COLUMN | Attilia Fattori Franchini: Shifting Gazes

Attilia Fattori Franchini caught up with Gaia Tedone, one of the curators of Shifting Gazes, to discuss the exhibition.
Shifting Gazes, running between the 12th and 31st of January at Guest Projects, London, exhibits five international artists reflecting on ideas of travel, tourism and exoticism. Guest Projects, an industrial space down a side-street of bustling Broadway Market is run by Shonibare Studio and offers independent curators and practitioners the opportunity to showcase their work for a month.
Jointly curated by Christine Takengny and Gaia Tedone and accompanied by a public programme of film screening and artists’ talks, Shifting Gaze’s aim, as the title suggests, is to open a dialogue and reflect on our way of looking at differences, revealing aspects of representation that are not always accounted for. The show strongly exposes the position of the artist as controversial, proposing reflections on the health of the image, not looking at its qualitative characteristic, but at its meanings and embedded subjectivity.
The clean-arranged selection of works ranging from photography to film and video installations, create a long journey towards what exploration, documentation, and above all, gaze, means. Each work interrogates and challenges the difficult position of image-maker, looking at subjectivity and representation, subverting stereotypes whilst revealing hidden patterns behind tourism, economical systems, and migration. The show shifts between narratives of imagination, desire and the complex relationship with foreignism, using various formats of account to analyse aspects of travelling and displacement. 
Participating artists include Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, Camille Henrot, Maha Maamoun, Uriel Orlow , Maria Domenica Rapicavoli.  
How did this project evolve?
The project developed as a collaboration between Christine Takengny and myself more than a year ago. Christine and I met at Goldsmiths in 2006 and had previously worked together. We began talking about this exhibition when I was in New York attending the Whitney Independent Study Programme. At the time I had just seen Maha Maamoun’s work Domestic Tourism II 2009 screened at MoMa and found it very inspiring. The piece became quite central in our thinking around issues of tourism and cultural stereotypes and informed our following curatorial research.
How is it placed in your broader curatorial practice?
Christine and I both share an interest in the fields of cultural studies and post-colonial theory, having explored in our past projects issues of geographical and psychological displacement within the shifting cartography of globalisation. This project is very representative of our curatorial interests and we were thrilled that it was selected to launch the 2013 Guest Projects residency programme. We believed Yinka Shonibare’s space was the right context for the exhibition and the works we chose to present.
All of the works in the exhibition offer new readings of our relationship with the “other” and how we examine or document it. How are ideas of desire and exoticism are explored in the show? 
Being conscious of the complexity of such ideas and questions, we wanted to create a conceptual framework that was thought provoking, but at the same time quite open, and where each individual’s work had the necessary space to unravel it’s own distinct narrative. Many works in the show explore the construction of cultural stereotypes and their links to colonial and economic patterns. In Camille Henrot’s Million Dollar Point 2011 and La Painture Contemporaine 2012, desire and exoticism are explored in relation to the sexualised image of the exotic woman and how this relates to very specific historical and cultural circumstances. In Maha Maamoun’s Domestic Tourism II 2009, on the other hand, the iconic monuments of the Egyptian pyramids become a symbolic site onto which the desires and dissatisfactions of a country and its citizens are projected. 

Each artistic position is controversial and makes us look further than what is often presented. Do you see the works as political?
All works disclose multiple narratives and counter dominant readings of historical facts and sites. They share an interest in the world we live in and in the numerous histories that are informing it. They do carry a political message, but also maintain a striking poetic quality, achieved through the artists’ precise articulation of both formal and conceptual strategies. For example, in Maria Domenica Rapicavoli’s mixed media installation Load Displacement 2012, the dialectical relationship between the video and the text opens up a space for critical reflection which is also intimately suggestive.

Tourism is used as a vehicle for exploration and highlights the importance of the gaze and the way we personally record images and offer portraits of the world. 

Yes, tourism is used as a vehicle, more than an exhibition topic per sé. It is presented as inseparable from a broader system of economic, political and cultural hierarchies. All works challenge the notion of ‘the gaze’, allowing for a variety of points of view to emerge, be subverted and eventually collapse. Uriel’s Orlow video essay The Visitor 2007 is relevant in that sense, in the way it plays out cultural clichés associated with the representation and documentation of ‘The Other’, while also challenging the critical agency of the contemporary artist when travelling.

Do you think that the advent of digital technology and the popularisation of tools that document and share our perception of the world has changed our relationship with it? 

Of course. Our perception of foreign places is strongly informed by the images widely circulating in the mass media and Internet. The easy access to images, production and circulation is radically transforming ‘the status of the image’ today, presenting a great challenge to artists. The collaborative practice of Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin interestingly points in this direction, critically reflecting on how holding a camera has historically been and still is an act carrying important ethical, political and social consequences.
Posted on
28 January 2013