The London Art Fair, recently held at Islington’s Business Design Centre, celebrated its 28th birthday this year. Another fair on the seemingly endless London events calendar, the London Art Fair emits a more relaxed atmosphere than you would usually find at Frieze or Frieze Masters and, attending the preview evening, I was soon embraced into the fair’s welcoming space.
The main reason for my visit was to see special photography exhibition, Photo50. An annual guest-curated exhibition, Photo50 provides a unique insight into elements of current photographic practice, as seen by a different curator each time. This year’s exhibition - entitled ‘Feminine Masculine: On the Struggle and Fascination of Dealing with the Other Sex’ - is the vision of Federica Chiocchetti, Founding Director of image and text platform ‘The Photocaptionist’ (www.photocaptionist.com).
Originating from Lucca in Tuscany, Italy, Chiocchetti moved to London to study and is currently completing her PhD, looking into photography and fiction. Her studies feeding seamlessly into her work, ‘Feminine Masculine’ presents 50 art works by 16 artists, covering the highs and lows, extremes and voids that one has to navigate in forming relationships with the opposite sex.
With Chiocchetti behind the work, the exhibition cannot help but have a female voice and yet, it isn’t a feminist statement per se. There is a far more whimsical feel to the collection, which is displayed across five sections, as it explores our everyday dynamic with the opposite sex. Photo50 provides a welcome relief from the stands and crowds of the fair’s many dealers, inviting viewers into a narrative exhibition that is purely art for art’s sake. Here, I invite you to explore a handful of highlights from the exhibition.
Here we see Natasha Caruana’s work from the series ‘Married Men’ and ‘The Other Woman’, 2008-2009 and 2005. These are the photographic representations or results of investigations made by Caruana into male infidelity. For ‘Married Men’, she went on 80 dates with married men, organised through a mistress website, over the course of 12 months. Taking a disposable camera to each, she details the infidelity ‘giveaways’ she saw.
Similarly, ‘The Other Woman’ was borne in response to interviews Caruana conducted with other women who were involved with married men. Though I found the works themselves dictated no particular message, the story behind the photographs fascinated me.
Elinor Carucci’s photographs were perhaps the most tender of the whole exhibition – particularly as they are in the ‘He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not’ section. Their arrangement – unframed prints hanging by bulldog clips – was uncomplicatedly captivating. ‘Two Eyes’ (1993), a striking image, has understandably come to represent the whole exhibition on websites and flyers. Carucci documented her own relationship with her husband, Eran, over eight years, honing in on the little things that all couples do, actions they think are unique to them, yet of course are common to everyone – making the images work across opposing levels of intimacy and universality.
Behind Chioccetti in this image of her leading a tour, are images from Ekaterina Anokhina's series, '25 Weeks of Winter', which she made as a cathartic response to the break-up of a long distance relationship. Again the images are displayed creatively, their different sizes and overlaying hammering home the unhappy visual clues presented.
Francesca Catastini constructed idealised narratives of a happy couple that reference Architectural Digest (AD), a magazine widely read in Italy containing stylised photoshoots that portray ‘perfect’ scenarios and settings.
In this tressel-mounted vitrine are the contents of Mariken Wessels’ strange artist book work, ‘Taking Off. Henry My Neighbour’ (2015), which Chioccetti maintains is based on a true story – the artist uncovered sections out of a mass of over 5,000 photos and 50 collages created by ‘Henry’ featuring his spouse, Martha, nude. Martha grew to find this idea, and in turn Henry, disgusting, and furiously threw his amateur art out of their apartment window. The thought of this violent action, coupled with the roughly cut collages and obsessive repetition of Martha’s naked figure complete the disconcerting feeling surrounding this section of the exhibition – we have passed the ‘honeymoon phase’ and sweet visual love letters and have now arrived in the dark corners of love turned obsessive, perverted and pornographic.
The fanatical side of adoration is further explored in the next room where two videos play on loop. This screenshot is from Italian collective Discipula’s videography, ‘Mannequins & Mankind’ (2015) where a found photo album compiled by an obsessive fan named Betty, dedicated to her favourite pop star, Massimo Ranieri, is represented and interrogated in a new format. Paparazzi and tabloid images of Ranieri tick across, sound-tracked by a creeping tempo and warped vocals, and overlaid with snippets of text from Betty and two invisible conversers who discuss the role of the media – are they complicit; who is really stalking who?
The artist Jo Broughton in front of the installation of her series ‘Empty Porn Sets’ (2010), with ‘Pink satin sheets set’ printed large, and ‘Changing rooms set’ visible in a white frame. This piece provided a welcome and light relief from the intensity of pieces previous to it – simple subject matter, poking fun at the porn industry. The wallpaper print of the garish ‘Pink satin sheets set’ works very well in the room, the other prints are stunning too – reminiscent of some of Guy Bourdin’s images – and when the cheesy music from the video room chimes in with the scene, the overall effect is memorable; a very surreal feeling of intrusion, due to the absence of figures.
This carries through to the work on the opposite wall, ‘Love Is…’ (2004-2006) by Emily Jane Major. This work constitutes a mail art project where Major took screengrabs every second throughout the Bertolucci film ‘Last Tango in Paris’, featuring Marlon Brando, and printed these onto postage-paid postcards. On the other side of the postcards the artist invited recipients to respond to the simple question – Love is…? – the film being used as a practical framework with which to engage strangers, who were able to remain anonymous if they chose, and who responded in extremely variable ways.
Maya Rochat's work was young, hip, punk, referencing zine-culture with its fluoro graffiti and paint splatters across prints; others were laid out on the floor or above eye-level, behind Perspex. These works describe the youth and reckless abandon experienced when it comes to discovering the other sex for the first time.
JH Engström’s single image, taken from a large, diverse series called ‘Trying to Dance’ is the perfect image for this exhibition to end on. The blurry, quickly captured image in everyday surroundings, with the juxtaposed nude bodies, is of the artist himself, embracing his lover in the corner of a room, where the busy wallpaper - curiously much more in focus - seems to encase the couple, pushing them together as they cling on, seemingly for dear life.
Words and photography: Alice Lubbock