On the Bright Side of Life
Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, Germany.
British Contemporary Photography
October 18th till November 23rd 1997
Every day 12 am-6.30pm
Still Under Siege, Derry © Victor Sloan
Faisal Abdu’Allah - Keith Arnatt - Zarina Bhimji - Helen Chadwick - Calum Colvin - Susan Derges - John Duncan - Anna Fox - Colin Grey - Anthony Haughey - Sarah Jones - John Kippin - Karen Knorr - Clive Landen - Rut Blees Luxenburg - Mari Mahr - Ron O’Donnell - Martin Parr - Keith Piper - Ingrid Pollard - Sophy Rickett - Paul Seawright - Victor Sloan - Jem Southam - Nick Waplington - Boyd Webb
The exhibition On the Bright Side of Life - BRITISH CONTEMPORARY PHOTOGRAPHY was put together by the Arbeitsgruppe Fotografie (Working Group for Photography) of the Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst (New Society for Visual Arts) in Berlin. It is the first time that British photography has been shown in such depth and with such a range of different participating artists.
However, On the Bright Side of Life is not just a compilation of the last two decades of British photo history. Rather this exhibition can be seen as the result of our German view of the vibrancy and diversity to be found in British photography. From this variety we decided to choose the projects that in some way dealt with British society. Accordingly, the very different points of view by the twenty-six invited artists combine to a multifaceted image of Great Britain. In their photographic projects these artists are concerned with the vital problems of a post-industrial nation: the growing alienation between humankind and ‘nature’, as well as the destructive potential of an unhindered consumer society for its environment; the expanding gap between the rich and the poor; the developing brutality of the society and sexual violence; the disturbed relationship with death; the new possibilities and dangers of gene technology; the high tension of society encompassing several ethnic groups as a heritage of its colonial past and the conflict in Northern Ireland, are the themes for some of the work in this exhibition.
With our selection we also wanted to demonstrate the range of aesthetic and theoretical approaches towards photography in Great Britain. All the photography in this exhibition is of a recent date. Some of the invited artists have been working with the medium of photography since the seventies or eighties, and have developed or decisively shaped the different styles prevalent in British photography. But we also have invited ‘newcomers’ who add new impulses and already receive international recognition. This way the work of the teacher and student generations are seen in dialogue with each other.
Quite a few of the images in this exhibition have an impressive beauty, and only on closer investigation do they reveal the traces of a fight about life and death. Great Britain as a nation comes under merciless scrutiny by the photographers, but their photographs are very attractive to the eye. The pictures’ details are very subtle. This subtlety is even found in the work which, by its overwhelming richness of information, seems to create a small microcosm of its own - a fantasy world, which nevertheless does not lose touch with reality exactly because it contains a carefully ‘jumble’ of everyday objects. Violence is never shown directly, but it looms menacingly in the background. In this exhibition clever and serene compositions and imaginative tableaux are side by side with images of harsh realism. This combines into a mixture of understatement, black humour and exuberant, absurd unruliness, as in the comedies of the Monty Python group. A certain optimistic, refined irony, which is often said to be the domain of the ‘British mentality’, is discernable in the selected works, despite their radical, and often very brutal, content. Thus Brian, who, in the last scene of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, is crucified since he stepped in for Jesus, arrives at the musical conclusion: “Always look on the bright side of life”.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue with essays by David A. Bailey, David Chandler, David A. Mellor, Brett Rogers and Val Williams, as well as colour reproductions of the artists’ work in the exhibition.
Neue Gesellschaft für bildende