BURTYNSKY: OIL – MYSTIFYING: TOILETS

31 May

THE PHOTOGRAPHERS’ GALLERY, LONDON, 19TH MAY-1ST JULY 2012

The newly re-opened Photographers’ Gallery (or THE PHOႨOGRAPHERS’ GAL˩ERY, to use their own weird, precious typographic rendering) is austere. I could sympathise with the elderly gentleman who couldn’t tell which toilet he could decorously use, because the MALE/FEMALE icons on the doors were so minimalist as to be almost indistinguishable from one another. It may be very cool and designer-approved and politically correct and whatnot, but we just want to have a piss, not decipher vaguely gendered hieroglyphics. Or you could be really modern and just have unisex toilets. I deliberately used the Ladies’ toilet anyway.

I’d like a contemporary art gallery with twiddly bits and decoration everywhere, just for a change. A Laura Ashley chintzy art gallery, or a Dubai gold-plated everything gallery, or a Singapore Tiger Balm Gardens art gallery with protective spirits and minor bureaucratic gods up on the roof and a hundred clashing colours, or a blaring, neon, digital gallery that’s like having a Shinjuku alleyway gaffer taped to your face. I’m sick of minimalist Metropolitan restraint and good taste. It’s boring, not least because all the new silo art spaces that have opened over the past few years are done in exactly the same inhuman style.

On the plus side, Edward Burtynsky’s work is intellectually grounded, aesthetically pleasing despite its ugly subject matter, and deserves to be printed large, presented and lit reverentially in hushed rooms, as it is in this exhibition. Tragic documents of a fucked up era of utterly wrong priorities, silent accusations against the human race for despoiling and abusing our beautiful planet for short-term profit, for fleeting comfort, and occasionally from sheer laziness.

Raqs Media Collective from Delhi are stuck away in the dark in a room off a staircase near the aforementioned toilets, and that’s where they should preferably stay, unseen. Ooh, look, we animated an old photo a little bit. It’s post-colonialist, yah? They probably wouldn’t get away with this crap if they weren’t Indian. Go to the basement shop instead, it’s great. It’s not just photo books, various inevitable Lomo detritus and weird Japanese cameras: you can (and should) buy relatively affordable work by living photographers there, too.

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