Crawford Municipal Art Gallery, Emmet Place Cork
October 18th – November 4th
As Part of There There a photographic event curated by Stag and Deer
The sculpture gallery seemed an unlikely space to have a photography exhibition, or any exhibition. A space that is often forgot about for regular visitors to the Crawford Gallery, full of replicas of the Classical sculptures such as Laocoon. The space often feels like a resting place for these important sculptures. And so it was exciting to be brought back into this space, and to appreciate it for what it is but also for the innovative choice of space and curation by Stag and Deer’s Padraig Spillane and Pamela Condell. They have organised and curated exhibitions throughout the city from regular gallery spaces such as the new Tactic Gallery to a retail space on Winthrop Street. This pair have to be commended for their consistent production of exhibitions in Cork over the past few years.
The artist exhibiting in the Crawford Gallery Sculpture room is photographer Viviane Sassen. Sassen grew up in East Africa and moved to Holland as a child. She studied photography and fashion and the two at times are intertwined in her photographic project Parasomnia, a series of photographs taken on her return to East Africa from 2008-2011.
Parasomnia is a primary sleep disorder an overall heading for most sleep disorders. Sassen uses the title as a representation of ‘the physical body to symbolise moments of ambiguity and disorientation’ but also the ideas of skewed perceptions and illusions. In the majority of the photographs these idea of disorientation are subltle, in others such as ‘Parasomnia’, where a boy is asleep in a chair, both of which have fallen to the ground united on their side, has an optical illusion quality. For a moment it is unclear how the scene is configured, as it looks as though he is sitting up. It is then you realise that the portrait format that she has presented the photograph is a 90 degree rotation of the scene, which makes a wall out of the ground and the chair seems as though it is floating out from the wall mid air. An exciting an curious play with photographic format.
Parasomnia by Viviane Sassen
Viviane Sassen’s use of colour is the uniting force throughout the entire series. Orangey red and blue can be seen in every picture. The colours seem to reference the elemental colours of East Africa, with it’s clear cool blue sky’s and rich hot red earth. In Fantôme a man pours a synthetic orange liquid (presumably an orange soda brand) down an makeshift drain/hole in the footpath. The disposal of this orange liquid drives one to think this is a complacent waste, as we are so tuned by the media we receive in the first world about drought and the shortage of water, however if we saw this as an image from Cork we would probably only think of the damage to the footpath and the littering the person was engaging in. One of Sassen’s overall aims in the project was to bring a different view of Africa to outsiders, beyond what we normally think due to the one sided information we see. Therefore this image is so prominent and an important commentary on how we view photography culturally or artistically.
Fantôme by Viviane Sassen
Sassen’s background in fashion has a clear influence on some of her images. Agnel and Kine could be images from major fashion campaigns, with equally modelesque stylish male and female subjects posing for the camera. Perhaps this is also a commentary that there is an element of sophistication and modernity in East Africa that is equal to the first world. But these images are very posed and styled, however beautiful.
Agnel by Viviane Sassen
Unlike these two photographs, many of the artists images block the faces of the subjects, either with foliage, shadows or other people. This is more effective in terms of the ideas of disorientation, ambiguity and perception of which Sassen aims to achieve.
Her use of shadows are reminiscent of Surrealist photographers such as Otto Umbehr. They are like creeping entities intruding on the scene, with a life of their own, or at times obliterating much of the detail of an image. The artist also includes shadows of herself talking the picture, which is cast into the scene; it makes the viewer very aware of the participation of the photographer in the scene.
Sassen’s images are dense with references to religion, particular Christianity although it is not clear if this was her intention. There are iconographic images such as the baptismal scene of Nungwi, a boy who is face down in water, with his arms spread out like Jesus on the cross. Or 3 Magi , 3 coloured buckets, a humorous but poignant look perhaps at of the role of religion in everyday African life. And back to the use of colours blue and red and their opposing associations in Christianity.
Nungwi by Viviane Sassen
Parasomnia stands strong in the sculpture gallery, the figures in the images bring life to the space. The dark dewy skin of the figures in the photographs in contrast with the powdery and polished white surfaces of the resident sculptures is both jarring and complementary much like the primary colours used in the photographs. It creates awareness of past and present in terms of art history and society and makes a confident statement of the place photography holds in contemporary art.