The social imaginary

Ella Owusu

#Exhibitions | #Documentary | #Social_curation | #Mise_en_scene | #Data_curation




There are current issues in curating photography that are common to other contemporary issues about what social values look like in the public domain. Rastenberger (2018) argues that photographic exhibitions help spectators understand how photographs work and communicate. Social platforms allow everyone to participate with photography and create self representations. The problem with this is that what’s made visible on the surface isn’t always the meaning conveyed beneath.


What Barthes (1961) terms the 'photographic paradox' is the condition where photographs can have two messages at the same time: one without a code that denotes what is seen and one with a code that is connotes what is meant. Because photographic messages are so fluid, containing what have been described as slippery signs, this causes problems when trying to find meaning in works displayed on social platforms like instagram. When looking at virtual and real life exhibits two commonalities they have are that they’re both fixed and protected by glass screens. So in a way we mostly observe images through glass frames (fig 1).




Social media encourages participation in creating and sharing images but it doesn’t consider the ethical issues around visibility and privacy in what’s displayed. Exhibitions allow for interpretations in order to challenge and question what we see while this isn't always the case on social media. Another description for exhibitions is mise en scene which is mostly common in cinema but also in photographs from its frame to arrangement (fig.2). Rose describes mise-en-scene as the composition of moving images and the 'temporal organisation of a film' (2016, pp. 76).


Rose argues that it’s a decision about what to shoot and how to shoot it and in the case of curating what to display and how to display it. Douglas (2015) explains mise en scene as 'unstable signs and gestures' and 'social imaginaries'. It also questions the accuracy of documentary, the truthfulness of media and historical values that are attached to what we see and how we’re told to see. Arrangements and displays of exhibitions are based on individual curators visual and structural codes as well as the original artist themself. How it’s sequenced, spaced and composited all adds up to these visual and structural codes.



Fig 2 Mise-en-scene or Telling a story

Exhibitors encourage spectators to create snapshots of exhibits to circulate digitally and gain them publicity. The issue is that when they’re circulated they become banal, generic images. White cubes have always been seen as the ideal way of exhibiting. Its arrangement being spacious and limited to keep gazes focused on exhibits (fig 3). Rose (2016, p. 71) argues that focalizers are done differently depending on individuals.


People look at specific things in different ways and how they look tells us how to catch their gaze, “the visual organisation of looks and gazes of an image”. It’s argued that it isn’t the only correct way that one can exhibit but it was the “whitewashed” and “upper class” way that was attached to the notions of what exhibitions were. O’Doherty (1976, p.42) argues that “the eye is the only inhabitant of the sanitized installation shot”. What he means is when we view exhibitions our eyes are the only thing present in that moment. Floyd argues that installation shots help us imagine what its like in the present moment of that exhibition. They often signify and represent themselves as a repeat, “the image turns into an exhibition and the exhibition turns into an image” (Floyd, 2019, p. 95).



Fig 3. Exhibition views Third Nature, part of the exhibition ‘Sleight of Hand’, Lishui Art Museum, China, November – December 2019.

The typological approaches in installation shots makes spectators familiar with it as if they’re physically there. They’re tied to traditional shots of “images of images” (Floyd, 2019, p. 96). It’s also documentations for archival and data curation purposes. The problem with contemporary exhibitions is that although people attend physically they still view it through virtual screens while taking snaps. Overall views of exhibition spaces need consideration before taking installation shots. A whole space cannot be captured accurately in just one frame, one must consider eye level view, aerial, distant, close ups and the walls they’re presented on. Sometimes people present in exhibitions are also captured (fig 5). They’re captured how they naturally observe work and aren’t always staged.



Fig 4. Transitions between curation domains along the research data lifecycle, based on the Data Curation Continuum figure by Andrew Treloar

Rastenberger and Floyd have mutual worries of losing traditional exhibitions now that its being modernised. Curations that take weeks to prepare, people now virtually exhibit quicker. This questions whether traditional exhibitions will slowly decrease and conform to virtual exhibitions?



Citation


Owusu, E. (2020) 'The social imaginary' in Curating Photography: Poolside. TU Dublin: BA Photography [Online]. Available at www.curating.photography/post/ella-owusu



References


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Rastenberger, A.K. (2018) ‘What’s been viewed?’ 1st ed, Why Exhibit?: Affective Spectatorship and the Gaze from Somewhere. Amsterdam: FW books, pp. 97 - 101.


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Images


Fig 1 Graham, R. (2017) “Rodney Graham: That’s Not Me 5-star review – starring role in his own method-acting dramas”. BALTIC [Online]. Available at: https://twitter.com/balticgateshead/status/842761946126569473


Fig 2 Carnaby, J. (unknown) “Mise-en-scene - Telling a story”. Judith Carnaby [Online]. Available at: http://www.judithcarnaby.com/project/mise-en-scene


Fig 3 Stradtmann, J. (2019) “Exhibition views Third Nature, part of the exhibition ‘Sleight of Hand”. Lishui art museum - exhibition views [Online]. Available at: http://janstradtmann.de/3476-2


Fig 4 Treloar, A. (2016) “Transitions between curation domains along the research data lifecycle, based on the Data Curation Continuum figure”. Research Gate [Online]. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Transitions-between-curation-domains-along-the-research-data-lifecycle-based-on-the-Data_fig2_303980668

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