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Michael Wright

Presentation - BreadMatters I, Lublin, Poland

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Thoughts on Bread and Art


To make art is perhaps, in moments of synthesis, to reconstitute into a temporary unified whole the fragmented sense of experience which most persistently characterises our state of being and acting in the world. At its most vital, art is not an illustration of, or a visual taxonomy of what is Known; rather than providing familiar answers it is an act of disturbance and a means to changing awareness. A work of art commands attention when it is in a state of tension, when normal readings of relationships are heightened or disturbed, or when several potential readings are held in suspension within a duality or multiplicity of readings. The viewer is drawn into a relationship with the work because it has some compelling visual / conceptual tension. As the viewer engages they are made active participants, reading and seeking to reconcile the readings in the work. In this sense, both the making and reading of art is a performance which is closely allied to ritual that seeks to enhance or transform our relationship to experience.

Lublin
















What distinguishes a photograph as a work of art or not is arguably the particular photographic image's ability to engage the viewer in the layers of psychological and aesthetic signification, which reside in reading the relationships within and to a subject. A work is a signifier of attitude: an act or perception, an exchange between prior knowledge and new experience.

The photograph pertains to be images of the real, an accurate trace of an event. Photography has the power to convince us that we are in social and cultural agreement as to the nature of the visible world. It is a mechanical objective means of recording an appearance at a point in time. This is still the power of a photograph, it is perceived to be a truth, a kind of life cast of a living thing. The cast is dead, a residue of the living, but because of its verisimilitude, it triggers some of the response we would have in front of the experience. But there is the major difference that now the subject is pacified and powerless in our gaze. The photograph does not record the event the way it lives in the imagination. The imagination exaggerates, edits and filters experience, the memory distils and compresses events. In this sense the camera frequently fails to recall how we Know, feel and remember an event, it gives us the sense, paradoxically, of alienating us from our particular filtered memory of the event. Rather it amplifies the sense of separating time between the event of taking a photograph and the now of looking at the print. In this sense photography induces a sense of detachment. It is a kind of chemical magic. It gives us the illusion of being before the subject only in a state of suspension. Because the event is gone, the photographic print is a way of suspending the event in time, it is a kind of visual formaldehyde, it is the emotional attempt to suspend the process of time's dissolution of the subject, like a butterfly pinned to a collectors board, only now it is a dead butterfly, both attractive and repulsive, it is there but only in a dead form, an indexed image, a record of something that was, it is a trace of… In reality, an event unfolds through more time than the moment of the photograph. What we hold in our head is a kind of edited sequence of moving through an experience. Photography as a medium is a challenge to subjective understanding. In this sense one must intervene in the mechanical process to invest the image with a more precise meaning or potential for meaning.

Lublin
















The photographer's gaze is made possible by looking through the mechanism of the camera. it is a convention that allows a voyeurism both on the part of the photographer and subsequently by the viewer. This is morally challenging in that the photographic process objectifies the subject. There is always the danger of removing the subject from the moral imperative of recognition and relationship. The problem of the photograph is that the detachment that it creates also engenders the sense of being a voyeur, which is the opposite to the general aim of art as a process of engaging the viewer in a questioning relationship. The peculiar attraction of a photograph is that it allows us to stare at a subject in a way that if the subject was there we would be unable to stare. We can stare without the subject knowing and this is a kind of theft. We can stare when the subject trusts us. This means that to stare requires either an agreement of total trust or a position of power over the subject, in that the subject is powerless to resist the stare or they have entered into a contract to sell or give their image. Perhaps there is more truth than we concede in the primitive sense of something of our soul being stolen in the moment of being photographed. Photography is inextricably linked to consumerism in its use as a primary tool in advertising. Consumerism allows for instant gratification. The most extreme relationship between photography and consumerism is the consumption of others through pornography which 'objectifies' the human body.

Considering the particular set of work on display, I wanted to create a set of photographs that explore a series of potential readings rooted in my own tradition of Catholic cultural iconography, but also rooted in the psychological facts of my own space and time. I wanted also to confront the sense of being a voyeur which accompanies the activity of taking photographs: that feeling of detached manipulation. The means to confronting this diss-ease was to elaborate a performance of play. Some of the photographs are very consciously projections of concepts articulated in contrived poses, others are spontaneous responses to unforeseen elaboration' on the complex relationships of parent / child and child to child. I chose to photograph the children out of their normal context against the neutral white space and close up in a way to amplify the artifice of the situation. The photographs of the children are the result of a relationship of intimacy and trust, but also an attempt to address more difficult psychological issues of power. It is a sequence of actions that have been acted out and posed, a performance of images and actions around the abstract thoughts of bread, acted through my direction but also through the emotions and thoughts of the children in their relationship to each other, to me, their father, and in relation to their ideas of bread and its signification. The images explore psychological subtexts underpinning the overt iconic / religious symbolism of imagery. The children's vulnerability both to my gaze / power and the power of the viewers gaze is amplified. The photographs are an attempt to heighten the awareness of the tension of the photographic process between the objectification of the subject and the creation of symbolic signification.

In relation to the subject of bread, bread is a simple food, consumed in the home without ceremony, yet it is also self evident that bread is culturally the most complex of foods holding a depth and diversity of social, religious and poetic connotations. It is the beauty of any simple process such as the making of bread that it also affirms the complexity of the relationship. A truth within art is not fact alone, rather a truth acknowledged as it is understood through the interior life of the imagination. There is in the making of art a necessary re-iteration of truths, transformed by an adherence to the ritual of making and reflection.

Lublin
















Bread has both physical and metaphysical life. Bread holds memories carrying the history of its making. To make bread, as in the making of art, is to remember, to ritually re-enact. The making of bread re-affirms our link to the earth, that man is sustained by the earth and returns to the earth. The making of bread is a ritual labour common to all cultures. Mankind, through the acquisition of manipulative knowledge of the earth, was cast out from Eden, from the mythic and primal state of innocence as gatherers, condemned to labour the earth. The making of bread is a timepiece to the passage of the day. The bread is broken, it is physical and symbolic sharing, it is the symbol of community, bread is communion. Bread is the symbolic matter of sharing, the breaking of bread, broken body, symbol of sacrifice and of nurture. Bread as transubstantiation and reconciliation. Matter in art is transformed by the leavening of imaginative thought and the fire of action. Bread is transformed by yeast and fire. Dough is like the body in texture and appearance, the body vulnerable. Dough has the weight of the body, both temporal and transient. The flour is the product of the four elements of earth, water, air and fire. The Square is the symbol of the earth. The Circular form of bread is the symbol of eternity, unity. This dualism is expressed in the symbolism of linking the circle and the square in the four quarters of a circular loaf of bread, the relationship between matter and spirit, between the temporal and the eternal.

© Michael Wright, June 2000

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