The black comb-binding club



David Kennedy Cutler and Sara Greenberger Rafferty,  PAPER CUTS 2

David Kennedy Cutler and Sara Greenberger Rafferty, PAPER CUTS 2

In the southeast corner of the book fair’s dense acreage—a booth-city large enough to have separate districts for collectables, glossy monthlies, photobooks, zines, porn—was Paper Cuts 2, a display by artists David Kennedy Cutler and Sara Greenberger Rafferty. Hung on the wall above boxes of faux kale and cast iPhones, on peeling wallpaper decorated with blue OS X folders, were six pads of tear-sheets, across which marched columns of PDF icons. Texts by Abate, Michelle; Abing, Hans; Acconci, Vito; and Ackerman, Chantal; preceded dozens by Adorno, Theodor and Benjamin, Walter, in a seamless flight of perfectly laid-out documents—a digital realization, seemingly, of the mechanized library envisioned by Fuller, Buckminster. (Indeed, each text is marked with a green Dropbox icon: successfully shared.) Scanned or otherwise exported from print, each file bore a tiny picture of its first page, top corner folded over as if turning, a strip of black comb binding along the left edge. Amid this proliferation of the art-critical canon, which in six posters barely gets into the Bs, the little texts propose a literally iconic relationship to “real” binders of the sort containing reports, fakebooks, classroom readers—semi-legal compilations for “educational use only.” This detailed PDF icon is Apple’s latest embellishment to the metaphor of the “desktop,” that indispensable surface of human/machine interaction. Even as it evaporates into the cloud, text clings to the suggestion of depth, weight, and substance.

Super String Theory, Candace Hicks, 2014

Super String Theory, Candace Hicks, 2014

With Rafferty’s prints as map, one could imagine floating over the fair, above the museum’s many partitions, afforded a perfectly perpendicular view of booths and wares locked to what from this height looks like an orthogonal grid. Yet the “feel” of books is surely one reason for their continued popularity. It’s tempting to see the enthusiastic throngs at the latest LA Art Book Fair, the city’s third, as evidence that print is here to stay. From the ground, the fair spilled over into a dizzying variety of tactile objects—books, posters, zines, stickers, sculptures, drawings, tote bags, even foods—many of which resisted any clean transmutation into binary data. A book of photographs of camouflage screens by Jason Vaughn, for example, came courtesy of TBW Books in a limited-edition wooden box, sealed with a uniquely marred piece of real plywood. Candice Hicks unveiled her Super String Theory, a cloth facsimile of a ruled notebook in which every letter and drawing has been embroidered in thread. A photo by Allen Ruppersberg, however, caddishly propped beside the entrance of the “classroom” (formerly the museum’s reading room, presently cleared of printed matter), perhaps summed up a weary undercurrent: depicting the artist supporting a wavering stack of thick tomes, its title is Too Many Books.

Providing a welcome break from glassy-eyed browsing, the classroom’s discursive program narrowed the fair’s expanded field into a series of presentations, with everyone from artist Lucas Blalock to Bidoun magazine pushing their latest projects. On hand on Saturday afternoon to share their current research with a packed room of sweaty fairgoers were two representatives from the trend-forecasting artist group K-HOLE (whose reports, incidentally, appear on their website as enlarged icons of PDFs fastened by black comb bindings). Best known for spawning the “normcore” meme in the fashion world, they took this unintended proliferation and distortion of their term as the starting point of their talk, which speculated on how their concept of “basic” fashion became, a couple of years later, the misguided “Dress Normal” ads for Gap clothing. One hypothesis was that streamlined, simplified ideas are better primed for transmission than rich ones. Too much context prompts people to parse and parse again, until context falls away. Perhaps, too, there were once fewer “outlets” in the media, restricted to reliable voices and thinkers, while today—witness the sprawl of the LAABF—there are as many pundits as there are people. The group terms the heat death that follows Consensus Collapse. Not that this is a bad thing—or a good one. K-HOLE, like any self-respecting (self-reflexive) think tank, frame their observations with ambivalence. And it does seem true that the current intellectual biome favors those small but sturdy ideas able to survive a harsh separation from context. K-HOLE noted, not without pleasure, that the Gap campaign was a failure—and indeed, how could an idea so hopelessly abstracted from its original complexity hope to register anything more than desperation? Normcore, which became, simply, “New Yorkers dressing like midwesterners,” started as a utopian strategy born of “the belief that we can still control our symbols,” and thus still transmit meaning, even amid the present overload. But how? With artists, maybe, as forecasters and guides.

LAABF teemed with folks who still value a complex context over legibility; the content of a carefully crafted book remains irreducible to viral form. The fair itself, though, as an abstract whole—not so much. Dozens of photos on Instagram tagged with #LAABF show a set of prints dominating another neighborhood of the fair: the letters CRYING AT THE ORGY, superimposed on roses. Ironic it is not—ambivalent, yes. It is an ambivalent age, after all, that joins print products in the Internet of Things.

On the way to the ramp leading up to the mezzanine was The Book Machine, an instant micropublishing effort: visitors could bring and output their very own books—from PDFs, of course. Elsewhere, a psychic laser printer by designer Becca Lofchie answered yes or no questions. How did it work? This digital oracle was powered by a twenty-sided die. Forget sales and attendance numbers: such a glib magic act was as good a predictor as any for the coming state of art books. Meanwhile, one thing is certain: for three and a half days, the LAABF codified with almost meme-like clarity exactly what you, young creative, should be doing with your weekend. K-HOLE darkly hinted as much when they screened parts of lifestyle ads by AT&T and Zara, in which weirdly well-off freelancers drift through bright white live-work spaces, passing over the crisply kerned tools of their trades. As if you required more proof that the products you now “need” in order “not to fail” in your unmoored and artsy profession go not on your bookshelves, but on your desktop.

Still from K-HOLE’s research presentation at the LAABF (image courtesy of K-HOLE)

Still from K-HOLE’s research presentation at the LAABF (image courtesy of K-HOLE)

Travis Diehl is an artist and writer living in Los Angeles. His video work has been shown at Curtat Tunnel, Lausanne; Anthony Greaney, Boston; Human Resources, Los Angeles; and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. His writing appears in P&Co, Night Papers, X-TRA, Salon, and Artforum. He is a 2013 recipient of the Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant. He edits the artist-run arts journal Prism of Reality.


Objektiv #10

In this issue, Charlotte Cotton and Bjarne Bare use the term ‘Post-photo- graphy’ when talking about the new picture generation, and the legendary Nan Goldin claims that with the advance of the digital, photography is dead. These comments beg the question: is the time for magazines like Objektiv over?

In #10 we investigate the context within which photography positions itself – the medium-specific galleries, fairs and magazines like our own. Do these contribute to a ‘photo ghetto’, as photo historian Mette Sandbye and curator Jens Erdmann Rasmussen term it in these pages, or are they necessary for a true understanding of photography?

This need to re-evaluate happens every so often in the life of this young medium: in our five-year existence we have witnessed several similar reconsiderations. Two years ago, Aperture’s new editor-in-chief Michael Famighetti relaunched the magazine in order to keep it fresh and to reflect how much had changed in both photography and publishing over the last decade. In this issue, Famighetti makes a strong argument for maintaining these medium-specific places: “Photography occupies a very large, generous tent and touches on so many other fields; it occupies a place in daily life that other art forms, like painting, don’t.”

The festivals are also changing. Several large art galleries like Gagosian have begun to exhibit at the famous Paris Photo, narrowing the gap between art and photography, and Rencontres d’Arles has appointed a new director, Sam Stourdzé, who takes on the job after five years as the director of another photo institution, Musée d’Elyseé. In our interview, he tells me that he believes he can bring the magic back to Arles. He intends to bring other media into the festival in order to create a wider dialogue, something we are seeing in many of the special galleries for lens-based art. 

What responsibility do the specialist photo galleries have today, and how can they open up the debate on the medium? This summer, I saw The Pale Fox by Camille Henrot at Charlottenborg in Copenhagen, now showing in Paris, and it was refreshing to experience such a well-con- sidered show. We are happy to include an interview with Henrot in this issue, where she talks about her use of the space with an installation that tells multiple narratives at once, mixes different genres and gives such a complete experience that it makes one optimistic for the medium’s future. It’s interesting that Henrot’s show was in a kunsthalle and not in a photo gallery, and the exhibition demonstrates how curators of me- dium-specific galleries need to open their minds to new ways of telling a story within the white cube. The time for beautiful photos, mounted democratically in a line on the gallery wall has passed. If photo galleries can’t give us such mind-blowing experiences, perhaps their time is up.

And maybe our time has passed too. But there are signs that this is not the case. When we launched the very first issue of Objektiv five years ago, our mission was to act like a time-capsule, documenting where contem- porary lens-based art is today. We adopted a gallery-in-a-journal format, where we could show, discuss and challenge photography, film and video art. Since the beginning we have asked artists to reflect on the medium in conversations with other artists, and for every issue we have invited an artist to make an exhibition within the magazine. Morten Andenæs, was the very first to be featured in these pages, and we have invited him back for this edition to talk about photography together with the American photographer Lucas Blalock. They offer their thoughts on the status of photography, calling it a ‘pubescent’ medium. This gives us hope that the medium is nowhere near ‘Post-photography’ and that there is much to come in the future, and still much to discuss.

As I write these words, the art-book store Printed Matter has just finished its annual book fair at MoMAPS1, this year with a focus on Norway and drawing over 30,000 people. Many collectors come back year after year to buy books, zines and magazines like ours, assuring us that such materials are essential platforms for the photographer. It was a fantastic celebration for printed art, and in many ways a confirmation of the importance of Objektiv’s continued existence.

Nina Strand

Founder / Editor-in-chief 



Nina Strand from Landskrona Photofestival. 

This text can also be found in Debris Fanzine issue # 2 : Photographic documentary: observation and time. Out now!

Sara Skorgan Teigen,  Fractal State of Being, 2014, Journal

Sara Skorgan Teigen,  Fractal State of Being, 2014, Journal


There are photos everywhere, on the ground, at the beach, hanging on the wall near my hotel. I am overwhelmed as I arrive at the dinner held in the big party tent, having missed the talks by Lesley A. Martin, editor of Aperture, Kim Knoppers, curator at Foam Museum, and Christian  Caujolle from Vu. I am seated next to curator Ann-Christin Bertrand from C/o Berlin, who will give the opening speech a little later. She is given a disposable camera by the curators of the festival, Thomas H. Jonhsson and JH Engström, to hand on to one of the festival’s main exhibitors, Rinko Kawauchi, who will take two images with it and then pass it on to one of the other artists. There is an announcement that the winner of the Lewenhaupt-grant 2014 is 18-year-old Sander Broström, whose work will be shown at Landskrona Museum. There’s a storm outside, the tent shakes, and we’re worried that the chandeliers will fall down. Broström nevertheless takes the stage and says he’s extremely happy, and we all applaud and move over to Landskrona Konsthall for the grand opening. This year the main exhibition is all female, featuring work by Nan Goldin, Bertien van Manen, Rinko Kawauchi and Eva Klausson.

In her speech, Bertrand informs us that Landskrona will open a museum of photographic history next year, and then she goes on to talk about the iphone/selfie generation while several audience members document her speech with their ipads. Kawauchi is given her camera and we all move inside the gallery to see the works on show. I sit through Goldin’s slideshow The Ballad of Sexual Dependency twice and have New York City on my mind for the rest of the evening. I can't watch Moment agency’s incredible slideshow later without comparing it to the hardships endured by Goldin and her friends.


In the morning at the hotel I meet the Norwegian artist Sara Skorgan Teigen and see her book Fractal State of Being for the first time. Teigen, together with her publisher Gösta Flemming from Journal, as well as Knut Egil Wang and Ken Grant, will show slides from their brand new books and talk with Engström later in the evening. First on the program is Kawauchi, who greets a full house in the main theatre and talks about her longing for the old magic in the darkroom. Where did it go? Next door to the stage 18 hopeful photographers meet for their portfolio review and outside, the small book tents are slowly opening.

I stroll down the gallery street and see art in seven small pop-up galleries. In gallery number 7 publisher Christian Tunge from Heavy Books has curated his first exhibition, a group show with the Norwegian artists Marthe Elise Stramrud, Geir Moseid, Andrea Johns and Sara Larsen Stiansen. Tunge will also be on stage during the weekend to review photobook dummies, but now I must run to Landskrona Museum to give a lecture myself about how to run a journal like Objektiv. I am given 45 minutes, and my spot is after Van Manen's presentation and just before Goldin’s talk, so I know people will want me to be quick. I rush through 61 slides in 40 minutes and then we all run to get a good seat in the theatre. Goldin is 20 minutes late (time is just an illusion, she says when she arrives) and is greeted like a rock star when she takes the stage. She says photography is dead as a medium, it’s just a video game, and then everyone wants to take her picture.

Afterwards, she spends two hours in the small book tents, listening and talking to all the independent publishers while we eat another lovely dinner and applaud the winner of the portfolio review, Swedish photographer Johan Österholm. And then Goldin and Engström invite me to her hotel to hear more about their thoughts on photography and I hope I’ll remember everything for the next issue of Objektiv.


On the last day, Gallery Breadfield and Tommy Arvidson invite us all to ‘Photobook Sunday’. Editor Jenny Morelli guides participants through presentations of their book dummies before a jury of Christian Tunge, Matilda Plöjel (Sailor Press) and Damien Poulain (OODEE). Plöjel and Poulain will later engage in a conversation on the books together with Anna Strand and Marie Andersson. And finally Greger Ulf Nilson will give a lecture on how to publish a book, ‘generously sharing what he has learned through trial and error’, the program states. Unfortunately, my flight departs too early to attend this, but as I leave the hotel, helping Knut Egil Wang carrying his heavy box containing 18 copies of his brand new book Southbound, I feel very optimistic about photography’s future in general, and the photobook in particular.

Nan Goldin photographed by her friend JH Engström   

Nan Goldin photographed by her friend JH Engström


Words Without Pictures - a conversation between Alex Klein and Milena Hoegsberg

When Milena Hoegsberg, acting chief curator at the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter just outside Oslo, read the book Words Without Pictures (LACMA 2009 / Aperture 2010) she began to ask many questions about a subject that, in her own words, is not her area of expertise. The book, edited by Alex Klein, was conceived in collaboration with curator Charlotte Cotton to create a thoughtful discourse around current issues in photography. Every month for a year, an artist, educator, critic, art historian, or curator was invited to contribute a short, unillustrated, opinionated essay about an emerging or changing aspect of photography. These essays are accompanied by online responses by other photographers, curators and writers as well as transcriptions of live debates.

Stills from The Forgotten Space, Allan Sekula, 2010

Stills from The Forgotten Space, Allan Sekula, 2010

Hoegsberg: Words Without Pictures offers a language to address not just photography itself, but the crisis it might be in. I think this also extends to the lack of a critical framework to determine its aesthetic value under the rubric of visual art. The book has no illustrations – a strategy that both offered a welcome space for inner visualisation and occasionally had me refreshing my mem­ory through Google searches on my phone. I was really struck by the intertextual approach, the way the included texts refer not just to each other, but also to a rich historical discourse on photography. I’m curious about what led up to this publication and to the choice of title.

Klein: I’m glad you responded to the format of the book. That was a very specific and considered decision that was made between myself, Charlotte Cotton and our designer David Reinfurt. Despite its seeming simplicity, and the role of the online component of the project, the objectness of the book was incredibly important to us. We wanted to strip away a pre- conceived photographic language going into the project because we were dealing with so many different types of photography and wanted readers to draw their own conclusions.

The temporal dimension was also key. There’s a running header with the date at the top of each page that always grounds you in time. This is because the project is, in its simplest sense, a document of one year of conversations about photography that happened in person, in public forums, online and through correspondence. It’s no coincidence that the design also resonated with the stripped-down aesthetic of information often associated with classic conceptualism.

The project initially developed out of a website that Cotton was working on called Tip of the Tongue and a one- week symposium and series of events called Around Photo­ graphy that I’d co-organised at the Hammer Museum with the artist James Welling. When we began the project in 2007 there was a feeling of urgency around the shifts in technology in both publishing and photography (believe it or not, it was still a moment when artists had a foot grounded equally in the analogue and the digital) and issues such as the resurgence of abstraction. Because we were based in Los Angeles and running the project out of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) it was deeply rooted in and pivoted around the conversations happening in the local community, which at the time were really exciting and contentious. My core concern, and I think one of my main contributions to Words Without Pictures, was to put different camps who don’t normally communicate in conversation with each other, such as art historians, photographers, ‘artists who use photography’, students, critics, enthusiasts, established artists, emerging artists, etc. I was keen to cross some wires and point to the multiplicity of what are seemingly simple prompts. Ultimately, we weren’t out to answer questions; it was more important to start the conversation and keep it open for continued discussion, which is why I think people still use the book in the classroom.

Hoegsberg: I particularly like your comment that one of the book’s aims was to connect different people in the ‘photo world’ and get them all into the conversation. It seems to me that there’s still a gap between visual artists and people who define themselves as ‘photographers’. Especially now, in the age of image overflow, with sites like Instagram and a proliferation of good amateur photo­graphers making well­composed images – where everyone has a stake in ‘creativity’ – it seems important to insist on the rubric of ‘artist’ and be able to distinguish those who have a legitimate artistic project/practice from the rest.

Klein: It certainly does, but I don’t get quite as worked up about it anymore. Part of the impetus to start the conversa- tions in Around Photography and Words Without Pictures stemmed from my own formative experience as an undergraduate working between the divide of the darkroom and the classroom. It was clear that the photographers privileged one history while the art historians, even when teaching a History of Photography course, were interested in another trajectory all together – it was very instructive for me to toggle between the two. That said, I think that gap is decreasing. It’s true that there is still a photo photo world, but I think there are more photographers working in the art world who navigate and draw from both histories. This has produced a lot of interesting work, but it also enacts a kind of erasure for the next gene- ration, which is something I articulate in my essay in the book. What happens when these histories become so intermingled, just because they look similar on the surface, that the individual stakes and questions that they proposed are muted? I’m fascinated by these kinds of misreadings and I think they can be productive, and also a little upsetting. It’s great that artists / photographers–whatever you’d like to call them–don’t have to walk around with such a big chip on their shoulder anymore, but I also think it’s important to under- stand the lineages of the medium you choose to work with.

As for the ubiquity of photographic images on social media and the web, I’m not really bothered by all of this because it’s always been a part of the medium. Photography has always been in the hands of scientists, explorers, politicians, the media, and especially amateur enthusiasts. In fact, I would argue that it’s precisely the multiplicity and varied uses of photography that make it so compelling. I’m addicted to Instagram, but I’d never mistake it for my studio work.

Hoegsberg: Although the publication is now five years old, many of the ideas feel current. At the same time, the years since have been so characterised by economic down­ turn and political unrest internationally that it seems like more should have changed. What would you add, given the task of writing a postscript or a revised edition today?

Klein: Because our project spanned 2007–08, the economic and political climate was very present for us. There was a sense of urgency that resulted from the US housing collapse, the presidential race and the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. Although I think these issues manifest themselves most clearly in the debates around abstraction, if I had it to do over again I’d try and open the discussion up to even more participants and connect it with a more global conversation. The book was structured in such a way as to encourage respondents to pull out different threads of inquiry and I think it would be inter- esting to see how people would take on some of the same questions from our current perspective. I’m sure the answers would be totally different.

That said, if I have one big regret it’s that the artist Allan Sekula’s involvement in the project isn’t particularly present in the final publication. Originally we met with Sekula and his students from CalArts to discuss facilitating a series of conversations with international artists, but our process was so fast-paced and our resources were so limited that it never materialised. Instead, I invited him and the artist Walid Raad to participate in a conversation that pointed to all kinds of questions about documentary, narrative, war and education. This was a key part of the project and it pains me that we couldn’t include it in the end, especially in light of Sekula’s recent passing.

Hoegsberg: It struck me when I screened Sekula’s film The Forgotten Space (2010) at the Art Academy in Oslo last autumn, how much his films refer to still photo­graphy, and how he uses this to generate a rhythmic narrative that allows his films to enter the discourse of global labour and economics. There’s a richness to how he contributes to the dynamic field between the still and the moving image. I was really fascinated by his work Fish Story (1989–95), which I’ve seen at Tate Britain. It really utilises the temporality inherent in the slide projec­tion, where the timing allows you to settle into each image, and to make connections between the stories. The work was accompanied by an eloquent wall text epilogue (for Mike Davis). To me, it was important that it was Sekula’s own words that framed the work and not the museum’s.

In the  collection exhibition at Tate Modern, his work Waiting for Tear Gas (white globe to black) was installed, again with his own text, advocating an on ­the­ ground, ‘no mask’, anti­journalistic approach. It was so poignant that you almost didn’t need the pictures. It really resonated with your project and the decision not to include images, to allow the discourse to emerge more clearly.

Klein: Absolutely. Captioning and contextualisation are always a big question within photography. Language always contaminates your interpretation of an image and vice versa. In the book, we were wary of images distracting us from the discussions at hand. There are multiple ‘photographies’.

Hoegsberg: I do, however, question the impact of Sekula’s more recent series of documentary photographs of workers, which somehow have never really resonated with me in the same way. I could extend this to a general disenchantment with representational work, but I think particularly when dealing with the issue of labour and the economic structures that underpin it, abstraction or per­formativity seem to generate a more productive field of interpretation.

Klein: One thing I often think about is how complicated it is for an artist who makes a significant contribution to art critical discourse, it puts an enormous amount of pressure on their own work. There is often an unfair expectation that the artwork is there to fulfill the promise of the writing. In any case, I’m right there with you when it comes to the representation of the body of the worker - not necessarily in Sekula specifically, but in contemporary art in general - as a kind of stand-in for leftist politics. We’re all still in shock that Allan is gone, so it’s hard to process it. As you say, I don’t think there’s any denying his importance as a critic, pedagogue, or his prescient bodies of work that traced the flow of global capital and information, such as Fish Story and Dear Bill Gates, or even the formal qualities of a 1970s installation like Aerospace Folktales. Which is all to say that the abstraction of finance doesn’t always have to be nonrepresentational. I’m cer- tainly not advocating a purely documentary mode, but in some instances I think that the proliferation of formal abstract photography that we saw a few years ago was as much a result of imaging the collapse, as it was a blatant capitalisation that was at times both critical of and complicit with the market. At its most extreme it risked a certain cynicism about the state of photography as a medium.

Hoegsberg: Returning to your earlier comment, I think you’re pointing to an important gap between theory and practice, between intention and output, something we all have to be constantly mindful of. As for the candid images in Waiting for Tear Gas, I found the images from the middle of the protest somehow less important than the text that Sekula generated. However, I also understand that this may well be because I’m reading these images through the lens of the last couple of years’ protests and actions around the world, and how they’ve been documented. Smart­phone cameras and ubiquitous internet access have changed the stake for the kind of photography that Sekula advocates in his 1999–2000 project. Works that operate through either representation or abstraction but also through performativity – an awareness of the problems of representation – sometimes seem to be able to sidestep part of this issue. It’s a difficult issue to speak very precisely about, but I wonder if you could expand on these ideas?

Klein: Maybe it’s a third type of abstraction that resides in, or performs, the multiplicity inherent in contemporary image production. Perhaps we could refer to an artist such as Mark Leckey in this respect. But of course, Leckey isn’t a ‘photographer’. But then again I’m not convinced that we can define ‘photography’ so simply. Ten years ago, we understood ‘photography’ to be the product of a camera loaded with film that was printed in a darkroom, and increasingly we under- stand it to be the product of a camera with a digital chip that’s manipulated via a screen. When photography was invented, however, it was referred to as ‘sun-drawn images’: there was the direct imprint of the world or the object on a chemical- coated piece of paper. What I’m getting at is that these are all very different things and yet they’re all called ‘photography’. In photography’s rather short life (175 years or so), it’s gone through so many technological, economic and conceptual changes that I don’t think we can come to a consensus about what we all mean when we say ‘photography’. Personally I’m much more interested in an idea of photography than trying to defend or demarcate a particular territory for a medium that’s physically in constant flux. Perhaps these hybridised practices that we’re discussing are closer to what a contemporary under- standing of the photographic medium is. This is something I’m thinking a lot about now, because I’m working on a survey of the artist Barbara Kasten’s work. I was just listening to an interview she gave in 1982, where she voices her frustration at being categorised as a photographer when the sculptural part of her work is equally as important.

Hoegsberg: I only recently learned of Kasten’s ama­zing work, but I’m enthused by her dynamic compositions that have a performative quality and the complex meeting of sculpture and photography in her work. Tell me more about how you came to her work, and the exhibition you’re working on.

Klein: It’s actually related to Words Without Pictures in a way. I’d first encountered Kasten’s work in my photography education – she often comes up when you begin learning about colour and lighting – I was reminded of her work around 2007 with the resurgence of photographic abstraction. Some of the work being produced by younger artists around that time was similar to Kasten’s in terms of the questions she was raising about process and photographic representation, but she wasn’t being widely acknowledged. I felt her work was ahead of the curve in terms of straddling different media in tandem with her particular conceptual and formal ways of working. So basically, the more I got to know her, the more her story became increasingly complex and compelling. Her formation develops out of an unexpected intersection of Bauhaus arts pedagogy in the US, California Light + Space, and postmodern concepts relating to representation and architecture. She was older than the ‘Pictures Generation’ artists, so she ended up showing in a post-minimal context and then she got categorised as a ‘photographer’. I don’t think the market or institutions were able to accommodate her kind of hybridised practice at the time. Now I have an incredible opportunity to work with her directly here at the ICA [Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania] to present a survey of her work for the first time and highlight the strong resonance of her work for a younger generation of contemporary artists.

Although Kasten is primarily know for her Constructs of the 1980s – Polaroids and Cibachromes that depict brightly coloured sculptural installations staged for the camera and produced through elaborate lighting techniques – there’s so much rich work produced before and after. For example, she was operating in an ambitious directorial mode in the mid- 1980s with her Architectural Sites photographs, where she worked with a cinematic lighting crew to illuminate and photograph the latest postmodern buildings and sites of globalised capital and culture, whether museums or the World Financial Center. The exhibition will also feature some of her early fibre sculptures and luscious cyanotypes, as well as presenting her collaboration with dancers, her sculptural video work, and the new minimally abrasive photographs that she’s been making for the last seven years or so. Which is to just say that it’s important not only to show the multiple connections in her work through various media, but also to contextualise her as a contemporary figure. Here’s a woman in her late seventies with an incredible body of work behind her, but she’s still very active and the new work is really good.

Hoegsberg: There’s something very rewarding about an artist’s older work striking a chord in the present, and also to see someone who represents a practice that spans decades, in a time when commercial structures are obsessed with discovering new young talent. It sometimes seems as if we think that artists under thirty­five have a monopoly on the contemporary.

Klein: Contemporary art is so often hinged to a sense of the ‘new’, or at least the ‘right now’, which I think is partially a result of its attachment to the market. Some artwork needs time to come into its own and take on new resonances; perhaps it was ahead of the curve or so in sync with its moment that you couldn’t see it when it was made. In the case of Kasten, she’s still producing compelling and relevant work, which is made even more interesting by the decades of work that preceded it.

Hoegsberg: In Venice last year, I was struck by how much work seemed to be engaging the digital and how many video works had a very crisp sculptural composi­ tional language, referring to the photographic (Duncan Campbell, Camille Henrot etc). I find myself wanting to know more about sculpture and film that refers to photo­ graphy (Tamara Hendersen), or photography that positions itself as sculpture (Elad Lassry, and Corin Swoon in the Scottish Pavillion 2013) or in relation to performance (Corin Hewitt).

Klein: I’m hesitant to talk about stylistic trends, but I do think that there’s an ever-increasing interest in the multifaceted nature of image production and dissemination, which might have more to do with the impact of the web than with conventional photography. But then again, as I mentioned earlier, I’m not sure that all of these categories are so distinct right now. One thing all of the artists you mention have in common is that they enact a kind of multivalence of photographic meaning and question the agency of a kind of imaged authorship in different ways, whether through voiceovers, archives, found images or commercial practices.

Hoegsberg: As Getty has just made 10,000 images from its collection available online, to be shared, altered and disseminated, I’m curious whether you feel online platforms are productive for the discourse of photography today?

Klein: If there’s one thing I learned from Words Without Pictures, it’s that the web has its own distinctive temporality and discursive properties. Sometimes it helps to try and slow it down a bit, and sometimes you should just embrace its crazy associative potential. But I’m also a firm believer in print publications and in-person conversations. The web is just one tool for production and distribution. I think we’d be remiss to think otherwise.

Hoegsberg: One last question: you’re currently in­ volved in the Hillman Photography Initiative, a special project within the photography department of Carnegie Museum of Art. Can you tell me a bit more about this?

Klein: Although the Hillman Photography Initiative is in its nascent stages, so far it’s been really exciting. Right now it’s basically operating as a think tank that will bring together a rotating group of artists, curators, critics and scientists to develop a multifaceted project. We’ve been given a lot of free- dom to dream together and I’m excited about the direction it’s taking.


Alex Klein is an artist and a curator at the ICA in Philadelphia where her survey exhibition of artist Barbara Kasten will open in February 2015. This conversation is from Objektiv #8. Images below are from the series Scene and the series Architectural Sites, Barbara Kasten. 

Objektiv #9


Objektiv #9

We titled this issue Archive Art in order to look into how different artists work with archive. 

This is not a new tendency in contemporary art, but several recent exhibitions and institutional initiatives, both in Norway and internationally, indicate that there are many artists who work with found material. Perhaps the lack of physical presence makes the photograph seem absent, and that this is why we are drawn to the archive. With contributions from artists like Haris Epaminonda&Daniel Gustav Cramer, Helene Sommer, Emil Salto and Jumana Manna, we hope to get a bigger picture of the tendency.




The Infinite Library - Q&A with Daniel Gustav Cramer and Haris Epaminonda

Interviewed by Tiago Bom


At Documenta 13, the exhibition The End of Summer by Daniel Gustav Cramer and Haris Epaminonda extended vertically along two floors and the attic of a former office building behind Kassel’s train station. The carefully orchestrated progression of works included an array of books, photographs, found images, statuettes, 8mm films, among other ‘surgically’ displayed imagery. It was like entering a space where time had stood still and contemplation reigned. Within this ethereal juxtaposition of images, accessibility had to be constantly negotiated through spatial constraints and other artifices of placement. In a similar way, the artists’ ongoing archival project, The Infinite Library (started in 2007), tries to make a very particular sense of the heritage of images and texts belonging to the history of printed matter.

Tiago Bom: Your Documenta exhibition was one of those rare presentations that I recall vividly long after experiencing it. I was not only mentally immersed in the work, which made me lose track of my geographical situation, but there was a very natural synergy between both of your interventions. At times, I thought I was experiencing work by the same person. When and how did you start collaborating?

Daniel Gustav Cramer and Haris Epaminonda: We met in 2001 at the Royal College of Art in London, on the first day of our studies. We gradually became best friends and later, around 2006, we worked on our first collaboration, an online project titled The Beehive. In the beginning, we were living in different places and talked about our thoughts and troubles for hours on the phone. Later, when we started living in the same city, we continued to do this, and still do today. This has probably made us very sensitive to each other’s work. The situation in Kassel was very particular, since we don't usually collaborate in this way. Actually, that exhibition was one of three such shows, the other two at Kunsthalle Lissabon in 2012 and Samsa, Berlin, in 2010. Perhaps our closeness has helped us to find the right balance in pushing and pulling the individual works to attain this unity in the space; in a way, we’ve created a third language.


Bom: The notion of archive and found/collected material seems to be a recurrent idea in your works, especially in the Infinite Library. How has this process affected your general practice and this project in particular?

Cramer & Epaminonda: We both, in different ways, look at what’s there in the world around us. Both of us enjoy browsing through books – this is where The Infinite Library began. Haris loves to collect  – vases, images and objects of all kinds of cultures and eras – and Daniel loves collections themselves, their particularities, especially when they’re incomplete or attempting the impossible.

Bom: The choice of books and images seems to focus mainly on a specific set of decades. Is there a particular reason for this selection?

Cramer & Epaminonda: For us, there are two main reasons why we focus more on books from certain periods. Firstly, it’s the quality of the paper, the printing, the original sources (Kodachrome, etc). Nowadays every printer tells you the same thing: ‘The quality of the paper is decreasing year by year.’  The other reason is the level of abstraction. A contemporary photograph is very close to today. A photograph from the 1980s is somehow connected to our childhoods. Older pictures have this feeling of coming from another time – although depicting what we can relate to, they remain quite abstract.

Bom: It seems that the title and the nature of the project alludes to Jorge Luis Borges’ work. Did you draw inspiration from his writings? 

Cramer & Epaminonda: One of Borges’ short stories, The Garden of Forking Paths, describes a vast library filled with books with all the letters, punctuation and spacing organised randomly and without meaning. This library is made up of hexagonal rooms. Each room has walls full of shelves, mirrors and doors to the next rooms. Every day, people walk into the library to search for one specific room, somewhere deep inside the library, which is filled with books that give all possible answers – a room that’s never found. In a sense, one could say that The Infinite Library inverts this narrative. For us, it’s a liberating moment to open a book, written by an individual mind, and connect it with another, constructed by someone else. When these two poles come together, you establish an open conversation of fragments where a certain level of authorship still remains, but it acts within another structure: that of the newly created book. Each book is rebound and numbered.

Bom: Also, when considering your infinite library, I can't help but think of André Malraux's ideas, in particular the book trilogy Le Musée imaginaire de la sculpture mondiale. There, within the layout, images are at times freed from a conventional historical association based on time and geography. Do you have any specific method or historical/chronological concerns when assembling the images and texts?

Cramer & Epaminonda: We have an extensive library of picture books that we collect. At times we sit down and look at them. We disassemble them, place them on the floor and test the individual pages. We rearrange pages, take out a few, add others from another book, and in the end come to a point where certain decisions form a new book. There’s no method; the only concern is to make the new book work as a book, visually, conceptually. It’s an intuitive process. On one occasion, we took all the pages from a book with the exception of one, and just showed this singular picture, framed on a wall. Another time, the content of the book led us to an installation consisting of a film, a slide projection and several images from other books in the space. 

Bom: Is the idea of a virtual museum in the form of a book something you can relate to within this project? And what are your thoughts on the use of photographs (in this case found material) at a time when sight has never been so essential to our way of life but at the same time is so over-stimulated? 

Cramer & Epaminonda: Perhaps a book is more like a space in which something can happen, comparable to an exhibition space. A museum has its own history and motives that we wouldn’t necessarily connect to a book. A book and a space have an outside and an inside. You’re right, there are so many images that there’s total over-stimulation. On the other hand, there are always stories to tell – with words, sounds and images. The fact that there’s an overload of information doesn’t influence the experience of a moment or a story.


Bom: Does the book format allow you to bypass some social and spatial constraints that you face, for example, in your exhibitions? What challenges does it offer when composing image associations?

Cramer & Epaminonda: The project, at its heart, is a way for us to communicate with each other in a playful way. We sit together and try things out. The exhibitions of the books always confront us with the difficulties of showing a unique book to an audience.

Bom: You often refer to subjects such as history, monumentality, architecture and anthropology in your work, but it seems that it’s never with the intention of treating information in a chronological way. Instead, you create new meanings and new relations based on your aesthetic considerations. Therefore, I wonder what role monumentality plays in this work and in your general practice?

Cramer & Epaminonda: We select the books by their quality – a purely subjective measure. We like certain papers, colours, ideas about the placement of images and text. We allow almost all topics into the work and collect books from all genres. The collection becomes more specific when we reassemble the books. There’s no rule to it, but we feel that some books of different origin work together beautifully and others simply don’t. A book works when it tells you something more than its content. This can only really be explained when sitting in front of it and looking at it page by page. Somehow, there’s always a moment when two things find each other and immediately connect; there’s almost a chemical reaction in the air – it just makes sense. That’s a monumental moment, when it feels as if these elements were waiting for that moment to be reactivated and given a new life.

Bom: There’s a certain degree of violence in the act of tearing books apart, in separating or excluding parts of its original content. By shuffling the content, you generate hybrids, a new meaning, in an implicit and potentially infinite motion, like an illustration of an unfinished, always mutating world.

Cramer & Epaminonda: That’s a nice way to put it. We agree, there is a certain violence in the act of tearing books apart, but in most cases we have a second copy of the same book. It doesn’t justify the act, but it calms our minds to know that we’re not destroying a unique object, but dismantling one copy in a larger edition. We treat the books with care and respect and give them a new life. Still, there is a certain violence, its true.


Bom: The subversiveness and the meta character of this archive challenges established hierarchies in the dissemination of information. I remember having the same impression at your exhibition in Kassel. Even though the works fascinated me, one particular aspect that seized my gaze was the general installation of the pieces and the relation between images – as if they were acquiring a personified character and could sometimes shyly hide behind each other. It’s obvious that the arrangement and set-up of the shows play a crucial role within your practice, but how does the question of hierarchy manifest itself in the content and layout of The Infinite Library?

Cramer & Epaminonda: You’re right about the importance of placement in the show in Kassel. There, we wanted to create narratives, even just through the way things were installed in the space, since the show was meant to be felt as an experience in its totality – not just what, but how and where things were placed, which rooms were accessible or not. We needed to build up focal points, vanishing points, moments of dispersal and a sense of disorientation, losing and finding oneself again through markings and remembrance. We thought of the space as one that had no beginning or end, seemingly with many repetitive aspects and connecting threads. One entered, turned one’s head, decided to go this way or that. The entrance and the exit door were one and the same, so that when you assumed you’d come to the end, you had to go back to where it all started. The thread of connections and tensions was built up by the relation of the elements within the space as much as by the viewer, depending on which work or room one encountered first, the length of time one spent in a room or in front of a work etc. As for the books, the rules are somewhat different. As we stated before, in The Infinite Library each book is a new beginning with a new set of rules.

Bom: Do you have any plans for the preservation and storing of the library once it reaches an overwhelming volume?

Cramer & Epaminonda: At the moment, we’ve reached about eighty books in total. The library, if we placed one book next to the other, would extend over perhaps 120 cm. Those books are kept in a shelf in our storage room. The original books have stayed on shelves since they were first published. We maintain them in the same condition, and protect them from too much natural light, although much of the ageing is unavoidable and natural.

Bom: What are you working on now?

Cramer & Epaminonda: A book about The Infinite Library that will show each individual page of the first fifty books, to be published by New Documents. Also a book published by Kunsthalle Lissabon and Mousse Publishing about the three collaborative projects we’ve done together, as mentioned above. And as always, we’re working on our own individual projects.

Haris Epaminonda (b. 1980 in Nicosia, Cyprus) is a Berlin-based artist. Her practice mainly consists of film, photography, collage and installation. She often works with found images, both still and moving, and collected objects. Epaminonda co-represented Cyprus at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and participated in the 5th Berlin Biennale in 2008 as well as Docmenta 13 in 2012. She has had solo exhibitions at Malmö Konsthall (2009), Tate Modern, London (2010), Museum of Modern Art, New York (2011) and Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Germany (2011).

Daniel Gustav Cramer (b. 1975 in Dusseldorf, Germany) is a Berlin-based artist. His practice ranges from sculpture, to film and photography. He has had solo exhibitions at the Kunsthalle Mulhouse (2013), Kunsthaus Glarus (2012), Badischer Kunstverein (2012), Kunsthalle Lissabon (2012) and at the Kunstverein Dortmund (2010). He has also participated in group shows such as Documenta 13 (2012), at Nouveau Museé National de Monaco (2012), Kunstmuseum Bochum (2010), and the Stiftung Schloss Moyland (2010), as well as the Athens Biennale (2009).

Tiago Bom (b. 1986, Portugal) is an artist and curator currently finishing his Masters degree in Fine Art at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts. Last year, he co-curated the Central Asian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale, its parallel programme and the respective publication, Winter: Poetics and Politics, by Mousse Publishing.

Dream Spaces - Cora Fisher on Jumana Manna


A group of tragicomic masqueraders dressed in Pierrot costumes pose for their commemorative portrait to be taken. As they wait for the shutter to click, they address the camera, and through it, the long, piercing glance of history. They stare and fidget; they wait and rustle. The video camera pans across their heavily lined eyes and faces caked with white makeup. Finally, it stops to rest in the centre of the group, framing the portrait. With its patina of a bygone era, the fully frontal image recalls a vintage photograph, but the colour is decidedly contemporary, and the HD video camera captures the sitters’ movements, registering their tension. In this way, the moving image resuscitates the historicity of an early studio photograph, placing us firmly in the present. 

Jumana Manna’s twelve-minute-long film, A Sketch of Manners (Alfred Roch’s Last Masquerade) (2012) was fist shown in Ramallah, at the A.M. Qattan Foundation’s Young Artist Award 2012, where Manna won first prize. Drawing vectors between photographic image, historical re-enactment and geopolitical space, the film is particularly interesting in the way in which it re-imagines history. Its subject is an eccentric and over-looked dimension of the social life of a people now belonging to an unrecognised state and confined behind walls. It was inspired by an archival photograph of a masked ball held in Jerusalem in 1942, on the fateful eve of the nation’s dissolution, and depicts what the artist imagines ‘was to be the last masquerade in Palestine’. It offers a counter-narrative of Palestine through an anecdotal event.

The annual bon-vivant parties described by A Sketch were hosted from the 1920s to the 1940s by a landowner and merchant in Jaffa, Alfred Roch, who was also a member of the Palestinian National League. This cosmopolitan world dissolved with the dismantling of the country and its urban centres in 1948. Manna offers a decidedly romantic view of a bohemian microcosm, where theatricality and dreaming enlarge the psychic dimension of the photographic index. By way of this glimpse into a menagerie of upper-class Palestinians, A Sketch of Manners conjures the prelapsarian moment before the Nakba – ‘the disaster’ – which saw the expulsion of nearly 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and the 1948 Arab-Isreali war, a traumatic rupture shaping Palestine as the space of endless contestation and geopolitical erasure. 

Scattered throughout the film are clues suggesting the mutual influence, in terms of cultural fantasy and dreaming, between Europe and the Arab world. A desk is strewn with Arab editions of European books, one by Charles Baudelaire, and the playbills and magazines of Egyptian Opera, cultural ephemera that also serve as archival mementos. Before the scene of the group portrait, the film opens with Roch sleeping on a couch after the ball, his make-up still thickly applied. The projected Orientalist fantasy imagined by the West is met with Roch’s inner dreamtime. A British narrator’s voice recites Baudelaire’s poem ‘A Former Life’, offering a somnambulant texture of fantasy: ‘Long since, I lived beneath vast porticoes … And there I lived amid voluptuous calms / In splendours of blue sky and wandering wave / Tended by many a naked, perfumed slave.’

To create the film and to deepen the understanding of the world evoked by the photograph, Manna consulted both private and public archives, as well as historians and sociologists including Dr Salim Tamari, Issam Nassar and her father, Dr Adel Manna. Her research yielded source images from the Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection held in the Library of Congress, which appear interspersed throughout the film (rather than simulated like the group portrait) as a foil for the film’s social context and the private dreaming of the protagonist. These include a photograph of a Middle Eastern merchant sipping tea with a group of British men, suggesting a detail from the biography of Roch, who was invited to the UK to speak at a conference on the Palestinian question. According to the story, he brought back the Pierrot costumes from this trip, attesting to the porosity between East and West that would be overshadowed by World War II.

This interplay between archival photographs and simulated scenes suspends the Palestinian bourgeoisie of the 1940s in a limbo between present and past time and space. Through the recurrent oscillating between static and moving images – between the external ‘fact’ of the indexical image, and the inward contemplative space suggested by the experiential image (the contemporary actors, the colour video medium) – the work re-animates the archive and offers up a third space – neither fact nor purely fictional – a psychic space of dreaming that is not Roch’s alone. A Sketch shows us how the artistic strategy of re-enactment invokes the lived dimension of history and the private life of politics.

Historical re-enactment is currently circulating heavily in art-world contexts, where historical tropes and content speak to the inheritances and conditions of the contemporary. Omer Fast’s 2005 film Godville, for example, used the site of a living-history museum in colonial Williamsburg to animate contemporary relationships to the imagined past of Virginia. In 2007, Nato Thompson curated ‘A Historic Occasion: Artists Making History’, a survey at Mass MoCA of artists interested in historical retelling, including Paul Chan, Jeremy Deller, Peggy Diggs, Felix Gmelin, Kerry James Marshall, Trevor Paglen, Greta Pratt, Dario Robleto, Nebojsa Seric-Shoba, Yinka Shonibare and Allison Smith. The exhibition took a materialist bent on historical revision, looking at how visual artists render history through objects, especially in a cultural climate where, according to Thompson, the ‘very idea of history seems under siege’ by historians rewriting the past, thinning attention spans, accelerated news cycles and amnesiac governments. In this exhibition, and in films like Manna’s that speak to the present through the past by referencing archival images or moments of historical rupture, one aim is to deliberately slow things down in order to sidestep these modern conditions. 

In A Sketch of Manners, the overlay of a twentieth-century past and current events is palpable, if restrained. While we are afforded the spaciousness of historical distance, we can also understand Manna’s film as a direct commentary on the present. Other film and performance work takes up a more recent history of the last five years. Lebanese performance and stage artist Rabih Mroué, for instance, takes as his focus the current political unrest and protest movements throughout the Arab world. However, recent approaches to historical re-enactment can be observed not just in films, but also in paintings that refer to art history or create a historical imaginary that ties into the present. Emerging artists like Los Angeles-based Kour Pour, who recreates Eastern rugs through a process of transfer and erasure, retell a cultural narrative pictorially. The more archaeological, process-based conceptual paintings of Lebanese poet and painter Etel Adnan, recently included in Documenta 13, present a series of amalgamated objects and images that point to Lebanon’s 1975–90 civil war, when militiamen occupied Beirut’s National Museum, a reference that potently alludes to current events in the country. 

The trend for using historical contexts as a vehicle to respond to the urgencies of current local and global protest movements and unrest means that the Middle East has been the historical locus du jour, with many film-makers and visual artists of this region circulating more widely on the international scene than they have done previously. Yet historical re-tellers are not always ‘native informants’ or cultural ambassadors hungry to broaden the cultural breadth and understanding of a Eurocentric West or an increasingly cosmopolitan and international art world. Sometimes, they are Western ethnographer-documentarians working with decidedly ahistorical approaches to storytelling. The striking release The Act of Killing (2012) by Joshua Oppenheim pushes documentary re-enactment towards the experimental, blurring the genre of documentary feature. Oppenheim’s implicit denunciation of the Western military-ideological projects of the Cold War and beyond focuses on the massacre, funded by the United States, of more than 500,000 communists and ethnic Chinese in Indonesia during the mid-1960s. The gangster Anwar Congo led the most notorious death squad in North Sumatra. Oppenheimer invites Anwar and his associates to re-enact the genocide as a theatrical dance macabre, using sets and costumes. The viewer is launched into the slippery terrain of Anwar’s trauma-afflicted psyche as he and his friends re-enact, in increasingly elaborate set-ups, their methods of killing. This performance of earlier crimes by living perpetrators proves that re-enactment is more than just a de-politicised visual strategy; it can convey the violent effects of politics better than any statistical abstraction. The re-enactors activate history as they re-write it in real time. The creation of a tertiary space of consciousness through the combination of documentary sources and artistic elements resurrects the depths of the collective unconscious. 

More dreamscape than nightmare, it would be inappropriate to compare Manna’s film to such a full-length re-enactment. A Sketch concisely signifies the unconscious without actually exhuming its contents. (It is enough to hear Baudelaire’s lines and see Roch sleeping on the sofa, to extract the notion of dreaming.) Nevertheless, with its capsular view onto the past, it offers an account that gently defies the prevailing Western cultural bias, which sees the East as hardened by radicalism and categorically antagonistic to Western influence. Like the bon-vivant pleasantries of Roch’s last masquerade, the representation of the psychic space of the dream is a depiction that also runs counter to the expectations of dominant forms of historical narration. In Manna’s short film we find a world of pleasure on the brink of a tectonic geopolitical shift. With her deft transitions from archival image to personal imaginings, she offers a cavernous space that echoes with the traumas of the twentieth century.



nordic now!     Special issue on Nordic contemporary photography.   The publication nordic now! is the result of a unique collaboration between the photo magazines  Filter  (Denmark),  Photo Raw  (Finland) and the art journal  Objektiv  (Norway). Featuring portfolios by over fifty established and upcoming Nordic artists such as JH Engström, Joakim Eskildsen, Erica Kovanen, Mårten Lange, Nelli Palomäki, RAX, Marie Sjøvold and Jacob Aue Sobol, it provides an extensive overview of contemporary Nordic photography.

nordic now!

Special issue on Nordic contemporary photography.

The publication nordic now! is the result of a unique collaboration between the photo magazines Filter (Denmark), Photo Raw (Finland) and the art journal Objektiv (Norway). Featuring portfolios by over fifty established and upcoming Nordic artists such as JH Engström, Joakim Eskildsen, Erica Kovanen, Mårten Lange, Nelli Palomäki, RAX, Marie Sjøvold and Jacob Aue Sobol, it provides an extensive overview of contemporary Nordic photography.