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Territory Is Measured at the Borders Author(s): Martin Prinzhorn and Susan Mackervoy Reviewed work(s): Source: Afterall: A Journal

of Art, Context, and Enquiry, Issue 16 (Autumn/Winter 2007), pp. 54-61 Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20711658 . Accessed: 11/04/2012 03:31
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Tenebrionidae, Asbolus verrucosus, Death Feigning Beetle, Silverlake, California, October 1,1996,1996, gelatin 27.9 silver print, 35.6cm

Territory ? Martin

Is Measured Prinzhorn

at the Borders

The relationship within purposes, conceptual has

between

photography tomove art practices become less and

as an autonomous away less from clear

art form

and

as a medium for deflationist or thirty

used

was still relatively simple todistinguish between classical photography and years ago it ? 'expanded' photography alternative practices which consistently used the form and content of thepicture to referbeyond the frame of the image to another, external level of meaning. There has been somuch work exploring the transitions between concept and the idea of a 'pure' image that the two aspects are closely interwoven and oftenvery

steadily

painting, ultimately in recent decades. Twenty

difficult to tell apart. Defying thenegative assertions of cultural pessimists, history and arthistory have continued to evolve in recent decades and within thishistoric perspective
all positions and their boundaries necessarily have a dynamic character. Nowadays As this

may not always involve the creation ofnew paradigms or agendas, but itdoes lead to the
development of new

were drawn in thepast cases where boundaries have become problematic because they
in the relationship of figurative and non-figurative painting, for example, or between

perspectives

and

the re-examination

of old positions.

in other

? the artwork and the space surrounding it theparticularly interesting artistic positions are those that explicitly address these problems of definition and make them a central element of theirpractice. The important thinghere is that the artistworks within a particular medium, while at the same timebuilding up enough distance from this within a dynamic historical perspective we can and should not rely medium to show that
on

stage in theprocess ofhistoric definition thepath is oftena verynarrow one: it is extremely difficult todecide when a photograph is simply a substitute for a painting and merely rehearses traditional habits of perception, and when it is a distinctivemedium carryingwith itall the complexity and contradictions of recent developments. As an artistic medium, photography is far from being so new that itautomatically induces ? be understood asmerely a system of reference for fulfilling various nostalgic desires bringing thedead back to life, so to speak. Photography, with itsbuilt-in potential for In his earlyworks, Christopher Williams already established a distance from his medium by using foundmaterials; laterhe does thisby having assistants produce the images under his direction. Of course, thiskind of procedure does notmean that his individual artistic signature is eradicated, yet at the same time it ensures that the
subjective overleaf within 3 White Postman), (DG}s Mr. Fourth Race, relativises What he viewpoint the medium, conjures up is not identified with the camera's viewfinder are made 'eye' is no but remains separate, the artist's mind. This where in turn ensures the metaphor that decisions of the artist's always on a level which longer possible. but quotation, is particularly susceptible in this respect. a subversive or objectivising mode of understanding. At the same time history can also

past

assumptions

about

the medium's

attributes.

In

photography

still at an early

from his mind, and nature

of course,

remains

Phoenix, Greyhound
Park, Phoenix, Arizona,

photography in all its facets and various genres, from thepress photo through toportrait,
architectural

photography,

22,1994,1994, August
gelatin silver print, 27.9x35.6cm

medium of the
where but simulation.

photograph role

enormously; on the other hand this expansion collapses at thepoint


as remote stage-manager exposes this expansion as nothing

study. On

the one hand

this expands

the scope

the artist's

Christopher

Williams

|55

ft

Afterall 56 I

Christopher

Williams

|57

SOURCE:

The

Photographic Archive, Uohn F. Kennedy Library..., 1981, gelatin silver print, 24 X 35cm

58 Afterall I

Williams's earlyworks are still very reminiscent of theConceptual art of the 1960s and 70s for example his selection of press photographs from archives to form an exhibition inwhich JohnF. Kennedy has his back towards the camera or ishidden
by other

because the central subject of the images has been obscured thephotographs become disfunctional; in their original context this divested them of meaning to thepoint of but in the context of art their work meaning is restored, because here they unusability, as images pointing beyond what they make visible. A typical quality of Williams's work moment thingshave been displaced from their is already apparent here: in just a tiny
usual role ? a brief

people.

Here

the stage-management

and

concept

reside

in the act of selection:

world of the image in a way that totallydestabilises the lens and the subject has shifted the
it. The

turning-away

from

the camera

or one

person's

small

step between

and can only bemade sense of through the conceptual act, through explanatory narrative. Unlike many first-generation examples of Conceptual art this reference toan invisible concept is no longer an explicit, emphatic actwhich itselfbecomes the focal point of the work; instead ithas something non-committal about it,as if thiswere only one of several
possible

image

itself as an autonomous

object

somehow

becomes

completely

mysterious

One of these earlyworks produced under the artist's direction shows a greyhound running round the curve of a track in a dog race. At first sight thiswork seems tobe the exact opposite of thedocumentary photographs taken from the archive. In terms of content,however, we are again dealing with documentary photography as a genre: the sports photograph. This time the central subject of the work, thedog, is emphasised
even more than would be usual in a documentary photograph. The impression created,

options.

not only through theprinting process, is of a highly elaborated work, completely contradicting thefleeting nature of the scene depicted: the result is a certain feeling of artificiality.The dramatic moment, thehundredth of a second inwhich the image was close to an ideal imagewhich appears to rely solely on its content and its formal beauty Yet as you look at thepicture the impression steadily grows that there is for its effect. which fixed the image in an artistic in factno immediacy here at all: that the artificiality
context was also inherent captured, contradicts the artistic perfection of the end result. Here Williams moves very

manifesting itself only in an obsessive disappears almost to thepoint of invisibility,


perfection which presents as a stage-managed scene or simulation something which

in the process

of thought

leading

to its creation.

The

concept

in fact cannot be such at all. This work already shows something thatplays a key role in laterworks, i.e. that the conceptual level isno longer many of Christopher Williams's introduced explicitly but reveals itself only through very delicate manipulations in the border zones which distinguish a simple image from a conceptual work. As you look at the work itsaesthetic qualities initially push you in a very definite, apparently easily medium is also important: these subtle, gradually fact that the artisthas chosen a specific medium and a elements require a thorough knowledge of the perceptible alienating of all thevarious contexts inwhich it can be used. knowledge
InWilliams's comprehensible direction; and yet on closer inspection this proves to be tenuous. Here the

with specific genres which are being used in an unproblematic way. Their up-front Warholian transfiguration of the advertising aestheticmight be seen as a kind of we are all familiar with fromKodak film packs the artistbrings a totallydifferent that dimension into the images, something which like the subjects of the images themselves medium. This has a dual effect here: on the one belongs to the collectivememory of the material which actually constitutes the hand it is a reference to the medium; on the other itappears within the content like an alien body which has got lost somewhere in transit work resides between different levels of interpretation.Here, too, the tension of the ? in the fact that it initially ventures into almost banal territory theportraitsmight be utilised in a tourist catalogue or something of thekind but thenundermines this
concept territory with is not a small seen intervention, pointing to in a very different traditions, direction. Here the as an alternative particular in the way that first genera everyday into a new, very restrained reworking of Pop art. Yet with the yellow colour

portraits

of Eurasian

women,

too, we

seem

to be

dealing

initially

tionConceptual artists positioned themselves against painting and sculpture, but simply as a way of always being able topoint in a differentdirection, laying bare theprocesses Williams medium operates. Itwould be wrong, therefore, to argue that bywhich the

Christopher

Williams

|59

defines his position from a Conceptual art basis; in fact, following on from his teacher JohnBaldessari, he sees itas a way of constantly asking new questions of the apparently
fixed dimensions and rules of artistic discourse.

minimal interventions involves turning things around. In a series Another of these ofworks Williams has depicted beetles lying on theirbacks. The form of theseworks is reminiscent of classic black-and-white photography familiar from natural history documentation and the aesthetic style it established. In otherwords theyare radically differentfrom the otherworks discussed so far.The animals are taken out of their natural context and photographed against a neutral background; the setting as a whole transmits a kind of academic monotony as a foil fordocumenting pure form.Yet this neutrality itself is disrupted by the animals' position that signifieshelplessness and
therefore brings in an element of drama. Again as viewers we find ourselves in a space

that cannot be clearly denned: in this case the artisthas created the ambiguity not through external references but through a simple inversion. Although we may all have

which we do not connectwith the insect's helplessness somuch as with a particular


1 The beetles used in the photoshoot were death-feigning beetles.

observed beetles in this situation, in theseworks all natural elements are excluded and everythingpoints towards an elaborately stage-managed scene (Williams produced some of theseworks in collaboration with an insect trainer for Hollywood films).1 The aesthetic impression created by this contradictory quality is one of cruelty cruelty

Kodak Three Point Reflection Guide, ? 1968 Eastman Kodak Company, 1968. (Miko smiling). Vancouver, B.C. April 6, 2005, 2005, c-print, 50.8 61cm

60 Afterall I

it is the artist's distance tohis medium which makes this other perspective possible. The camera here isnot an 'expanded eye'with the eye's subjective qualities but amedium which already has a very long history and a correspondingly extensive archive of images
and effects.

historically identifiableway of depicting natural objects by reducing them toformal criteria. These photographs have a counterpart in otherworks produced at the same time inwhich a car is photographed in a very similar way, against a neutral background, ? seen machine which except thathere it is the through the eye of a nature researcher ? amodern aesthetic stance suddenly acquires a helpless, pitiable quality. Again taking

Yet Christopher Williams is always dealing with more than just the relationship of photography to art. Working at theboundaries of thegenre in thegrey areas where classifications cannot be made a priori but reveal themselves only through the work's own processual dynamic - he points to the openness and open-endedness which must always be part of the artistic process when it takes place in awareness of a historic

Kodak Three Point

? Guide, 1968 modes of seeing are subject to change habits and routines can be created and then Reflection KodakCompany, disrupted. Transforming this interplay into art and constantly arriving at a point which Eastman is not an end point but contains within itself thenext necessary development is perhaps 1968. (Mikolaughing). most fundamental attribute of good art, regardless of the medium being employed. B. the Vancouver, C.April6,
2005, 2005, c-print,_ 50.8 61cm Translated by Susan Mackervoy

context.

The uncertainties

and

ambiguities

the artist generates

in the viewer

show

that

Christopher

Williams

|61