An Imperfect Choice – Photobook
Melanie Stidolph

Photo-Soup is an international alphagetti of a curatorial project. Driven by Carlos Saladén-Vargas and Gianni Forte plus a host of occasional and permanent members, its form as a project fluctuates from installations in disused bunkers, public social spaces and pristine white cube galleries.

Normally connections and invitations are made through friends and colleagues, but now through an open call. This act seems fundamental to the ethos of Photo- Soup – you can invite, include, suggest or apply to be part of something that’s not quite defined. In that, there’s a risk; in an artist run project, with a wilful absence of traditional curatorial premise, how is your work legitimised?

Of course, it’s also about the work itself, and what happens when you put the work together. This new format – the publication – appears to show the beginning of a proposition, rather than an end conclusion, bringing the work together to offer a possibility of interpretation, rather than revealing a pre-defined agenda. This seems brave and more aligned to a process of exploration, than presentation.

‘No museum is ever going to let me write the press release on the last day of the exhibition.’ – Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. Anthony Huberman in dialogue with Anthony Elms.

This form of interaction and group presentation that Photo-Soup is interested in pursuing suggests itself as a temporary ‘alongsideness’; creating and sustaining connections that enhance collaborative enquiry. This approach encourages a more open viewing of work from both audience and artist. After showing in London, Barcelona, Mexico City and New York the temptation to shape and define still pulls. This publication continues identifying with and delighting in the benefits of a temporary, non-specific alignment, foregrounding the construction of meaning between and of the works through their temporary positioning.

It works because it is a community of invested individuals that have decided to sidestep conventional exhibition curation to risk the possibilities of obscured but informed choice. That choice is nowhere more beautifully observed than in the table of selection circulated after the call out. Every applying artist has a line, every selector has a line and then the ticks against one are tallied against the other and the decision made through numbers. It’s an unexpectedly clear attempt at democracy in a mine of subjective reasoning. Individually we have all reacted to the works differently, are pulled by some, pushed by others, but some of us are in different countries and its too many people, so we can’t all meet and talk and argue it out. In its imperfect fairness the lines on the grid begin our alongsideness, as we come together through our work and figure it out in between the pages.


Garis and Hahn Present: Identity of the Self

New photography by Barbara Van Den Heuvel, Carlos Saladen-Vargas, Eti Wade, Gianni Forte, Mark Hamilton Gruchy, Martyn Gallina-Jones, Pommefritz Crew and Roland Serani.

Opening Reception: October 24, 2013 | 6-8 PM-
-Exhibition Dates: October 24-November 23, 2013-
-Panel Discussion: October 30th, 6:30-8:30 PM-

September 25, 2013 (New York, NY) — Garis & Hahn is pleased to present Identity of the Self, a group show of photography, curated by Martyn Gallina-Jones, featuring a multi-national roster of artists, all members of the collaborative project known as Photo-Soup. Identity of the Self will examine the creation and cultivation of identity in the global digital age. Through the diverse photographic work of these nine artists from six countries, the exhibition seeks to arrive at a more informed appreciation of the notion of identity and the existence of this complex thing we call “the self.”

In our internet-shaped era, the concept of identity has become porous, divided amongst various, simultaneous “identities”: usernames, handles, pages and constant updates, “likes” and comments; all engaging society and shaping our idea of the self with unprecedented awareness. Who are we, or perhaps more importantly, who do we think we areIdentity of the Self is a discussion of identity, as defined by the artists, as defined by behavior, as defined by society. In the physical, the metaphysical, the emotional and notional realms these artists tear apart and rebuild identity and the pervasive societal and personal energies that forge it.

Martyn Gallina-Jones has examined the role of identity–how the individual establishes it, and how it is shaped, absorbed or rejected by society– in his personal and professional life. Born Martyn Jones, he changed his identity to include Gallina in his name. Without formal legal procedure, he simply informed his community of his new name, and with their acceptance his new identity was established. He explains in his curatorial statement:

Any notion of identity is defined by the society around us as much as it is by ourselves. We put a great deal of energy into trying to establish who we are, we adopt the roles either consciously or subconsciously that seem expedient at any given time in our lives, and we do this within the context that society allows us.

As a reprieve from the constant flux and shift induced by the rapid accessibility of information, Identity of the Self allows for slow, careful contemplation and self-awareness, an examination available through the measured study of these artist’s work, and their exploration of thinking and being in the post-postmodern day.

About the Artists

Barbara van den Heuvel is a Dutch visual artist/photographer, who incorporates other materials into her photographic work, combining elements of photography, painting, collage, and objet trouvé. In her latest delicate and intimate work she weaves several layers of meaning into almost conceptual pieces, juxtaposing questions of identity. When does a person obtain identity? When does artwork obtain identity? What is our place in an expanding virtual world and how does this relate to the origination and appropriation of artwork? Her gentle, vulnerable works depict the pressures of this unfolding reality, while also inviting comforting warmth of times past.

Carlos Saladen-Vargas is, together with Gianni Forte, co-founder of Photo-Soup. His practice is informed by an interest in the ontological and socio-political functions of photography and critically engages with issues attaching to spectatorship and dissemination of photographic works. Now based in Margarita Island, Venezuela, Carlos’s new work embodies an evolving journey, encouraged, in large part, by being in contact with the island’s local art production and tradition (naïf art as conceived by the avant-garde at the turn of the 19th century). This has led him to investigate two main lines of inquiry. The first, relates to theories concerning the primordial origins of art as well as Primitivist attitudes in Western Art. The second examines recent Decolonial thought that attempts to dignify the ways of life, thinking and feeling of those cultures that became demonized by Modernity.

Eti Wade was born in London, and raised in Tel Aviv, returning to the UK in 1992 where she combines her art practice with a senior lectureship in photography at the University of West London. Her photography attempts to create alternative representations of suburban life. A particular strand of her practice is an investigation of the representation of motherhood. The self titled “Mother Artist” states that “Motherhood is often perceived as uncomplicated, joyous and fulfilling…What is omitted and obscured in these dominant forms are the realities of motherhood as experienced by most women…” Eti recently had a portrait of her younger son accepted by the National Portrait Gallery of the UK.

Also tackling the complexities of parenthood is Italian Gianni Forte, Saladen-Vargas’ partner in founding Photo-Soup. For the past four years he has been working on a project called “Fatherhood” after realizing that as a new father there were certain behaviors and attitudes that society expected from him; clear messages contained in news and advertising media about the normalcy of engaging in the ritual of creating the “Kodak Moments.” As an artist, his response was to seek to counterpoint this snapshot mentality by creating other imagery of his very personal, often anxiety prone journey through fatherhood that expresses the tension of when the acceptable, safe, and intimate becomes alienating or even taboo. The work reflects Gianni’s inner conflict of personal identity as he accommodates his new role, and “the theater and gateway of uncanny moments and memories” that for him are represented by the objects and spaces of childhood that from an early age shape our relationship with ourselves and the world around us.

Mark Hamilton Gruchy was born in Kingston, Jamaica, relocating to the UK with his family in 1973 and now lives in London. He produces intense, powerful portraits, which arrest the viewer, forcing a confrontation between subject and audience. The finished pieces belie their origins and offer insight into his process. He describes his demeanor while in the presence of the subject as cold and impersonal, though his subjects are often family members and close friends. In his words the actual capture of these digital photographs is perfunctory, the warmth and compassion that his portraits convey comes later, at the computer. The center of his creative process is the dialogue he has with the raw material of the photograph shot earlier, in front of the screen, with stylus in hand, as he works, and reworks the image, a practice that goes back to his artistic roots as a photorealist draughtsman.

Martyn Gallina-Jones was born in Liverpool, England, and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. His work as a portrait artist is driven by his nature as a social creature, with a broad interest in people and their stories, often examining the boundaries between the private and the public. Gallina-Jones’s current work has as its starting point a visual interest in the formal uniforms of civilian and military service personnel and the way these garments, through their decorative insignia, are imbued with hidden information pertinent to the careers and experiences of the wearers. Subsequently he extended his observations of “insignia” into the realm of everyday clothing and grooming by creating portraits that he referred to as “Street Style Portraits,” portraiture that examined the mechanisms by which individuals support their “identity contract” with society at large. Most recently, he has become interested in creating portraiture that presents not only the visually available “insignia” of personality, social standing or group affiliation but also that which is hidden or private and that might be revealed through his notion of Extended Portraiture. Gallina-Jones intends to create interactive works of portraiture that can respond to the viewer through a computer interface, revealing text based data that speaks to the portrait subject’s life and experience.

Pommefritz Crew is the collaboration of two Italians, Mauro Manuini and Massimiliano Boschini, established in 2004 with the aim of promoting, organizing and spreading activities focused on photography and art. Intrinsic to the project are ideas of identity. They describe their wish to remain discreet as individual artists behind the appellation:

The concept of group (within the art world) having crossed all the artistic movements of the Nineteenth century, begins to acquire new features during the Sixties in conjunction with the theories of the “death of the author” and reaches our days evolved and modified –it offers a plural identity behind which various real identities could be hidden.

Photography from the series “We are all photographers, we are all models” (included in Identity of the Self) is the result of setting up photo equipment in a Mantua, Italy institution for the mentally ill and encouraging everyone, staff and residents alike, to create portraits of themselves and each other. As we view these photographs we must bear in mind that notions of identity, autonomy, the personal or the private are under threat in an institution like this, where very little evidence of individualistic expression exists. As a result the very personal attributes of dress, hairstyle, and personal space decoration are largely absent.

Roland Serani is Albanian, living in London since 1994. Most of his work emerges from encounters with the work of the Surrealists and French intellectuals where, for Serani, “their psychological depth of spirit creates a poetry of suggestion, which is then rendered visually.” He builds worlds of allegorical tableau using props and available objects to realize complex iconography. Intensely interested in difficult, often taboo subjects such as fetishism, voyeurism, the role of women in society, and the attitudes of a patriarchal society, Serani is compelled to represent issues of private contemplation and obsession in his art, almost in catharsis, as a way to exercise control over troubling attitudes and behaviors that he encounters in daily life.

About Garis & Hahn

Garis & Hahn is a gallery-cum-Kunsthalle that mounts exhibitions focused on conceptual narratives and relevant conversations in contemporary art. By displaying an array of carefully curated artists, the gallery endeavors to provide accessibility, education, awareness, and a market to the art while engaging both the arts community and a broader general audience.

Agata Gajda

Right next to Tate Modern, between 21st April and 20th May 2012, Unit 24 Gallery is serving a well-balanced, though-nourishing artistic meal. Although Photo-Soup claims to be a project allowing artists to work and exhibit independently of main- stream art institutions, their exhibition in Unit 24 Gallery bring them disturbingly close – at least in a physical terms – to an eye of the mainstream curatorial storm.

The exhibition is a fifth collaborative show of the dynamically-changing group of artists. In 2009 the project opened an exhibition in a deserted bunker in East London which has been turned into the unusual venue of artistic undertakings. The show in The Bunker was followed by Photomonth Fair based in Spitalfields Market. From a fashionably alternative space of East London the project moved into international venues and subsequent displays took place in Barcelona and Mexico. Afterwards, Photo-Soup came back to London and settled for three weeks in a gallery on Southbank. It exchanged extravagant post-war shelter for a gallery with features of a traditional white-cube right in the shadow (or glory) of an ultimate temple of modern and contemporary art: the Tate Modern.

Among 12 international artists exhibiting in Unit 24 Gallery, the curator and co- founder of the place, Ania Cerelczak (Ancerel), is one of them. Despite the unity of medium, the artists’ interests and tools are diverse. However, some common areas of interest can be pointed out: the display is leading visitors not only through two floors but also through different artistic terrains. The dichotomy hidden/revealed and a de- ceptive landscape seem to be present in works by Melanie Stidolph, Heather Mc- Donough and Nadège Mériau. Cerelczak and EJ Major are preoccupied with notions of persona, myth and social role. The upper floor is opened with an association of Alex Drogo’s pursuit for imagined landscapes in real sites and Mark Hamilton Grunchy’s creation of unreal but familiar locations. The next group of pictures, with a central, verist piece by Carlos Saladen-Vargas depicting his wife just after giving birth to a child, may be characterised by revealing of the privates. Additionally, works of Gianni Forte and Eti Wade are facing up to the notions of a family and do- mestic roles. Finally, Roland Serani’s series explores and seduces the gaze by wild associations.

This interpretation is by no mean exhaustive because the range and richness of the inspirations, themes and artistic languages covered in this show make it an open-end- ed story. Visitors are stimulated to look for different narratives in single works as well as in the exhibition as a whole. The images may be linked or juxtaposed in many different ways: psychoanalysis, archetypes, story, the imaginary or voyeurism are only some of the issues which link the works of artists of various backgrounds and interests.

What is interesting is their dissent from the official curatorial practices. Is it caused by a wish for liberty, incompatibility or by rejection? Whatever it may be, it is not the in- feriority of Photo-Soup, as the images presented in Unit 24 Gallery are captivating and thought-provoking. At the end of the day, it is getting closer and closer to Tate. Undoubtedly, it could get along with mainstream art institutions and curatorial projects very well, with a mutual benefit.

Cristina Alaber

Vivimos en un mundo de restricciones e ideas preestablecidas. Crecemos escuchando que es lo que podemos y lo que no podemos hacer. Viendo cuales son los comportamientos ejemplares y cuales no. Son tantas las concepciones que la sociedad va introduciendo en nosotros, que hoy en día las encontramos en todos los entornos que frecuentamos: trabajo, ocio, estudio… Incluso el mundo artístico, está de lleno de restricciones. Muchos artistas desarrollan sus trabajos bajo limitaciones, lo cual, en muchas ocasiones, da lugar a que las obras no respondan a las necesidades de sus propios creadores. Por suerte, Espai 27 ha puesto en marcha un proyecto en el que 16 artistas trabajan en colaboración y tienen la oportunidad de exponer sus obras sin la necesidad de ajustarse a plataformas artísticamente preestablecidas. Bwale Nkowane, Carlos Saladén-Vargas, Gianni Forte, Haley Wood, Heather McDonough, Laura Braun y Marco Sanges, son algunos de los artistas que participan en la iniciativa. La muestra está compuesta de fotografía contemporánea y proyección de cortometrajes. 


Bill Jiménez

¿Qué es Photo-soup? Básicamente, fotografía, una acción colectiva entre 16 artistas que, a modo de «grupo de fuerza» trata de abrirse camino en su especialidad sin depender de los muchos intermediarios que suelen aparecer en el largo camino que va desde la creación a su posterior recepción pública. En este caso, las conexiones estilísticas entre los miembros del grupo son mínimas, en algunos casos tan alejadas como las fantasías de Roland Serani o la fotografía urbana/industrial de Laura Braun.

Albergar las obras de una docena de artistas en medio y gran formato obliga a exponerlas en un espacio a la altura de las circunstancias. El escogido en esta primera ocasión en Barcelona es una galería de reciente nacimiento (alrededor de tres meses): El Espai 27, un amplio recinto cuya profundidad nos permite disfrutar progresivamente de una gran variedad de discursos. Y aunque algunos no son nada nuevos, cuentan con los justos matices para sobrevivir entre otros más sofisticados, como el Off guard de Mark Hamilton Grunchy, donde el resultado final del retrato no solo está en mano del autor, buscando con su propuesta algo más que la complicidad del retratado.

Y así hasta doce propuestas en las que se aprecia una predilección por las relaciones (que mejor ejemplo que la serie de jóvenes amantes adolescentes de Laura Pannak), en especial, las familiares (Gianni Forte con Fatherhood).

Aunque alejarse de las corrientes que gobiernan la distribución del arte sea un paso valiente y casi temerario, Photo-soup como proyecto demuestra buena salud. Estarán en Barcelona hasta el 14 de noviembre mostrando el buen estado de las nuevas narrativas contemporáneas.

Jack Harty

This show has an element of theatre to it, refreshments, musical accompaniment and fantastic staging. The Bunker that houses the show is underneath Dalston, almost opposite Kingsland station. The stage is set at the entrance, a dark and damp stairwell lit by candles. Before arriving I had been advised to wear waterproof shoes so wore wellies. A wise move, not only is the bunker ankle deep in water, but there are also electric cables trailing from the lights, the projectors and the generator. Being safe and dry inside rubber soles added a lot to my enjoyment! The visitors are provided with torches at the entrance to the bunker, although numbers are limited – best to bring your own.

The exhibition is the work of nine young photographers; each being allocated a room in the bunker to display their pieces in the manner they think best. For some this is by offering a soundtrack with which to enjoy the work (Haley Wood – Location, Location, Location – Live Somewhere That Moves At The Same Pace As You) and for others it’s the burning of incense (Gianni Forte – Unfamiliar).

I found three of the artists work outstanding;

The work of Carlos Saladén Vargas, he series of photographs ‘Smokes Free’ are photos of smokers – seemingly aware of the camera but in their usual stances. The images are pasted onto the walls and are comprised of two shots. This work ties in extremely well with the room; this is one of the colder and damper rooms with the viewers’ breath rising in fog to the ceiling just as smoke would.

Gianni Forte’s work ‘Unfamiliar’ is a study of two families linked by one man. The room is warmer in the others, due to the large number of candles and the incense burning in the room. It makes a far more comfortable environment and works well with the theme of personal relationships. The piece is interesting on a number of levels, in particular the pose and lighting of the shots, they are taken in such a way that the subject is unaware of the moment and therefore appears with a totally blank, expressionless face.

‘Friendship and Me’ was another work exploring the world of personal relationships, this piece was in the smallest of the spaces, in a long thin room Zamannesh Cambell has placed a grid of photographs of Jamaican friends with the centre panel left empty. The effect of this long thin room creates almost religious imagery, that of an altar surrounded by icons.

One criticism I would offer is that there wasn’t enough clarity or direction in the bunker. There was a map tacked to the wall, but there weren’t copies available for the viewers. It would make things far easier. Photo-Soup is a fantastic show in a brilliant location, and a really enjoyable place to spend some time. Just remember your torch and wellies!

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