Christian Thompson: Museum of Others at PhotoLondon19 May - 22 May 2016
Michael Reid is pleased to unveil an altogether new and exciting body of photographic works by Christian Thompson, Museum of Others, for the art fair, Photo London 2016. The exhibition is presented in association with the Head On Photo Festival 2016. Museum of Others emerges from Christian Thompson’s long-standing engagement with the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford. During Thompson’s Doctoral candidacy at Trinity College from 2010 – 2015 he worked intimately with the Australian photographic collection, generating his acclaimed series We Bury Our Own which has been shown extensively in his native Australia, the UK, USA and Asia. The artist acts as an interpreter, exploring how historical collections can become active contemporary forces in the production of new cultural expression. Thompson is not critiquing the rubric of museum display but rather engaging collections in a process of auto-ethnography. Utilising processes of research and reflection, combined with his own biography, to bring to the fore unseen or concealed narratives and voices within such collections. His practice is extending upon a terrain pioneered by artists such as Marina Abramovic (who has mentored Thompson), Marcel Broodthaers, Andy Warhol, Hans Haacke, James Luna, Renee Green and Fred Wilson. Thompson has emerged as an important figure in this unique lineage. Formerly trained as a sculptor, Thompson’s conceptual practice engages a range of mediums including photography, sound, video, music and performance (Thompson is a graduate of the acclaimed Dasarts Academy, Amsterdam). In Museum of Others there is a convergence of some of these disciplines. The canvas panels of notable British colonial figures; Captain James Cook (1728-1779), John Ruskin (1819-1900), Augustus Pitt Rivers (1827-1900) and Sir Walter Baldwin Spencer (1860-1929) are worn as masks. The eyes of each figure meticulously removed, replaced by the artist’s. Christian Thompson steps inside the sitter, asking ‘How did you divide up and classify your world?’ and in doing so, the artist within the historical subject returns a new gaze, unpacking the past to view an entirely different present. Thompson’s research in the Pitt Rivers Museum highlighted an inferred reverence relayed to these figures – with little historical regard for the processes of objectification they placed on all those outside a euro-centric world view. Each respected figure actively participated in an act of ‘Othering’. In fact, they built their notoriety, rose through the ranks of society and brokered opportunities for themselves on this very action. In Museum of Others Thompson actively inverts this historical positioning, and in doing so, complicates established historical ‘truths’. The gaze of the camera and the focus of the lens has indeed altered dramatically over the last century. Once used to document colonial outposts and ‘savage’ peoples with the stagey surrealism of studio portraiture, the photograph has transitioned. From exotic other to the contemporary documentation of one’s own image. Photography as a medium has remained static yet our relationship to it – to how we see ourselves through it – has irrevocably changed.