Go Away Closer – Dayanita Singh, Hayward Gallery Southbank Centre
Traces – Ana Mendieta, Hayward Gallery Southbank Centre
Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood and Identity, The Photographer’s Gallery.
This was my first study visit. It took place on 7 December 2013 and I am still unsure as to how I feel overall about the Dayanita Singh viewing and have been giving it some thought hence the delay, apart fom my usual tardiness, in posting this.
What I can say, however, is that on the day I saw two photos that showed the subject in state of abject sadness, and these are the images I recall most from the day.
The first of these was one of the series of shots By Dayanita Singh in the Myself Mona Ahmed series, not, as might be expected, the one portrait orientated print out some 20(? – my recollection is hazy on the exact number) landscape orientated shots (which appeared to me to be deliberately, in terms of the exhibition, contrasting with the rest of the shots both in its format and intimacy), but a contemplative shot of Mona in a courtyard and here I felt you can see the full impact of the situation she is in, reflected in her face and posture. You would not need to know her background story to see from this shot that she has suffered greatly.
What of the rest of the exhibition?
The handout on the exhibition states that “This exhibition is full of stories, secrets, echoes and surprises. There are pictures within pictures. And very occasionally there are unexpected repetitions, with certain images reappearing, like revenants*. ‘I am not interested in the complete picture you can hold onto’ Singh contends. ‘I don’t want to tell you the whole story because there is no complete story, the story keeps changing, so the same photograph here means something, but in another context it will mean something else’
The above mentioned Myself Mona Ahmed series appeared to be the only thematically linked series, or one with a clear connection of subject matter, in that part of the exhibition (A couple of the ‘museum’ exhibits had linked themes – furniture and machinery). The other groups in the room appeared to be random collections. Without specific titles it was down to the viewer to interpret what, if any, connection existed and similarly the story behind the shots. In this respect I think the photographer has achieved her objective of making the viewer add his or her own take on both the individual shot, and the group it was in. I am not persuaded, though, that for me this interpretation necessarily was revised when the same shot was seen in another collection, although I was only conscious of seeing a couple of duplicated images.
To me it was interesting that this randomness worked in the museum setting , the wooden constructs (reminiscent of room dividers) showing random images (Museum of chance) worked better, in my mind at least, than the aforementioned thematic ones. They reminded me of a contact sheet from a very random shoot but for me it was almost too overpowering with the images too close together. It may be that it was the intention for it to be difficult to single out particular shots but for me (and I concede that this may be more to do with my failings as a viewer rather than any relating to the exhibitor) it was difficult to get at the gestalt of what was on display as I was doing just that.
A few of us then did a brief (possibly too brief) tour of the simultaneous display in the Hayward of Ana Mendieta – Traces. In contrast to Go Away Closer there was albeit in different forms clear themes and continuity of ideas in this exhibit’s photos ranging from the artist’s various methods of altering her body (adding facial hair; physical/make up transformation and the use of glass panes to alter body shape) to the variety of uses of the female figure in nature by imprint, outline or physical presence.
The brevity of viewing Traces was as a result of going on to view Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood and Identity at the Photographer’s Gallery. This is an exhibition by eight contrasting artists that “aims to challenge the long held stereotypes and sentimental views of motherhood.” and, I think, succeeds admirably in achieving this aim. For example the series of photos by Hanna Putz all partially or completely obscure the mother’s face and you are left (or at least I was) with the thought that the mother’s identity has been subjugated by the child. The selection of Leigh Ledare’s photos, in contrast, categorically and explicitly make his mother’s life (and lifestyle) the central theme – sometimes controversially so (see the comments here:- oedipal-art-man-mum-sex-pictures) as they show her having sex and adopting sexually explicit poses.
Fred Huning’s series tells movingly of a death of their firstborn and the impact on the mother and then the birth of a healthy child. Janine Antoni’s central piece, Inhabit, shows her suspended encased in a dolls house as in the centre of a web, an image reinforced by an actual web inside the dolls house, the implication to my mind being that as a mother she is central to everything in the house but also could be querying whether she is in control or controlled. Katie Murray’s video Gazelle shows the artist on an exercise machine, at times carrying her children as she does so, intercut with a video of a gazelle with its young and then being attacked by two cheetahs and is intended (and succeeds) in illustrating the demands on a mother.
Elinor Carucci shows the birth of her twins and the moments of emotion with them. I loved the close up shot of the snotty nose as this exemplifies something you would not normally see in a childs picture. Ana Casas Broda shows the interaction with her sons and some cases, as in where the boy is playing on a computer gamepad while his mother is sleeping in the background, independence. Finally there was Elina Brotherus series of shots relating to her IVF treatment and this is where the second memorable shot of the day comes from. Like the photo I mentioned above from the Myself Mona Ahmed this shot of her sitting naked on a bed clearly indicates the sadness of the subject (in this case a self portrait) the difference (from the Singh shot mentioned above) being in this case, that you know from the description of the exhibit (and the acompanying photos) the reasons behind this raw display of emotion.
*revenant – one that returns after death or a long absence.