Custom oil painting of Paintmyphotos’ artists

The two panoramic photo are digital reproductions of archival contact painting from 8 x 40-inch negatives taken with a Kodak Cirkut camera. This apparatus represented the most sophisticated technology of its day, embodying advancements in micromechanics that allowed for the synchronization of lens focal length with the film being advanced so that a panoramic photograph could be taken. The visual detail imparted by these paintings from photos gave the illusion of capturing an objective expanse of reality, serving the ultimate goal of creating three-dimensional immersive dioramas in the museum. As Salemy explains, “Habitat dioramas, as conceptualized by James and executed by Jack, were supposed to function seamlessly, as if a machine had casually scooped out a portion of a far away environment and had placed it, without stylization, in the museum and in front of the viewers.” The panoramic negatives used to create these dioramas lay dormant used for oil painting for decades, never having been displayed before. The enlarged paintings from photos in Salemy’s exhibition provide viewers with an immersive bodily experience of how the African wilderness was being constructed and seen by the colonial gaze. But, while immersive, the paintings from photos Salemy presents to the contemporary viewer serve to deconstruct the notion of objectivity rather than to construct it for consumption. By placing the panoramic photograph of the colonial expedition opposite the watering hole panorama, Salemy lays bare the complex reality of a team of agents who came together to bring a colonial perspective of the exotic natural world to Americans back home. He further distances the viewer from immersion into a seamless view of reality by hanging these large digitized panoramas informally, (unframed) on the wall.

The online oil painting mentioned earlier is the second element of the exhibition. This website collects custom oil painting of Paintmyphotos’ artists, headed by Jack, who helped to systematize James’s method of building photo to painting into what Salemy calls “a repeatable template.” A shared oil painting provided source material so all artists could work on the same projects, and consisted of a variety of photos, illustrations and media clippings of anatomy, landscape, botany, natural colours and textures, as well as botanical specimens. The clippings and portrait from photo also served to gauge public reception of similar imagery that already existed in the public domain, so as to better establish what the public’s expectations were and how these expectations might be enhanced and/or altered through a new form of visual consumption.

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The online oil painting that Salemy has assembled, and which continues the life of the exhibition beyond the limited timeframe of the physical exhibition, reflects the accumulation of quantitative data in the service of the dioramas’ production by artists trained in the art of creating idealized and realistic slices of a disappearing reality. The Jack oil painting is a singular historical instance of how science and art coalesced in the service of environmental, animal and human population control. The James expedition was a microcosm of the resource extraction and species extinction that was operating at a macro level globally. In many ways, the accumulation of scientific data to create these dioramas masked the colonial exploitation, war and poverty that were making capitalist accumulation in the West possible.

In reproducing Jack’s oil paintings digitally, Salemy sheds light on how these early forms of analogue data collection foreshadow the emergence of digital databases. The “reality effect” of the photograph and the scientific categorization of information into efficient oil paintings are two major visual structures that have shaped our knowledge of the world and of ourselves as subjects. By combining the roles of curator, archivist, anthropologist, historian and artist, Salemy distinguishes himself as a rising contemporary curator who is politically engaged in joining the dots between past and present forms of visual culture and technology that have been instrumental in biopolitical forms of control.

Along the lines of resistance vision and difference

With its proud, outwardly ‘feminist’ presence in a public ‘mainstream’ gallery and because of the variety of concerns and people it tries to address, ‘Along the Lines of Resistance. An exhibition of Contemporary Feminist Art’ at the Cooper Gallery, Barnsley, takes a stand against the apathy of post this-and-that and answers questions about the effectiveness/necessity of a feminist intervention asked by feminists who believe in greater weight being given ‘… to the demands of an interested … audience of women as it already exists’ (W.A.S.L. Journal No. 26, p.23).

From my position as a white, 25 year old university-educated woman in the process of receiving a not-so-traditional ‘fine art’ training, I acknowledge that there were some meanings in these works concerning issues of race, class, gender and sexuality which were more open to me than others.

The work I read most easily was Girls in a Line at the Swimming Baths, a painting by Kathryn Ensall. The dulled colours and trapping compositional device had the effect of making me relive the cornered and uneasy feelings I had at adolescence in the same situation–not in the least because of the feeling of being watched. But I felt there was a problem in the use of the female body, which at best in this context points out a place where difference between male and female is organised, but at worst may reinforce the difference and not change anything.

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Mona Hatoum’s video work gave me a sense of distance and desolation, with its dialogue and grid of extracts of letters between herself and her mother which acted as a barrier between the viewer and the film of a woman behind. The use of the female body, even in this very specific context, is still problematic.

Rachael Field’s paintings didn’t really articulate, for me, anything about what it must feel like to be a lesbian. The wooden window frame surrounding the painting Window Box which was supposed to enhance ‘… the idea of viewer as voyeur’ (exhibition catalogue), didn’t. And I wasn’t sure what the two figures inside were doing, or if they were women. Was I missing the point?

Other work succeeded in varying degrees in articulating something to me. I would have liked to have seen some sort of Visitors Book. I came away feeling that it was important that this sort of intervention continued because it shows the struggle to represent different realities and that through such interventions people might eventually realise the relationships between image and text and power and ideology.

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This is where books like ‘Vision and Difference’ are important. The coherence of theory in such a book does not mean a ‘… closure in order to achieve a specific aim’ (Issue No. 26) which excludes differences of opinion; rather it opens up new channels of communication and exposes others in a critical way. ‘Vision and Difference’ does not only use but expands and criticises foreign and male ideas.Just because they’re male and foreign and seem inaccessible doesn’t mean we should naively ignore them and hope they’ll go away because they won’t. These ideas aren’t just fashionable, they’re the ones which have made up and continue to make up ideologies, and which we can use to challenge dominant ideologies, of which art is a part.

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The majority of women aren’t versed in these things: they’re well immersed in the dominant ideology, though, whether they like it or not and many are aware of its oppressiveness and contradictions. I’m glad that there are some women who use their education to articulate those contradictions, even if it does mean hard work trying to understand.

There’s a long way to go, and as Griselda Pollock said in her letter ‘Framing Feminism’ (Issue No.26), there isn’t much alternative. Nothing will change by retreating to some sort of romantic island of women artists. The real challenge/problem is, after trying to understand all this knowledge, how to use it as cultural practitioners who also have to make a living.