The artists whose works are brought together here under the theme of ruins are interested in capturing the traces of a disappearing world, a world in which the evolution of the photographic image is symptomatic of a more fundamental transformation of culture and social values as a whole. These are the ruins that subsist after technologies become obsolete, forms of representation fade, and political regimes crumble. What remains – in the form of artefacts and traces, traumas and emotions – may be revived for different interpretations of the past and a better understanding of the present.
Michel Campeau’s project The Donkey that Became a Zebra: histoires de chambre noire originated in the desire to preserve the memory of rituals, objects, and places associated with gelatin-silver photography. Campeau gathers artefacts from a world in which the making and reading of images was based on a more immediate link with reality, a stronger belief in the veracity of representation. These artefacts are the ruins of that world. Campeau reactivates our memory of them by suggesting emotional stories related to photographic laboratories or interpretation of images. But nevertheless, an image is not reality, and a donkey is not a zebra.
After multiple trips to Cuba, André Barrette assembled the series Fin de siglo, offering his vision of the sites, objects, and images that form Cubans’ daily environment. All of these elements – modest, worn, dilapidated – reflect the state of a political regime the utopian hopes of which were not able to withstand market pressures, as does the Havana department store Fin de Siglo, established during Batista’s time and today nothing but a shadow of its former self. In the early twenty-first century, there is still no advertising in the Cuban streets, only political icons and representations and a few scattered expressions of private initiative.
The three series of images that Joan Fontcuberta brought together under the title Trauma present an allegory for the end of an era: they stalk within the photographic image itself the traces of its dissolution; they take the pulse of its physical and chemical limitations; and they examine the boundaries of its capacity to represent. As always, Fontcuberta’s formal and cognitive explorations are connected by a narrative thread that is often tinged with irony: a grainy image taken from the film Blow-Up, which in turn is blown up into the digital abstraction of pixels; images of artworks devoured by snails; the degeneration of developers and fixers that make an image unrecognizable. Fontcuberta thus presents images about images, in synch with the principle that he has expressed about the pointlessness of creating new images and the need to put the multitude of existing images to work.
Translated by Käthe Roth