Prix Pictet Exhibition, V&A, May 2014 : Part Two

OCA Study Visits and Talks

2: Prix Pictet, V&A May 2014 Part Two

The winner was Michael Schmidt, who sadly died days after he was honoured at the V& A for his work Lebensmittel exploring the processes of the European food system. The images were taken at salmon farms, dairy farms, bread factories and abbattoirs and presented as an enormous collage in rows and columns without text so that the images spoke for themselves. Apart from the size, mirroring the scope and scale of the industries, it didn’t really grab my attention. Maybe I’ve seen too many similar series.

Mischka Henner’s was short-listed for Beef & Oil work using Google, to make a statement about how,  these landscapes represent a systematic intent to maximise production and yield in order to satisfy extraordinary levels of human consumption. The result is a natural landscape transformed into something not too dissimilar from the circuit boards that drive the logistical operations of these industries, and ultimately, feed consumers’ appetite for these resources. There is almost a beauty about these large scale appropriated images and it must have taken hours to access and process them, but I do find myself wishing that Henner would take some photographs sometimes. I know he was in the forefront with this type of work on Google images but there is so much of it around now.

There were two very different photographers who drew me in though. Hong Hao’s My Things  is a project he had been working on for 12 years, Day by day, I put my daily consumed objects into a scanner piece by piece, like keeping a visual diary. After scanning the original objects, I’ll save them in digital forms and categorise these digital files into different folders in my PC, in order to make a collage of them later on. This task, like yogi’s daily practice, has become a habit in my day-to-day life as well as a tool to observe the human condition in contemporary consumer society.

The collage, which to me seemed very much like a self-portrait of his personality, was amazing in its obsessive detail. I had visions of him almost being overwhelmed by the sheer number of objects he had been collecting. In my mind I kept contrasting him with Erik Kessels who also collects but arranges the photographs and albums etc into such picturesque installations.

The work I most enjoyed was Tea, Coffee & Cappuccino  presented as small images in a row. I had to step very close to see them, almost peer at them, which drew me in. People buying whatever frugal supplies they could in a bleak environment; one man squatting in the street, defecating I think.

I talked about them with tutor Clive and said I would like to take photographs such as that because they have a powerful narrative. His view was that they are vernacular photography, almost like snapshots, and yet there was a power in their record of life in Mikhailov’s home town of Charkow, Ukraine, between the years 2000 to 2010. I see them as similar to Hogarth’s work somehow, vignettes from everyday life and a poor life at that, whereas Mikhailov uses them to show the consumerist invasion of western capitalism – Old women have started wheeling around trolleys full of their commodities, calling out “Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino. It shows how used I am to this society of ours and yet would I want to go back to living the kind of life that my family had in the late C19th when my grandfather went around barefoot because his family couldn’t afford to buy him shoes.

The other paradox is that this Exhibition is supported by the Pictet Group  which is a private Swiss Bank and “one of the leading independent wealth and asset managers in Europe”.