Foundation Degree Week One – Broomberg & Chanarin

It’s been a while since I last posted anything on here; without an organised time-table to adhere to I tend to get a little lazy. I’ve just started my first year of the Foundation Degree course this week (since Monday 22nd of September to be precise) so I’ll have enough reason to start pumping content back into the blog – mostly art-related, of course, at least until I figure out a working schedule to record Let’s Plays for the Team Works YouTube channel anyway. Really looking forward to see what’s down the line, actually.

So yesterday (23rd of September) was what I’d arguably call the first constructive day of the course. The Mostyn in Llandudno has been holding an exhibition on the work of Broomberg & Chanarin. I’ll be honest, usually this sort’ve thing has no effect on me; during my time in Sixth Form we’d had another visit to the Oriel Mostyn to see the works of Anselm Kiefer, a german artist who’d also had some work pertaining to the Second World War on display and maybe I just wasn’t mature enough as a person to appreciate what was going on in the imagery – I mean, I certainly wasn’t culturally-aware to figure out the connotations behind the work and considering I don’t really experience any other feelings other than what the devout call the seven deadly sins I didn’t have the emotional depth to really care what was going on. These days I appreciate just how amazingly complex his work is, and looking back now I regret just how much of an ass I was… but let’s just keep that between us.

But the Broomberg & Chanarin exhibit was an incredibly different experience for me and I was surprised how much I actually enjoyed my visit to Llandudno. I was basing my expectations on my past experiences with the boring illusions my assholey younger-self had prepared, so I was quite taken back when I found myself enjoying the work that was up for display. So, to provide some context for anyone who doesn’t really partake in art culture Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin (so, you know, Broomberg & Chanarin) are artists of Jewish heritage whose photographic work revolves a lot around the themes of conflict and war. That’s as far as I’ll go into their background though – I’ll post a link for their site at the bottom of the page for the people who honestly haven’t thought to check it out yet. Please note that this isn’t a review or evaluation, a critical essay or anything along those lines. This is me expressing my opinion and responding to what I’ve seen.

'The Day Nobody Died, 'Broomberg & Chanarin, Mostyn Gallery, Wales
‘The Day Nobody Died, ‘Broomberg & Chanarin, Mostyn Gallery, Wales
'The Day Nobody Died, 'Broomberg & Chanarin, Mostyn Gallery, Wales
‘The Day Nobody Died,’ Broomberg & Chanarin, Mostyn Gallery, Wales

The two photos above show one of the B&C exhibitions on display at the Mostyn gallery (along with Luke Ferry, colleague, man, man-friend). One can tell from the captions that the piece is called The Day Nobody Died. The two artists had taken a cardboard box containing a 50 meter-long piece of photographic paper to Afghanistan in June 2008. Instead of documenting the events the photographers took 7 meters and exposed it to the sunlight. I’d be lying if I told you that I could spend all day talking about this piece – I can’t, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it; the artist duo instead recorded the journey of the unassuming box which had contained the roll of paper, recording as it made it’s way from base-to-base in all manner of vehicle and ultimately refusing to show us the events which the media would want to show us, something I find both amusing and troubling. Amusing just because I’d have loved to see the reactions when people discovered that these two war journalists had basically done the opposite of their job, but daunting because it makes me think about just how much the media dilutes the truth when it comes to reporting these events, or how much power they hold to do so rather: after all, we only see what the media shows us on the news, newspaper, internet, so on. All of that said, I’m a teenager for another few months so I’m obligated to feel rebellious – my biology basically gives me a ‘stick it to the man’ complex.

'Afterlife,' Broomberg & Chanarin, Mostyn Gallery, Wales
‘Afterlife,’ Broomberg & Chanarin, Mostyn Gallery, Wales

The next exhibition I regretfully didn’t get many pictures of – well, not ones I’d like to share, anyway – the series of photos which made up Afterlife were set up against glass canvases, causing my reflection to show up in almost all of my photos. Jahangir Razmi was the man responsible for taking the photos, originally supplying the award-winning pictures as an anonymous source. The pictures themselves display men who were slated for execution in Iran (1979) for the simple “crime” of being Kurds. I saw the photos themselves before seeing the description of the piece on the wall – when I found out all I can say is that I was shocked; I’m not really accustomed to seeing these sort of images… not real ones anyway, of actual people. I generally shrug this sort of imagery off due to the use of actors, but this one struck me. The backgrounds had been removed leaving only the people, their lives about to be snuffed. And then there’s the effect the lights had on the pieces – the shadows were visible against the white wall, adding some context as to why the title and making these simple displays into hauntingly beautiful pieces.

"Divine Violence," Broomberg & Chanarin, Mostyn Gallery, Wales
‘Divine Violence,’ Broomberg & Chanarin, Mostyn Gallery, Wales
"Divine Violence," Broomberg & Chanarin, Mostyn Gallery, Wales
‘Divine Violence,’ Broomberg & Chanarin, Mostyn Gallery, Wales
"Divine Violence," Broomberg & Chanarin, Mostyn Gallery, Wales
‘Divine Violence,’ Broomberg & Chanarin, Mostyn Gallery, Wales
"Divine Violence," Broomberg & Chanarin, Mostyn Gallery, Wales
‘Divine Violence,’ Broomberg & Chanarin, Mostyn Gallery, Wales
"Divine Violence," Broomberg & Chanarin, Mostyn Gallery, Wales
‘Divine Violence,’ Broomberg & Chanarin, Mostyn Gallery, Wales

The final piece, Divine Violence, was an experience I’ll never able to describe in a way which gives justice to the way I felt when seeing this piece in person. The concept of the piece seemed relatively simple to me when I first heard about it. “Underlining and pasting pictures into the bible? I could do that.” No, I’d never be able to do it to the extent that people actually care when they look at it. I hate myself for doing this but I’m going to use the word ‘haunted’ again to describe just how I felt when looking at the piece – it sorta rolls on back to one of my points about Afterlife where each image has been taken of real events and isn’t some fucking actor in cosplay posing for a photo; all of these images were sourced from The Archive of Modern Conflict. Truth be told, part of the reason this exhibition is so powerful is that they force the viewer to feel empathy (or sympathy – whichever fits for the individual I suppose) – the real horrible events that’re shown through visual form in B&C’s bible show both human suffering and human cruelty and forces us to come to the realization that these shitty things have happened to people just like us, caused by people like us – or, should I say humans, rather? Through the act subverting the bible Broomberg & Chanarin have made painted a crystal clear (“not misty clear”) reality which shows that humans are the cause of their own suffering while drawing parallels with the writings in the Bible. The work itself has correlation with the essays of Adi Ophir – I will now risk my blog and reputation (as if I had any) by plagiarising Adi Ophir with one of his exerpts which I found on the B&C website… Regarding Divine Violence. Fuck it, here goes any originality for this post:

Right from the start, almost every appearance he made was catastrophic… Catastrophe is his means of operation, and his central instrument of governance.

Now, I’ve got my own opinions when it comes to religion – there’s a popular quote by Maggie Smith flying around the social networks at the moment (“Religion is like a Penis: It’s a perfectly fine thing for one to have and take pride in, but when one takes it out and waves it in my face we have a problem!”) which basically sums up my thoughts on the matter, but this case is different. I feel as though Adi Ophir’s quote makes a reference to one of my long-standing thoughts; someone once told me that God made us in his image and that’s bothered me ever since I was little, or rather maybe ever since I became self-aware and learn to associate humans with war and all of the negative shit. The whole “we are God’s image” thing bothered me to the point where I lost faith – its almost circular logic in a way. We are a violent and dominant species because God is both violent and dominating. To those that prostrate themselves to His or Her (hey there, Dogma) he is a divine being – to those who differ in their opinions he is a wrathful tormentor. I want to go on, but I’d rather stop here before this becomes an atheist rant. Back to the topic at hand, B&C’s work shows us both the parallels and contrasts of God’s word – how flawed and imperfect it is. Not only that but it adds a prophetic quality to the Bible – the images are always relevant, and always feel as though they’ve been foreshadowed.

Given the opportunity I’d suggest to anyone who reads this to take a look at Broomberg & Chanarin’s work if you haven’t already. You’ll feel things, man.

-L.A. (Liam Morgan)

Below are some links related to anything I’ve mentioned.

Mostyn WebsiteBroomberg & ChanarinLuke FerryParc Menai Foundation Degree Art and Design


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