New European photographers are part of a vital reconstruction of visual narratives, exploring themes of overconsumption, surveillance and liberation.
Footfall for photography exhibitions is up year on year. Global events like Photo London and Paris Photo are experiencing surges in audience numbers. Photography has never been so present in daily life; it is the vernacular of our times and the most immediate form of communication. Since its inception in 2011, Circulation(s) Festival has showcased the work of over 382 artists and attracted over 300,000 visitors. It is a hub of creative talent from across Europe, providing a stepping-stone for artists to interact, collaborate and present their work to thousands of attendees through various platforms and strands. For 2020, its 10th anniversary edition, Circulations(s) presents 39 projects, 45 artists and 16 nationalities across an exhibition space spanning 2,000m2. Audrey Hoareau has been appointed as the Artistic Director, to make the space for these exciting new names.
A: Why is it so important to showcase the works of young, emerging photographers – especially when we’re approaching a tipping point across geopolitical summits and global conversations about the future?
AH: As we all know, the status of an artist is precarious. Circulation(s) acts as a springboard to support young visionaries, offering visibility in Paris. Today, in an age of tension and apprehension, it is important to believe in young people. The cultural industry brings in more money than the automobile industry (I read that in France it contributed seven times more to its GDP!) Even if its profitability is not immediately noticeable, it is time for society to understand that art and culture is necessary – balancing palliative added value. Young artists are at the forefront of the changing world, looking ahead to tomorrow. Much of our programme looks at these pressing current and future socio-political issues, thinking about how we can change perspectives.
A: Young generations are at the crux of difficult conversations – often forced into roles of activism, driven by an inherent passion to protect the planet. They endure the weight of older generations’ actions – their consumption habits and conflicts. What do you think these artists can teach us about the world?
AH: Commitment is key. One does not become an artist if you one doesn’t have anything to say, to claim or convey. Art is a form of activism. Ecology and the environment is often the starting point – providing new modes of reflection. Young artists show great adaptability. Their work is not ever disconnected from the current world and its surrounding concerns, but it must find its place. How do you produce something new when you feel like everything has already been done or discussed? The task is difficult, but this year’s artists provide incredibly original takes on the subjects. They teach us to look at the world through their experiences – their images and research. I am surprised by the investigative nature of today’s practitioners. Each of the featured series offers accomplished, concerned and deep work. By going through the festival, you can learn a lot about the world through factual, well-researched projects, from the massive over-production and consumption of pigs in Denmark (Felix von der Osten), to the existence of immortal human cells (Maija Tammi), to the current status and wider perceived roles of women within Tadzhikistan (Shore Mehrdju).
A: How do you decide which works to include from the application process? What do you look for in a series?
AH: This year, we received over 850 applications, containing statements alongside images. I admit that I always start with reviewing the photographic side. The quality of the project, for me, lies in the images, and will always be this. I need to be seized – to be taken aback – by the entire project. There needs to be a sense of balance between intention and result. Meaning and consistency are qualities that we seek out, because these are the elements that we feel instantly.
A: How are techniques changing towards portraiture? How are artists utilising new ways to document the self, through cross-disciplinary or multimedia methods?
AH: The portrait issue is interesting. Today, in my opinion, it is the most difficult genre to reinvent and to renew. My mind is drawn to Anton Shebetko, who presents a six by four metre installation, using several layers of prints. Portraits are pasted on top of each other and then painstakingly torn up. The piece, titled Common People, considers the experience of LGTBQ+ communities in Ukraine. It is estimated that these groups make up around 10% of the population. However, due to social hostility, many of these individuals will never come out for fear that it will damage their careers, as well as their private and public lives. Shebetko cuts and imposes dozens of “impersonal” portraits, where the faces are destroyed and attacked, therefore imposing silence as a nod to the intolerance and discrimination rife in the country. In contrast to classic forms of portraiture, we can count on the omnipresence of the digital world to move the genre into new realms. We are increasingly moving away from paper, favouring more installation-friendly alternatives. Chiara Caterina, for example, works on algorithms in a sort of “cadavre exquis” where several tablets question and then respond to each other. As for Alba Zari, she has utilised digital physiognomony exercises to create a virtual avatar of her father, whom she has never known.
A: How are practitioners responding to the idea of community, despite living in countries fragmented by surveillance culture and geopolitical divides?
AH: For the festival’s opening, we invite all 45 artists to join us. It’s a special moment as they are delighted to see their work on the wall and to discover the projects from everyone else. This is part of a larger connective network; a community is created. Each individual considers the other artists’ journeys and larger ambitions – which encourages a culturally enriching mix of ideas. The artists often stay connected with each other after the festival via social media platforms, which is wonderful to see. Circulation(s) knows how to concrete these networks between artists, which fulfils an essential part of the festival’s ethos. Without measuring the shortcomings, I like to believe that the digital world brings us closer rather than further away – provided you use it well. For an artist, events like Circulation(s) will always be necessary in terms of physically seeing works within a wider professional environment based on talent development. The fact that these individuals come from 16 different countries further expands on the idea of sharing and exchange.
A: Brexit is on the tip of everyone’s tongues this year. How are festivals like this responding positively to the idea of crossing borders and standing together?
AH: In the process of programming, the boundaries become much more blurred. Brexit – or any other political event of this type – deeply influences what we display. Of course, we take into account the idea of a “geographic Europe” and not the newly assigned political borders of the European Union. Artists from Switzerland, Russia and Turkey are considered to take part. In any case, it is in art and culture that we know how to break down boundaries. Borders, for us, are low-value. We favour the idea of community. Circulation(s) lives up to its name and offers a dissemination of thought and imagery – making this the priority. Cultural events should be committed to this – to offer spaces for expression and avoid being tools for the the wider instrumentalisation of power.
A: For the 10th anniversary, time, history, memory and legacy are important notions to consider. How are artists delving into an archive to offer new narratives?
AH: Whether contemporary or historic, image banks provide an incredible base of information. I am always intrigued by projects that question the millions of images that surround us in the world wide web. It seems essential to me to work with this material because it’s immediately available. These images teach us so much about society. Norman Behrendt is one such artist who has done this for the festival. Through an impressive polyptych of 175 cyanotypes, he collected materials from YouTube channels, Facebook profiles and micro-party blogs to create an incredibly complex installation on the representation of politics in Germany.
A: This year, there are five chapters to the festival. How did these manifest and what do they each offer?
AH: These chapters come to us quite naturally when composing the wider programme. The themes kind of jump from the applications. Those We Do Not See, for example, brings together individuals who wish to highlight underrepresented causes. Marinka Masséus works with young women with Down’s Syndrome, engaging with them in a real process of rehabilitation. Tomorrow’s World anticipates what the future might hold. This strand includes extremely diverse subjects, from farming industries in Denmark, to the over-exploitation of coral for pharmaceutical companies. Image in Excess comprises projects that revolve around the status of the image. Self-Quest offers an intimate space to summon ideas about identities, digging further into the lived experience and raise questions about the self. Photographic Explorations, based in a large outdoor hall, demonstrates how the medium is evolving rapidly into installation, moving works from the wall into three-dimensional spaces.
A: There’s also a strand that focuses on new talent from Belarus. What can we expect to see from the country?
AH: The situation of Belarus – its culture and history – leads artists to wonder about post-communism, defence and security. Masha Svyatogor, for example, produces handmade photomontages from Soviet-era propaganda magazines. Meanwhile, Maxym Sarichau reflects upon police violence and repression, largely using documentary research. These artists are part of the larger fabric of Circulation(s). It’s really in the DNA of the festival to create an atmosphere that connects the dots as an “organised melting pot!”