The Grain of Photography
Kaunas Photography Gallery
While no single scholarly history or publication yet exist that survey the formation of modern photography in Europe, modern ideas emerged in the early twentieth century throughout innovative forms of expression in the visual, musical and literary arts including film and theatre. Photographs from the camera to the darkroom were combined with new media, traditional art forms and the printing press. Adding new dimensions of color with ink on paper from avant-garde journals and photographic publications to fine photo-lithographically printed posters.
Proto modern forms of photography changed the visual landscape of art in the twentieth century. The historical avant-garde added practices inside and outside traditional art with new mediums such as modern photomontage and photograms. Widening the visual vocabulary to redefine art with photography. Modernists began to eliminate the lines that divided conventional art mediums. Expanding proto modern forms of photography into multidisciplinary practices that set the stage for the photographic arts today.
By the end of the modern era some decades ago, the black and white chemical darkroom began to disappear in artistic practices. Emerging technologies with advances in color and digital imagery expand the potentials of color with ink on paper beyond the darkroom. Digital-based printing and cameras joined computer-generated technologies further relinquishing classical parameters and traditional genre. As did the historical avant-garde with their modern advances. Deconstruction and appropriation that reaffirmed the brief, late postmodern years ended the modern era. Establishing another era of transition like the early modern era for exploration and redefinition after modernism.
The photographic arts continue to be central to the transition beyond the modern era. Undefined they continue to shift the visual terrain of contemporary art globally. Multimedia histories and practices combine today into transdisciplinary aspirations. No single art form or style governs the unlimited directions of art. Or reestablish urban centers of art lost in the past century. Diversity and decentralization continues the quest around the world. Photographic ideas seek no ladder or pyramid, hierarchy or commercial urban hubs for permanent residence.
The Grain of Photography exhibition, its curator and six artists continue the enduring relevancy of such a visual dialogue. The exhibition continues the ceaseless expansion of the ever-changing photographic arts from the last century. By questioning the very borders of historical definition. Exhibited works ask further questions by their photographic nature or scarcely by suggestion and reference. Jurij Dobriakov notes in the catalog introduction that the relative absence and presence of past forms of photography move like memory or intuition into various tangible forms — or intangible non-forms — with various media and visual art disciplines. Rightly suggesting that what is photographic by these artists, replaces in part, photography and art that was once defined by past modern standards.
If it remains true that the best in art expresses its times conceptually by articulating the currency of change, as did the historic avant-garde, photographic experience remains more relevant with various degrees of absence. What the curator and exhibition express are questions about the emerging global culture. Shifting farther away from past forms of photography. Photographic ideas reflect the new century of art without borders, away from limitations or definitions. Yet photographic ideas are even more central to the arts by these artists in more possible terms.
Of course narrative styles and approaches, fictional and nonfictional, can be traced to painting and especially photography history in the late 19th century. The idea of narratives in classical art remains unfulfilled in the exhibition. Traces of photography exist more conceptually through the imagination with references to traditional art.
Conscious and unconscious memory with photographic reference was the central domain for the Surrealists. However there are no such modernisms found in any of the exhibition’s selected works. In fact modern references may even be less of a participant than photography in a wide array of media. The denial of photography and modernism that is essential to the art, is a collective response selected by the curator. The viewer participates by the imagination beyond tangible references or suggestions found in the art, if any.
The transformation-taking place in the viewing experience continues globally in contemporary photographic strategies, practice and discourse. While modernism moved between the mediums and technologies as artists redefined the direction of art, there are no such aspirations here. Yet works are rooted in the historical avant-garde during the formation of modern art. The selected artists and individual works deny to various degrees photography by intention.
The search for ideas with transparencies of photographic references continues even by absence rather than definition. The early modernists and avant-garde reacted to past forms of artistic expression and history in another era of transition. Contributing individual styles to replace past convention.
Yet without photography is there any raison d’être in each of the selected works: the question remains present throughout the exhibition. While history from narrative structure or conceptual art cannot be fully ignored, the common thread between the works is the absence of past convention and theology so rooted in the modern history of photography. Photographic ideas have supplanted photography and art by no small measure in the new century.
Since the 1960s artists continue to move beyond the limitations of the photography medium with precedents found in modern art. They explore ideas not only between various media with transdisciplinary bravado. Adding emerging technologies today that have always changed the history of photography since its various inventions that began in the 1830s.
The Grain exhibition replaces the unending transformations of photographic forms, classical and contemporary, with more fundamental questions of presence and absence. Without a measuring stick or device to calculate. Photographic ideas are essential to artists who seek to express the current era of global change and transition. The artists of The Grain contribute further references to the dialogue after modernism. Contemporary art continues to move from the grain that is part of the history of photography, and beyond the pixel, with ceaselessly emerging technologies and ideas, conceptually and theoretically.
As multimedia traditions move more broadly into transdisciplinary practices, collaborations and contributions make fewer attempts to redefine art or individual style. In a reversal to modern or self-designated mediums such as past photography. While facets of modern history add dimensions of knowledge and understanding to our new era of transition, photographic ideas suggest unlimited artistic potentials in a variety of expositions and media.
The Grain exhibition does so by absence, and at best by implication, rather than physical or material reality, which is drawn physically from photographs, past practices or traditions. The curator and six artists share no less by denying photography and its presence, which in various ways is the raison d’être.
For more information about the exhibition and photo reportage see here.
Download the exhibition guide.