Constructed Landscapes

Dafna Talmor’s spellbinding landscape series encourages a more active way of looking from the viewer

You can immediately tell that this collection of imagery isn’t a literal depiction of a place. But how they’re crafted – so spellbindingly weird and off-kilter – might remain a mystery. These are the works found in Dafna Talmor’s Constructed Landscapes, an ongoing project conceived through a unique process of slicing and splicing. The work is housed over three sub-series and developed over 10 years, the result of which is a collection of remodelled environments shot over various locations in Venezuela, Israel, the US and UK. What’s interesting, though, is its merging familiarity and the unknown; maybe you’ll recognise a tree or lake, before it slowly it morphs into an experimental yet staged recreation.

Dafna is an artist and lecturer based in London whose work spans photography, video, education, fine arts, curation and collaborations. Her works have been exhibited wildly, and her pictures have been included in private collections internationally as well as public, including Deutsche Bank, Hiscox. Through her practice, she tosses all preconceptions of the photographic medium in the fire and asks us all to question the role and methods behind taking and constructing an image. Constructed Landscapes does just that as it features transformed colour negatives, alluding a version of utopia – somewhere far away from a concrete reality. 

In terms of the process, Dafna condenses multiple frames and collages the negatives. It’s a technique that enables her to re-centre the focus point of the photograph, placing more emphasis on the technique of layering and assembling, rather than an obvious subject matter. By doing so, elements from differing frames crossover and interact with one another, causing fragments to collide and, in essence, create a new version of itself. In somewhat of a succinct summary of her alluring methodology, this is how her hypnagogic photographs are formed. 

However, Dafna’s work goes far deeper than the intriguing process. In fact, the series references moments of photography history, such as pictorials processes, modernist experiments and film. Wonderfully allegorical, this opens up a dialogue about the role and study of manipulation, pointing the viewer at the crossroad of the analogue and digital divide. Yet aside from the questions that will arise, the work is simultaneously a beautiful merging of fact and fiction where burnt out hillsides, rusty toned bushes and treetops are combined. It’s a vision; one that transcends the 2D image into site specific vinyl wallpapers, spaces, photograms and publications. Not to mention the numerous exhibitions, including a recently closed show at Tobe Gallery in Budapest, accompanied by a book. 

Speaking of the works involved in this show, Dafna writes in the release: “Site-specific interventions have consisted of several iterations of a flatbed scan of a clear acrylic board – used to cut my negatives and protect my light box since the inception of the project – as source material. Over time, I became interested in the object beyond its practical function and the way in which the residue and traces of the incisions allude to the manual process in an abstract yet indexical way. Like a photographic plate, the embedded marks represent the manual labour and passing of time, acting as a pseudo document that continually evolves with each new incision.”

“Besides a series of spatial interventions, the cutting board has been used to produce several editions of direct colour contact prints to date,” she adds. “Alluding further to its subtle transformative nature, one could say the colour photograms bear a more analogous relationship via the preservation and reproduction of the one-to-one scale of the incisions. When printed, the orange reddish hues are in dialogue with the red flares – consequently transposed and scaled up from the cuts on the negatives – in the main exhibition prints.”

“Through the various components of the project, an intrinsic element of the work is embedded, suggested and explored within the photographic frame in a myriad of ways; diverse forms of reproduction, representation and notions of scale that get played out aim to defy a fixed point of view, in terms of how images of – and actual – landscapes, are experienced and mediated. Inviting the viewer to move in and out of the frame, aims to encourage a more active way of looking and perpetuate a heightened awareness of one’s position as a viewer.”

Miró on Miró

In an excerpt from a new book of reflections by the iconic Spanish surrealist, Joan Miró, the artist considers his work, his career and his influences

Joan Miró, shot by Carl Van Vechten in Barcelona, June 1935

A voice. For days and days my inner ear was attuned to this voice, which I’ve tried to recreate using the notes I took. These words, which started slowly, but grew bit by bit in speed and in number, ending on the afternoon of November 25, 1958 — how to capture them without freezing them? Miró himself was clear and precise. But speech, by its very nature, seems so different to me from writing that I wondered whether the conversion from one to the other would even be possible, until a phenomenon, which I hoped for intensely but surprised me all the same, occurred. 

To describe it, we luckily have Miró’s own words: it is, in fact, a seedling, a new growth. Something in my memory sets down roots, throws up a trunk, branches, leaves. In short, it’s as if some part of me became the garden workshop he talked about where his work grows. A tree of written words, whose image I set in motion and recorded in its spoken version, is born.

Having arrived at this point, I realise that what grows, in me and on paper, traces itself too: there is a kind of drawing, of a figure, of a face. In other words, I also fulfil the requirements of a portrait artist. “Now,” I said to myself, “portraitists don’t usually add their own portrait to that of their subject.” As a result, I’ve tried to suppress any questions that represent myself and which I put to Miró, to leave nothing more than the face, the tree, or the monologue of one of the greatest painters of our times – Yvon Taillandier. Paris, 1963.

The spectacle of the sky overwhelms me.
          I’m overwhelmed when I see, in an immense sky, the crescent of the moon, or the sun. There are, in my pictures, tiny forms in huge empty spaces. Empty spaces, empty horizons, empty plains — everything bare has always greatly impressed me.
          In the contemporary visual climate, I like factories, nighttime lights, the world seen from a plane. I owe one of the greatest emotions of my life to a night flight over Washington. Seen from a plane at night, a city is a marvellous thing. From a plane, you can see everything. A little person, even a very little dog, can be seen. And this takes on enormous importance, like one or two lights from peasants in the absolute darkness, during a night flight over the countryside.

The simplest things give me ideas. A bowl from which a peasant eats his soup; I prefer this to the ridiculously sumptuous plates of the rich.
           Folk art always moves me. In this art there is neither cheating nor faking. It goes straight to the point. It surprises, and is rich in possibilities.

Figure à la bougie, 1925

When I began, the painters who made a strong impression on me were Van Gogh, Cézanne, and Le Douanier Rousseau. In loving Rousseau, I already loved folk art. The older I grow, the greater importance this art has for me. A hayfork well carved by a peasant is very important to me.

For me an object is alive; this cigarette, this matchbox, contain a secret life much more intense than that of most humans. I see a tree, I get a shock, as if it were something breathing, talking. A tree, too, is something human.

I work in a state of passion and frenzy. When I begin a canvas, I obey a physical impulse, a need to act; it’s like a physical discharge.
          Of course, a painting can’t satisfy me right away. At the beginning, I feel the distress I described. But as I’m a great fighter in these sorts of things, I throw myself into the struggle.
          It’s a battle between me and what I’m doing, between me and the canvas, between me and my distress. This struggle is passionately exciting to me. I work until the distress leaves me.

I work for a long time, sometimes years, on the same canvas. But all this time, there are periods, sometimes quite long, when I’m not doing anything with it.
          The important thing for me is that its point of departure — the shock that determined it — must be felt.
          It doesn’t worry me if a canvas remains in progress for years in my studio. On the contrary, when I’m rich in canvases that have a point of departure vital enough to set off a series of rhythms, a new life, new living things, I’m happy.
          I think of my studio as a kitchen garden. Here, there are artichokes. There, potatoes. Leaves must be cut so the fruit can grow. At the right moment, I must prune.

I work like a gardener or a winemaker. Things come slowly. My vocabulary of forms, for example — I didn’t discover it all at once. It formed itself almost in spite of me.
          Things follow their natural course. They grow, they ripen. I must graft. I must water, as with lettuce. Ripening goes on in my mind. So I’m always working at a great many things at the same time. And even in different fields: painting, engraving, lithography, sculpture, ceramics.

Circus Horse, 1927

In an artwork, you should be able to discover new things every time you see it. But you can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it for the rest of your life. For me, a picture should be like sparks. It must dazzle like the beauty of a woman or a poem. It must have radiance; it must be like those stones that Pyrenean shepherds use to light their pipes.

An artwork must be fertile. It must give birth to a world. Whether you see it in the flowers, people, or horses matters little as long as it reveals a world, something alive.
          Two and two don’t make four. They only make four to an accountant. But we mustn’t stop there; the picture must make everything clear; it must fertilise the imagination.
          I don’t rule out the possibility that a businessman, looking at one of my pictures, might discover the means of doing a deal, or a scholar, the means of solving a problem.
          The solution offered by a picture is a solution of a general order applicable to all sorts of other fields.

More than the picture itself, what counts is what it throws into the air, what it exhales. It doesn’t matter if the image is destroyed. Art can die; what matters is that it scatters seeds on the ground. I liked surrealism because the surrealists didn’t consider painting as an end. With a painting, in fact, we shouldn’t care whether it remains as it is, but rather whether it sets the germs of growth, whether it sows seeds from which other things will spring.

Joan Miró: I Work Like a Gardener by Joan Miró, preface by Robert Lubar (Princeton Architectural Press, £14.99) is available now

Translated by Joyce Reeves, with additional translation by Kevin Lippert

We select an evening wear edit inspired by the Surrealist movement

Julian Rosefeldt: An Artist’s Manifesto

Port speaks to director and artist Julian Rosefeldt about his film Manifesto, a meditation on modern artistic manifestos in which Cate Blanchett plays 13 different characters

FLUXUS / MERZ / PERFORMANCE, Manifesto © Julian Rosefeldt

Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto, a feature length film derived from an art installation of the same same name, is a tough sell on paper. The film is divided into thirteen sections, each with a different main character played by Cate Blanchett (a la I’m Not There, in which Bob Dylan is embodied by six actors, including Blanchett) who recite excerpts from over fifty individual manifestos of art, from Dada to Dogma 95. Alongside a touring exhibition of the sections simultaneously projected onto separate screens in an overwhelming sensory soundscape, the more conventionally structured film of Manifesto, in which the sections are stitched together into a 90 minute feature, premiered at Sundance Festival in January, and has its general UK release later this month.

SURREALISM / SPATIALISM, Manifesto © Julian Rosefeldt

What relevance do these artistic credos, some of which are approaching their centenary, have for people not in the art world? “The art world is a bit of a closed circle,” explains writer, director and producer Julian Rosefeldt from his home in Berlin. “We’re imprisoned in a white cube where we always speak with people who don’t necessarily have to be convinced, because they agree with everything we have to say already. We consider these important issues, but we don’t talk to the right people about them.”

STRIDENTISM / CREATIONISM, Manifesto © Julian Rosefeldt

In different hands, this cerebral mixture could easily have produced quite a dry film: one to be cautiously admired, rather than enjoyed. Yet, Rosefeldt and Blanchett pull off the impressive feat of making these scholarly manifestos digestible, comprehensible and almost conversational.  In Blanchett’s portrayal of a dizzying range of characters – including a homeless man, a single mother and a ballet choreographer – century old texts written almost exclusively by dead, white men, go through a certain democratisation. “I wanted to depict a kaleidoscope of society,” Rosefeldt says.

SITUATIONISM, Manifesto © Julian Rosefeldt

The film is also tonally diverse. The second section features a wild-eyed homeless man, screaming through a microphone with only a post-apocalyptic wasteland to act as witness. This is immediately followed by a stockbroker extolling the virtues of speed and technology that complicated the Futurist movement with overtly Fascist overtones. In Manifesto’s most arresting sequence, Blanchett presides over a Dadaesque funeral mourning (and simultaneously celebrating) the death of art. This scene was filmed in the dying light of a brief winter afternoon in Berlin, Blanchett nailing the eviscerating speech in just one or two takes.

DADAISM, Manifesto © Julian Rosefeldt

This palpable sense of unease and impending catastrophe is punctured by scenes of surprising comedy, such as sculptor Claes Oldenburg’s ‘I Am For An Art’ recited with reverence by a Southern mother saying grace. “I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum,” she intones solemnly, her three children and husband (played by Blanchett’s actual family) propped up on steepled fingers around a rapidly cooling Sunday roast.

SURREALISM / SPATIALISM, Manifesto © Julian Rosefeldt

The dashes of humour in the film often arise from such ironic distance between text and situation. A manifesto of conceptual art, parroted by an aggressively made-up, Elnett-haired parody of a Fox News reporter, cannily raises the spectre of fake news: “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. All of current art is fake.”

CONCEPTUAL ART / MINIMALISM, Manifesto © Julian Rosefeldt

Bar the opening lines from the Communist Manifesto, the texts are artistically apolitical – though between the lines such declarations are always political. “In Q&As after the screenings, people again and again refer to the political circumstances of today”, Rosefeldt explains. “When the first Futurist manifesto was published on the front page of Le Figaro in 1909, it acted as a kind of an ignition, a spark, that infected a lot of artistic manifestos at the time. We are living in a moment that is, in a way, comparable to the tension felt between the wars. The world is upside down and people read in those manifestos a kind of call for action, or an anti-populist call.”

FLUXUS / MERZ / PERFORMANCE, Manifesto © Julian Rosefeldt

Audaciously, Rosefeldt combines manifestos from decades apart in the same section, bringing Wassily Kandinsky (1912) and Barnett Newman (1948) into conversation. “Of course, it’s quite disrespectful towards the original writing,” Rosefeldt says bluntly. “Within these circles there is as much contradiction as agreement. But in art, as in history and fashion, everything repeats itself. Ideas come up, disappear for a while, and then forty years later have their rebirth.”

FILM, Manifesto © Julian Rosefeldt

In the last section, in which the manifestos of cinema’s auteurs including the Dogma 95 duo Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg are coalesced into a lesson, the lively contradiction between different authors is more explicit. Through Blanchett’s earnest teacher, the director Jim Jarmusch writes “Nothing is original” on the blackboard and instructs a class of ten year olds to “Steal from anywhere”; a sentiment that the firmly tongue-in-cheek Dogma manifesto contradicts in the next sentence. “That’s a bit how I remember school,” Rosefeldt chuckles. “From the same person, you get both complete bullshit, and things that actually make sense.”

Manifesto: Live From Tate Modern takes place across the UK on Wed 15 November. Manifesto goes on general release on 24 November. See for full details.