This Liverpool Biennial 2014 partner exhibition at the Open Eye Gallery posed the question: ‘Can photography retain its artistic license and overcome pure documentation?’.

This is an important and salient point which perhaps sits on the edge of the biennial thematic around the ‘everyday’ and art’s relationship to it. The use of photography as a method of documenting art is at question here and whether the wider art world can accept its legitimacy as artistic re-interpretation.

Curated by Lorenzo Fusi, the exhibition directly addresses the premise above by presenting ‘documents’ of previous art platforms and what Cristina de Middel offers is particularly to the point. She plays with the idea that our investment in documentation can be subverted to open up reflexive positions on both the nature of photographic documentation and visual arts platforms.

Cristina De Middel, photo courtesy Paul Karalius

Cristina De Middel, photo courtesy Paul Karalius

Her access of archival material of previous Liverpool Biennials through installation images and newspaper articles nod to the well publicised dissatisfaction with the festival as well as to the contentious nature of authorship in place when it comes to installation images. De Middel uses large wallpapers of provocative newsprint headlines and articles to frame ‘her’ reworked images where the artworks are obliterated with lilac paint. She ends up denying us the ‘art’ in this documentation, something which came about serendipitously through being refused permission by the artists on request. By hiding the art she subverts the very idea of the photograph as ‘document’ but also playfully mocks the layers of authorship present in the final work. Where does the ownership lie? With the artist? With the photographer of the installation images? With the Organisers of the Biennial? Or indeed, with her?

Documenta, Magritte, Profiles

Documenta, Magritte, Profiles

The show introduces the viewer to this format by presenting two seminal photographic series – Hans Haacke’s 1959 photographs of Documenta 2 and Ugo Mulas’ images of the 1968 Venice Biennale.Mulas started his career as a photographer by taking pictures of another important art platform. His first professional assignment was a photo-reportage of the 1954 Venice Biennale, an event that he went on photographing until 1972. Open Eye Gallery hosts the UK premiere of the photos Mulas took during the 1968 Venice Biennale: the ‘biennale of the revolution’. The selection on show is held in a private collection and has been curated by Mariachiara Di Trapani. The images document artists demonstrating against the establishment represented by the Venice Biennale and poetically illustrate this intense period of political turmoil and social uprising. The banners held in protest read: The “policed” and “militarised Biennale of the bourgeoisie”. In terms of the original premise, can photography retain its artistic license? Then the answer might be, yes, as long as it’s acceptable to uproot photographic documents from their original context and use. If artists can appropriate anything, why shouldn’t installation images be used to say something about exhibitions and festivals in themselves?

This post is also available in: Italian