Study Visit– Stranger than fiction–Joan Fontcuberta – 26 Sept 2014

This exhibition was held in the Media Space at the London Science Museum

Prior to visiting the exhibition, I read this article from the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jul/08/joan-fontcuberta-stranger-than-fiction

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This is an impressive exhibition of work made over a period from 1987 to 2002. Fontcuberta is a Spanish artist/photographer born in 1955. This particular collection asks us to question the veracity of photography and especially the “authority” under which it is used. There are six distinct collections and each one is described briefly below.

Fauna (1987)

This museum display, a complete fabrication by Fontcuberta and Pere Formiguera, shows the archive of zoological discoveries of the fictional Peter Armeisenhaufen who researched into the ‘exceptions’ to Darwin’s theory of evolution. It is a complete exhibition with detailed notes, photographs and “specimens” It’s complexity, size and scope could make it believable  were it not for the fantastic nature of some of them.

Herbarium (1984)

This collection of black and white photographs, reminiscent of the detailed  work of Karl Blossfeldt, shows and names (in the style of Linnaeus) new species of plants. Again, questioning the truth of photographs, Fontcuberta has constructed these plants from existing plant materials, scrap metal and plastic into fantastic but believable specimens,

Orogenesis  (2002)

These mountain ranges have been generated by scanning existing works of art into a topographical geographical software program which converts contour lines into three dimensional landscape images. These frames are printed at large scale and show convincing geographical features.

Constellations (1993)

Another convincing collection of apparent images of the night sky showing named constellations. Fontcuberta made these by holding photographic paper against the windscreen of his car to record the fly specks and dirt accumulated during is travels.

Sirens (2000)

This construction and placement of “fossils” of so called Hydropithecus alpinus in the Provence region of France is the most convincing (or least unconvincing) of Fontcuberta’s  hoaxes, telling about the discovery of mer people in southern France.

Karelia, Miracles & Co (2002)

The most tongue in cheek of Fontcuberta’s collections of images in which he tries to convince us that monks in a certain monastery in Karelia (Finland) are taught to perform miracles and he is out to disprove it.

Growing up as he did in the final years of the France regime in Spain, Fontcuberta learned to question authority where government rewrote history for its own purposes. He says his photography is “a way to  challenge the authoritative discourse” As a former advertising professional he says “I learned how to lie” and that he enjoys “playing with ambiguity”.

Our discussion after the exhibition included reference to religious dogma  and the strength of organised and state religion in the formation of opinion and statements of “truth”. I think work like this is invaluable because it forces us to treat photography with a certain scepticism and not to accept blindly everything that is presented to us, no matter how convincingly it may be done.

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One thought on “Study Visit– Stranger than fiction–Joan Fontcuberta – 26 Sept 2014

  1. Pingback: Project: Documentary, performance and fictions | OCA Photography 2 Documentary

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