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Seeing Things, Dan McCabe 2013

Callum Ross and Henry Anderson are organising a one-night only show with a group of photographers including Dan McCabe, Emma Leslie, Dave Chatfield and Felix Merry that is now being shown at Metro Arts in Brisbane’s CBD* as part of the Queensland Festival of Photography 5. Their show, A Dot on a Line, opens on Friday April 18th and it investigates the photographic process as understood by six emerging photographers. The exhibition is engaging, non-thematic and unconventional. This is what they had to say about their vision for the show.

Interview by Alice Hall

What did you find interesting about the artists responses to A dot on a Line and was it a challenge curating a coherent exhibition rationale around your initial ideas for the show?
Henry: One of the things we were really particular with when we were first talking about the show was that we wanted to curate artists rather than individual works. So we chose artists who we found were already touching on similar concerns and invited them to think about how these concepts function in their work and see where this took them. Actually, many of our own initial ideas about the show have changed and developed as a result of our conversations with the artists. I really like this idea that maybe the theme emerges out of the work and the work emerges out of the theme simultaneously. This makes everything a little more dynamic and less cut and dry. I think Callum and I are naturally both quite wary of anything that seems too simple so the show, for us, has really been about investigating the theme in collaboration with the artists, rather than just using a set of works to make whatever point it is that we wanted to put forward as curators.

Callum: We liked this idea too, of setting up a situation without necessarily controlling the outcome. It has been difficult working with artists who are now living in different cities as contact between artists has been mostly through email, which can be limiting. It has been super interesting though, to see how the artists have positioned themselves within the group and questioned its construction rather than just provide a work for display.

Can you please describe the Sun Distortion Studio warehouse to me? How have you used the space to present the artworks, is it minimal or experimental and what is the style of the show?
C: Both of us are really interested in non-traditional venues. By using the warehouse, we wanted to create an informal situation without some of the pretense of a more formal venue. For us, the exhibition is really not about filling space but more about activating these existing spaces to allow for more vernacular experiences.

H: The way we end up installing the works in the space is always going to have an element of experimentation just because of the way we are working with everything being new works and with having artists based in different cities and so on. This really fits with our interest of process and discussion too. We are both really influenced by Harold Szeeman’s curatorial approach, where he would treat the works almost like components of a language which change meaning depending on the way they relate to the space, the other works, the title of the show, the viewer etc. It’s something I would really like to play with during the installation.

Where did the idea of A Dot on a Line originate? To me, it brings up very poetic ideas of an ellipse, a significant pause or some minuscule but poignant detail within a page of writing.
H: That’s a nice way of thinking about it. It’s interesting that you bring up this idea of pausing while reading. I often think of such pauses as a moment in which your attention shifts. When I read a novel or something I think I tend to flick between being really inside the fiction of the text and being much more aware of myself reading and sitting on the couch or whatever. I think photography has a similar effect. There is this layer of fiction where you can fool yourself into believing that you are looking at the subject and then there is this layer of remove where you are much more conscious of the photograph itself, or the frame, or yourself as a viewer etc. The tension between these two layers is something we are really interested in.

So the title of the show is really about drawing attention to the elements of photography that are normally considered outside the work – in particular the idea of the process of making a photograph being as important, maybe even more important, than the finished work. At the risk of simplifying the title, you could think about the dot as the finished photograph itself (a kind of ‘fixed moment’) and the line as how that moment can be made to stretch out backward (by thinking about the process of making the image) and forward (by looking at the way an image can be altered after it has been made).

Also you seem very interested in the processual elements (an approach to the process not simply the end result). Firstly, have artists engaged with this for the exhibition, and what is it that fascinates you about the processual in photography?
C: Definitely. I think originally, this stems from our initial desire to collaborate. Henry comes from a background in music composition and I come from a photo media background. After we met in Germany last year, I became really interested in some of Henry’s compositional projects and was feeling quite restricted in the way that I had previously been working. We both become increasingly fascinated by this middle ground between our practices that we found existed in these ideas around process and result. Traditionally, music composition involves communicating through a specialized language with performers, and this process of writing and rehearsing is typically kept hidden from the audience. The focus is on the finished project. This is comparable to photography’s tendency to stress a fixed result over the process of production. This seemed like a great starting point within the context of a photography festival to acknowledge some of the more allusive concerns of the medium.

H: We’ve been really excited by how varied the approaches taken by the artist have been. I think Dan McCabe and Emma Leslie are the two artists whose work for the show is dealing most explicitly with photographic process. Dan’s work is really about how an image can change after it’s been photographed, so he’s been working with printing on lycra and draping the result so that the photograph gets bunched up and distorted. The image is still readable but it becomes something much more sculptural and suggestive than its subject matter. Emma is making a large work from darkroom test strips – taking this kind of debris from the photographic process and using it as a material in itself, which is an interesting turn, I think.

Dave Chatfield and Felix Merry are coming at the theme from a slightly different angle. They are both dealing with ideas about landscapes, Dave via video and Felix via sound recordings, whereby the piece ends up being this quite literal documentation of a performance process of going out into the landscape to make the work. In the exhibition though, the viewer may not necessarily be able to deduce the process from the result so in the case of their two works I feel like the intention is less about making the process explicit and more about looking at what effects the process can produce.

What is your own artwork like and how does it relate to your ideas around photography as ‘unfixed images’ as an alternative to Jeff Wall’s ideas of the ‘heavy’ burdens of depiction?
C: We’re going to exhibit two collaborative works that deal with repurposing found images. I used to live right by a flea market in Berlin and every Sunday I’d trawl through the boxes of old family and travel photographs from former East Germany during the 50’s and 60’s. It’s fascinating to consider the provenance of these photographs and how they came to end up for sale at a market some 50 years later.

This notion of duration is something we’ve found interesting and we wanted to make work that alters and extends the life of these images even further – beyond the exhibition. The way the piece is constructed, the viewer can take parts of the artwork home with them and participate in its future distribution. Again, we wanted to actively draw attention to the durational possibilities of an image as an alternative to representation.

What do you want audiences to take away from the night? I haven’t seen the exhibition yet obviously and I’m hoping to come along on the 18th, but how do you think the audience will feel about the space and the show in general?
C: It’s a one-night event so I hope we’re able to spark a conversation about more unconventional photographic practices. The idea is that the exhibition will be pretty open to interpretation. The warehouse space will be a lot more relaxed than a traditional venue so hopefully the viewer can understand the ideology of the display being a construction not a fixed statement.
That has been a big influence on our approach to the catalogue essay too. We didn’t want to offer a singular fixed text because this seemed too authoritative and is often unread or gets forgotten after the exhibition. On the night, there will be 60 handwritten catalogues by the artists that will be available to the first 60 visitors. The idea is that the catalogues will fulfill a much more personal dialogue with the viewer and show something of the multiple voices and the overlapping roles within the exhibition.

And finally what influenced your decision to include sculpture, text, video and so forth in an exhibition primarily interested in the modern concerns of photography?
H: I would say all the artists in the show are still dealing with photography but more as a reference point rather than as a medium in the traditional sense of the word. The works all belong to what might be called ‘the expanded field of photography’ (after Rosalind Kraus’ notion of ‘sculpture in the expanded field’). The concerns of the show are still very much photographic but I think it’s important to acknowledge that such concerns aren’t something that necessarily need to be dealt with using traditional photographic forms. When you place focus on the idea or process of a work over its aesthetic form then I think it becomes quite natural to move between media. Sometimes it’s the case that working with video or sound or whatever offers the artist a new vantage point or sometimes it’s just the clearest form for a particular idea. Either way, the distinctions between media become less and less relevant. That’s a trend that has been quite broad in contemporary art I would say and its something that both Callum and I see as really positive.

A Dot on a Line opens and closes on Friday April 18th (Good Friday)
6.00pm-10.00pm (one night only).
*Due to unforeseen circumstances, the exhibition will now take place at Metro Arts, 109 Edward Street, Brisbane.

For more information, please visit the event page.

The Queensland Festival of Photography 5 has started, and will run for the whole of April 2014. For more information on other participating exhibitions and the events taking place in conjunction with QFP5, please visit the festival website.

Alice Hall is an Art History student from the University of Queensland, and currently a QCP volunteer.

Featured image: Seeing Things, Dan McCabe 2013

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