galerie nichido and nca | nichido contemporary art are pleased to present a joined exhibition of Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, each gallery showing simultaneously different bodies of works.
Since the beginning in the 1990s, Vik Muniz has been presenting his work in the form of photographs, sometime reproductions of famous paintings, sometime news photographs that tell us about history, while always playing with different materials -wires, sugar, diamonds, chocolate, and colored paper – to convey his message. galerie nichido is presenting the series REPRO made by using scraps from catalogues, advertising and printed materials of museums that are related to the works in question, and images obtained from the Internet, while nca | nichido contemporary art is showing his new “Handmade” series, composed of 13 pieces and created through a combination of “real material” (three-dimensional) and photographs of that very material (two-dimensional).
How has art been influenced since the advent of photography (1839)? Once again, here we are discussing the relationship between photography and art, and with this text I want to further explore this topic with a special focus on Vik Muniz.
I have used the expression “once again” as many are the art experts that have widely been investigating photography and art so far. For instance, concerning the relation between the two, the American art historian, Rosalind E. Krauss, has observed a transition in the way art has been influenced by photography, starting with its use within the Surrealist movement in the 1920’s, featuring artists such as Marcel Duchamp, moving on to its role in the 1960’s with Warhol. Photography is seen as a medium that intrinsically differs from art, in particular from paintings. If not a direct representation of the actual subject – since photographs are two-dimensional representations – photography characterizes itself as an image that points to that actual subject through a physical connection as if it was its footprints or fingerprints. Furthermore, although the adoption of photographs in artworks is a common practice, even when they are not used, their influence can be seen in the creation process of the artworks themselves, something we have particularly witnessed in Duchamp’s work. It is, so to speak, the influence of what is considered the photography’s operating procedures that can be observed. For example, the sequence of operations Duchamp follows for his readymade artworks (the removal of a urinal from its everyday environment and its placement in an exhibition space with a different purpose), recalls the logic behind photography. This is the pattern of operations Duchamp sets in motion: photography cuts out a piece (fragment) of reality, allowing it to move to a different context, and, at the same time, its meaning keeps changing according to each of its movements, or alternatively the meaning (message) to change is the one derived from the picture and passed on through the text/lexicon related to it.
Now, for an art scenery strongly subjected to such influences from the 20th century ongoing, we cannot agree with the idea that photography was an unforeseen new medium. In the very 21st century which has welcomed the digital era, advanced technical knowledge must be mastered to explain the digital camera’s functioning, however, the functioning of its ancestor, the analog camera, is on the other hand extremely easy. Of course, it is about loading the film and adjusting the lenses, but in terms of structure the analog camera is characterized by an empty box inside like a camera obscura. This camera obscura can be traced much further back than the advent of photography, and many artists, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Dürer, and Vermeer, used it as a device. It is from that time that perspective made its appearance as the suitable expressive form of a world view that needed to be shown in European paintings. The phenomenon that occurs inside the camera obscura, where the real world creates a bond with the image, has been known since the old times; the same applies to analog cameras, too. It is there where, for the first time, the equation “fixing the image = printing” became possible. And that was the invention of photography. In other words, in the visual system, photography conceived as the above equation of “fixing the image and printing”, by no means appeared in this world through a spontaneous evolution; it rather was a new medium that finally made its long-awaited appearance. Furthermore, while photography shows something there on the spot, or something that is in front on the photographer’s eyes only, it is possible to look at it and feel just as we were there. Despite its being so simple now, photography offers us something that had been impossible to achieve for a very long time. And meanwhile, the change of the visual image before and after its advent manifests itself in the passage from an image created by a man’s hands to an image discovered through the camera.
Making its appearance in the 19th century, photography marks the birth of new trends in paintings, too. One is the advent of Impressionism. Once photography becomes accepted by people as a medium that conveys the actual world as it is, the mission paintings have embodied until then, to faithfully reproduce the world, gets virtually lost. In fact, portrait painters lose their job, forced to switch to daguerreotype portrait photos (the inventor of this photography process, Daguerre, too, was a landscape-painter). Moreover, painters who were familiar with the way photography put into images the traces of light and shadow, started to express that very contrast with traditional methods that captured the subject through its outline. As in Muniz’s Rouen Cathedral series after Monet, by catching the light as an instant, the artist shifts the attention toward the very changes that light undergoes over time.
So, the application of the aforementioned photography’s operating procedures (the use of everyday objects as they are as artworks’ material) has been widely followed so far by many artists since Duchamp. As an art curator, I happened to be in charge of the exhibition “Aspects of British Art Today” which was touring a few Japanese museums in 1982. Tony Cragg, one of today’s big names on the art scene, was among the participating artists. A 33 years old emerging artist at that time, Cragg came to Japan bringing along some big paper bags, and created new works with the plastic waste material he “selected” at drop-off sites in Tokyo. One of his pieces “Tokyo-Wuppertal” is now part of the MOT’s collection. Meanwhile, Vik Muniz, too, has incorporated common trash into artworks with the documentary film “Waste Land”. The video shows the creation process behind the series “Pictures of garbage”, made by using garbage with the help of garbage pickers who worked in the world's largest garbage dump in Rio de Janeiro’s suburbs. While using the same garbage material for his artworks, the mind behind the creation process is not the same. Here, the difference of the artworks’ purpose lays in the continuous changes the social meaning of a material such as garbage undergoes, because, consistent with his work, for Muniz it is all about conveying the “material and image” relation to the creation process, and his big concern for a skillful representation of the contemporary meaning of the material itself.
The plastic waste material Tony Cragg introduced in the 1980’s consisted of objects that at that time had been readily disposed, however, nowadays, within its cycle of burning, smashing and re-using, garbage is re-purposed as a source of energy and recycle. Even the human race moved from time immemorial, when men used their own hands to create things, to a system where things were created by the hands of many, and finally to our days where things are the product of the mediation of countless people. While keeping the same structure, and matching such processes, the meaning of things themselves modifies, and eventually the meaning of garbage, too, undergoes important changes, and Muniz has not failed to notice them. Meanwhile, in the series “Sugar Children” (1996) Muniz creates portraits of smiling children using that sugar born from a workforce exploited still now, giving shape to the invisible linguistic context of the post-colonial era, and he represents quite vividly the gap with a reality where these children’s parents are forced to work under extreme conditions. When it comes to wonder how the material is usually handled, Muniz casts a careful glance toward the equation “past and history”. He keeps moving along the “image renovation” path by giving new meanings to the material as visual image, as things that were once invisible in a time where the microscope, too, had yet to be invented, have now welcomed an era where particles of light, for instance, or even undulations, can be visualized.
This time, through a particular approach, Muniz pays tribute with his artworks to the 19th century’s artists who mainly characterized the Impressionist movement: Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet, and Fantin Latour to name a few. Quite surely there will be viewers who, when seeing these works for the first time, and from a certain distance, will be able to recognize immediately the images of these “masterpieces”, even without having previously set eyes on the original works. This is because of the overwhelming amounts of digital images that are available today. However, sure of what we are looking at, as we move close, the painting image reveals itself as a photography-artwork, which is characterized by some sort of trompe l'oeil effect through an unexpected collage structure. Up until now quite a few are the artists who have tried collage and photography as techniques, however here Muniz uses scraps and bits of information – from printed materials to internet data – which are related to each of the original artwork. These artworks contain information that would have been out of reach in a time where collages were made out of scraps from printed material only, such as magazines and newspaper, and information obtained through internet researches, too, something that could have not even been dreamed about at that time. Thus, these collage works could have not come to life in any other time than now.
For Muniz the visual image, even when, for example, it is the only original one in the world, and the information about its colors and structure are perceived differently, as acquired through the retina which shows an individual specificity for each person. And here mistakes, sight failure and oversight, can occur. Nevertheless, images that, until the photography’s advent, were once out of reach, are now available in a click on many media and devices. As Walter Benjamin claimed, this means the loss of the original aura (1936). However, 80 years had passed since then, and the photographs responsible for such aura loss have become visual images whose aura is overflowing, labelled as “original” or “vintage” in the form of prints. Let alone, this is a time where anyone can easily take a picture with one’s own mobile device, and nowadays, where the line between original and reproduction does not matter to most, Muniz digs up and questions once again the meaning of images
This exhibition shows reproductions of modern paintings mainly from the 19th century in the form of collages, and separately, abstract works from the 20th century characterized by a dazzling effect on the vision which is reached through a unique method that recalls Gerhard Richter’s Colour Charts paintings, mixing real objects with their reproductions. Inside the artwork, there is a sense of illusion created by the contrast with the real objects as if it evoked a picture within the picture, and this creates a layered diversified visual experience. Muniz is certainly using photography as his main expressive mean, however, he gives us the opportunity to discover the different layers that are in the background of the visual image, that we usually would be looking at casually, creating each time with the materials involved – whether it is magazines, pieces of news, sugar, caviar, diamonds and others - a new small story about the world around him.