Uncalibrated Space

Photomedia Exhibition Review

Rory Gillen | Uncalibrated Space

Tuggeranong Arts Centre | Until 16 December 2021

Rory Gillen is a Canberra-based audio-visual and new media artist and educator. He has worked extensively in documentary and event photography, as well as maintaining an arts practice exploring the cutting edge of post-digital and networked photographic art. Working across photography, audio, video, and electronics, Gillen creates multisensory installations that critically engage.

Graduating from the ANU School of Art and Design in 2019 with first class honours, Gillen has exhibited in various galleries, including Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Brunswick Street Gallery (Victoria), and the Perth Institute for Contemporary Art.

Gillen is sometimes referred to as the resident tech nerd at Photoaccess where he currently works developing post digital programming and workspaces as well as tutoring and facilitating visiting artists in their practice and technical skills.

Many scholars consider us to be in the era of ‘Post Digital’. What does this mean for photography; its analogue form in some ways already consigned to the dustbin of history by theorists who insist that we live in a post-media era?

In a recently streamed conversation with another multidisciplinary artist Gillen dived deep into the changing face of photographic practice. He suggested, correctly, that whilst digital photography is essentially about capturing data, post digital is about investigating it and exploring concepts that silently exist in the data set. As someone who was amongst the first computer programmers in Australia and who watched the ones and zeros coming together as light dots on a bulky “pre-computer” whilst debugging my programs, I am fascinated now when people speak about manipulating ones and zeros – akin to manipulating negatives in darkrooms.

In his artistic practice, Gillen is fascinated by “the digital paradigm shift toward the fundamental machine readability of objects, exemplified by the digital image”. Here he explores the facets that deep learning carves into images and investigates “the underlying machinations of the algorithms themselves” posing the question “what is real, and how do we know”?

This exhibition comprises twelve inkjet prints plus a mixed media installation showing faces, illustrations, landscapes and objects – and much more. Aluminium, plywood, a desktop computer, wires and miscellaneous electronics are all part of the installation, without them there would be no screen images to see.

3500 Steps From Illustrations, 2021 © Rory Gillen
3500 Steps From Objects, 2021 © Rory Gillen

The prints relationships to faces, illustrations, landscapes and objects is not immediately obvious. At first glance I asked myself why one smaller print was of parked cars with a music stand amongst them. Closer inspection revealed that the stand was in fact supporting a copy of one of the larger prints. The same is true for other smaller prints of a landscape, Gillen’s own face, and an illustrative poster – stands in each of them support copies of larger prints in the exhibition. Four large prints titled 3500 Steps from Faces, etc. are curated grids of images resulting from heavy manipulation of ones and zeros.

Untitled Source Image IV, 2021 © Rory Gillen
Untitled Source Image II, 2021 © Rory Gillen

There is so much to look at, so much to wonder about. Images on the computer screen are mesmerising, flashing on and off at a rapid rate. Individual images on a larger LCD screen have a dreamlike quality. I saw cartoon-like faces, old hand made nails, overhead views of building site plans, hieroglyphics and lenses. Whatever you see you will enjoy.

Uncalibrated Space IV, 2021 © Rory Gillen
Uncalibrated Space III, 2021 © Rory Gillen

Grant Scott, the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, has written “The role of the 21st century photographer has changed and is constantly evolving. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the engaged photographer to understand that reality and to respond to those changes.” Gillen is so engaged. We can expect the future to bring us many more manipulated and appropriated artworks from him and others.

This review was published in the Canberra Times on 27/11/21 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.


L’homme et son environment & Preying for Modesty (Meatheads)

Photography Review

Babacar Traore | L’homme et son environment

Katrina Stamatopoulos |

Photo Access | Until 3 April 2021

These two separate exhibitons are quite different, but are connected as they each address issues of human consumption.

Babacar Traore (aka Doli), a photomedia artist based in Dakar, Senegal, explores waste or, if you prefer, refuse. He searches through the streets where he lives and takes snapshots of discarded rubbish. Then he digitally reworks the snaps, giving them new life and presenting us with his original vision reflecting life as it is. The exhibition is aptly titled (in English) The Man/Humankind and his/its Environment.

Traore refers to himself as a neighbourhood photographer who is interested in the arts. He expresses himself through various mediums, including photography, painting, installations, performance art and writing. A video tells us (in French with English subtitles) that Dakar is a very lively and vibrant place of over three million people, of which Traore is a witness. He refers to writing poetry through his photographs, as he tries to present an original vision reflecting life there.

A catalogue tells us that the five works displayed by Traore are ‘photography and digital paint painted on photographic paper’. In her catalogue essay, Jennifer Houdrouge explains that Traore ‘decomposes the scene in 5 sequences similarly to mythological narrative structure: dusk, early morning, zenith, afternoon and dawn’.

Each artwork is incredibly vibrant. They are full of colours, dots, and compositional geometric and circular lines – added by a lengthy digital painting process. Contemplating them, we can amost hear the sounds of the Dakar sreets even though we have never been there.

Babcar Traore, Aube, 2018, photo paper
Babcar Traore, Petit-Matin, 2018, photo paper
Babcar Traore, Zenith, 2018, photo paper

In other parts of the gallery, Katrina Stamatopoulos, a Greek-Australian artist based in London shows us thirteen large hand-painted emulsion works on a traditional printmaking paper, along with a three-part video filmed at a number of farm locations in NSW. These works are all about our relationship with the animals we eat. Stamatopoulos invites us to meet the meat as it were – see the livestock that is killed for most of us to consume. This exhibition is also aptly titled, Preying for Modesty (Meatheads).

The black and white prints are not artworks that I would display in my home. I found them confronting, no doubt as intended. They feature reincarnated packaged cuts of meat as human heads. The packaged cuts were sourced from big chain supermarkets, local grocers and farmers’ markets. In other words it is just what we might purchase ourselves.

Katrina Stamatopoulos, 1.80 (From Meatheads), 2020,
black and white handprint on emulsion coated
Katrina Stamatopoulos, Meatheads #1, 2020,
black and white handprint on emulsion coated paper
Katrina Stamatopoulos, Meatheads #4, 2020,
black and white handprint on emulsion coated paper

For some, the exhibited video also may be confronting as it shows farmers carefully butchering animals they raised themselves. Having spent some years of my childhood and youth living on farms and observing such practices, I did not find the video uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it raises questions that need to be considered.

Benjamin Carey’s catalogue essay suggests we ‘might look down and ponder our own hands and feet’ and ‘that, but for colour, texture, and heartbeats per minute, our material is the same, our blood and skin and sinew the same, and our captivity in fields between birth, barcode and beloved care…the same’. I’m not sure that I would go quite that far but, currently being on an enforced diet that has eliminated most meat, I am probably less inclined at present to consider such a comparison than you might be.

I would sum up this exhibition by quoting from a promotion for a scheduled artist in conversation event relating to it – ‘Just like a burp, connected ideas need a release’. So, I would suggest these two exhibitions are connected ideas released for your consideration.

This review was published in the Canbera Times on 13/3/21 here. It also was published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.