Sunrise was forecasted at 7:42 this morning which meant if I was to beat it to Purgatory an even earlier rise was needed. And I suppose that the frost had one essential benefit which was to freeze the flood plain in front of Purgatory. It was chilly this morning in that in-between land.
I’ve been considering my reaction to the recent exhibition ‘Conflict. Time. Photography’ at the Tate Modern a lot recently. I’ve been asked for my reaction to it from a couple of places which has helped me to focus my thoughts on what I think now is an interesting show, but not necessarily from the aspect of the curatorial intent. After the second viewing I was involved in a student discussion about the show and there was a suggestion that the show might have been more about photography than about it’s combined titular aspect. Well, I thought, the clue’s in the title – it was always going to about photography in some form or another. Was it though perhaps more to do with the photographer or the ambition of the curator? I suspect both.
As I continue to create work for this project in Purgatory I am aware that I have about twelve months to do so, I am particularly pleased to be starting this work in winter, I can sense the level of difficulty that even a moderate change in the climate can bring to this un-managed land. It hasn’t been that wet so far and the cold hasn’t dipped for too long at a time. Three years ago this area would have been under two feet of snow. But at this time of year it isn’t a pleasant land, it is recalcitrant. The earth yields readily to the step, yet easier to water whose presence is what demanded the builders to place Purgatory on ground above the flood-plain. Today’s tractors leave deep trenches as they career from field to field, a century or more ago cartwheels might have been too difficult to manoeuvre for weeks if not months at a time.
The more I considered the show at the Tate, the more I wondered about both the curatorial aspect and the notion of ‘Conflict’. Both times I visited the exhibition I lost the idea of ‘Time’ – maybe it was because I wanted to engage with the work, to see what narrative I could extract from the imagery, but as I passed from room to room (lots of rooms) the notion that I was passing through fields of time passed me by. The artists in rooms were often from different eras, their approach to their work, though perhaps contemporary at the (their) ‘Time’ often clashed with each other. This conflation of epochs might have helped to foster questions in the minds of students, but it was at the expense of cohesion. I have come to reflect that the ‘Conflict’ might have been a comment on the way by which artists and photographic commentators had conflicting approaches to the events they were attempting to either to document or to register their emotional response to. The elegantly described innards of Hitler’s bunker in beautiful modernist full tone imagery alongside the artfully constructed conceptual pieces of fiction, crafted by the teamwork of model maker and photographer/fictionalist? Which one being closer to any concept of truth as document would have been an easy calculation, with one being more concerned with form over fact. ‘And so it goes’, as Clive Wight reminded us of a Vonnegut quotation. The real beneficiary of this exhibition was the student, able to wander freely in ‘Time’ with no concept of how and when they might end up. Alarums and distractions from various quarters, seemingly unconnected works of visual referencing to anything but an abstraction of time, which apart from its tutorly contribution left me with a sense of conflict, a conflict of what I should feel about the subject matter, and not about the tenuous linkage between rooms. As Keith Greenough suggested, maybe the images were moulded to provide rigourous referencing for the concept. A clash of styles and genres that for me added to less than the sum of its parts.
And so back to Purgatory where I hope to conflate Time and Conflict with Photography. I was able to return home after and hour or so in the field and if I had dampened the inner soles of my boots they would be dry before the day was out. No confliction there about how long to stay in this unsettled land, when the sun came up and over the ridge to the south east of Purgatory it started to feel like time to go home to central heating and a hot mug of tea. Home is where the hearth is and it is a cold hearth in this sodden land.