The State Of The Union: European Photography Across Borders

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state union European photography across borders

Circulations: 104, Paris and in selected metro stations until August 7th.

Shifting borders: European Photo Exhibition Award, Fondation Gulbenkian, Paris until August 28th.

Getting from A to B is a boring old business in a European capital; I’ve yet to discover an underground rail network that provides an aesthetically pleasing morning commute. So an injection of art is a welcome distraction: an intriguing landscape, a compelling glance from a portrait, a flash of colour merged into the reflection of a metro carriage’s window. The images are part of the aptly-named Circulations festival which brings together dozens of young, European photographers and exhibits their work in the Paris metro and at the 104 cultural centre. Vilma Pimenoff’s photographs could easily be mistaken for adverts: sleek and saturated colour, carefully composed consumable products that she calls 21st century still lifes. But the Finnish artist has another agenda “I’m talking about fakeness, about our society’s quest for perfection – the ‘plasticness’ of our lives, if you like.” It’s a smart riposte to the visual onslaught of advertising, and a fantastic showcase for her portfolio. 

state union European photography across borders
Vilma Pimenoff, 21st Century Still Life, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.
state union European photography across borders
Vilma Pimenoff, 21st Century Still Life, 2016.Image courtesy of the artist.

Gabriela Lupu is also showing work as part of the project and she confides that it’s “definitely reassuring, as an artist, to have such a visible platform, not to mention all the people that you meet”. Her work is a far cry from some of the glossy, hyper-realist images on display; Lupu makes drawings based on historical photographs and then fixes them, once again, on film. It’s a painstaking process that owes much to craft and introspection, creating fine art objects and eschewing digital reproductions. The artist says the cross-continental origins of the work on show is simply reflective of the society we live in, “It’s a bit like having no borders, like Europe itself! It’s about a young generation that’s always on the move.”

state union European photography across borders
Gabriela Lupu, Histoire de la Photographie, 2016.Image courtesy of the artist.
state union European photography across borders
Gabriela Lupu, Histoire de la Photographie, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.

Boundaries that may not exist for European passport-holders but are never more evident than in the images of IldikóPéter. The Hungarian photographer has documented the response to the migrant crisis at the frontiers of her own country: walls of barbed wire and stainless steel. Looking at her desolate landscapes, you realise that it requires considerable artistic talent to render the bare bones of infrastructure symbolic, haunting and even beautiful. The artist may work across different media (photography, video and sound) but the notion of place seems to be a constant; she’s produced work depicting the north of England, France’s coastline and Budapest.

state union European photography across borders
Ildikó Péter Borders, 2015, Medium format colour negative film, projection vidéo de la copie numérique. Courtesy of the artist.
state union European photography across borders
Ildikó Péter Borders, 2015, Medium format colour negative film, projection vidéo de la copie numérique. Courtesy of the artist.

French photographer Marie Sommier also explores the “edges” of spaces and cultures, albeit with a more historical aproach. Her series The Circular Ruins is a visual voyage to former Yugoslavia, via the forgotten interiors of a now defunct nation. Dark and foreboding, her images resemble etchings of imaginary lands, archeological accounts of a long lost civilization. 

Both Marie and Ildikó’s photographs are on show at the Calouste Gulbenkian foundation in Paris, part of an exhibition entitled Shifting Boundaries. Curator Sergio Mah says that cultural differences between the artists dissolved into a pool of shared “visual experience”. But with such an ominous title, are these “shifting boundaries” a source of tension for European artists? “The history of Europe has always been marked by a complex constellation of political, cultural, ethnic and religious boundaries and tensions; that’s still the case” says Sergio “And we know that artists have always been inspired by the explorations of limits, borders, boundaries.” As Europe weathers a period of turmoil and upheaval, as its very institutional existence is challenged, these artists provide much-needed perspectives on the collective experience: showing the way Europe looks and the way it feels. 

state union European photography across borders
Marie Sommer, Kumrovec Library, 2015. Print 140 X 110 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
state union European photography across borders
Marie Sommer, The Circular Ruins, 2015. Print 140 X 110 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Olivia Salazar-Winspear

Olivia Salazar-Winspear is a journalist specializing in arts and culture. Working in both television and text, her interests meet in a Venn diagram of London, Rio and Paris or - if you like - Fine Art, Cinema and Literature.