maandag 7 januari 2008

Claudio Hils Belfast Archive Photography

Claudio Hils: Police Service of Northern Ireland, CCTV surveillance system, Musgrave Street Police Station, Evidential video tape archive; courtesy Belfast Exposed

Belfast: Claudio Hils at Belfast Exposed

The photographs within this exhibition explore the very ways in which we perceive, compile and represent social identities and the inevitable entropic nature of human intervention upon systems of information. The show highlights the often-subconscious selective processes which determine, within historical and social perspectives, what gets discarded or kept. It is ironic that some of the archives depicted in these images, which try and place order on chaotic situations, have themselves fallen into disarray, thus bringing to the fore the impermanence and fragility of any type of stored information. The presentation and development of information technology itself is also an underlying theme within the work, bringing into focus the levels and amount of information that surround contemporary life.

As the artists states himself,

One example would be of the picture of the server cables at the police station, which for me stands out as a symbol for the invisible quantity of information that grows by using modern technologies. It is really a jungle of information that you have to go through. On the other side of the room you see a portrait of a family in Belfast that looks very old. Indeed it is a picture made in the 1950s but through using modern technology, it seems to be made in the 1890s. The closer you go to this picture, the less information the picture contains because it vanishes through technology. This is something very absurd for me, which I like. It should produce a nostalgic moment but it doesn't make any sense, it was made from a low-resolution scan, using a bad printer, which someone worked on Photoshop with. Bringing their interpretation of the picture into it, nothing remained from the original image and this is quite funny.

Hils stresses that if we scrutinise an image to such extremes, its origin will become unrecognisable; its value within historical frameworks will be in a constant flux from the point when it is first acquired. However advanced systems of information are, the fundamental outcome and effect essentially depend on who is in control of them. Similarly, if we compare the scenery within the images of the Irish Republican Socialist Party office and that of the Grande Orange Lodge of Ireland office, it creates an almost comical situation of two completely opposite organisations that have extremely similar ways of presenting and functionalising their information and intentions.

The work largely draws upon official and semi-official spaces, but it also focuses on domestic environments, which clearly stand out - such as a republican prisoner's hand-crafted thatched cottage perched on top of a kitchen microwave, representing a desire for naïve ideals. There is another image of a stairwell within a private house that has a frame for a security grill, to prevent violent intrusion; which literally brings home the reality of personal dangers and of people functioning within extreme circumstances. A lot of the images can be taken on a superficial level, such as the Irish Times archive in Fernhill House, which acts as a kind of symbol of the weight of history being stored. You can actually see the shelf breaking, with the books being too heavy for it.
Claudio Hils: Police Service of Northern Ireland, CCTV surveillance system, Musgrave Street Police Station, Memorial poster to RUC dead, video surveillance monitor bank; courtesy Belfast Exposed

The images have a strong sense of a place which is in transition, a place looking back upon itself in a nonjudgemental manner through all the things that have been left behind. There is even a photograph of a neatly crated exhibition stored in a library basement, with the boxes marked Troubled images on tour, representing the ready-made image of Northern Ireland, set to go out into the world at a moment's notice; illustrating the way in which people choose to perceive themselves and in turn are seen from outside but also suggesting a hope that these images will remain firmly in the past.

Many of the archives also deal with public records, which have restricted access, such as police surveillance and X-ray departments. Both look as if they have become consumed by the amount of their own information, through a lack of storage, and as though they cease to be functioning spaces. A room of evidential videotapes in a police station is inaccessible because of the number of chairs being stored there. Is this information used or even cared about in terms of evidence, or is it used purely as reassurance? The absence of actual human presence within the photographs strengthens a feeling of the land that time forgot, as well as revealing the hidden aspects of a place that functions without our knowledge. The importance of these archives becomes apparent through the duality of forgetting and remembering all these sublayers of activity and the cult of the object that surrounds them. Historical documents and artefacts operating beyond the role of information but through the power of suggestion, they intrinsically map a place. They become potent symbols of identity and values, transcending their origin to become crucial memories in the country of last things.
John Mathews

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