Today’s POP is Stephanie. Canons and more canons.
In her second solo show, artist and Central Saint Martins visiting lecturer Leonora Hamill is currently displaying her most recent photographic study Art in Progress at the Podbielski Contemporary in Berlin.
Over the course of three years Hamill journeyed to institutions worldwide in an examination of the ways in which Fine Art is taught and practiced, capturing empty spaces of collective art practice. Through her long exposures, Hamill provides viewers with a thorough examination of the study of art: a study within a study, within a study.
We had a quick chat with Leonora to get a better idea of her purpose, what she’d discovered and what she’s planning to do next.
What were the major (or minor) differences you found between the schools, globally, through your study? Similarities?
There seems to be a certain uniformity to the way art is taught globally. In the majority of places I shot in, the art school is organized by medium, typically one comes across Painting, Sculpture and sometimes Graphic Design, Photography or Multimedia departments. In some institutions such as L’Ecole Nationale des Beaux-|Arts in Paris or the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf the studios are organized by professor instead of by medium, for example in Paris you have Giuseppe Penone’s studio where the students work side by side in different mediums. Obviously there are physical restrictions to this method, the dust from sculpting does not exactly go hand in hand with the spotless environment required for shooting. Some schools are a lot more traditional in their approach than others, for example the Sir J.J. Art School is Bombay was full of casts of statues from the Classical period whereas in the Faculty of Fine-Arts at the University of Baroda in Gujarat, the work I saw was pretty cutting-edge. Overall though I definitely found there to be more similarities than differences in the way fine-art is taught across the world.
What initiated the project?
The idea for Art in Progress emerged in China where I was doing an artist’s residency at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine-Arts three years ago. It is a huge red brick structure with thousands of students and not one single sign in English so I used to get very lost on my way to various meetings. As I turned in circles I would come across empty studios I was drawn to. Often there would be very familiar object, like for example a cast of the head of Michelangelo’s famous statue of David, in an otherwise very unfamiliar place. I started to wonder how art was taught across the world, if there was a certain continuity to the Western tradition of history of art and of the academy or if each country had its own didactic approach.
An empty school is always quite unnatural seeming as schools are spaces, which for the majority of the day, are filled with such life. The absence is extremely eerie. Why did you choose to photograph empty spaces as oppose to spaces with students/people/movement?
At the heart of my artistic practice, both in photography and video, is the notion of the other. I photograph the studios in Art in Progress, when the students have just left or will be returning shortly and the collective energy is palpable. Despite the lack of his/her physical presence, the other is very present through the space he/she has occupied, the objects he/she has engaged with, and the work he/she has created. In this case I think the idea of the other is heightened by his/her absence. The space condenses the passage of time, the passage of students, of their labour and of their hopes – it is a stratified sense of space.
How long had you been working on the series?
I have been working of the series for three years. It is been a great adventure travelling all over the world. Art in Progress does not however constitute a topography of any sort as I have by no means covered every country with an art school but I have tried to cover most world regions. At the beginning of the series I thought I would only shoot art schools in countries that were emerging on the international contemporary art scene so I went to Poland and Cuba but I quickly realized that that kind of judgment, who decides which country’s artistic tradition is emerging and which country’s artistic tradition is already established, is deeply subjective and hence problematic. I am very interested in the European tradition of the academy and felt that the institutions there belonged to my series. My decision to open up Art in Progress onto the world gave me the freedom to shoot wherever I had the opportunity of going to. Some places like the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf where photography as a fine-art medium first emerged in the 70s (with the teachings of Bernd and Hilla Becher) were absolutely essential to shoot and it was thrilling to be shooting the spaces where great artists such Andreas Gursky and Peter Doig teach today.
Do you plan to extend the series at all?
My monograph Art in Progress has already gone to press and will be published by Actes Sud in June as part of the Prix HSBC de la Photographie collection. However there are still some art schools I really want to shoot so the series will go on a little longer. I am off to shoot in Athens at the end of the month and am looking forward to finding the Greek statues I have seen scattered across art schools all over the world.
Leonora Hamill – Art in Progress on at the Podbielski Contemporary until 5th May 2012.
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