Hats off to Presentation House curator Helga Pakasaar who, since the end of January, has presented two exhibitions that open a window onto the emergence of the Vancouver school of photography. Working with 18 artists—some of them well known, others much lesser known—Pakasaar crafts a snapshot view of the moment when photo practice came to the forefront as a leading edge in contemporary art production.
For Pakasaar, 1983 is sufficient enough approximation of when photography took the lead in Vancouver. In other places, other dates are currently in play. For its 2009 exhibition “The Pictures Generation,” the Metropolitan Museum of Art looked to the decade 1974 to 1984 for the emergence of a new photo-based art in New York. In the new book Light Years, Matthew S. Witkovsky picks 1977 as the key turning point for photography. In Cologne, the Bechers would likely offer earlier dates, as would the 1960s conceptualists who, in many respects, set the ball rolling by normalizing photography in contemporary art practice.
Pakasaar’s “C.” for “circa” as the starting point of her title offers an elegant index of the inherent looseness involved in pinning down an exact date for such a broadly scaled sea change. The date 1983, however, does point to the fact that by the early 1980s markets, leading galleries and institutions everywhere had begun to catch up with what was evolving in artists’ studios.
As Part One of “C. 1983″ told it, those efforts centered on experimental, self-reflexive practices that engaged the potentials of collage, appropriation and film with the same formal rigor that had taken hold of painting and sculpture in the 1960s. With Part Two, attention shifts to the emerging media realities of consumer culture and the growing social impact of camera images. In the fault line between the differing emphasis of the two shows, there is a rich and complex presentation of photography living out a fluid adaptation story from one aesthetic paradigm (formalism) to another one (postmodernism).
One is left looking forward to a third show—originally dubbed “C. 2013,” now titled “Phantasmagoria”—that will bring the story up to date and frame it for a new generation’s engagement with a fresh-horizoned photography that rides on the advent of 21st-century digital technology and globalization.
This article was updated for clarity on April 20, 2012. The original text and reference materials called the third show “C. 2013.” That exhibition title has been changed to “Phantasmagoria.”