© Sara Ramo, ‘Unos pocos dias en la espacio,’ 2007
I wonder if you could talk first of all about why you chose the everyday as the theme for PhotoEspana?
Yes – the choice of the everyday was based on several factors. One of the most important was that I was interested in paying attention to a tendency in the last decade for visual artists to use a more or less documentary style to address the moments, situations and figures of the everyday. I think after so many years of the rhetoric of postmodernism it is interesting to see how many artists are using simple gestures to make works based in a more direct approach to their own experience of reality.
The second reason is that the everyday is a theme that is constant in the history of photography. And I would say that every time in the last two centuries that the visual arts have addressed the everyday, that has meant an engagement with photography in general. So in a certain way the interest in the everyday is a way to reflect on the role of photography in contemporary visual arts.
The third is that I realised this would be a very open theme that would connect most of the artists that I would like to show in
Have you attempted to define the everyday?
Very simply, the everyday is connected to the trivial and very common moments and situations which we can see and experience on a daily basis. But we shouldn’t try to define it because that would be against its nature; as the French philosopher Henri Lefebvre said, the everyday is a space of libertarian attitudes towards changing reality. The sort of attitudes that you can relate to the experience of the everyday are more important than thinking of it as a subject.
So, now artists are trying to make art in a very simple and direct way, based on a certain idea of reality – as opposed to the recent technological emphasis on virtuality and immateriality, for example.
You mentioned that the everyday has been a subject for photography for a very long time – why do you think that is?
Well photography has always been a very accessible and democratic image-practice. And at several moments in history photographers have tried to foreground a specific quality of the medium: that to photograph a particular subject is to give importance to that subject. So this means that anything – even the most banal, trivial and common – can be turned into a significant subject through its representation in photography.
Edward Weston used to talk a lot about this, saying that the way photographers see, not the subject, is important. He was influenced of course by Walt Whitman who said that beauty, for example, is not in reality, it is in the way an artist approaches reality. So when Weston was photographing peppers, shells, and so on, the most significant factor, that gave importance and poetic and aesthetic value to those subjects, was the way he as an author reconfigured his perceptions of them.
On another point, photography – when compared with other visual arts – is closely connected to the everyday because everybody makes photographs. Artists, scientists, policemen, people in general – they all make photographs. Perhaps it is the only language where we could create an almost infinite number of representations of reality.
Is there an explanation, do you think, for the fact that different subjects constitute the everyday in different historical periods? At certain moments specific subjects become defined as the everyday, don’t they?
Yes, but the everyday is more closely related to an attitude. The sort of everyday that I’m really interested in is that of daily moments. Again, Lefebvre used to say that the everyday is always outside the institutional spheres, so it is what is not in the field of specialised activities. It is the domain between institutional spaces. So, in one of the exhibitions of PhotoEspana for instance, an artist like Sara Ramo reinvents domestic space and then photographs those interventions. Or you have the example Gerhard Richter, using family pictures and then painting over part of the photographs.
Gerhard Richter. ‘Overpainted Photograph”
You have mentioned Lefebvre a couple of times. For him, to attend to the everyday was a political act, broadly conceived. How do you understand that stance within the context of the work included in the festival?
Lefebvre was saying, more or less, that the everyday is a good level at which to perceive the negative effects of the social and political system. In that sense, the freedom of the individual through art – and photographers and artists in general tend to work in a very solitary and individual way – is a way to refuse and to criticise that social and political system. I’m not saying that the artists in the Festival are political artists, but the gestures themselves – and the freedom that’s connected to them – can be understood as political acts.
© William Eggleston, ‘From “The Seventies:Volume Two”‘
What can you say about the exhibition entitled ‘The 70’s. Photography and everyday life’?
That is a key show in the programme because the 70’s were significant for several reasons. First, in social terms it is a period of important shifts when lots of phenomena, which we tend to agree are contemporary phenomena, were made particularly visible. For example – the liberal economy; the fragmentation of identity; the visibility of women, gay, and black groups.
And on the subject of visual identity it is a moment when we can see that there is a transformation – in the sense that artists using photography, and photographers making art, some how mix and become closer. And one of the reasons for that proximity was the common interest in working with the everyday. So artists like Laurie Anderson, Christian Boltanski and Sophie Calle were primarily interested in using photography to explore the aesthetics of the everyday. And in doing so they created a libertarian environment that focused on simple moments, but which avoided institutional and systematic narratives that represented the reality as a whole.
The everyday is sometimes defined as that which is beneath our notice. Is there a sense in which the representation of the everyday by photographers and artists destroys it?
Well, that can happen.…for example something that I really dislike in a lot of photography today – or visual art in general – is that many artists use informality to create a language which is totally arbitrary. They do so in the belief that everything is possible, and that you don’t have to make significant choices and decisions.
So, yes, of course that can happen. What I am saying is that there is always a difference between good art and bad art, and good artists and not-so-interesting artists.
I suppose somebody cynical might say that the everyday can be colonised and used as a genre in much the same way as any other area of photographic practice – do you think there is a danger that can happen?
Yes it can – but I think it’s not a problem here. In PhotoEspana I believe the quality of the programme depends more on the artists that are selected than the theoretical proposal that is attached to the theme. There are many shows in the Festival and it is an event that takes place in high cultural institutions and very popular venues; so as artistic director I have to be careful to propose a theme that is open – that can really connect and match all these different sensibilities - and that can also address important issues in photography and society.
© Walid Raad, ‘I only wish that I could weep,’ 2002
It has been claimed that the main challenge in exhibiting the everyday is to avoid exoticism. In other words, what is everyday in
It was very plain to me that I was not going to select works from far away which might allow such ‘exotic’ misunderstandings to appear in the programme. Even the Chinese artists, or an artist like Walid Raad, work in a manner and about subjects that are very clear and understandable in Spain and in Europe in general. For me it’s quite clear: I’m Portuguese and I’m working in
© Zhao Liang, ‘City Scenes, film still’, 2004
PhotoEspana, Madrid, June 3 – July 26.
PhotoEspana, Madrid, June 3 – July 26.
Full listing details at www.phe.es
Full listing details at www.phe.es