Reviews, News and Commentary

Civilization, Photograhy Now

Michael Wolf, Architecture of Density

Civilisation, Photography, Now 

Auckland Art Gallery

Until October 18

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Civilisation, Photography, Now is a photographic exhibition which attempts to convey the idea of contemporary civilization through one hundred photographs.

In many respects it is an impossible task but what the exhibition reveals is the many common links within our current world. It shows how we are connected and engaged in our local communities, our social groups as well as[JD1]  nationally and internationally.

The photographs look at our built environments as well as the physical and social structures which impact on us.

The exhibition illustrates our increasingly global, connected society, and encourages viewers to consider where we live, how we consume, and how we travel, learn, explore and control.

The exhibition is grouped undereight aspects of contemporary civilisation:

HIVE which looks at the urban networks that form modern cities with images depicting the intricate ebb and flow of human activity in ever-changing built environments.

ALONE TOGETHER presents people and their relationships and considers how an increasingly digitised world influences our social relations.

FLOW reveals both the invisible and visible movement of people, goods and ideas around the world and the effect these systems have on our understanding of contemporary life.

PERSUASION investigates the mechanisms we use to persuade others to follow our desires, from advertising and business to religion and politics.

CONTROL highlights the impact of authority, as well as our increasing desire to dictate order and structure our future development.

RUPTURE examines social breakdown, revealing conflicts between individuals and forcing us to confront civilisation’s failures.

ESCAPE examines leisure and recreation, including cruise ships and amusement parks, as well as revealing the paradoxical stress within holiday industries.

NEXT surveys the world taking shape in the 21st century, where rapid technological advancement is global.

There are numerous ideas threaded through the photographs which relate to how we individually might define civilizations. Civilizations are generally defined by famous people, important buildings, major events as well as prevailing religious, social and political ideas.

While the exhibition was first shown in in 2018 several of the works are  very relevant to the Covid 19 environment with images of airports which now seem alien right now. Cassio Vasconcellos vast photomural “Aeroporto” composed of hundreds of separate images of airports looks like a complex  molecular structure not unlike the Covid 19 structure.

The networks of roading which now dominate our cities is seen in Christoph Gielen’s motorway interchange of spaghetti like  threads. There are also depictions of the rail networks with Alex Macleans endless rows of coal wagons as well as the overwhelming, chaotic view of the urban layout of Mexico City by Pablo Lopez Luz.

That enormous scale on which our world engages can be seen in  Edward Burtynsky’s Chinese chicken processing plant which has even more significance now. There is also Massimo Vitali’s huge food market in Sao Paulo.

Religion is also a grand scale as with Andrew Esiebo’s view of the 1km-square church in Nigeria and the huge  mosque in Jakarta by Ahmad Zamroni.

The emphasis we on the preservation of our past can be seen in images such as  Markus Brunetti’s image of Orvieto Cathedral from his Facades series, Candida Hofer’s image of the huge Baroque library at St Florians and Thomas Struth’s image of the  Greek Great Altar in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum.

The major contemporary iconic buildings of the last few years are shown including Phillipe  Chancel’s view of the Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubai, the massive tower blocks in China (Michal Wolf), the surreal undulating façade of the FR 23 building in Korea (Andreas  Gefeller) as well as a set of black and white images of buildings such as  London’s Gherkin and Grand Arch in Paris.

The transformed landscape is seen in images such as Edward Burtynsky’s farm irrigation where the land looks like a large abstract painting as does the oil fields depicted in Mishka Henners image while New Zealander Chris Corson Scott’s image shows the encroachment of development in  “Land Development Beside to Waikumete Cemetery”.

The role of TV / Media in our lives can be seen  in Mark Power’s image showing the crowd watching the funeral of Pope John Paul II is not merely recording the event but showing the huge bank of televisions dominating the crowd, as though the medium is more important than the event itself.

Other events are shown including a shot taken inside an almost untouched  clothing store while outside we see the twisted metal of the Twin Towers after the September 11th  tragedy.

Many of the photographers seem to be fascinated with the imposed order which comes with industrialisation, so we see serried ranks of shipping containers (Alex Maclean),

Other photographs document the dramas of the twenty-first century, the plight of immigrants packed on boats (Francesco  Zizola), migrants at the Macedonian border (Gjorgji Lichovski).

With so many of these images Henry Kissinger’s comment in his book “World Order seem prescient; “Our age is insistently, at times almost desperately in pursuit of a concept of world order. Chaos threatens side by side with an almost unprecedented interdependence”.

Mark Power, Funeral of John Paul II

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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