Prix Pictet: A Virtual Platform

Prix Pictet has launched a virtual exhibition featuring 12 leading photographers from 8 nations shortlisted for Prix Pictet Hope. Designed by digital artist Gabriel Stones using gaming technology, the exhibition is a recreation of the show that took place at V&A, London, between 14 November and 8 December 2019. The fully interactive experience allows viewers to navigate freely in a new 3D rendering of the V&A’s Porter Gallery and zoom into high-resolution photographs accompanied by artist interviews. Stephen Barber, Chairman, and Michael Benson, Director, discuss this new edition.

A: Though it seems obvious the world needs a bit of hope right now, when did you come up with the idea for this theme, and what in particular does it mean to you?
SB & MB: We came up with theme in May 2018 and presented it to our group of 300 nominators worldwide shortly before making it public at the Rencontres d’Arles in July 2018. Our intention in choosing the theme was to signal a positive change of direction. Little did we know at the time how prescient our chosen theme would be. As we consider the resumption of the Prix Pictet tour, our chosen venues are finding “hope” to be best possible place to start. The great aspiration of the Prix Pictet is that knowledge gives us the power to act. Our wager with the future is that art can triumph where words alone have failed and that images can alarm politicians and policy makers into action that will inspire us all before it is too late.

A: How did the 12 photographers interpret the brief?
SB & MB: Each of the shortlisted photographers interpreted the theme in their own highly individual way. It is important to appreciate that the work is not made in response to the theme. The job of the nominators is to identify photographers who are already working on (or have completed) project s that align closely to the chosen theme. The jury then select the projects that are of the highest artistic quality and have an important sustainability story to tell.

A: Could you expand on some of the selected projects?
SB & MB: Alexa Webster’s Street Studios project is a communal family photo album that began with the set-up of free outdoor photographic studios on more than 20 street corners and public spaces around the world. By creating space for public displays of love and identity, Webster’s work offers the community and individuals an affirmation of their heritage and belonging. With thousands of photographs taken over almost an eight-year period, Street Studios is an archive of family and love, an archive that documents not what makes things fall apart but what keeps them together.

Margaret Courtney Clarke’s Cry Sadness into the Coming Rain presents the fragility of hope amongst people living precarious lives in the Namibian wilderness where there is little or no rain, as well as scarce water and food. Her subjects are people abandoned by their government and forced to migrate to flee the emptiness. Their only anchor is the expectation that life will persist against the odds. Courtney Clarke’s art derives from this space, the point where freedom meets responsibility and rationality meets imagination. This hidden world of nurtured aspirations is the embodiment of hope.

Janelle Lynch’s Another Way of Looking at Love explores the interconnectedness of all life forms. The series was born of awe for the power of nature, and seeks to reimagine our connection to one another, to the planet and to the generative possibilities of the moment. Meanwhile, Lucas Foglia’s Human Nature is a series of interconnected stories about how we rely on nature in the context of climate change. Each story is set in a different ecosystem: city, forest, farm, desert, ice field, ocean, and lava flow. From a newly built rainforest in urban Singapore to a Hawaiian research station measuring the cleanest air on Earth. His photographs examine our need for “wild” places – even when those places are human constructions.

A: These photographers bring together 8 nations – what connects them all, other than the key theme?
SB & MB: One thing that distinguishes the work of each of the selected photographers is the ability to move their image making beyond cliché –  to make work that, in the words of Robin Rhode, “is a challenge to our current disaffection…a testimony, perhaps, that art can save us.”

A: This new edition is a fully 3D rendering of the V&A exhibition. How did you begin planning this?
SB & MB:
Our intention was to recreate, as closely as possible, the Hope exhibition as shown at the V&A, London, November 2019 whilst also reimagining the experience for digital viewers. We wanted to move beyond the confines of the standard “viewing room” experience. We chose to work with young digital artist Gabriel Stones who used an application called Unreal Engine that, although built for gaming, is now being used by a number of artists and creatives who are intrigued by the creative potential of the package. Stones built a 3D rendering of the museum space, highlighting the unique architectural features of the V&A, modelled the artworks and recreated lighting conditions as closely as possible. It then became a process of trial and refinement as we and experimented with different ways of interacting with the exhibition for an audience that we did not expect to be fluent in first-person game navigation.

A: How do you envision the future of exhibitions, and your work with photographers, in this new age of virtual presentations and interviews?
SB & MB: As museums and galleries across Europe begin to open their doors again, it is clear that there is a fundamental human need to experience art in a physical space. The primacy of exhibitions will remain at least in the short or medium term. However, the past few months have been an important catalyst in the development of the online environment as a media for experiencing art. It has certainly grown in importance as a place to talk about art. The two things don’t cancel each other out and if we get this right we will reach wider audiences, hugely enhance the audience experience and. by travelling less, we might even mitigate the environmental impact of what we do.

The virtual exhibition can be explored online via the Prix Pictet website

1. A Place Called Shelter. Sara Swartbooi carries a sheet of scrap metal to build a shelter near the gravel road from Henties Bay to Usakos. Here she will sell semi-precious stones to occasional passers-by (2015) © Margaret Courtney-Clarke, Prix Pictet.

2. Wonder (2016) © Janelle Lynch, Prix Pictet.
3. Charle Kahalalo has been in living for a year in Bulengo IDP Camp in Goma after escaping violent attacks on his village in Masisi, DR Congo (2014)
© Alexia Webster, Prix Pictet.
4. House Construction after a Lava Flow, Hawaii (2016) © Lucas Foglia, Prix Pictet.
5. Neema Bonke, 35, pregnant with her third child, poses for a photo in Bulengo IDP Camp in Goma, DR Congo (2014) © Alexia Webster, Prix Pictet.
Stream Loop (2017). © Janelle Lynch, Prix Pictet.
7. Frail and Flowering. The flowering wild tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) is used by local people for hunting rituals and medicinally as a poultice to treat wounds (2014) © Margaret Courtney-Clarke, Prix Pictet.