The V&A select some of the most influential photographic works of the last 30 years that pin down the essence of postmodernism.
From the emergence of postmodern photography in the late 1970s to present day references, the works exhibiting at ‘Signs of a Struggle: Photography in the Wake of Postmodernism’ are self-referential and self aware. Traditional postmodern masters including Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince hang alongside the more recent offerings of Anne Hardy and Clare Strand. Within these photographs lies the problem of objective truth and inherent suspicion towards a cultural narrative and social construct. i-D online talks to curator Marta Weiss about the idealogical mood, self referencing and how viewers should have a sense of humour whilst perusing the paths of postmodern composition.
How has postmodernism in photography changed from the late 70s? Can we see a progression in the works chosen for the display? The idea behind the display is to show the continuity between contemporary practice and earlier work associated with postmodernism and to demonstrate how certain postmodernist approaches to photography are still very much in use. The display is loosely organised by theme and deliberately juxtaposes work from various dates. But while the more recent work uses some of the same strategies, such as staging, imitation
and self-reference, as the early work, it tends to be a bit subtler and suggestive of more open-ended interpretation.
Do the themes and social constructs shown in older photographs still have narratives that audiences can relate to today? Absolutely. Much of this work is concerned with questioning the nature of photography and representation, and these remain fascinating and relevant issues.
Do you feel there has been a peak in postmodernism or is it still strongly present in new art and photography? Postmodernism is a broad term that applies to many different fields. I think there are many aspects of it that have run their course, but within photography, there are some aspects (highlighted in this display) that remain a significant strand of contemporary photographic practice.
Which photographer’s work shown in the display best captures the postmodernist mood? The title of the display is taken from Clare Strand’s ‘Signs of a Struggle’ (2003), which is a series of mysterious photographs seemingly documenting crime scenes or evidence of paranormal activity. It is one of the most recent works on display and is emblematic of the persistence of postmodernist techniques of appropriation, staging and imitation.
What do you hope visitors will take from the exhibition? I hope that the display will invite visitors to think hard about what they are looking at, but also take pleasure in the looking. There is also quite a bit of humour in the display, so I hope they will laugh (or at least smile) a bit too.
Signs of a Struggle: Photography in the Wake of Postmodernism at The V&A runs from 11th August – 27th November 2011.
Text: Paris Bennett
Photography: Clare Strand, ‘Signs of a Struggle’, 2003