On the Border of Equivalent Aesthetics and Index Theory
- Portrait, Still Life and Space -
The most embarrassing aspect in the appreciation of photography as a form of art is the factual information flooding in the space of the picture. That 'kind' information is too dictating to give any room for ordinary appreciation of such an art form. It is more so when it comes to the photographs that capture people, still life and space in their frames.
It might be easier to find the process of art appreciation through the conceptual pictures after 1970s, renowned for their attempts to enlarge the objects and for their surrealistic expressions. Because the process of photo appreciation of those days cann be taken as the appreciation of the contemporary art. We are now all very much familiar with the form of contemporary art. Here, those photographs can be simply understood as body of art works using film instead of colors, and camera instead of the brushes.
Originally photography was born as an equivalent to a fact for a record and/or an evidence. In other words, the essence of the photography was something containing that really existed - be it the moment or the space. The fundamental desire of the photograph is, from Nadar's standard ID photos to Ruff's architectural ones, to recreate the fact. The proper appreciation of the realistic photograph should precede any pretentious appreciation of the conceptual photos. Otherwise, as Henri Bergson put it, the photography will forever remain as a slave to science and art.
Thankfully, since 20th century, the ways to read photography have undergone changes, leaving Bergson's assertion one of the nervous reactions in the past. At the beginning of these changes of viewpoints lie the realism photography. This brings us to the belief that the aesthetic certainty towards the realism photography is a prerequisite for the theorization of discourses on modern photography in its various forms and styles.
Then what is the realism photography at all? Images reproduced by the photos tend to be realistic any way. Isn't it a tautology then? Not quite. If you ratiocinate the meaning of realistic photography based on the Impressionism or the Realism appeared in the art history in the 19th century, one comes to realize that realism is not simplay a matter of recreating the appearance.
Courbet's realism is more Naturalism than Realism. Considering the fact that the word realism refers the context of the reality, realistic photography can be understood in relation to the reality metaphor. That is to say realistic photography comes from the insight of the metaphor of the reality.
Among the theories on photography, the Equivalent Aesthetics is very useful in comprehending the reality-metaphor, on which Alfred Stiglitz made some pertinent remarks. He regarded the possibility of photographic expression as metaphor for its ability to deliver the facts in a poetic manner. This Equivalent Aesthetics put the equivalent elements such as icon, index, symbols together. Among these elements, index is an important method to understand modern photography with its cultural contents.
Generally speaking, the viewers approach the photo as their own metaphoric projection. Therefore, between the photo, the author and the viewers, a psychological mechanism of equivalence can emerge. That is to say the communication range of a photo exists according to the numbers of the encounter of the spectators and the visual art.
The appreciation of the photography works in this mechanism too. Yet in case of the photography, we still need some proofs to verify the relation between the understanding of the photo and the Equivalent Aesthetics, particularly the Index Theory. The evidences were given by many photographers in their works and voices:
You don't take photographs. You make them. - Ansel Adams
Photography is something that adds technical knowledge to the sensibility and aspiration of the artist. - Alfred Stiglitz
They knew the eyes of the artists were not absolutely objective and the images printed on the paper should be read in various ways. This attitude reminds us of Duchamp's Ready-made which proclaims that the artist's choice itself is the start of any art work. Considering we have no hesitation in regarding Duchamp's as the jewel of a crown in modern art, realistic photography is ,by all means, a form of art, if the viewers' cultural context forms the psychological equivalent mechanism with the art work.
Nowadays this perspective becomes more clear. The concept of Aura raised by Walter Benjamin, and the idea of Punctum coined by Roland Barthes, together with the early theory of Stieglitz, have made the perspective more convincing in the realm of photograph aesthetics. The very Index Theory mentioned above is greatly indebted to Roland Barthes.
Roland Barthes, in his last work Camera Lucida (1980), grasped the work of photography as the state of emotion, which made the discourse on photography very rich. Interestingly Barthes mainly dealt with news photos he investigated as the objects expressing the emotion of subjective spectators. His work anticipated a new form of aesthetics that would enrich realistic photos in the near future.
According to Barthes, the state of emotion was grasped as a cut, which is generally called "punctum". Punctum is extremely illogical, private, and unknowable feeling; It hurts human mind like a pain. It is a subjective pain of a viewer, rather than an objective meaning of a photo, that is centered on.
Photos, merely considered as a copying tool, can be the heart of emotion with the notion of Barthes's punctum. Taken with semiotics of post-structualism, Barthes's idea of punctum opened the theoy of photo index. It should be noted that the idea of index, i.e., meaning-bearer parts with icons and/or symbols in an old equivalent aesthetics.
After Barthes, the Index Theory developed more and raised a certain relation between indexes. This relation is not rational; Rather, it is based on an ontic concept. In other words, the index of photos, especially of realistic photos, is not the realm of rationality, because it is the index of feeling corresponding to physical circumstances.
The aesthetics of equivalence is not the kind of the theory of photo index. Although a photo might contain a framework of meaning as well as a system of signs, it shoud be based on the logic of aesthetics. On that reason those who are familiar with pure arts may have difficulties in viewing photos.
We propose Dutch Insight, hoping that we can find a clue to reading Korean modern photos with a new perspective. 17 out of 19 photographers participating Dutch Insight make portraits and still photos. Portraits and still photos are the basis of realistic photos, which is an initial step to photo aesthetics. Spectators can directly grasp what pictures offer, and at the same time can have emotions in their own cultural context, not in a rational or cognitive organ. Especially, portraits delivers a system of meaning in the Equivalent Aesthetics as well as an unspecific tint of emotion in the theory of index.
The image of a modern man, who is destined to be unavoidably isolated and communicated as a social animal, is somewhat different from the image of Baudelaire's narcism. Unlike the sky and landscape, a human image can offer a highly complicated structure of metaphor. Besides a human image can invoke complicated feeling of spectators.
For human beings, of course, human themselves are more familiar than Duchamp's urinal. Photographers see human beings with their own perspectives. Therefore, although photographic images are factual, we hope to search an index of ontology, rather than an object in a logical straitjacket. This is why we use the word "Insight" in naming the exhibition.
Then why Dutch portraits? The expectations lay in the historic texture when understanding of the process of photographic theorization and all the other formation of discourses in arts. Dutch portraits, as seen in the 15th century Dutch paintings represented by Jan van Eyck and the 17th century portraits under the influence of Calvinism's practical and realistic approach, follow the tradition of realism royal to the civic society.
Rembrandt and Van Gogh are two of many Dutch painters who have shaped the historic and aesthetic backgrounds of modern Dutch portraits. The enormous amounts of references archived in the history of Dutch portraits are the driving force of the high positioning of portraits in the field of modern Dutch photography.
Maybe that is why Korean portraits are not properly appreciated among critics not to mention in the art markets. Identity is a theme very popular in the field of visual arts. But one cannot say that it has been getting along well with Korean portraits.
When you look up the history of Korean art, you will find that people in Koryo dynasty used the word photo for the portraits and the 19th century Koreans who imported modern photography picked up the term photo to describe a portrait. Like many other countries, the beginning of modern history of Korean photography was also the portraits.
The history of Korean art shows the extra efforts put into the depiction of trauma scattered in the lives of the sitters. This means that the portrait played an crucial part in the history of Korean art with a power to convey the Equivalent Aesthetics and the Index Theory all together. In fact, Dutch portrait secured its place in the history of Dutch art thanks to the historical consciousness and ingenuity of the Dutch artists. They have created original Dutch portraits while theorizing the photography on the border of the meaning and the symptom.
This exhibition tries to put a spotlight on the value of the portrait in light of the Equivalent Aesthetics and the Index Theory. The wants to reassure the fact that portrait is the foundation of any realistic photo works. It also attempts to follow the track in the formation of the aesthetic discourse in photography, which has been the most effective supporter to the photography in its acquisition of the status of art. Most of all the purpose of this exhibition would elucidate the vision of Korean portraits in global sense.
Exhibition Title: The Netherlands contemporary photo & video
Curator: Willem van Zoetendaal & Min-seong Kim
style cube zandari
Daejeon Municipal Museum of Arts
Target Audience: Korean audience & artists based on photographs
Venue: 1. 1st exhibition : Kumho Museum, Seoul
(director : Park, Kangja)
2. 2nd exhibition : Daejeon Municipal Museum of Arts, Daejeon (director : Lee, Jiho)
Duration: 1. 1st exhibition : Kumho Museum
16th. December. 2005 ~ 27th. January. 2006
2. 2nd exhibition : Daejeon Municipal Museum of Arts
24th. February. 2006 ~ 9th. April. 2006.
Expected works: 19 artists
74 works (75 photos + 4 video works (installation) + 1 slide projection (11 slides peices)
1) Rineke Dijkstra 2) Céine van Balen 3) Koos Breukel 4) Annaleen Louwes 5) Bertien van Manen 6) Carla van de Puttelaar 7) Marijin de Jong 8) Mark van den Brink 9) Maarten van Schaik 10) Marjoleine Boonstra 11) Jasper wiedeman 12) Gabor Ösz 13) Diana Scherer 14) Melanie Bonajo 15) Leo Divendal 16) Harold Strak 17) Paul Kooiker 18) Sara Blokland 19) Arno Nollen
Event In Seoul
a. Artist's talk: 16th December 2005. 3:00 pm, Museum hall
Panel artists: Paul Kooiker and Harold Strak
b. Art Forum: 17th December 2005. 5:00pm, Museum hall
Panel: Wiiem van Zoetendaal & Minseong Kim (curator), Young June Lee(critic), Hyung Kuen Oh (photographer, Korean) In Daejeon
Artist's talk: 24th February 2006 3:00pm
Panel artists: Marjoleine Boonstra Jasper Wiedeman
Art Forum: 25th February 2005 5:00pm
Panel: Wiiem van Zoetendaal & Minseong Kim (curator), Young June Lee(critic) or Juseok Park (critic), Kyungwoo Chun (photographer, Korean)
Support & Sponsorship:
Art Council Korea.
JVC (electronic company)
CIDO ltd. (shipping company)
Baslt (publication company)
Art in culture (monthly art magazine)
Liberte. Ltd (convention company)
Abstract: "Dutch Insight" shows contemporary photos and Video works from the Netherlands. This exhibition is consisted in works of Dutch young artists. And you could meet Dutch photos by several established artists. Most of works participated in are portrait photos. When Korea imported photos, we called photos 'SAJIN' which we had called as Portrait painting for a long time. In the beginning of expansion of photo in Korea, our ancients thought main meaning of photo was portrait. That's why we can say "Korean Photos started from Portrait." In spite of this history, we cannot find many valuable portrait photographs. Korean photographers rather focus toward landscapes and still life or architect which is influenced by German photo style. The staring point of thinking about our exhibition was "Why we don't have many portrait photographs". That's why we had to look foreign portrait photos which are built up on the stream of contemporary arts successfully.
Finally, we could find them in the Dutch photography. Above all, their portrait photos are based on their portrait painting history which have developed from 17century for instance, Rembrandt, Van Gogh etc. We have portraits painting in rich. At once, we would like to find good way for establishing our portrait photos on the stream of Korean contemporary photography as through this .