The world has seen a rapid increase in globalisation since the 1990s, and with this has come heightened flow of capital, ideas and culture between nation-states. This shift has fed into all aspects of life; increased air travel, shifting means of bi-lateral exchange, new forms of digital currencies and much more. It has also fostered some sobering changes, such as the escalated flow of displaced peoples, new global tensions and rising inequality. ‘Incommensurable: Photomedia in the era of globalisation’ staged at Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra, takes these global multiplicities as its point of departure. Exhibition curator Terence Maloon elaborates on the unprecedented potential of contemporary photomedia, ‘Practitioners of photomedia have responded creatively to the new formats and technical possibilities that have come within their reach, and they have also benefited mightily from the opportunities of low-cost international travel, with the result that, generally speaking, they have been exceptionally alert observers of the spread and impact
Featuring largely photomedia-based works by Nick Danziger, Merilyn Fairskye, Ciara O’Brien, David Stephenson, Martin Walch and Anne Zahalka, the exhibition exemplifies how the documentary image has become the dominant mode of address in engaging with themes of global proliferation. Every day we see the circulation of such images through televised news programs, social media platforms and newspapers, and the consumption of these images has become the ‘new normal’. We have also observed much of this cross over into popular culture, for instance, British Sri Lankan Tamil rapper M.I.A’s music video Borders (2016), which depicts refugees climbing fences, travelling in overcrowded boats and walking in long lines. Exiled Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei’s recent film Human Flow (2017) exposes some of these same images that have now become the trope of address for the refugee experience.
‘Incommensurable: Photomedia in the era of globalisation’ presents new constellations surrounding the experience of global exchange. Martin Walch reflects on his artist-residency in Antarctica, while the photographs of Anne Zahalka give insight into her time spent in Morocco. The extravagance of David Stephenson’s photos of the Hong Kong harbour, a site marked by colonial histories and capital, is juxtaposed against Ciara O’Brien’s large mural-style print of life-jackets, from a series of photographs the artist took in 2016 at a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos while volunteering for a Swedish humanitarian aid organisation. Merilyn Fairskye presents video works thematically hinged on the nuclear energy industry, and Nick Danziger offers reflections on early career travel to greater China.
Overall, this exhibition is a thoughtful reflection on the role of photomedia in an era where the disparate axes of globalisation are hatching an incommensurable new milieu. The show pushes viewers to move beyond our pre-existing ideas, misconceptions and stereotypes; presenting a collective passage of unlearning to see the world today, anew.
Tess Maunder is a writer and curator, currently working between Australia, Asia and the United States.
ANU Drill Hall Gallery
Until 8 April, 2018
Australian Capital Territory