Valletta Contemporary

Curator Interview: Anne Immelé

 

Interviewed by Ann Dingli 
July 2022

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Portrait of Anne Immelé

Anne Immelé is a photographer, teacher and curator. In 2013, she co-founded the BPM - Mulhouse Photography Biennial, for which she serves to date as the artistic director. Her curatorial work often relies on a thorough spatial understanding of venues to expose associations sought between exhibited photographs. Immelé’s curatorial research stems from a PhD thesis entitled Constellations Photographiques, presented in 2007 at the University of Strasbourg and published by Médiapop Éditions in 2015. Her active interest concerning the challenges of exhibiting contemporary photography in the present media landscape is also reflected in articles published in Art Press magazine. She is the author of several books featuring her own photography, including WIR with the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy (Filigranes Éditions, 2003), and Oublie Oublie, (Médiapop, 2021). She is currently working on Celestial Bodies from the 5th édition of the BPM. While her photographic output is exhibited regularly on an international level, she also teaches at the HEAR (Haute cole des arts du Rhin) and lives and works in Mulhouse. Anne speaks to Ann Dingli from Valletta Contemporary (VC) about the gallery’s latest show.

 

Ann Dingli (AD): The word ‘fade’ in the title of the exhibition is emblematic of many of the contrasting themes described in its curatorial scope; the idea of preservation versus interruption, gazing versus witnessing, outside versus inside the frame. Can you talk more about the obscuring nature – of ‘fading’ – that happens between these extremities?

Anne Immelé (AI): The photographs I have selected suggest the question of opacity in a medium known for revealing reality. Yet it is not about posing opposing notions (opaque/transparent, present/absent) in a binary or dialectic way. Instead, the selected photographs rather evoke subjects in various states along the way, intensely sharing the delicate and mute presence of being. All the pictures are direct photographs: they are moving away from the dynamic of testimony/evidence without opposing it. Similarly, even though what happens beyond the frame often bears a felt importance in the shown work, it is also through the awareness that the photo can only show what is inside it. If the photographs preserve an instant, they also capture its irruption, as in Bernard Plossu's photo of a flash of lightning.

About the nature of ‘fading’: what disappears can dissolve in the shadows, gradually go towards darkness, but fading also evokes blurredness and paleness. Above all, it is a temporal process, not unlike the way our memories fade with time. The time period can be very long or merely an instant. The choice of photos makes it possible to approach time as a woven web.

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Installation view of those eyes - these eyes - they fade featuring work by Bernard Plossu

AD: The show talks about imagery that might be perceived in the “blink of an eye”. if we were to extrude or dramatically extend that moment of perception, the content of these photographs might begin to occupy the subconscious as well as the conscious mind. do you feel photography has the power to invade or influence our uncontrolled thoughts?

 

AI: One could read your question in a surrealistic way or in a more sociological way... it springs to mind John Carpenter’s movie They Live and the hidden message “OBEY”. Without going so far, we could say that through their omnipresence on the web and social media images are streamlining part of our ‘non-conscious’ thoughts. I would say that the exhibition however approaches the matter from a less directly reactive and more from a poetic and phenomenological standpoint. Photography is a paradoxical medium it navigates between known and unknown, tapping into the vast myriad of human perception - the floating of thoughts, the wandering of sensations.

Blinking is a metaphor of the camera shutter. Last year about BLINK, Nigel Baldacchino’s exhibition here at VC, I wrote: “In the moment we blink, in the brief lapse of time in which eyelids rest on eyeball, darkness takes over. It is not pitch black, it is made of nuance and halos. James Joyce’s Ulysses speaks of the ‘ineluctable modality of the visible’ and commands to “Shut your eyes and see”. Closing the eyes brings back the image just perceived. It’s almost entirely gone but we can feel it. This is how Blink moves beyond retinal perception towards the tactile, towards a mode of perception so well captured in Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s The Visible and the Invisible!.

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Bénédicte Blondeau discussing her artwork on the opening evening of those eyes, these eyes, they fade 

AD: ‘Vacancy’ seems to be a common thread throughout all the artists’ work. Can you talk

about whether this was an intentional curatorial theme?

AI: Paradoxically I would say that the opposite feels truer to me, thinking about the work in the show: On the layered and multi-faceted continuum between absence and presence, as made perceivable through the photographic medium, the exhibition deals much more with the intense feeling of presence.

AD: As a photographer yourself, can you talk about why the medium possesses such potential for intimacy? The uncanny act of stealing a visual and temporal moment through the force of a camera lens might to some be interpreted as too fleeting or incomplete to be truly intimate. How would you counter this point?

AI: I have always liked the idea of using the camera as a machine. It has the power to both create distance from reality restore it in a thin veneer. And yes - the restitution of the outside can, in itself, render a feeling of the inside.

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Installation view of those eyes, these eyes, they fade featuring work by Nigel Baldacchino

AD: The show’s curatorial approach is described as an ‘extended meditation’. Can you talk about how the separate artists’ work responds to one another?

AI: The curatorial process has taken 2 years. The main work was to choose precise pictures from each photographer in order to create an ’artwork-space’, built on the principle of echo, of interaction, and of the connection between the different photographs, spaces, and temporalities.

The genesis of the project began with the title and the early choice of photographs from existing series by Nigel Baldacchino and Bénédicte Blondeau. Those two starting points then generated an ensemble of criteria related to poetic notions such as apparition, evanescence, suspension, and erasure. I wanted to put together photographs which allow the search for meaning and sensation - the alternation between the snapshot and the timeless, the double movement of embracing the world and detaching from it. This is exactly why I thought of the photographs of Awoiska Van der Molen, where we can feel the active presence of the natural elements. In order to create an articulation between Awoiska’s urban spaces and Nigel Baldacchino’s photographs, I suggested an older series of hers, illustrating urban night views. As in her photographs of mountains, those nocturnal visions are a state of things that offer a fascinating perceptive experience.

The choice of the photographs of the desert of Bernard Plossu came at a later stage. Some prints of rocks or of dust, with their bright grey colour, create a perceptive contrast with the obscurity characterizing the rest of the exhibition despite some colourful layers in Nigel Baldachino’s photographs. Bernard Plossu comes from a different generation. He is very famous in France, with the risk of patrimonialisation, so it was important for me to display his photographs next to contemporary photographs, producing and presenting them in a larger, unframed format. Thus, the exhibition reignites the photographs of Bernard Plossu in a novel way.

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Installation view of those eyes, these eyes, they fade featuring work by Awoiska van der Molen