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Curatorial Text

WELCOME TO THE MACHINE: Experimentation and Abstraction

At the beginning of the twentieth century, photography practices began to invade the experimentation and abstraction period of visual approaches, following several Avant-garde movements in the art world. Photography was also believed to have its particular way in the art-making process. The exploration of techniques and materials in the image-making processes was the experimentation field to reveal something that was hardly seen with naked eyes and hardly spoke in the silence, as if challenging the artist to dig up the potency of the photography medium.

“Why should not the camera also throw off the shackles of conventional representation?”

Alvin Langdon Coburn

Other than cameras, as a photography instrument, the materials and the processes also became the target of experimentation to bring out an image that tended to be abstract and distant from the explicit subject meaning. Several techniques such as photogram, multiple exposures, photomontage, photogravure, solarized, and others are thought to be the experimentation alternatives to show non-explicit images. The photography practices in this era suggested that it tried to leave the mere mimesis or indexical characteristics behind. Aside from the material and techniques exploration, the era that was known as ‘the machine age’ also profoundly affected the visual aesthetic values in the produced photography images.

The techniques and materials exploration conducted by artists in this machine age was an intention to try to recognize photography as one of the art media and the attempts on experimentation hoped to establish an aura in photography works. A list of prominent names such as Alexander Rodchenko, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, El Lissitzky, and Man Ray had produced a lot of authentic photograph-based artwork with their numerous experiments. Some of them in fact tried to create a piece of work that eliminated the reproduction characteristic of photography. In other words, craftsmanship in the creative process of photography was still the main alternative to develop an aura in every work of art in this era.

Zeitgeist from the machine era at the beginning of the twentieth century can be considered as an Avant-garde movement in the photography medium that is passed along by artists as technology develops. The exploration and experimentation of photography continue to be probed in the area of discourse and techniques until today. However, the ‘machine’ mechanism that still contributes to the transformation of photograph-based work creation often sparks controversy and negation in the discourse of visual arts, although in this contemporary era the choice of art medium is not treated as a hot point of contention any longer. Moreover, in a different context, the condition of photography practices in public spaces which are dominated by industries and supported by technologies cuts down the transformation process of image creation and intensifies the indexical characteristic. Nevertheless, the two problems do not change photography artists’ intention to experiment with different techniques, from the conventional to the advanced tech-equipped ones.

In this exhibition, the participating artists are invited to run more experiments with no technical limitation that utilizes conventional representation in producing photography images. The essence of this exhibition is the various creative approaches that adopt instrumental techniques or experimentations during the image-making process. The challenge of photography is no longer about attaining recognition in the world of arts, but rather about achieving an idiolect through technical and material experimentation, as well as aesthetic sensitivity through various approaches, from the traditional to the tech-advanced styles.


Henrycus Napitsunargo
Head Curator of Bandung Photography Triennale 2021-2022