WassinkLundgren TOKYO TOKYO

A concatenation of their family names, WassinkLundgren is the pseudonym chosen by artistic duo Thijs groot Wassink and Ruben Lundgren. WassinkLundgren erupted on the photography scene in 2007 when its Empty Bottles won the Best Contemporary Photobook of the Year award in Arles. At the time, the WassinkLundgren components were 24 and 26. Empty Bottles, shot in Beijing, showcased Chinese people gathering empty bottles (planted by the photographers) in the street. Far from simply recording reality, the photographic practice of WassinkLundgren, with its nudging intervention, is more akin to performance with a slightly surrealist twist. Tokyo Tokyo, their eleventh book to date, proves that their performance/photo approach is still alive and well…and heading in new directions.

We all share the feeling of  “knowing” cities like Paris, New York or Tokyo, without actually having been there. Born of this sensation, Tokyo Tokyo confronts WassinkLundgren’s mental image of the city with its reality, which led to a neighborhood-by-neighborhood exploration of the megalopolis. In the book, different urban zones sprawl out over successive chapters, with cream-colored rectangles signaling the passage from one to the next. Almost like placeholders for absent photos, these rectangular “blanks,” according to Thijs groot Wassink, “are like the path of a metro that brings us from one point of town to another.”

Tokyo Tokyo allows artists Wassink and Lundgren to delve into a reflection on their common photographic practice. Photography, they observe, is a largely solitary pursuit, yielding most often a single point of view on its subjects. Cinema, however, with basic grammatical trappings such as shot/reverse shot, is different. What would it look like, they wondered, if they photographed a single street scene, but together, from different angles? The result was Tokyo Tokyo.

Beyond this underlying thinking and despite the delight-inspiring images, Tokyo Tokyo never trivializes nor caricatures. No Provoke-era imagery, no hordes of commuters crammed into trains, not even dozing metro riders. The artists flatly refuse to take “good” photos, sidestepping the stereotypical imagery that generally trickles down to us. Ultimately, this refusal draws the curtain on a society very much like our own. In this teeming streetlife, everyone rubs shoulders: policemen, housewives, workers, executives, retirees, etc. WassinkLundgren’s street photography is peppered not only with nods to the history of the genre, but also with humor. If they spot a schoolgirl, she is merely an ersatz fantasy. If cherry blossoms flower, a telephone-wielding Japanese is standing by snapping photos. A conscious duality is at work on every page of Tokyo Tokyo, even in its title. As if that were not enough, the book boasts a double colophon – one on the cover page, the other on the final page – indicating the work can be read in the Western left-to-right, or inversely, as do the Japanese. Tokyo Tokyo is consistently, and coherently, double.

RC & MKB

English translation by Kevin Jones

WassinkLundgren, Tokyo Tokyo, Kodoji Press/Archive of Modern Conflict, softcover with dust jacket and bellyband, 192 pages, 1200 copies.

Beyond

Other photos on the WassinkLundgren site.

The sites of Kodoji Press and Archive of Modern Conflict.

Our recent article (in French) on Stephen Gill and his photos of Japan. 

Posted in Photobooks | 1 Comment

MIROSLAV TICHY

On 12 April 2011, Miroslav Tichy died at the age of 85. Below is re-post of our May 2010 text on him. An homage.

For several years, the work of Miroslav Tichý has galvanized the contemporary art world. He popped up on the radar at the 2004 Seville Biennial, when he was 78. The eminently authoritative Harald Szeemann curated the show, and his endorsement was all it took to convince the art market and institutions: over the following six years, Tichý’s photos appeared in no less than forty individual or group shows in Zurich, Stockholm, Frankfurt, Beijing, Paris and now New York, where a vast retrospective has just closed at the International Center of Photography (ICP). The image-rich catalogue boasts particularly stunning reproductions. A 2008 catalogue accompanying the show at Paris’ Pompidou Center pales by comparison, its brilliant texts unable to offset the lackluster printing.

Tichý’s work was discovered in the early1980s by Roman Buxbaum*, a psychiatrist and “outsider art” specialist who, although a Swiss resident, hailed from the same small Moravian town as Tichý. Buxbaum began collecting the works and including them in “outsider art” shows, where Szeemann, who harbored a deep interest in this field, ultimately discovered them. In the French magazine Etudes photographiques, Marc Lenot, author of the blog Lunettes Rouges, provides an excellent analysis of the “invention” of Miroslav Tichý and the intellectual strategies that hurtled him first into the field of “outsider art,” then more successfully into that of contemporary art. Clearly, Tichý has the stuff to seduce the market, art institutions and critics: a fine arts background, unique works, a coherent corpus built on an obsessive pursuit, and a resounding fit with other contemporary practices.

Tichý enrolled in Prague’s Academy of Fine Arts in 1945. The communist takeover in 1948 dashed any hopes of an artistic career, and Tichý was sent off to military service. Deeply disturbed and visibly transformed by this episode, he returned to live with his parents. In the mid-1950s, between two bouts of depression, Tichý started experimenting with photography, all the while slipping deeper into personal disarray. His unruly beard and tattered clothes made him a walking slap-in-the-face to the communist ideal. Meanwhile, he concocted his own cameras from cardboard and jars, fashioning makeshift lenses to match. From the 1960s, he photographed obsessively (up to 100 images per day) a single subject – women. In the streets, in parks, at the pool – Tichý mercilessly stalked down the female residents of Kyjov.  He snapped the backside of a woman adjusting her shoe, a group of swimsuit-clad sunbathers, a woman getting dressed, a park bench conversation, a kiss. As if this were not enough, Tichý also re-shot pin-ups from “girly” magazines and actresses on his TV screen, vaguely resembling Marilyn Monroe or Elisabeth Taylor.

Then, in a darkroom as crudely DIY as his cameras, he selectively developed his catch. Occasionally he cut the photographic paper into triangles (a pubic stand-in?) and highlighted the dried-off prints with a pen, underscoring varying body parts.  He even devised hand-adorned frames out of cardboard. The photos were then abandoned in a courtyard or on the edge of a table, left to deteriorate under the elements or whatever domestic accidents might befall them.

Tichý’s work fascinates for the strength of its successive impulses.  Desire grows, set within a meticulous process (the hunt, the photographic development, appropriation by manually drawing on the image) and ultimately depletes (the images are discarded), only to return again the next day. The photos themselves attract — the infinite variation around a single theme, the eeriness due to the low-grade material, and their scarification by time. Yet they hold within them a treasure trove of other recognizable photos. In his flamboyant preface to the ICP catalogue Miroslav Tichý, Richard Prince unveils these photographic references, which were surely far from Tichý’s mind at work, but easily identifiable by contemporary viewers: Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Kohei Yoshiyuki’s sex scenes in The Park, Carlo Molino’s polaroids of women, the photographic work of Sigmar Polke or the collection of women’s knees by Hans Peter Feldmann. For the record, one could add Paul-Armand Gette, or the nurses and various girls next door of Richard Prince himself.

* His explanations feature in Miroslav Tichý: Tarzan Retired, a re-worked version of a text from the Pompidou Center catalogue.

RC  & MKB

English translation by Kevin Jones

Miroslav Tichý, ICP and Steidl, canvas binding, 328 pages.

Beyond

Site of the Tichy Foundation run by Roman Buxbaum.

ICP and Steidl sites.

The article by Marc Lenot, L’invention de Miroslav Tichý in Etudes photographiques. His review of the show at the Pompidou Center. (in French)

Some photos by Tichý here.

Two further links suggested by Marc Lenot : the official site of Tichý created by his neighbor and beneficiary, and a film highlighting a different point of view than Roman Buxbaum’s.

Karen Rosenberg’s New York Times review of the ICP show.

Review in AnOther Mag of the current Miroslav Tichý show at London’s Wilkinson Gallery (until 5 June 2011).

Posted in Photobooks | Leave a comment