Photoworks plot bold Brighton Biennial 2012 with pop-up shows and outdoor installations

By Richard Moss | 23 July 2012
a photo of a policeman in camouflaged gear and helmet leaning into a car
From the Beautiful Horizon© Julian Germain, Patricia Azevedo and Murilo Godoy courtesy Autograph PA
Festival: Brighton Photo Biennial, various venues, Brighton, October 6 - November 4 2012

After a series of high profile curator-led programmes developed by the likes of Julian Stallabrass and Martin Parr, Brighton Photo Biennial is heading in a new direction for 2012 with visual art photography agency Photoworks taking the collective curatorial helm.

Their politically-charged programme, called Agents of Change: Photography and the Politics of Space, promises to look at “the way space is constructed, controlled and contested” and how "photography is implicated in these processes and the tensions and possibilities this dialogue involves”.

In essence, this means a closer look at urban activism, protest and poverty - and the now sadly familiar but absorbing themes of terrorism, surveillance and global warfare.

Drawing on what it describes as “grass roots activism” and an examination of the “contested urban spaces”, photoworks have amassed an interesting collection of photographers, practitioners and projects to explore these subjects.

Julian Germain, Patricia Azevedo and Murilo Godoy’s The Beautiful Horizon, No Olho da Rua is a collaboration with young people living on the streets of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. And a newly commissioned installation by artists Thomson and Craighead explores the imagery used by various occupy and protest groups.

Another project, Occupy Everywhere, focuses on "Urban Explorers" who investigate underground networks, disused factory spaces and building sites.

Global conflict and surveillance is tackled in Omer Fast’s film, Five Thousand Feet is the Best, based on interviews with the “pilot” of American drone bombs; Trevor Paglan’s photographs of classified US military bases and satellites, meanwhile, will introduce Brighton audiences to the work of someone variously described as a social scientist and provocateur.

Brighton's radical roots come under the spotlight in an exhibition called Someone Else’s Home, which will also plot the city’s gradual glide into gentrification by showing photographs of squats in their former locations. But perhaps the biggest mastertroke is the inclusion of local rag The Argus, which has been persuaded to get involved its photographic archive.

Argus snappers have captured the many protests played out across the city’s streets - from National Front marches to anarcho reclaim the streets rallies - for a paper whose traditional editorial has at times alienated liberal elements of the local population. It will be very interesting to see how this partner of the Biennial responds.

Underlying the radical subject matter is the intriguing question of where these images and films will be shown and screened. At the recent launch at the Photographers' Gallery, in London, curators Ben Burbridge and Celia Davies spoke about pop-up spaces and finding a “new way of exhibiting photography”.  

The subtexts to this intent are reports that Brighton Museum and Art Gallery are stalling and the Old Municipal Market at Circus Street (home in 2011 to a haunting exhibition of Kutlug Ataman’s floating imagery) prefer a more lucrative role as the Liberal Democrat Conference car park.

The interesting former church space at contemporary art gallery Fabrica, the gallery spaces of digital art agency Lighthouse and the University’s art headquarters on Grand Parade have signed up to host exhibitions, but the rest will, it seems, be popping up all around the arty city by the sea.

Photoworks director Emma Morris says the Brighton Biennial is a “platform for the visual arts in a city with limited permanent galleries”.

It's a truth, that for all its progressive artiness, Brighton has long needed another contemporary art space of the type its supposedly less bohemian neighbours Chichester, Bexhill-on-Sea, Hastings, Eastbourne and Margate now boast.

For Morris, the situation provides a spur. She sees photography as the ideal vehicle, and predicts the Biennial will “exploit this lack of visual arts infrastructure and take the festival out to the people by using new, exciting and unusual spaces, and outdoor installations.”

It’s a radical and intriguing approach and a genuinely innovative programme. Never have subject matter, physical exhibition spaces and the host city of a photo Biennial looked so inexorably intertwined.

More Pictures:

a black and white photo of police marshalling a parade of National Front members through the streets of Brighton
© Argus Archive

a photo of a sign reading "Goldman Sucks" held in front of the facade of a classical building frontage.
Thomson & Craighead, October, 2012. Two channel installation© Thomson & Craighead

a montage of three parallel images from a film showing a Taliban fighter, a drone plane in the sky and a mountian path
Edmund Clark, Virtue Unmann’d (Work in progress title) (2011-12). Video© Edmund Clark, Noor Behram, niazi571, British Commonwealth and Empire Museum/Chisman (Keal) Collection

a photograph of Brazilian street children handing out photographs on a busy Brazilian street
Julian Germain, The Beautiful Horizon, No Olho da Rua, 1995-2012.© Julian Germain

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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