On Migration / Reviewed by Dorothy Hunter / 27.09.12
Migratory images tread a difficult territory. With a subject of personal and societal impact, the separation that photography affords can be keenly felt. All too easily the records of changing lands and peoples can become voyeuristic, showing alien circumstances to which we cannot fully relate.
It is a weight that PhotoIreland 2012 consciously carries, and for many of On Migrations artists, a realm to explore. Much of the work within Moxie Studio’s exhibition uses this connection to photojournalism to examine the boundaries between photographer and subject, where the subject’s control over the image is continually in question, and the documental and conceptual combine.
Addressing this most directly is Anthony Luvera’s collaboration with Ruben Torosyan, a part of the Photographs and Assisted Self Portraits series. Amongst the irregular montage of images, a stereotypical tourist photo on a bridge is shown alongside a hand-drawn map, Torosyan lying on the ground, and a naked figure crossing the street. The project explores the discrepancy in what Torosyan expected London to be like and how he actually experiences it as a homeless immigrant with no official identity. The subject’s own staging and the details of the surrounding environment become contributory and symbolic, and the familiarity of Torosyan’s context to himself is unknown.
A different collaborative process takes place in Francisca Lopez’s photobook project. Working alongside the Hungarian photographer Bandi Binder from 1998 until his death in 2010, Lopez explores his life story and journey from his past and present, mixing her responsive photography with his own images. She compliments and builds upon his practice by forming a collaboration across time, in one instance recreating the photos Binder took of every room in his new Argentinean home, maintaining the position of Binder and his wife in each paired image. The book is incomplete, forming often abstracted images and blank spaces, to create a montage of a life we can only partially see, that gradually fades with Binder’s passing. His is an emotional, geographical and living journey across eras and countries, tied together by his commitment to photography.
Working with and in close proximity to the subjects of their projects, Luvera and Lopez combine contexts to create work of no distinct personal or geographic territory. In Mark Curran’s Extracts from EDEN, circumstances are instead pulled together, with threads drawn between distinct states and times: that of the work’s creation and its exhibition. Curran first visited Lausitz in former East Germany in 2003, exploring the effects of global economic growth that were the antithesis of the rapid expansion of his native Ireland; yet with the passage of time their past and present situations seem uncannily similar. It is an area shaped by the growth of industrialisation, particularly in mining, and the destruction of landscape that followed. The lack of prospects resulted in mass exoduses of youth to the west, and an aging population with no scope for career growth.
Amongst the many facets of this project, projected on the walls are single slides of interactions between man and nature – a concrete tower block amongst trees, a heavily ploughed thoroughfare, and another map, this time cartographic. A projection of disused workstations projects empty chairs in a factory in sequence, whilst a film installation shows workers and the unemployed looking toward each other from opposite walls, or staring at the future viewer. Everything we see is not quite still, continuously projected or silently “observed” via film, a matter-of-fact examination and a challenge to see and judge a quietly and negatively charged landscape.
Whilst examining observation is a recurring theme in On Migration, the concentration of so many specific migratory tales and circumstances makes for heavy viewing. Andrea Robbins and Max Becher cut through this with 770, a series that is more indicative of personal and collective journeys than demonstrative.
As the Hasidic Lubavitch community slowly expanded post-holocaust, it took with it a newborn tradition of Chabad community centres. First established in Brooklyn in a former medical centre, each Chabad centre replicated the original’s architecture, settling in twelve locations across several far-flung countries. Documenting these replicated buildings, there is a quieter poignancy to 770 than more personal projects in the exhibition: in this created and accumulative cultural cornerstone, faith and hope are set in a unifying building, with each new build becoming a symbol of a gradually resolidified footing in society.
Whilst the buildings of 770 personify as representations of diaspora, they also represent a migration of social politics. As movement of persons combine with migrations of place and priority, On Migration pictorially pulls apart the individual and their environment. Exploring each as an element of the other and in a constantly changing relationship, it is in this we as viewers find common ground.
Moxie Studios, Lad Lane, off Baggot St, Dublin 2