Fiction and Fabrication, at MAAT
Fiction and Fabrication. Photography of Architecture after the Digital Turn is an exhibition assembled by Pedro Gadanho and Sérgio Fazenda Rodrigues, whose leitmotif is the evocation of Photoshop’s thirtieth anniversary and the consequent banalization of digital tools in photography, it is found at MAAT’s Main Gallery and Video Room, featuring 68 works by five dozen artists.
The curatorial proposal organizes the exhibition in three different sections and is spatially scattered throughout three spaces, where the works are displayed in an airy accrochage, reinforcing the individuality of the works, whilst proposing a laidback and fluid visit.
The notion of expanded photography has been absolutely pivotal for the institutional legitimization of the photographic medium. Although the first exhibitions hosted by the museum realm were still based on the traditional medium, artists quickly attempted to extend their materiality, expanding their work beyond the limits of paper printing. This strategy worked as mediation and an intersection point between artists who were interested in the photographic medium and photographers who wanted a place in the gallery and in the museum. The exhibition brings some orthodox examples forward.
Aglaia Konrad (Concrete City, 2010) actively engages with Lina Bo Bardi’s legacy, depicting through a miniature the iconic easel conceived for the São Paulo Museum of Art, providing us with a set of emotional and photographic memories materialized in postcards, mostly written and circulated, here presented on a table.
Veronika Kellndorfer (Stilted House, 2017) picks up Bardi’s legacy, using the easel to explore a sequence of tautologies where a monochromatic photograph of Casa de Vidro, in its exuberance of transparencies and reflections, is printed on a glass plate that, in turn, works as-as a giant slide whose image is screened on the gallery wall, instilling in the visitor an uncertainty that shatters any trust in the notion of finitude and in the stability of photographic images.
Here we are confronted with the humanization of architectural photography, which is not an exclusive feature of contemporaneity, but one that has acquired a new dimension in recent decades, particularly when artists have begun to shift the camera towards the buildings, attaining a de-idealization impossible to achieve by the purest and most feral architecture photography. The tout court architecture photography is archetypal; on the other hand, the examples here included acquire a humanized character by invoking the mundane life. The employee included by Jeff Wall (Morning Cleaning, Mies van der Rohe Foundation, Barcelona, 1999) in his photo summons the image the daily life, where architecture has an important role but is arguably no longer the protagonist.
In this section, both buildings and characters fight for the spotlight. A pre-established narrative, embedded in the images, takes the driver’s seat, a decisive content-fuelled plane and, in many cases, the creation of the image is nothing more than a catalyst for this message, which is often political. Such is the case of Cinema Karl Marx, photographed by Mónica de Miranda, which has a history of inversions of meaning: from a place and symbol of the colonial dolce vita, to an ideological badge and culminating in a poetic veil, woven by its functional decay and emphasized by the enigmatic female figures peeking out from the porch.
Fabrication /Digital Reconstructions
The final section plunges us into a reflection on a new epistemological and ethical field unleashed with Photoshop, unrelentingly worrisome. If photography has always been used as a rhetoric to persuade and manipulate, with the naturalization of a plausible collage – which digital tools have improved – the meaning of the images began to be assembled through a process that now includes new steps.
The works of Isabel Brison and Beate Gütschow rely on the same constructive strategy, however they end up in phenomenologically opposite places. The artists start from cut-outs, from severable fragments of buildings, in order to, through a delicate and thoughtful assembly, construct new buildings in which the plane of expression is absolutely credible and plausible. In Maravilhas de Portugal #3 (2008), rationality prevents us from admitting the coexistence in the same building of incompatible socioeconomic realities. In S Nr.14 (2005) no rationality compels us to reject the truth of the building presented and only our acculturation is able to warn us that it is a modern building, which does not exist, but could have.
Jonathan Lewis’s WalmArt series (2006) is drenched in rhetoric, in which, through the stripped-down pixelization of photographs taken inside a supermarket, we are confronted with the reducing power that marketing exerts over our lives and with the enforced solidness of brands. Lewis tests the limits of simplification in search of the limit state, where images have already lost every single detail without, nevertheless, losing the legibility and the ability to refer us to the reality of our alienated condition as consumers.
One of the great qualities of this exhibition is the laidback character of its curatorship effort, which does not fall into a literal interpretation of both the unifying concept of the exhibition and its internal nuclei, allowing the works to invite us to explore marginal territories which are, therefore, quite fertile.