“Révélations” at the Musée Rath

I visit “Revelations” at the Musée Rath in Geneva This is that rare kind of exhibition that you can just get lost in. It is where the cultural, scientific and political history of this extraordinary town meets photography. Archives have been searched, venerable institutions have collaborated and local photographers interviewed. The exhibition is beautifully designed. No surprise that Philippa Kundig had a hand in it!

What an extraordinary invention photography is! In a week of troubled politics on both sides of the atlantic, I am reminded of just how powerful images can be. Here, I limit my self to three photos indicating the diversity of what’s on show. I hope to whet your appetite.

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Jean-Louis Populous, La rue du Marché, 1848

Yes… 1848! What an amazing image! Down-town Geneva nearly 170 years ago. I am fascinated by this photo. Where was the photographer positioned? What kind of camera? Where are the people? I imagine the taking of such a photograph was such a big event that the whole street was cleared.

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Anne-Julie Raccoursier, Remote Viewer 3 (part of), 2007

Anne-Julie Raccoursier’s contribution is two huge juxtaposed photos. One shows an aerial view of a graveyard for military aeroplanes with a road running through it. It is simply mind-boggling. I guess we understand that fighters and bombers are built and sold and maybe used in armed conflict but I am not sure we give much thought to what happens to them when they are redundant. Well, now we know!

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A. Stephani, Radiograph of a giant Dolium (Tonna Galea), 1971

My absolute favourite is an x-ray image of a sea shell. I try to determine why it appeals so much. There is something very beautiful about the rhythm and progression of the lines and curves of this creature as revealed by radiography. It speaks of the mathematics of natural forms; of fractals and the Fibonacci sequence. But there is something else; a fleeting, gorgeous pop image. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit to it, but it reminds me of Marilyn Monroe standing over the subway grate. Now, that’s a photo!!

Everyone is a photographer now and “Révélations” has something for everyone. This dazzling exhibition reveals the importance of photography in our lives and how it has advanced humanity. Go to Musée Rath. Take your time.

Nick Brandt’s African ghost animals at Fotografiska

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I’m in Stockholm and have the afternoon off. Facebook tells me there’s a new exhibition by British photographer Nick Brandt at Fotografiska. I’ve seen his wildlife photos before, but I have never seen anything like his news series, “Inherit the Dust.”

Brandt has developed life-size prints of his fantastic animal portraits, glued them to huge aluminium and plywood panels, and carefully placed these in polluted, abused and dystopian parts of Africa, where animals once roamed freely and lived in harmony.

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The panels were left long enough for the inhabitants to stop paying attention to them, after which Brandt captured the scenes as black-and-white panoramas through the lens of his medium-format Mamiya RZ67 Pro ll.

The most poignant panorama shows a family of elephants beneath a road, next to a group of homeless and glue-sniffing kids, juxtaposed to a billboard (in the horizon) of a man relaxing in a park with the text “lean back, your life is on track.”

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“Underpass with elephants (lean back, your life is on track).” inheritthedust.nickbrandt.com

Brandt’s “ghost animals” are a stark reminder of what poaching, climate change and capitalism actually put at stake here. Together with the marginalised, poor people living in these places, they are the victims of our destruction of nature.

I buy a copy of Brandt’s book, make a donation to the Big Life Foundation and leave the exhibition feeling embarrassed and hopeless. I wish that parents bring their kids to Fotografiska. They need to see this now, and I bet you: they don’t want to inherit the dust.

Love the Tate Modern

This is a guest post by Bonnie Golightly.

Yes, I love the Tate Modern in London. It lifts me up and makes my little beating heart sing.

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Alexander Calder, Triple Gong c.1948 Photo credit: Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, NY

I went south of the river to see the current Alexander Calder exhibition. I now understand why people say he redefined the notion of sculpture. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful stuff. Trademark hanging mobiles turn slowly and majestically in imperceptible drafts. The lighting is brilliant; each mobile casts a complex evolving shadow on the high white walls and those equipped with mini-gongs let out the occasional calming chime.

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Alexander Calder, Antennae with Red and Blue Dots c.1953 Photo credit: Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, NY

I was mesmerised. As were many others. One lasting impression I have of this gorgeous exhibition is the vast Tate Modern rooms full of people, jaws agape, gazing up at Calder’s fabulous works. I would love to re-visit with a reclining chair to rest a while and soak it all up.

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Fernand Léger and his portrait, Photo: Walter Limot. © Limot / Bridgeman images 1934

Room by room, I stepped though the creative history of this fascinating man. He was one original thinker! In the 1920s, he created a toy circus comprising little mechanical people and animals hence his interest in wire and mobility as a medium. He became fascinated by abstraction after visiting the studio of Piet Mondrian. However, his most astonishing early works were his cartoony wire portraits. He described this as drawing in space. It is beyond me how anyone could consistently achieve effective three-dimensional portraiture with only wire. One such portrait is of the painter, Fernand Léger. I love the contrast between the smooth facial outlines, the tightly coiled eyebrows and the stiff little bristly moustache!

Bravo, Tate Modern! I said to myself. Then I thought I would have a look at what else was on show and I found myself in the heart of the building, the enormous “Turbine Room” O….M…..G…..!!!!

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Abraham Cruzvillegas “Empty Lot” Scaffolding and soil boxes, Hyundai Commission 2015

Now the Tate Modern blows me away with two huge scaffolding structures together supporting hundreds of what looks like triangular seed boxes. This is “Empty Lot” by Mexican sculptor, Abraham Cruzvillegas. The soil in each box is taken from parks, commons, healths or other sites all over London. They are watered and lit by a variety of whacky lamps. But not a single seed has been sown. What grows – and in some boxes nothing obvious is growing – is what is simply there. Just like an empty lot! Cruzvillegas has always had an interest in alternative means of building. He is inspired by the popular Mexican “self-construction” approach to home-making. He says “Empty Lot” is about hope and expectation referring to what may be constructed or what might grow spontaneously. The originality, grandeur and vision of the whole concept takes my breath away. I adore it.

I have a hope and expectation that somebody will send a photo of “Empty Lot” to Talking Beautiful Stuff in a few months time. Pleeeeeease!

Love the Tate Modern too!

Geneva International Motor Show: Bugatti is the big celebrity!

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OK. I’m not a car person. But I am fascinated by the Geneva International Motor Show. It’s not just the cars. It’s such a sumptuous feast of gorgeous luxy design. It’s also quite an event for people-watching.

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Take a look at Bugatti’s Chiron! It has no equal. Sixteen cylinders with 8 litre capacity; top speed is 425kph; 1,500hp; and it’s priced at a cool $2.6 million! I’m not sure if it’s a car, a “work of art” or a celebrity. Whatever, the admirers crowd around, iPhones at the ready.

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Is it all status-life-style dreaming? Or can a car grab our attention like a celebrity? You’d think so. And it must be a guy thing. Not a single woman taking a photo! It seems that the Y chromosome is alive and well at this year’s show and is fascinated by new and expensive ways to cruise the chicks!

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On a more sobre and less testosterone charged front, I am one of many captivated by Nissan’s IDS Concept. This is the first driverless car I’ve seen. No steering wheel; just a touchscreen. I adore the lines, colours and the sleek wooden interior trim. It makes me feel future-happy.

Thousands upon thousands of people come to Geneva for this event. Whether or not cars are your thing, it’s worth a visit. It’s testament to the enduring fascination that man (!) has for automobiles and how some even have celebrity status.

Big Bang Data

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If you visit only one exhibition this year, make sure it’s Big Bang Data at London’s Somerset House. Believe me! You have to go! I struggle to find the words to describe it. I get half-way there with “brilliant,” “admirable,” “vitally informative,” “challenging,” “jaw-dropping,” and “mind-boggling.”

The central theme is “big data.” It really is BIG! (Or should I say, they really are BIG?) The digital data universe is massive, globally connected and expanding exponentially. The ingenious and interactive displays of this beautiful exhibition focus on the technology and implications of what will prove to be one of the most important developments of the twenty-first century. The exhibition demonstrates how corporations, authorities and hackers can collect and analyse data about the environment, businesses and particularly us. It is at once wonderful and concerning. Big data has arrived uninvited and unannounced but is here to stay. It is already transforming our society, culture, security and politics. It is the human future as was electricity, air travel and television.

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Telegeography, “Submarine Cable Map” 2015

A floor map shows the undersea cables that connect thousands of vast, impeccable and impersonal data storage banks. The cables and databanks are each the property of different corporations. Voila! “The Cloud!” (As the exhibitors point out, this is a misleading term. A cloud in the sky cannot be divided up according to different owners. Except for satelites, most of the physical infrastructure of The Cloud is on the ground or under water. There is no clear blue sky on the other side!)

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Thompson and Craighead, “Horizon” Digital collage from on-line sources 2015

An elegant and benign manifestation of the possible is given by Thompson and Craighead’s “Horizon.” This displays a narrative clock made from real-time, constantly updated images from webcams around the world.

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Rafael Lozano Hemmer, “Zero Noon” Software 2013

Rafael Lozano Hemmer’s “Zero Noon” is an unconventional digital clock fuelled by internet-refreshed statistics. It tells the time based on metrics such as hamburgers sold in Detroit or the number of animal species becoming extinct per day. At midday, the clock is reset to zero with display of a new statistic. At 14.30, it tells me that prostitution in the UK has turned over the equivalent of US$64,210 in the previous two and a half hours.

Among the 51 other displays, “Unaffordable Country” by the Guardian Newspaper is an interactive data visualisation that exposes the UK’s dire housing crisis. On entering their salary and postcode, around 96% of participants find that there is no affordable property in their vicinity. Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico use “Face to Facebook” to show how they stole a million personal profiles on Facebook to create characters on a false dating website, Lovely-Faces.com, classifying them by their facial features. With “Stranger Visions,” Heather Dewey-Hagborg has 3D printed human faces based on DNA that she obtained from objects such as chewing gum and cigarette butts collected in public places.

What I learn is that the volume of data generated by our everyday lives is booming in lockstep with the capacity to analyse it. Those who are in a position to harvest and use this data are in an increasingly powerful position to influence us individually and collectively. A fundamental physical tenet is that power without control can only be dangerous. Does it apply here? Do we have the wisdom to harness the power of big data responsibly?

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EasyJet, Safety On Board, Laminated plastic card

I am on an EasyJet flight out of London and can’t help reflecting on what big data will mean for future generations. Next to me is a little girl of about three years. What will she make of it all as an adult? Unwittingly she tells me. From the seat pocket in front of her, she picks out the laminated Safety On Board card. She looks carefully at the shiny surface and stabs her little index finger into the icons assuming that the card will come to life and reveal something more interesting. She tries again. “Not working!” she cries out to her mother. I realise that big data will be a part of her life and that she will be no more concerned about it than I am concerned about electricity, air travel and television. I wish her well.