Monday, September 21, 2015

A conversation with curator Joan Fontcuberta and multimedia artist Paul Wong

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Joan Fontcuberta & Paul Wong
Photo © Lena Ghio 2015

JOAN FONTCUBERTA and PAUL WONG were all over the city these past two weeks introducing opening exhibitions and giving conferences for the 14th Mois de la Photo Biennale. Luckily I got a sublime slice of time to hear the deeper thoughts behind the event curated by M. Fontcuberta, who is himself a well established photographer, and where M. Wong, a multimedia artist, had an exhibition entitled Multiverse at the Joyce Yahouda Gallery and a dazzling outside projection, Year of the GIF, at Quartier des Spectacles.

I loved the point of view Joan Fontecuberta took to construct the biennale. I kept returning to the impact of new technologies on photography, I expressed how I related to Facebook coming up in certain exhibitions like for example AFTER FACEB00K: IN LOVING MEMORY < 3 at the McCord Museum. To Paul Wong I expressed how I related to the theme of his exhibition, the Multiverse, because it is the HOT subject in contemporary physics. Scientists will spend BILLIONS of dollars to prove the existence of multiverse but, I told him, I believe artists already prove it.

Lena- The biennial shows the expanding possibilities of the image on film and the impact of our new technologies. But what do you see as the future of classical photography, of the object on the wall?

Joan- In your question you mention art with technologies and this is something I would like to avoid.  The problem I propose is not about technology at all. It is about changes in our culture, in our technologies, in our economics and so on, which require those technologies. For me technologies are not endings of a new way of thinking but the effect of the requirements that now, in the 21rst century, we have. Two years ago Mois de la photo presented “Drone: the automated image” which was about a kind of automatic vision, about how our visual experience was implemented by different devices allowing us new kinds of perceptions. We can see images from very far distances; we can penetrate our bodies, this kind of thing. My approach strayed from this concern. Certainly some of the artists in the last biennials program could have fit perfectly within my program. But we don’t see the other’s perspective in the automated image which is the perspective here. I am interested in the way, in the current situation, images speak to us differently from how they did in the past. Why do we take photographs? What do photographs mean to us? How do they communicate with others? How their historical values have changed. For instance, in the former century, photographs were linked to memory and truth, now not necessarily. My parents have family albums where they collected pictures from their grandfathers, from their ancestors. The album was a kind of totem. Photographs were tissues, materials, objects unto which we projected an idea of the past an idea of the memory of how the family was united and it was a symbol of that unity.

Now all this has changed. We take pictures. We send them. They reach our target and they are deleted. So photographs become conversational. They are not intended to last. They are not intended to rest in an album, or in an archive, or in a cage, or even in a museum. Their circulation is their basic nature. Because of that last example I feel that many things have changed. Images relate to another kind of thinking and to another kind of geistig as a state of the time. And that is the reason I feel the work  of Paul Wong presented here is quietly illustrating some of these ideas. The installations presented here fit perfectly with that concept of an accumulation of images. There are so many pictures the works becomes a kind of panoscopic projection. This brings up the following issues: when we have such an incredible amount of images available, do all the pictures have the same importance? And secondly, when we have all those possibilities, are there still missing pictures? How do you recognize that the picture is missing? This could be a question I will address in the future. 

I am sixty years old, so I am not digitally born. There are many phenomena I am not able to understand. I have two grandchildren who are very skilled with the buttons and devices and gadgets and things like that. They were born in the computer age and all these kinds of devices are near to them, they belong to their everyday landscape. I see the consequences of that but I don’t understand them. I have a kind of distant and difficult way of looking at that. And I think it is not a possible perspective, it is not a complete perspective, but it is the perspective of someone who has been working in the photographic dark room with the red lights and the chemistry. So I understand this photography in another way. Comparing this practice of photography to now is similar to speaking Latin instead of the more current languages of French or Spanish. At the time, these were the fundamentals of the procedure to create images and those were the things that had to be done to circulate an image. This is no longer a necessary process to create or diffuse images.
Paul Wong  Photo © Lena Ghio 2015

Lena- I would like to hear from Paul about why he called his exhibition Multiverse? When I visited your exhibition I felt the meaning of that word, I felt the Multiverse.

Paul- First I should give the credit to Joan because he came up with the title. In the universe, multiverse, this body of work like a lot of my work is focused on the concerns everyday life. These images are mine. They are not from the Internet. I mean there are some screen shots from the Internet, also screen shots from television. There are screen shots from life on the street, architecture, family, friends, studio, studio visits, art, mine, and yours. I use photographs instead of taking notes. I photograph everything. That’s how I can remember a price tag or a piece of technology I want, that is how I do my shopping list too. Very formal stuff. And of course a lot of this work comes from me carrying around my smart phone. And I think what has made this now even more possible is the new technology, which is the digital. The digital has made it possible for me, with one device, to have the multiverse. It is all there from my business, from my pleasure, from my personal, to the ephemeral, it is all there. I carry my smart phone with me; it’s my only accessory. It’s my watch, its my broach, it’s my bank book, it’s my everything. It’s also the digital platform. I come from an analog practice as well as Joan. Before I used to work in the studio, work with the sound, with the photography, look at slides, then make long or short videos and write as well. I used all separate platforms and different mediums. It was a different way of doing it, processing it, and sharing it. But the digital has collapsed all of that. It took me a while to get into that place where the photography, the video, the sound, the text are all brought together.

Part of the process for the video installation Year of the GIF, where listening and looking were involved, was done on social platforms and part of the making of that work was exploring the medium of that particular social platform like a video. But invariably I was on those platforms making and sharing that work with a number of people via social media or Instagram. I was making this and putting it up there and people were looking at it, but it was something from me that you could see. So that work comes from exploring social platforms and sharing that. So that is a very important part of the process. I was never making the work myself or making the work  for the gallery. It ended up being in the gallery, taking this form. These things will do that. Year of the gif originated from me wanting to make this gif for you (pointing at Joan). I though “Joan would like this”. He is a part of that platform.

Lena- I would like to know more about your process since you began with analog and then quickly evolved with the technology. Do you think you will get more involved with the technology or somehow use all your acquired techniques?

Paul- I am a media artist. I always worked with media in form, in content, and also I am very concerned about the work's distribution. That’s a part of how I see things, shape things and share what I see and shape with somebody else. So the idea of taking a series of photographs … tic tic tic, photographs and snip snip it becomes little stripes is improbable. The new media thing here is that I can make the images and slice them and rework them quickly. You can see how I have taken that everyday thing, the smart phone, and worked with it and lubricated the process in the cutting of this work.


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