The cultural, artistic and historical linkages between Australia and Germany may not be as pronounced as some, but that’s exactly how Mark McPherson likes it.
“I’ve never been interested in this prescriptive idea of connection,” says the Perth-based curator, editor and publisher of Hijacked 2: Australia/Germany.
“The book isn’t the end product and the exhibition isn’t the end product; they’re hopefully the beginning of something.”
Published by McPherson’s Big City Press imprint in conjunction with German publisher Kehrer Verlag, Hijacked 2 is one of the most extensive compilations of contemporary photography to come out of this country to date. At over 400 pages, it features 32 Australian and German photographers – including the likes of locals James Brickwood, Jackson Eaton and Louis Porter alongside Germans such as Albrecht Fuchs, Anne Lass and Olaf Unverzart – and is currently showing at Monash Gallery of Art, the third leg of its journey as a touring exhibition.
Nonetheless, McPherson seems at pains to stress the project’s temporality. “We’re not saying that Hijacked is the indicative component or the best of Australian or German contemporary photography,” he offers. “We’re just trying to offer a tiny sample and bring it to new audiences.”
It says a lot about the project, which follows on from 2008’s Hijacked 1: Australia and America. Selecting artists via an open submissions process, McPherson, along with his German co-editors Ute Noll and Markus Schaden, understand Hijacked 2 as propositional rather than finite document, a mere snapshot of a specific time and place.
“Looking at photographic publishing in Australia, there really wasn’t a hell of a lot of it going on,” says McPherson. “So I had the idea that we had to start working on some historical documentation, so maybe in 50 years time it might be looked back upon as something relevant or even significant.”
“It’s not about branding all these photographers or suggesting that they’re the best,” he continues. “It’s about giving them a setting in which to do their work a common communication line between these two different groups of people.”
Spending time at Monash Gallery of Art, several continuities arise across both the Australian and German components of the work. One of the most marked is the notion of periphery, be it cultural, societal, geographic or otherwise.
Indeed, Josef Schulz’ handsomely composed photographs of abandoned European border crossings describe an eerie, frigid silence; a kind of mute, ambiguous dead zone. It leads us to question the very meaning and relevance of a geographical border in the contemporary, digitised, globalised setting. Johanna Alhert’s incisive photographs of ramshackle communities on Berlin’s urban fringe, meanwhile, describe a life of fluid impermanence – of rusted caravans and clotheslines strung between trees.
Elsewhere, Olaf Unverzart’s gritty monochromes witness cracks in the urban veneer. Plants grow from a rupture in the asphalt; erratic patterns tire tracks interrupt the gentle curve of tramlines. Julian Röder’s dramatic photographs of protestors from the 2001 G8 Summit in Genoa quake with the electricity of insurrection; bodies negotiating clouds of teargas, smoke and rubble.
In other works, fissures appear between fantasy and reality. Polixeni Papapetrou’s highly choreographed works see protagonists in animal costumes at play against dramatic Australian backdrops, where Narelle Autio’s uncanny, overhead vantages give us a figurative birds-eye-view, skewing our perception of spatial relationships to others and the landscape.
It’s a loose, though powerfully cogent collection, one that teases out and gestures towards ideas of connection and linkage without going so far as to articulate them. “I often feel that curatorial agendas can be a bit heavy-handed,” offers McPherson. “I think it’s best to let the work and the artists speak for themselves.” Indeed, the concept of exchange functions more as an outcome than a defining principle of Hijacked 2.
“This whole thing is about having someone like Anne Lass in Melbourne while the exhibition is on, so she can go and experience the culture here, make some photos and then, maybe, the work that she produces while she’s here may go on and be used in another context,” urges McPherson, who is currently working on the third edition of the project, Hijacked: Australia/UK.
“It’s about Stuttgart's Ute Noll, who is the co-curator/co-editor for the book from Stuttgart, coming to Sydney for the first book launch – this curator working in an international context, travelling throughout America and Europe – and having the opportunity to see what’s going on with Australian contemporary photography and being informed by that,” he notes, before pausing. “It’s just a doorway to a whole lot of other people.”
Hijacked 2: Australia/Germany, the exhibition, shows at Monash Gallery of Art until January 16. Hijacked 2: Australia/Germany, the book, is available in good bookstores and through mga.org.au or bigcitypress.com.au.