1 February 2012

Two things of note..

© Edward Burtynsky
Yep - the temperatures are Siberian, the Tories are in power and all the Christmas chocolate is gone, but I'm determined to find things to smile about this month, starting with the following..

1) The Photographers' Gallery set to re-open!

After a long (18-month) wait, during which time I have tried and failed to attend any number of Photographers' Gallery events in temporary locations around London – a combination of obscenely quick 'sell-outs' and my inability to use their website are to blame – this wonderful gallery will be back in Londoners' lives from 19th May 2012. It always puzzled me that the gallery closed so quickly after moving to its new location in Ramillies Street (off Oxford Street, W1F 7LW), but apparently this was always part of the plan - to establish the gallery in its new site, tease us with a few months of great shows and talks, and then disappear again while the gallery was renovated for permanent use.

I can't wait to see the new building; we are promised twice the exhibition space of the old gallery, a whole floor set aside for 'education' and a new bookshop, café and print sales room. In addition, the gallery have already announced the two shows that will inaugurate the new space - a 'retrospective' of Edward Burtynsky's mammoth 'OIL' series, in which he documents the workings, addresses the consequences and envisions the future of our oil-dependency; and 'An Afternoon Unregistered on The Richter Scale', a video work in which the Delhi-based Raqs Media Collective reproduce and reimagine one particular archival photograph from early-twentieth-century Calcutta. While I know of Raqs Media Collective, I've never scene their work 'in the flesh', so I'm really looking forward to this one. Edward Burtynsky also appeals, and it'll be interesting to see how he engages with work that has preceded him, including Mitch Epstein's towering 'American Power' series.

© Zarina Bhimji

2) Zarina Bhimji at Whitechapel Gallery

I'm ashamed to say that this exhibition had passed me by until now (saving myself, as I am, for Whitechapel's Gillian Wearing retrospective later in the year..) but I visited the gallery on Saturday and really enjoyed seeing this work. Turner Prize-nominee Bhimji makes film installations and large-scale photographic prints, usually focussing on sites in India and East Africa and subjecting the forgotten and often dilapidated buildings in her works to a deep, sustained gaze that unravels their structure, history and visual composition.

Colour seems to be particularly important for Bhimji, whose intensely printed photographs are stunning to behold and distracting, even, in the sense that their jewel-like beauty confuses the 'archaeology of place' which is ostensibly one of her themes. It's hard to unpick or analyse the evidence of time's passage when all you can think about is how gorgeous old buildings look! Indeed, my only reservation about the show was that this rapturous, high-fidelity visual style is in evidence throughout all of the work on display, however hard-hitting (or not) its subject (as in as series about the controversial examination of women as part of British immigration protocols in the 1970s). It could begin to feel, to some viewers, like an affection that Bhimji can't shake off. In other works, however, it is precisely this attention to aesthetic 'effect' that gives the work its force. In the film 'Yellow Patch', a study of trade and migration across the Indian Ocean, the subtle movement of Bhimji's camera around the colonial port buildings of Mumbai, in combination with a hypnotic, slowly shifting soundtrack, forces the viewer to read the history and architecture of these buildings in a way that would be difficult to replicate through a single, silent still.

This show, the first major survey of Bhimji's work, is open until 9th March and is, amazingly, completely free to visitors. Might even be enough to take your mind of things until summer gets here..