I went along to a talk at the Silkmill, Derby to see what Thijs had to say about his photography. First however there was a warm-up act. Katrina Schwarz gave a talk on ‘Neighbours as an art space’. ‘Neighbours’ turned out to refer to a soap opera popular in the UK. My interpretation of her thesis was that ‘Neighbours’ is a projection of the world according to the Daily Mail. She showed provided evidence of racism and middle-classness, but a sequence featuring a dog dreaming made it seem a little highbrow. What was my experience like? I found it rather surreal to be sitting in a darkened room surrounded by interesting photos, watching clips from the TV while out of the corner of my eye I could see happy people playing and running about on the Derby riverside in the blazing sun of an unseasonal March day. My mental image was of stepping in dog poo and trying to scrape it off my shoe. This is not meant to be derogatory, and I don’t know what brought it on. It is simply a reporting of my subjective experience as I drifted in and out of slumber on that very, very lovely warm day, sitting in the Silkmill, the site of the world’s first factory and the world’s first strike.
Thijs Groot Wassink woke me up. He and his photography partner Ruben Lundgren have worked together as WassinkLundgren since they graduated in 2005. According to the Telegraph they create ‘conceptual documentary works’ which seems an admirably terse summary. So some notes:
Two works, Duoperspectief and Tokyo Tokyo. The pair walked together throughout the city and took photos of the same person at the same time from different angles. This produced intriguing results and the ‘point’ was to portray two truths, a refutation of Cartier Bresson and the critical moment. An interesting idea indeed.
Another book, ‘WassinkLundgren is still searching’ was printed in China as an edition of 500 and edited by tearing out the pages that seemed less good whenever they were given to a recipient. Video. Each book is therefore more or less unique.
Wassink explained a little of the background to ‘Plastic bottles’. They were working in Shanghai with a viewfinder and placed a plastic bottle on the ground as a focussing aid, and before they could take the photo a scavenger picked up the bottle and made off with it. And so they made a book of photographs of people scavenging discarded bottles
There was a video of dogs left outside shops, the point of which eluded me.
Both of the artists are now doing Masters’ degrees, Wassink in London and Lundgren in Beijing. Lundgren has made a series of photographs celebrating his tallness, including wearing a measuring-tape suit.
Questions were invited. The greater part of the audience (four out of six) were Fine Art students from Derby University. They were most intrigued by the whole business of street photography and I had an interesting chat with them afterwards. But the really useful question was ‘Where does the money come from?’ Wassink’s answer was direct. ‘The usual. Prostitution.’ Books don’t make money but help promote; prints are a better source of income as are magazine commissions.
What of the photographs? Random seems to sum it up. The most interesting thing would have been to see their rejects too, which might provide an insight into what they thought was ‘good’ and ‘bad’. How naïve of me. An insight into what they chose to publish and what not to publish. A chat with Thijs might have helped, but he was still being monopolised by a rather vocal American half an hour later when I reluctantly left. But if you’re passing, drop in to see Thijs’s work and others from the Hijacked III exhibition. And take a sandwich for Thijs, he’s probably still stuck there.
At the end I was left with a question. What is art? Well here’s as far as I got. If the artist is not of independent means, it is that for which somebody will pay and which the purchaser is prepared to accept as art. Who buys art? WassinkLundgren’s website is pretty upfront about it. Commercial organisations can hang the art somewhere to demonstrate how wealthy or clever they are and art collectors can hide it away to demonstrate the same. And if you want to show how clever you are, do you buy art that anyone else appreciates or understands? Hardly – what matters is that you have it and they don’t, surely. Now, I pride myself on being a sceptic, but I try to avoid cynicism. On this occasion I’ve failed miserably. I trust I don’t write anything as cynical again for a few years.
On a more cheerful note, I then went and took a non-conceptual documentary photograph in Jack Rabbits, the excellent local deli. Nom nom nom.
Cake at Jack Rabbits, opposite Derby Cathedral