Photograms of Insects

Following on from an earlier blog post I have carried on an idea, which has led me to create this new series of photograms (shown below). It was inspired by the photograph below it. This photograph had reminded me of the way in which homosexuals are portrayed within Russian society. Being an inconvenient pest, that are treated poorly and have very little rights.

Insect Grid

Lee Hassall Image 1The reason for choosing to create photograms is because I feel it offers more of an objective representation of the subject, free from a photographers vision. It’s a lot simpler and standardised in how it is represented.

Gerry Badger describes the photogram as being both “figurative and abstract at the same time”. What seems like a contradictory statement actually makes sense. The forms of the subjects depicted in the photograms are familiar to real life objects that we can recognise as being insects, yet the harshly contrasted black and white aesthetic of the photograms are far from being realistic.

This departure from a photographers interpretation of the subjects, I believe offers more of a clinical distant view of the subject. Whereas the photograph below the photograms provokes more of an emotion out of the viewer; it appears sad, isolated and insignificant, which I don’t get as a reading from the photograms.

The photogram and the photograph offer different things, which I want both of in my final piece. I want the objective, universally recognisability of the photogram and I want the emotional reaction you can get from a photograph. It is because of this I am now starting to consider exhibiting a mixture of photograms and photographs in my final piece.

In an earlier post I discussed the conditions within Russia. How hatred is encouraged to be fueled towards the LGB community. This being done in several ways, for example the outlawing of making neutral comments about homosexuality and only allowing negative expressions to be made about the sexuality. Or the fact that homophobic attacks go unpunished, making it appear acceptable to abuse people from this community.

Russia intends to depict homosexuality as scum, pests, insignificant beings worthy of extermination. Something that can easily be exterminated, a pest within society. So if you think about their hierarchy of society, homosexuality (like insects within the food chain) are at the lowest level.

Lee Hassall Image 1I came across this image I have that reflected this issue to me, how insignificant a life can be treated. It’s easy to almost miss the bug, and could easily be mistaken for an imperfection within the image, a smudge on the lens perhaps. Once realising the subject, you notice how fragile the insect is, and even though you notice it’s life has left it you feel very little (if any) sadness, because it’s so insignificant. It’s life is not worthy of any emotional remorse.

The cold distant response I get from the subject in this photograph is how I feel the conditions are currently within Russia. A similar lack of respect for this insect reflects the lack of respect for people within the LGB community. The casual act of exterminating a pest seems reminiscent of the ease in which homophobic attacks are carried out in Russia.

 

 

Felix Gonzalez Torres Interview with Robert Storr

Thoughts I’ve taken away from an interview I found on this Felix Gonzalez Torres website, between Torres and Robert Storr.

Art and politics are inseparable. There are those works that appear more political and so you list them off as being political artists, but all art is making some comment or interaction with society. Therefore on some level art is political.

From reading this interview it appears that Torres is a gay activist, but not as obvious and blatant about it. He doesn’t flaunt work that is obviously referencing gay men. He talks about being a spy, about disguising yourself in a mask in order to get at the center of a group, and once you’re in this position you can really effectively create change and make your impact. Because “The enemy is too easy to dismiss and to attack”, which is a perfect quote taken from this interview that sums up what he is attempting with his work, and the enemy in this case being the artist making work referencing homosexual desires. By not making something obviously offensive, the viewer is going to find it hard to attack it and be critical of the work. He describes his work as being more inclusive, so that everything ends up have a “sexual mission, the walls, the pavement, everything.”

He talks about when Senator Stevens comes to the opening of one of his exhibitions. Calling the senator one of the “most homophobic anti-art senators”, and that he came to the show looking for offensive images of phallic symbols of penises and asses. Looking for very limited ideas about objects of desirability for gay men, but was encountered with ordinary objects that don’t have these associations with homosexuality. It would be very difficult to explain how two clocks on a wall side by side is pornographic and homoerotic.

And whilst these works weren’t overtly homoerotic they infiltrated the mind of the viewer, and every time they look at a clock or pair of curtains from now on they are going to be confronted with these connotations of homosexuality.

Torres Clocks

Torres Curtains

In my proposal I talk about wanting my work to speak to people outside of the gay community, not wanting the message to be restricted to this relatively small demographic. What I also realise is that other gay people are already included in these issues, it is already happening to them and so it would seem pointless to create work that facilitates them. I want my work to make people outside the community feel as if these cases of inequality relate to them, to make it their problem as well as ours. After all it is fellow human beings that are being attacked by these prejudices, not just that separate social demographic that has nothing to with us.

In order to do this I have to be careful in choosing the subject matter in my work, making sure not to choose ones that only relate to homosexuality. So far I have shown keys in my work, as keys are free of associations with a sexual orientation, they are as Torres puts it ‘inclusive’.

 

Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Untitled

In 1991 the artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres created a photograph of an unmade bed, featuring two pillows that still had impressions left upon them as if someone had just lay there. This photograph is a memorial to the artists partner Ross Laycock, who died of aids in 1991, and has been left untitled.

In 1992 this photograph was exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, but the image didn’t remain within the confines of the gallery space, it had also been displayed at the same time on 24 billboards around the city.

Torres 3

Torres 2

Torres 1

(Keating 2009) Discusses the effects this work has had, explaining how these photographs displayed upon billboards will have appeared quite ambiguous to pedestrians passing by, a screen usually reserved for displaying images used to sell a product is instead exhibiting an artwork. Of course it’s context doesn’t suggest its an artwork and with no prior knowledge of the artist the viewer would be completely unaware of its purpose. Instead they would have to rely upon what the image signifies in order to construct a meaning. A bed could mean several things and could change depending on who is reading the image, for example it could be a place of solitude, relaxation or sexual activity. But the impressions left upon the pillows and the crumpled sheets suggest a body has just left the scene, and this absence of the body could suggests loss or even death.

From the start of the aids epidemic the gay man was depicted as a helpless victim of the disease. When the disease was first noticed within gay men “our homophobic culture produced an illness which was restricted to the (homosexual) body and it’s engagement in deviant sex.” – Kelly T Keating

“The British historian Jeffery weeks states: On a world scale most people living with HIV and Aids are not gay. Most are poor, black and many are women. But despite all the government sponsored education campaigns, the scientific papers and the documentaries, and common sense perceptions, Aids and gayness are indissolubly linked. To be diagnosed HIV positive, to live with HIV disease, is to risk being diagnosed as homosexual.”

During the Aids epidemic the association between the disease and the homosexual body became so strong they conflated into one. But what Gonzalez-Torres did with ‘Untitled’, by leaving the bed absent of a body was leaving Aids without a body to associate with. He was beginning to disrupt that link between the disease and the homosexual. The loss, grief and death, which is signified within the photo, becomes the product of Aids, not the homosexual body.