Lianzhou Foto Festival is gathering the largest group of Swiss participants to perhaps China’s most unconventional photography event. Eight Swiss artists including Kurt Caviezel, collectif_fact, Lukas Felzmann, Alex Hanimann, Clément Lambelet, Jenny Rova, Jules Spinatsch, and Ester Vonplon will display, as Director/Curator of Fotostiftung Schweiz Peter Pfrunder will serve as guest curator. This year’s 15th-anniversary theme “A Chance for the Unpredictable” pays homage to photography and explores the uncontrollable aspects that leave traces in an image. This bustling opening week celebrates a rich program with lectures, seminars, portfolio reviews, and photobook fair.
Swiss Artists at the Festival
Kurt Caviezel was born in 1964, and lives and works as an independent artist in Zürich, Switzerland. His work was awarded the Manor Art Prize in 2002, and he won the Award of the UBS Culture Foundation in 2010. Kurt Caviezel has published the photobooks Red Light (2000) and Points of View (2002). His book The Encyclopedia of Kurt Caviezel was published in 2014, on the occasion of his exhibition at the Italian Galerie Foto-Forum.
He is the pioneer of a new kind of photography. He understands the web as a camera – as his camera. The screen of his computer is the viewfinder, the mouse the trigger and the net-cameras around the world are his lenses. So this camera is huge.
Insects/ Birds/ Error
Since 2002, Kurt Caviezel has collected millions of images by taking screenshots from publicly accessible netcams (webcams, surveillance cameras, IP cameras). From his studio in Zurich, he monitors some 20 000 netcams all over the world. All his pictures are unique moments captured from a live image stream feed. These images would have disappeared if the artist hadn’t secured them for his work. In this sense, Kurt Caviezels’ work is distinct from other appropriationist practices drawn from the internet. By ordering and rearranging the found images according to recurring patterns, Caviezel discovers the poetry of the fully automatized image production. Thus, his work is not only proposing a new kind of authorless documentary photography. It also includes a reflection on the medium itself and the technical conditions of image production. Some of his works are satirical through unexpected and unpredictable happenings, others play with the beauty of mistakes and aberrations. In his series «Insects» and «Birds» for instance, the animals land on the camera, walk across the lens, and let their tails hang down as if commenting on the views behind them. In the series «Error», the interaction between technology and nature transforms landscapes into surreal sceneries and displays a kind of destruction of the medium itself.
The collectif_fact comprises Annelore Schneider and Claude Piguet. They live and work between London and Geneva. Their practice is rooted mainly in video and photography and address urban life and movie language via data extraction and digital sampling. They exhibit internationally and have worked in several major public collections. They were recently awarded the Focus – Next residency at Space Studios, London and shortlisted for Loop Discover Award in Barcelona.
A Land Fit for Heroes
One long sequence-shot from a faraway distance details the city of Sion in Switzerland. While the camera movement seems perfectly controlled, the action alternates between staged scenes and unscripted daily life events. We hear gunshots; someone is running or smoking suspiciously. But what we hear and what we see doesn’t always match. Those visual and audio clues encourage the viewer to interpret what they see, playing with their expectations. The performance of everyday life is often unpredictable and this video explores the tension between controlling the image and capturing the unexpected.
The projects of collectif_fact, mainly video based, are often a deconstruction of what we see as cinematic codes within our visual culture. They are fascinated with daily repetition, stereotypes, and clichés that suffuse our popular culture. They deal mainly with aspects of (anti)spectacle, simulacra, and appropriation. To do so, they investigate the ways that narrative can be appropriated, disrupted and re-edited to construct different stories and alternative meanings. Their videos frequently use the spectator’s ability to construct stories from ruptured narrative fragments. Their videos weave together a complex mesh of references: fragments of dialogues, citations and music extracts. A collage of recognizable, familiar images with a multitude of allusion to cinema classics. collectif_fact plays with our desire to be gripped and even deceived by images and stories. By creating works that appropriate cinematic codes and strategies, they encourage the viewer to reflect critically on the habits that condition our perceptions of reality.
Lukas Felzmann is an artist and educator. He was born and grew up in Zürich, Switzerland and has been living and working in San Francisco since 1981. His work and installations contain sculptural elements, and through photographic means explore the intersections of the natural and the cultural. Current themes include our relationship to the landscape, and how we internalize and attempt to control nature. (Waters in Between). Another published body of work (Swarm), is an investigation and celebration of flight, musing on the working of natural systems, and how there might be control without hierarchy. The degradation of the marine environment through plastic and other materials is examined in Gull Juju. Lukas Felzmann’s work has been exhibited internationally, and six monographs have been published on it. The most recent is Apophenia published by Koenig Books, London in 2018. Lukas Felzmann has taught photography at the Department of Art and Art History at Stanford University for 25 years and is currently an Affiliated Scholar at the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University. In 2018 Lukas Felzmann was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in photography.
Gull Juju – The Farallon Islands
The Farallon Islands is a craggily volcanic group of small islands situated about 45 kilometers west of San Francisco in the Pacific Ocean. At this position, the ocean floor drops to abysmal depth, which results in an upwelling of cold nutrient-rich water. Because of this, the entire oceanic food chain is present, from the microscopic plankton to the biggest animals on earth; the grey whales. The Farallon Islands are the densest seabird colony on the Pacific Coast outside of Alaska. On its edges, sea lions and seals are hunted by great white sharks.
The islands and the Gulf of the Farallon became a protected marine sanctuary in 1969 and are closed to visitors. Only a small number of scientists live and work on the Southeast Farallon Island. Through lucky circumstances, I was allowed to visit and photograph the islands several times over the last few years. I documented the geology and the animals of the island with a large-format camera. To me, however, some of the most interesting animals there seemed to be scientists and I started to photograph their tools and thinking about their methodology. I was impressed by how the scientists counted and observed and for decades quietly wrote down their data in a series of books, the Farallon Journals. All information is available to all scientists who are united like a large family, so different from the art world where the market overemphasizes the individuality of the artist.
One day I came across a cardboard box, which was filled with the most curious objects: Lego blocks and toy figurines, plastic turtles and parts of credit cards, tampon applicators and fake metal trophies. On the cover, it said: Gull Juju Archive. They turned out to object that Western Gulls had swallowed on the mainland, flown across the Pacific to the Farallon Islands and then regurgitated in their nests. Then scientists collected the objects. I decided to photograph all the objects, not just the ones that made interesting photographs, but all of them because the gulls had already made the selection.
Further out in the Pacific is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area believed to be as big as Central Europe in which small plastic particles are endlessly gyrating…
Alex Hanimann (b. 1955 in Mörschwil, Switzerland) is based in St. Gallen and Zürich. After attending the Rorschach teaching seminar and studying and following the training at Zurich School of Design, Alex Hanimann begins his career as a freelance artist, holding regular exhibitions and working on various public projects. In 1987 he co-founds the Kunsthalle St Gallen and acts as a member of the Federal Art Commission from 1997 to 2004. Since 2008 he is a member of the Cultural Commission of the city of St. Gallen and is currently a professor at the Zurich University of the Arts.
Alex Hanimann has exhibited extensively in Switzerland, Germany, France or Mexico. Some of his exhibitions include : “Conceptual Games”, presented at Aargauer Kunsthaus in 2009, “No proof – no commentary – no double entendre” at MAMCO, Geneva in 2012 “As close as possible”, at Museum im Ballpark Kriens in 2016, “Trapped – Fallen und Raster”, at Kunsthalle Darmstadt in 2018. His exhibition “Same But Different” has been programmed to tour at Kunstmuseum St.Gallen, Villa Merkel Esslingen, Frac Grand Large – Hauts-de-France Dunkerque.
Alex Hanimann’s series «Trapped» is based on snapshots showing wild animals such as apes, deers, hares, tigers, wolfs or elephants, frozen in a state of shock, as they were captured through automatically triggered «camera traps». The artist collected those authorless images because they reveal an unusual and sometimes very intimate view of the creatures. Suddenly exposed to the camera, mostly at night, the animals seem to behave like human beings, and they engage the observer in a kind of dialogue through their looks and gestures. As a result of the unnatural situation, they become personalities with individual characters, with whom the observer easily identifies.
Originally, the images were produced for scientific purposes. Alex Hanemann transfers them into the context of art to explore their metaphorical and aesthetic potential. Through the process of appropriation and editing, he manages to give them a new meaning full of small, dramatic happenings, micro stories, emotions, and beauty. Paradoxically, the control system provokes an uncontrolled, unconscious behavior and leads to powerful images in which unpredictability plays an important role. They challenge the observer to reflect his situation as if looking in a mirror: Who is watching me? Am I in danger? How to escape? Face to face with the animals, we recognize ourselves, trapped in the omnipresent digital networks.
Clément Lambelet is an artist who explores societal issues related to humans and technology. His work includes photographic, video and sound forms, displayed as installations. He received his Bachelor of Arts in 2016 at ECAL/University of Art & Design where he currently works as an assistant.
His current researches focus on the diversion of algorithms such as those used for face and emotion recognition or new surveillance systems like body scanners and war drones. His approach reflects the fragile cohabitation between human singularity and control ideologies present in contemporary technologies. The fruits of his research: documents, data, and press articles feed his installations to make the tools of power he hijacks readable.
His projects have been exhibited internationally in institutions such as Foam Museum in Amsterdam, C/O Berlin, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Beaconsfield Gallery in London, Centre de la Photographie in Geneva and Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne. He was nominated for the Swiss Design Award 2017 and is one of the Foam Talent 2017 laureates.
He has published two monographs: Two Donkeys in a War Zone (2017, RVB Books Paris) which was nominated for the Prix du livre auteur at the Rencontres d’Arles 2018, and Happiness is the Only True Emotion (2019, RVB Books).
Two Donkeys in a Warzone
Two Donkeys in a Warzone is a series that stems from an American army video available on YouTube. A drone records an attack on an ISIS camp. Between two explosions, the aircraft’s infrared camera briefly captures two donkeys. The incident led Clément Lambelet to sift through drone videos produced by the American, Afghan or British army, searching for moments or details that do not pertain to military combat but belong to life itself, off-camera elements in an asymmetrical war. The artist collects, reframes and redirects this military footage, thus highlighting infinitesimal traces of life that resist the surrounding chaos.
Jenny Rova was born in Uppsala, Sweden in 1972 and has been living in Zürich, Switzerland since 2001. She works between Sweden and Switzerland. She has studied at FAMU Academy of Performing Arts, photography department, Prague and HGKZ, University of Art and Design, photography department, Zürich.
Älskling a self-portrait through the eyes of my lovers.
I intended to make a self-portrait made by other people. Their way to experience me would stay in the foreground.
I was asking my ex-boyfriends and lovers to give me all the pictures they took of me during our relationship. The pictures I got were from a twenty-five years period of time. The first photo was done when I was nineteen, the last one this year when I’m forty-five. The series contains fifty-five photographs and has nine different authors. I’m presenting the pictures in chronological order.
The work can be seen as biographical work, telling about a part of my life, but it’s also an indirect portrait of the photographer, the partner behind the camera.
An aspect that is interesting to me is the special way of looking at each other when you are in love. These pictures can be seen as an attempt to capture closeness and attraction between two people within a photograph.
Jules Spinatsch was born in1964 in Davos, Switzerland. He lives and works in Zurich, and teaches at the Geneva University of Art and Design. He is one of the most successful Swiss artists, with the group – and solo shows at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Modern in London, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Kunsthaus Zurich and the Fotomuseum Winterthur, among others. Spinach’s works can be found in notable collections like the Collection Pictet, the Annette and Peter Nobel Collection, the Swiss RE Art Collection, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and San Francisco, the Kunsthaus Zurich and Zug, the city and canton of Zurich, the Swiss Nationalbank and the Art Museum Grisons, to only name a few. His monographs like ‘Temporary Discomfort’ or ‘Vienna MMIX’ range among the most important photography publications of the last ten years.
Vienna MMIX is based on a recording of the Vienna Opera Ball. It was inspired by Josef Haslinger’s political thriller Opernball (1995), in which right-wing extremists carry out an attack with poison gas on the annual Vienna Opera Ball, Austria’s most important social event, televised live by the national TV network.
Vienna MMIX was conceived as a circular panorama in a public space. The installation on the Karlsplatz in Vienna, in which the images are shown in chronological order as a 360° panorama, gave the audience democratic access to this exclusive event.
Vienna MMIX marks a shift in Spinatsch’s approach to the automatically recorded images. He began to consider them as autonomous single images, independent of the topic, the context, and the panorama. This becomes evident in the five versions of the Vienna MMIX.
Ester Vonplon, born in 1980 in Schlieren, lives and works in Chur and Castrisch. She studied photography in Berlin and Zurich. The artist has been awarded several prizes and grants, including the Manor Kunstpreis 2017. Ester Vonplon’s work was shown in numerous national and international exhibitions at venues such as the Bündner Kunstmuseum, Chur, Kunstmuseum Thun, Museum Allerheiligen, Schaffhausen, FOAM Amsterdam, FOMU Antwerpen, as well as in the context of art fairs and festivals.
Some years ago I received a box with an old photo paper. The Cellofix Paper was dated 1907. For more than 100 years this paper was kept in the dark. After several tests, I found a way to expose it. Under strong sunlight, the paper began to draw light and it was possible to take photograms outside of my studio.
For many years I visited places that stood for the effect of climate change. Places like covered glaciers, melting ice in the Arctic, artificial water regulation, etc.
After all these years and studying climate reports, etc I decided that unfortunately, it was time to stop looking at the natural disasters that have taken over in the meantime and instead of looking at the rare places that are still intact and untouched.
The uaul scatlè is one out of two primeval forests in Switzerland. Due to the lack of intervention by human beings, time seems to be relativized. I have climbed up this forest in a remote valley in the alps to take photographs and photograms of plants, animals, shadows, and stones in the terrain. To capture something that has remained untouched over all these years and all this time and is in great danger to slowly disappear.
A Chance for the Unpredictable
Photography is – and has always been – closely connected to the idea of control: control over time and space, control over history and memory, control over society and nature, control over reality. Photographers try to control their images through perspective, composition, light and colour management, time of exposure, through interventions, arrangements or even through simulation of reality in the studio. Today, photography or other camera-based instruments are part of a general development that tries to make every facet of our lives predictable. And yet, photography does not owe its power to controllable aspects and machine-based elements only. On the contrary, much of its attraction and vitality comes from uncontrollable aspects and unpredictable elements that leave their traces on the photographic image.
Throughout the history of the medium, artists and photographers have been fascinated by the tension between controlling the image and capturing the unexpected, between conscious perception and the unseen (all that is discovered in the image after the exposure, for instance). Sometimes they even invent a system to introduce chance, coincidence or accidents into their concept. Uncontrolled and unpredictable happenings are part of the beauty, the poetry and the magic of photography, and maybe, more than with any other medium, they are essential to its permanent reinvention. The Austrian photography historian Timm Starl once wrote: “Chance is the determining element of the photographic.”
The spontaneous snapshot, as a genuine photographic expression, is an obvious example for an image that includes many unintended effects and contents. But also when documenting reality with a clear focus – be it with genres like street photography or precisely prepared mono-thematic longterm projects – photographers capture not just one single topic but also usually register with their camera an immeasurable amount of information. Information which simply happens to be there as well, by chance. Even staged images are full of unintended or unforeseen effects – let alone camera systems without a human photographer: in these cases, the dichotomy between the idea of control and the resulting unpredictable images becomes manifest in a form that is highly inspiring for artists.
The selected artists in this exhibition are working in different directions to include the unpredictable. Some of them use automatic cameras and redefine the role of the author, who is no longer concerned with taking photographs but with editing pictures. They have discovered the beauty of images that are the result of computer programs – or of their errors – instead of conscious human decisions. In contrast to this subversion of technological systems, we find even more artists who work on the other end of the spectrum, where physical or chemical processes play an important role: they reactivate ancient techniques and materials, and the result of their experiments is often a surprise to themselves.
At the same time, we also find conceptual approaches that leave some space for coincidence – in a way that questions the perception and meaning of images. The appropriation of archival photographs for instance, combined with playful rearrangements leads to completely unexpected perspectives on the world or on history. A self-portrait made with the photographs of others can be just as revealing as a story composed of randomly collected images: it allows the author to overcome the limitations of his subjectivity.
Some other photographers rely on their intuition, using the camera to explore the world without preconceived images. They just wait for things to happen instead of adapting reality to fit a certain plan. This kind of visual meditation is connected with giving up control over time: at the beginning of the project, these artists usually do not know where and when the project will end. As narrators, they surrender themselves to the unpredictable aspects of life, thus opening a window for the unconscious and the uncontrollable.
“A Chance for the Unpredictable” is a fascinating topic with many options for subtle comments on the current state of our world – it is implicitly political by focusing on a genuinely photographic subject. And we need it more than ever as an antidote to rationality, efficiency and predictability.
Text by Peter Pfrunder
Peter Pfrunder, born in Singapore, studied literature and popular culture at the Universities of Zurich, Berlin, and Montpellier (France), receiving his doctorate in 1988. As an author and exhibition curator, he focuses on photography as part of the visual culture of Switzerland in a broad sense, and has developed different approaches for working with archives. For the last 20 years, he has served as director and curator of the Fotostiftung Schweiz / Swiss Foundation for Photography, Winterthur. This Foundation was founded 1971 in Zurich and under the direction of Peter Pfrunder, has become the most important national heritage institution for photography in Switzerland, supported by the Swiss government. Peter Pfrunder curates exhibitions in Switzerland and abroad and contributes to international Festivals such as Rencontres de la Photographie in Arles or Lianzhoufoto, China. Some of his latest publications are: Swiss Photobooks from 1927 to the Present – A Different History of Photography (2011); Adieu la Suisse! Construction and Deconstruction of a Photographic Myth (2012); Unfamiliar Familiarities. Outside Views on Switzerland (2017).