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Berlin

A Melancholic Stroll through the Sony Photography Awards

by RM Vaughan on September 7, 2016
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Only a terribly mean person could find fault with the traveling edition of the annual Sony Photography Awards. As both a showcase of a specific kind of photographic venture (more on that in a moment) and, likely more to the point, a brand-enhancing exercise in “excellence” promotion, the exhibition does exactly what it promises and is devised to do.

The competition specializes in the subset of photography most of us identify with National Geographic Magazine and its world-of-wonders aesthetic.

I know that sounds snarky but I do not mean it that way. Everybody loves this kind of photography, me included, for a reason – it is lovely and provocative, a moment of otherness, of not us/not here viewed from a safe distance. I buy a lot of postcards, and I have no shame when it comes to finely focused close ups of adorable mammals with pink ears.

What prompted my unease after wandering around this exhibition was a strong feeling that in a half-generation or less, shows like the Sony Photography Awards will be, at best, retro-cute, or at worst antique and irrelevant.

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In the Ring: Paul Pfeiffer at Carlier/Gebauer

by RM Vaughan on April 6, 2016
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At least half the fun on any spectacle is the after-chat: the armchair philosophizing, the intention guessing, the interpretation, the endless acts of interpretation. The ancient Romans knew that much.

For instance, think of Beyonce’s recent Super Bowl performance, which is now generating MA theses, or Taylor Swift’s over-discussed Grammy speech, or, even more fleeting but just as worthy of spin-offs, that moment during the Golden Globes when Lady Gaga bumped into Leonardo Di Caprio – memes sprung up like freshly watered Sea Monkeys. (And, no, I hardly think it accidental that these three examples are all centred on people who present as female – women are still watched far more closely than men, because men still run the shows).

Paul Pfeiffer’s tri-part video installation, “Three Figures in a Room”, digs into this watch-analyse-watch again circle by distilling one world media event (a televised boxing match) to its core elements – sights and sounds.

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On Christian Falsnaes’s “Rea McNamara”

by Rea McNamara on September 15, 2015
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How does it feel to be an artist’s material? For me, it felt like crossing a boundary—or at least it did this afternoon when I was emailed a YouTube link documenting my performance in Christian Falsnaes’s “The Title Is Your Name”. The work is part of his contribution to the 2015 National Gallery Prize exhibition at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof, which includes works from the other shortlisted artists Florian Hecker, Anne Imhof and Slavs and Tatars. (The prize winner will be determined by international jury on September 18th.)

When I watched the video “Rea McNamara”, then, I saw myself — the supposedly passive art viewer — as the protagonist of this work of art. I’m alone, in a curtained-off white room, watching at a desk with headphones a video on a iPad. Prior to entering, I was in a cordoned off waiting room; at the request of a docent in German, I turned off my iPhone. A distracted attention span would not be tolerated.

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