I recently attended the 2016 Aimia | AGO Photography exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). This superb exhibition is hosted by the AGO in collaboration with Aimia, a Canadian based marketing and analytics company, to recognize extraordinary contemporary photography around the world. The show exhibited the four international finalists: Talia Chetrit (USA), Jimmy Robert (France), Ursula Shulz-Dornburg (Germany), and Elizabeth Zvonar (Canada). Although the artistic processes differ from one artist to the next, the reoccurring idea of the human body and how it is perceived was consistent.

 

The exhibition space is curated beautifully; the work of the 4 finalists flowed rhythmically. The first two artists installed upon entering are Elizabeth Zvonar, her collages of familiar historic masterpieces and Talia Chetrit with her images of the female body. These artists were strategically paired to create an interesting dialogue about the representation of the female figure and the male gaze. Zvonar’s artwork uniquely combines magazine clippings of contemporary pop culture and reproductions of well-known historical artworks. Her photomontages shown in the exhibition speak about the inequities of gender and the female body as a consumable object thus a social norm. One piece stands out when discussing this topic; French Fantasy (2016), shows a faceless rendition of Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque. In this piece, Zvonar takes a feminist stance on the depiction of women, the male gaze, and how the representation of women has always been and still remains unequal in terms of gender. Talia Chetrit takes a far more sensual and personal approach to portray the female body. She often uses herself as the model in her works, and prefers analogue, which contributes in showing the intimate nature of her photography. Chetrit puts the audience behind the lens, gazing at the female subject in various stages of exposure and vulnerability. All in all, the well thought out placement of the works by both of these artists within the same space effectively creates a synergistic movement that speaks about the topic of how the human body is viewed.

 

Moving into the next space, you will find a collection of photo-based works by French artist Jimmy Robert. In this collection of works exhibited, Robert integrates performance, photography, and sculpture into his practice as he explores and tries to exceed the limitations of two and three-dimensional objects. Metallica (2007) is a sculptural piece that blurs the line between two dimensional, three dimensional, and performance art. The metal sculpture alone resembles a free standing, folded piece of large white paper, and the theatrical component includes a choreographed, Forsythe style dance performed in a slow periodic manner. With this work, Robert successfully crosses the boundaries and adds another dimension to bodies of objects: three-dimensionality to flat bodies, and movement to sculptural bodies. The theatrical performance portion of Metallica was done throughout the opening night at the AGO, activating spontaneously while the two-dimensional and three dimension pieces quietly sit in the space.

 

In it’s own separate space in the exhibition, the black and white photographs of Ursula Shulz-Dornburg show architecture that has been riddled by time and history, conversing silently with the humans that occupy them. Shulz-Dornburg has travelled to barren parts of Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Georgia, Iraq, Syria, and Armenia to capture these riveting photographs of decaying buildings, bus stops, people, and homes that have all been affected by various historic events, and political power struggles that help shape the past and the present. Shulz-Dornburg’s photos tell a compelling story about the fragmented architecture and the people who use them; the people in these photos somehow seem to provide warmth and sentiment to the otherwise cold and deteriorating land they live on. Moreover, I find the enclosed walls and the space chosen for this particular collection of work to be very fitting, as it offers a sense of privacy and personal space for the viewers to ponder about and reflect on some of the political events that have affected and touched their lives.

 

The shortlisted artists for the 2016 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize have all shown works that share ideas of how the human body is viewed, used, and affected historically and presently. The flow of the space and the deliberate positioning of artists and their works have not only helped in creating the perfect ambiance, but it has also allowed viewers, like me, to naturally transition from one artist to the next seamlessly.

 

The Aimia | AGO Photography Prize was founded in 2007 by Aeroplan and the AGO with a mission to acknowledge the best Canadian and international contemporary photographers and their works. Since then, there have been eight winners of the grand $50,000 prize from different countries worldwide. Curators, art critics, fellow artists, and art professors from all over the world choose a long list of artists to be considered for the shortlist. A jury of three, led by the Modern and Contemporary Art curator at the AGO, selects the top 4 artists that demonstrated extraordinary growth in the past five years of their practice, to be shortlisted. One of these exceptional photo-based artists will be chosen, by public vote, to win the coveted cash prize.  The show runs from September 7th, 2016 – January 1st, 2017. Votes can be made during the exhibition (on-site at the kiosk) or through the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize website. Get your votes in fast, as the winner will be announced on November 29th, 2016.

AIMIA EXHIBITION REVIEW by Judy Zhong

1. What attracts you to your subject initially when using photography as a medium?

 

Photography is my medium to express myself in different ways. The approach is intuitive. I see places and objects which remind me on latent images of my   past . This triggers off such an energy which drives me to give these places and objects form  through my photography.

 

2. If you could choose one geographic location in the world to shoot in which would it be? Why?


This question was never relevant for me. I never looked for a specific place, the place found me. 

 

3.  What are the limits when using photography as a medium, from your experience?

 

My limits arise from the respective history of the sites I have photographed and the painful confrontation with the new reality of devastation and political restrictions which keep me off from the continuation and reiteration of my work. 

 

4. How do you anticipate your images will impact the future of photography as art, as object, as document?

 

I cannot categorize my work in that way.  Essential for me is to act against the sadness of loss whilst my work contributes to keep the memory. 

  

5. Do other photographers influence your work? If so who inspires/influences you?

 

Spontaneously there are three people who came to my mind: Bernard Rudofsky, author of “Architecture without Architect” from the mid-sixties, Constantin Brancusi in the way he photographed his sculptures and Walker Evans for his documentation on the effects of  the Great Depression in the Southern United States in the 1930s.

1.What attracts you to your subject initially when using photography as a medium?

 

The potential to not totally understand it as an image and having to intervene on it meaning adding or removing, hiding or uncovering; layering its reading.

 

2. If you could choose one geographic location in the world to shoot in which would it be? Why?

 

I think I would love to return to Japan to make a whole series of works not just shooting but looking into paper production, wood and think about form and content. A bit like with food in Japan when the plate what you eat and its look and taste are in harmony.

 

3.  What are the limits when using photography as a medium, from your experience?

 

Its flatness and its failure to actually represent; this has always kept me restless as well as the absence of porosity; this and the sense of it being a meditation on death but these limits to me are the beginning for an interesting conversation.

 

4. How do you anticipate your images will impact the future of photography as art, as object, as document?

 

I am not that arrogant to think it can possibly impact the future of photography but I would be happy if someone somewhere sees it and rethinks the way they approach it as an object and maybe eventually gives up on the preciousity/anality...get their hands a bit dirty...I am not totally there yet myself...


5. Do other photographers influence your work? If so who inspires/influences you?

 

Whomever challenges my views; generally mostly other women and others who represent themselves when they don't think they have a voice of their own or are not heard, photographers who poetically manage to teach you to look, listen and pay attention...the list is long...

1.What attracts you to your subject initially when using photography as a medium?

 

The actual subject of my work is secondary to my interest in exploring both the power dynamic between the subject and the photographer; and the persuasive and intimate relationship of the camera with what it documents--whether it’s my family, my lover or myself.

 

2. If you could choose one geographic location in the world to shoot in which would it be? Why?

 

Geographical location is not a primary consideration in my work. As my images are largely about the relationship between the subject, the photographer and the camera, I mostly shoot in my studio, which is an ideal controlled environment. 

 

3.  What are the limits when using photography as a medium, from your experience?

 

The limits of photography are the source of my inspiration. I am particularly interested in exploiting some of the limits -- the constrained frame and the isolation of time-- to explore how these boundaries create their own agendas and fictions. 

 

4. How do you anticipate your images will impact the future of photography as art, as object, as document?

 

The impact of my images in the future is hard for me determine. I hope that those who see my work now will find something meaningful and raw and that the work will inspire a conversation about agency and vulnerability.

 

5. Do other photographers influence your work? If so who inspires/influences you?

 

There are many photographers and filmmakers that have influenced me at different times. Current influencers include sociologists, psychologists, and complex relationships.

1.What attracts you to your subject initially when using photography as a medium?

I like to use images are familiar and ubiquitous. My sources tend to be art history texts to advertising found in fashion magazines. I build my collages through layering and editing and then I scan, flatten and enlarge and then print out on a photo paper

 

2. If you could choose one geographic location in the world to shoot in which would it be? Why?

I approach the medium from a different perspective. Although I do take photographs I do not consider myself a technical expert in the medium just to clarify my position on photography. To answer your question non-specifically, deserts are pretty magical. 

 

3.  What are the limits when using photography as a medium, from your experience?

I use images in popular magazines and books to make new pictures. There aren't really any limitations. 

 

4. How do you anticipate your images will impact the future of photography as art, as object, as document?

I make images that I hope garner a thoughtful second look and/or a moment of confused familiarity in the present tense. It's really difficult to project an impact on a future audience.