During research for an exhibition project early this year, I interviewed the Brazilian artist Andrea Sandtfoss. I was amazed by the way she talked about her greatest influence, the artist Antonio Dias. She emphasized his nomad characteristics and his sense of not belonging to the places where he'd lived. I asked her if she identified with the issue of not being able to settle somewhere. “I don’t identify, but I would like to. To leave the roots; to go astray.” Exactly two months after this interview, I received the invitation for the opening of What Surrounds, an exhibition presenting the photographs of Lara Merrington and Emiliano Fernandez de Rodrigo—which coincidentally deals with the dilemma between moving and belonging.
Lara is an independent photographer and curator. She studied a Bachelor of Visual Arts, graduating with honors in Photography, at the University of South Australia. She has lived for spates of time in South America and Spain and currently lives and works in Berlin.
Emiliano studied at Escuela Argentina de Fotografia and became more involved in Photography after undertaking workshops with Juan Travnik and Marcos Zimmermann, who inspired him to pursue photography as a career. In 2012, his work was published into a book after winning the CDF Open call for Latin American Photographers. He has exhibited his work in numerous shows and also currently lives and works in the big B.
Although there is no intentional connection between What Surrounds and the work of Antonio Dias, I was intrigued because the exhibition text quotes one of the most fascinating thinkers of the late twentieth century, the Czech philosopher Vilém Flusser: "The fault is not ours alone or that of our inability to experience the world… rather, the fault lies in the concrete relationship we have with the world."
After climbing the stairs to the top floor, I arrived at II II // I, a space entirely managed by artists. The exhibition divides the environment between Lara's sensitive and minimalist work and the color intensity of Emiliano's photographs, leading the viewer between polarities as if penetrating two different times.
The photographers and I had a long exchange about experiencing and observing the peculiarities of the world and the process of bringing this vision to the public.
BAPs: Do you work together? Are the photographs exhibited in What Surrounds part of a project you developed as a duo?
LM+EFR: Although we have shown our work in some of the same exhibitions, they have always been larger group shows. So this is actually our first collaboration together, which is exciting. With this one we worked on the exhibition from start to finish with a much more conscious and focused approach, discussing the concepts, the images and how it would all work in the space.
BAPs: The selection of the photographs and the way they were displayed was chosen by both of you. Do you believe that being responsible for your own exhibition is the best way to contextualize your work?
LM: Yes and no. I think an outside perspective can often be really beneficial to contextualizing your work. As an artist, sometimes you get so deep into what you are doing and it all makes perfect sense to you, but it becomes misinterpreted or miscommunicated completely when it goes public—sometimes this element of uncertainty is a good thing. Other times, the point you are trying to make just doesn't get across because you have gone SO deep into it—or not deep enough that it is unreadable for an audience. Then again, this brings up the question: is what you are making intended for an audience? And who is that audience anyway?
BAPs: You quote an excerpt from The Freedom of the Migrant, written by the Czech philosopher Vilém Flusser in which he reflects on experience. Does What Surrounds reflect on the foreigner’s – or should I say, the explorer’s – experience?
LM: Yes, I went to a roundtable discussion the other night and this was the text that was being discussed. I had actually never read anything by Flusser before. But it was one of those moments where Emiliano and I had been talking about and looking at our work together for the last few days and were in a bit of a lull and suddenly I got that moment—reading this text—where I said Yes, Flusser, Yes! You beauty. Flusser’s options of experience were exactly the point that articulated and brought our works together as an exhibition.
EFR: If you think the foreigner or the explorer as the person that discovers or find new things, then yes. The aim of What Surrounds is to observe and see how it is possible to assign or re-assign new meaning to daily objects or situations. But this explorer-photographer has nothing to do with going far away geographically (although this is exactly what I did to photograph all of this). Travel is the kick-start for the journey of the travel of the mind (please, do not put a picture of me here wearing orange robes and meditating).
BAPs: Although Flusser’s quote seems somewhat pessimistic, making us reflect on the fault that lies in the relationship we have with the world, are the photographs a way of expressing the explorer’s freedom?
LM: You are right, it is slightly negative this statement, but really it makes us think—rather than just accept. In one way, yes: the photographs express the explorer’s freedom. I think the ability the traveler or explorer has—or even the photographer actually—is to always be able to see things in a different way with 'fresh' eyes when presented with new surrounding: to make links between an object and one's surrounding, to be more imaginative and a storyteller of a situation, not just to document.
EFR: YES, one of many.
BAPs: Is it about being free from something or being free for something?
LM+EFR: You could say that one central thing pulling the works together is a sense of freedom and I would say it is more in the sense of 'for' i.e. freedom to see the world around oneself in a different way than what we are immediately presented with, and in the way our minds are conditioned to think and see. In these photos, which we both took on our travels, we both photograph what might often be seen as the mundane. So the freedom to wander, take the time and really try to understand or place yourself where you are situated, rather than go blindly walking around, snapping and not thinking. This is a freedom of the traveler and not the tourist. This is expressed not only in the singular images themselves, but also in the narrative read between the images, from one to the next.
LM: There is a great book, which I always refer back to in my travels and a quote in particular that I love: “The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.” ― Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel.
BAPs: Emiliano, early this year you exhibited your work at SAVVY Contemporary. When I asked you where a picture was taken you said, “Does it matter?" What about What Surrounds? Does it matter where the pictures were taken?
EFR: Yes that's true. I remember we had that conversation. And I suppose, as a traveler and having lived in different countries over the last 4 years, that place should be a very important thing to me. But I think this is what differentiates my photographs from just being travel photos, for instance. So in this particular exhibition, although it is interesting that the pictures were taken in different countries, we have left the works without this defining information in the titles. By doing this, it contextualizes the image and what meanings people will inherently try to place upon that image due to it's location.
One of the main things (I / We) are interested in this show, is blurring out those boundaries in order to explore this notion that the human relationship with one's surroundings is not determined by geographies, but rather is found within oneself. How do you know if all the pictures were not taken in the same country or in the same street? This is the idea. To put the attention on the image; not taking anything for granted.
- II II // I Space – "What Surrounds" by Lara Merrington and Emiliano Fernandez de Rodrigo – May 30th to June 13th, 2013 (by appointment only). [Price range of works: 50-350 Euros].
Article by Bel Borst