moderators use to regulate the circulation of images, served as the starting point for the work Abuse Standards Violations.
D. H. Saur
D. H. Saur’s collage devises the cartography of a viral phenomenon. In 2008, in the middle of the US election campaign for the White House, Shepard Fairey, an artist and entrepreneur living in Los Angeles, created a now iconic likeness of Barack Obama, who would go on to become president. The portrait, rendered in the American colours of red, white, and blue and captioned with the word HOPE, is based on the press photo of an AP photographer that Fairey had downloaded from the Internet. Fairey’s graphic became the best-known motif of the Obama campaign and soon developed a life of its own. HOPE became a meme shared by users millions of times on the Internet, where it was appropriated, modified, and then fed back into online circulation. Not only did its form undergo continual changes in the process but the contexts in which it appeared also shifted. Saur’s long-term research project sets the erratic manifestations of the HOPE meme in relationship to one another and tracks the meme’s development up until the inauguration of Obama’s successor Donald Trump.
The attention we give to pictures shared online may be fleeting, but once they have been uploaded, they remain permanently accessible. Never more than a mouse click away lurks a massive and constantly growing database of images. For picture collector Joachim Schmid—who in the title of a manifesto published back in 1987 called for “no new photos [to be made] until the old ones have been exhausted”—this database is a treasure trove. His work Other People’s Photographs brings together photographs predominantly downloaded from photo sharing platform Flickr between 2008 and 2011, sorted according to categories and put into encyclopaedic form by Schmid, who bound them in ninety-six volumes: a cross sectional view of the visual conventions and uses of vernacular photography in the early twenty-first century, which include inevitable genres like the selfie as well as images of airplane menus or people accepting outsize checks.
In today’s economy, the sharing of pictures of one’s own life on social media inevitably has a commercial aspect to it. Kim Kardashian has built a business empire on transforming her personal image into a commodity. She currently has a hundred million plus Instagram subscribers—in seventh place on the list of accounts with the most followers—to whom she has offered an insight into her life in just under four thousand posts to date. In his series Kanye, Juergen & Kim, Juergen Teller affirms and exaggerates the mix of everyday banality and glamour, family life and product presentation, the fetishization of body parts and sexualized poses. First published in 2015 as a supplement for the fashion magazine System, the series stages a trip to the French countryside shared with the prominent couple Kardashian and West. The couple’s megalomaniac tendencies—a means of self-marketing that is entirely suited to the Internet’s competitive attention economy—are echoed in the exhibition prints used for the series, which are blown up into life-size images.
In her performance Excellences & Perfections, which she shared over several months in 2014 as a series of posts on her Instagram account, Amalia Ulman examines the rules of self-presentation on social media and the commodification of one’s own image. Using loosely connected stories of the makeover of a young woman as a narrative vehicle, Ulman goes through various role models in this modern form of the coming-of-age novel and questions the prevailing conventions governing the online enactment of femininity. The selfies and still lifes that she posts are a one-to-one reproduction of the commercial aesthetic that characterizes countless Instagram biographies. For Ulman’s followers it was almost impossible to tell the difference between art and life for the duration of her performance.
Ulman’s Instagram account can be viewed in the exhibition on a tablet. The video, which was created in autumn 2014 for a presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Art in London, is her reflection on the performance, a good four weeks after the final post.
Andrew Norman Wilson
*1983, Hong Kong
Drawing on the example of one of the most comprehensive projects of entrepreneurial sharing, Andrew Norman Wilson’s Workers Leaving the Googleplex deals with the structures of work in the information society: Google Books has made it its goal to make the contents of millions of books available online with large-scale scanning operations. The starting point for Wilson’s video was a short-term job at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, where he came into contact with the workers responsible for scanning the books. The department’s internal name, ScanOps, provides the title for his follow-up project. The raw material for the series comes from errors in the scanning process compiled by Wilson online, as a result of which the hands of the ScanOps employees may sometimes find their way into the image.