There seems to be a special kind of light here in Arles.
My first day in Arles and it is not easy to know where to start! I go in search of a restaurant for the OCA dinner tomorrow evening. The hotel direct me to rue de Docteur and it is here that I come across the office where one gets tickets for the festival. By chance, I meet another OCA student called Rob Seabridge whom I had expected to meet last night.
The first exhibition we visit is called “Between the Lines” (from Pliny the Elder’s adage – Not a day without a line)at the Chapelle du Mejan by an Italian Giuseppe Penone who is not by profession a photographer but has made some interesting studies; they are accompanied by sculpture and an installation of a pile of dried leaves into which a body has impressed itself since “The imprint is a thing that everyone leaves around them, and which we spend a part of our lives trying to erase. It is an animal image, a material image, but also a completely cultural image.” The sculptures are of trees made from trees while there is also a large stone. Penone has “the desire to establish a relationship of equals between himself and things.”
The first series of black and white prints has no obvious theme other than woodland and it is not clear what they are about. However, the next group of 19 photos show a white cloud drifting through woodland; a little more easy to relate to as there is at least a common theme. The curator, Frederic Paul, has written of “19 photos representing white swarms floating on a background of underwood … an artist aiming to the immaterial … with strong lungs, which swarms that fray show the capacity of.” (The translation is a bit vague!)
Another group consists of 16 photos of an identical head and shoulder portraits except for the eyes, the irises of which have been altered; they all show the reflection of a street but in each image something different is happening within the street. To the left of this group is a much larger image from the series showing only the eyes.
There is a series of 14 black and white photos showing light in a persons hands. Since these are actually negative impressions the light was originally darkness!
Another series of black ad white photographs show potatoes in the ground. Some of these have been sculpted. There is a photograph showing someone digging the potatoes which helps to give some sense of perspective on the whole piece. These are well made prints.
Upstairs, there is another floor showing a tableau of smaller prints which cover the subject of the whole body. Most of these frames contain 36 prints, the old size of a roll of 35mm film. Another couple of images show a pair of hands; in each picture, one hand is dusty. There is the obvious sign of texture!
Following this, Rob Seabridge and I have a drink, look through a large bookshop containing photographic books particularly ones relevant to the festival and then go for lunch. During lunch, Rob says something very poignant about the way he finds it difficult to gauge the intent of photographers. I could not agree more and it is often a stumbling block to my understanding work.
Rob and then wander off to see an exhibition called Dissonance by Lee Ufan that contains no photographs but does have a monotone icon that occurs repeatedly in a group of pictures upstairs in the gallery; downstairs there are a series of rooms containing rocks lit by spotlight and some metal work. These materials were all specially chosen and will be returned to the places they came from unless purchased as part of a work of art. Music containing gongs sounding plays in the background.
Lee Ufan is also a theoretician of the Mono-Ha (School of Things) movement while Penone was a member of the Arte Povera movement which used simple materials gleaned from nature. Ufan is at a stage where he attempts to make a lesson through his art which has gained international recognition.
Rob and I part after this to spend much of the afternoon back at our hotels until the evening when we meet up with other OCA students and have a snack dinner at a snack bar. We are 6 (4 of whom either own or owned a property in France). Tomorrow evening, it’ll be nearer to 20!
Spending the first day looking at work with the emphasis on art rather than photography feels like a good start! it also relates to nature, a theme I expect to be exploring during the festival.