Sandokai: Grasping at things is surely delusion by Josema Zamorano

This has been the most exciting and inspiring exhibition that I’ve had the pleasure to view during this year’s Capture Photography Festival here in Vancouver.

Josema Zamorano is a multi-talented artist. He is a university professor at Capilano University and has taught students in a variety of subjects: Spanish, engineering, literature, philosophy and photography. He has also worked as a telecommunications engineer. The fact that “his work aims to question identities by means of experimental photography and visual poetry” quite excited me as I stand at the beginning of this Identity and Place module. I’m sure I will find some inspiration for some of the forthcoming assignments here.

His Sandokai series is based on a poem written by the eighth Chinese Zen ancestor Shitou Xiqian and is chanted daily in the temples in Japan and around the world. The translated text is at the end of this write up.

Zamorano has drawn his inspiration from the Japanese belief that the ghosts of the ancestors are ever present among the living. In his use of multiple exposures, photographing the same scene from slightly different perspectives, he has created illusory effects that bring the ghostly appearances to the forefront. I think his most successful images were those done at the temples, where there is not quite so much pedestrian traffic and the ghosts are more visually apparent. However, all his images are quite fascinating and one feels the necessity of wanting to peel away the layers to reveal more of the mystery. In contrast to what one would normally expect of a ghostly image, Zamorano’s images come across as warm and friendly. The ghosts are not something to be feared, but are really part of the cycle of life. The words in the poem “To be attached to things is illusion; To encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment” seem to encapsulate his images perfectly.

Sandokai Tokyo #10 by Josema Zamorano
Sandokai Tokyo #10 by Josema Zamorano

 

Identity of Relative and Absolute

The mind of the Great Sage of India was intimately conveyed from west to east. Among human beings are wise ones and fools, But in the Way there is no northern or southern Patriarch.

The subtle source is clear and bright; the tributary streams flow through the darkness. To be attached to things is illusion; To encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment.

Each and all, the subjective and objective spheres are related, and at the same time, independent. Related, yet working differently, though each keeps its own place. Form makes the character and appearance different; Sounds distinguish comfort and discomfort.

The dark makes all words one; the brightness distinguishes good and bad phrases. The four elements return to their nature as a child to its mother. Fire is hot, wind moves, water is wet, earth hard.

Eyes see, ears hear, nose smells, tongue tastes the salt and sour. Each is independent of the other; cause and effect must return to the great reality Like leaves that come from the same root. The words high and low are used relatively.

Within light there is darkness, but do not try to understand that darkness; Within darkness there is light, but do not look for that light. Light and darkness are a pair, like the foot before and the foot behind, in walking.

Each thing has its own intrinsic value and is related to everything else in function and position. Ordinary life fits the absolute as a box and its lid. The absolute works together with the relative like two arrows meeting in mid-air.

Reading words you should grasp the great reality. Do not judge by any standards. If you do not see the Way, you do not see it even as you walk on it. When you walk the Way, it is not near, it is not far. If you are deluded, you are mountains and rivers away from it.

I respectfully say to those who wish to be enlightened: Do not waste your time by night or day.

Wikipedia

Sandokai #4 by Josema Zamorano
Sandokai #4 by Josema Zamorano

More images from the Sandokai series can be seen at: http://www.josemazamorano.com/photography/sandokai.html.

Reference List

Josema Zamorano [online]. Capilano University. Available at: https://www.capilanou.ca/languages/faculty/Josema-Zamorano/ [Accessed 13 April, 2016]

Sandokai [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandokai [Accessed 13 April, 2016]

Zamorano, Josema (2016) Sandokai: Grasping at Things is Surely Delusion [online]. Available at: http://www.josemazamorano.com/photography/sandokai.html [Accessed 13 April, 2016]

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Erin O’Keefe at Gallery Jones

Another photographer who is featured during the month long Capture Photography Festival here in Vancouver is Erin O’Keefe. Her exhibition Things as They Are is on exhibit at the Gallery Jones.

I was first introduced to Erin O’Keefe’s work while I was doing the The Art of Photography module. O’Keefe is a visual artist based in New York and New Brunswick, Canada and has a background in architecture. This background in architecture informs a lot of her work which has to do with spatial perception.

Erin O'Keefe - Things as they are | The Flatness Series #30 & The Flatness Series #12
Erin O’Keefe – Things as they are | The Flatness Series #30 & The Flatness Series #12

All her work is very colourful and vibrant, exuding a cheerful atmosphere. One can’t walk away from her work without feeling lighter in spirit and refreshed from the rich vibrancy.

In her Flatness Series (see above) she builds a still life from painted plywood boards, photographic prints of Photoshop gradient patterns and photographs. O’Keefe states:

I am interested in the tension between the compressed space of the image and the visual clues that allude to the dimensionality of the still life. The camera is the agent of uncertainty that invites seeing as both an intimate and critical exercise.

(Gallery Jones, 2016)

One is impelled to look deeply at her work, trying to figure out how she has created these still lifes. Her work consists of strong geometric shapes, vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines and curves which all contribute towards the dynamics of each photograph. In Flatness Series #30 our eye is tricked into thinking that the photograph could very well just be paper shapes laid down flat on a surface, until we see the shadow of the diagonally placed dowel stick. It is the shadow that gives the photograph its dimensionality and changes our perceptions.

She goes even further in her illusory effects in the Natural Disasters series. In this series she also makes use of pipe cleaners, tape, mirrors, string and fabric.

Erin O'Keefe - Natural Disasters - Bullseye
Erin O’Keefe – Natural Disasters – Bullseye

The mise-en-scene is elaborately constructed, almost like a stage set. Again dimensionality is achieved through shadows, but also in the way the string intersects the various components in the frame. Is it passing behind the object or through it? In a way the photo above makes me think back to my childhood when children would raid their mothers’ cupboards for sheets and other paraphernalia and build a fort in the back yard, or living room if the weather was bad. There is definitely a sense of joie de vivre in O’Keefe’s work. For me it’s the kind of abstract work that one will not easily tire from. Every time one looks at the photograph something else is revealed.

Reference List

Gallery Jones. (2016) Erin O’Keefe | Things as they are. Vancouver. Gallery Jones.

Reflection Point – Identity

For this reflection point, we are asked to think about collective or individual identity, drawing from our own experience or that of someone we know.

When I emigrated to Canada about twenty years ago, I entered the country as someone who is used to speaking one’s mind without being politically correct. That concept was only just rearing its head back then. South Africans are known for their sense of humour, and the ability to laugh at themselves and they do laugh often. I was so dismayed when I discovered that I would have to think very carefully before making a joke, lest I offend someone’s sensibilities. Canadians take themselves rather seriously (apologies to any Canadians reading this post) which I found very difficult to get used to. I found myself paying particular attention to my words, thinking before I spoke at literally every occasion for at least six months before I realised that I would never, could never fit into that mould if I wanted to remain true to myself. All spontaneity would disappear from my life. From that day on, I would preface my jokes with a statement to the effect that “I’m not politically correct …” so people were forewarned.

Even to this day, though these problems still arise and many of my fellow immigrant colleagues experience and comment on the same issue. I think as the city where I live becomes more and more multicultural in nature these problems are going to increase, as each culture will make an effort to maintain their peculiarities/traditions and ways of thinking. Canada is a country of immigrants and as such does not really have a strong national identity compared to that of the United Kingdom, France, or Italy for example. The country is also very young – it turns 150 this July. The overall identity of the country really is that it is a melting pot of cultures.

If one is not allowed to be oneself, one looses a part of one’s psyche – something gets lost. One’s spirit gets squashed. To be myself is to preserve my honesty and integrity, my sense of ethics and values, my courage and beliefs.

Brian Howell: A Survey

Another line up for the Capture Photography Festival was Brian Howell at the Winsor Gallery. Howell is a Canadian photographer, specialising in large format projects. He is drawn to photographing fringe and/or marginalized communities and his style is reminiscent of documentary photography.

Most of the images on exhibit were from his Wrestlers project. The black and white images were large, grainy and very in-your-face. The grittiness of the images very aptly reflected the grungy surroundings where the wrestling tournaments take place and the type of people that attend these events.

Images by Brian Howell: A Survey
Images by Brian Howell: A Survey

I have only seen the big celebrity tournaments or Olympic wrestling events on TV, but the images in this series do not fall within those categories. They are not the play-acting scenarios or the clean Greco-style that is normally served up on the box.

Images by Brian Howell: A Survey
Images by Brian Howell: A Survey

One sees a working class audience with their prejudices attending the event, emotions on full display. Howell’s images make one feel as if one is present at the event. One can feel the crunch of bones, hear the crowd roar and smell the sweat and blood. The violence is almost tangible. The images have a strange mesmerizing effect – too gruesome to watch, too compelling to turn away.

In a sharp contrast to these images on the opposite wall was a photograph (almost abstract) of stark beauty. It was an image of a burnt forest during the winter. Although this image looks like a black and white photo it is in colour as can be seen if one carefully looks at some of the trees – there is a hint of orange from the scraped off bark. The image is comprised of vertical and diagonal lines of the upright and fallen trees, and this give the photograph a sense of movement and anticipation, reminding me of Robert Frost’s poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

There is a sense of peace emanating from this image, depicted by the fallen trees gently covered with a blanket of snow.

A couple of Howell’s other images were from his Shopping Carts series. Howell has taken various shopping carts used by the homeless to either collect items or to store their worldly goods and photographed them in a studio setting as portraits against a white background. In doing so, the shopping carts seem to become elevated in status – no longer simply containers of throw-away goods, but something of interest and worthy of investigation. By removing them from the back alleys and placing them in a pristine environment they have changed from objects of ugliness. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they have changed to objects of beauty, but objects of intrigue might be more fitting.

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the varied work that Howell had on exhibition.

Reference List

Frost, Robert (1922). Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening [online]. Poetry Foundation. Available at: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171621 [Accessed 2 April, 2016]

Howell, Brian (n.d.) Brian Howell [online]. Available at: http://www.brianhowellphotography.com/ [Accessed 2 April, 2016]

Fugazi – Evan Lee

Evan Lee is a Vancouver based artist, who I have not yet come across. His Fugazi exhibition was held at the Monte Clark Gallery as part of the annual Capture Photography Festival here in Vancouver. I went to along to the Monte Clark Gallery expecting to see an exhibition by Roy Arden as advertised in the festival catalogue, but no such luck.

There were only five photographs on display, all of them of a cubic zirconia. The prints were 5 ft x 5 ft – so very large, and made from digital scans of the cubic zirconia. According to the catalogue “fugazi is a slang term used in mafia films for counterfeit diamonds” (Capture Photography Festival, 2016). The images all show a high level of detail and have been enlarged 15,000 percent and this renders the image as a total abstract.

Fugazi No. 2 by Evan Lee archival pigment print on rage paper, 60 x 60 inches
Fugazi No. 2 by Evan Lee
archival pigment print on rage paper, 60 x 60 inches

I was reminded of a kaleidoscope toy that I once had when I was a child. I only looked at the gallery write up after my visit and would not have made the connection with a cubic zirconia at all.  I was thinking more in the line of light refractions off a computer CD and some other materials layered on top of this in Photoshop. I found the colours quite garish and harsh and in retrospect, would not have thought that the colours from a fake diamond with have such clarity and depth when magnified to that degree.  The photographer has constructed a geometric patterned background to the cubic zirconia and I’m not totally convinced whether this enhances the subject or detracts from it. I think I’m leaning towards the latter. I have to be honest and say that this kind of abstract really doesn’t speak to me at all.

Evan Lee Ichiban no. 5 instant ramen noodles, acrylic medium, paint, 11 x 9 x 6 inches
Evan Lee
Ichiban no. 5
instant ramen noodles, acrylic medium, paint, 11 x 9 x 6 inches

What I did find intriguing though was an installation series of ramen noodles that were either suspended from the ceiling or mounted on a dowel stick on/over a white cube. Lee had taken ramen instant noodles and mixed them with acrylic paint and other found objects to “consider the artificial nature of “instant” food” (Monte Clark Gallery).  The photographer in me was really more drawn to the beautiful toned shadows below the noodles than the actual sculpture itself which was a fun piece. There was also a box constructed from other found boxes, embroidered with decorative stitching that held centre stage in one of the gallery alcoves, which I found fascinating.

Embroidered box
Embroidered box

I think the reason why these strange sculptures always grab my attention in some fashion is that they are so creative. I, in a million years, would probably never think to recreate a cardboard box from other boxes and then embroider it. Perhaps I should take a lesson from this and try and come up with the wildest idea possible and just go ahead and execute it …

Reference List

Capture Photography Festival. (2016) Fugazi by Evan Lee. Vancouver: Monte Clark Gallery.

Lee, Evan (n.d) Fugazi [online]. Monte Clark Gallery. Available at: http://www.monteclarkgallery.com/current.php [Accessed 2 April, 2016]