Noémie Goudal in ORF News

'Feminist Art Meets Star Architecture' by Nicole Scheyerer
10 July 2022 The photo festival in Arles, France, is focusing on women this year. The feminist avant-garde art from the local Verbund collection was invited as a highlight. But it's not just photography that is bringing more and more guests to Arles: in 2021 the Provençal city got a new landmark with a tower designed by star architect Frank Gehry. A Swiss billionaire made it possible.

Palm Trees On Fire

Wars and humanitarian catastrophes also play a central role in the photo collection of the International Red Cross. For the successful exhibition "Un monde a guerir" in the archbishop's palace, 600 pictures - some of them by famous names - were loaned from the archive of the Red Cross Museum in Geneva. The founder of the aid organization Henry Dunant recognized the importance of the medium for his work early on. The show spans footage from the American Civil War from 1861 to the current war in Syria.

When it comes to contemporary crises, the installation by French artist Noemie Goudal is particularly impressive. Their ecologically motivated project "Phoenix" looks great in the abandoned Trinity Church. Two videos on large projection surfaces lead into the jungle with the appropriate soundscape.


Suddenly the palm trees in one film start to burn, while in the other the branches and lianas sink into the water. The highlight is that no real nature is destroyed here, but only scenes layered one after the other. As great as the illusionistic effect is, the message is dreary: climate change is endangering our ecosystem through heat and flooding. We have no time for illusions.

Observation platform with giant slide

The Swiss billionaire and art collector Maja Hoffmann has fulfilled a lifelong dream with the architectural landmark. In her youth, the heiress to the Swiss pharmaceutical company Hoffmann La-Roche spent a lot of time in Arles. Her father Luc Hoffmann, an ornithologist, set up the bird research center in the nearby Camargue.


The Arles Photo Festival can only be happy about Hoffmann's commitment. Gehry's Guggenheim Museum, which opened in Bilbao in 1997, gave wings to the then run-down port city, and now his tower has put the economically weak Arles on the map of architecture fans. Surprisingly, the main building does not serve as an art gallery.


The audience can ride up to the viewing platform, whiz down a winding slide designed by Carsten Höller and see some installations. However, the contemporary temporary exhibitions are shown in the Parc d'Ateliers. There are five renovated tram depots, surrounded by a beautiful landscaped garden with a pond.

Emancipation with an ironing board

The paved path leads past lavender bushes to the artists that the Verbund energy company has been collecting for almost 20 years. The artists Orlan, Martha Wilson and the Viennese Karin Mack traveled to the opening of the exhibition. "Suddenly I was just a housewife and mother and wondered what had become of me," said Mack during the tour of the exhibition. In 1975, the artist photographed herself in a black dress and veil on an ironing board as if celebrating her own funeral.


Almost at the same time as her photo collage “Madonna of Birth”, Valie Export was targeting the idealization of the mother figure. A woman posing in a Marian manner gives birth to a washing machine from which red towels flow. It is fascinating to see how the feminists of the sixties and seventies produced very similar images without knowing about each other.

The Brazilian Ana Mendieta pressed her face against a glass plate, as did Katalin Ladik, who lives behind the Iron Curtain. Slipping into clichéd male and female roles and undermining them in this way appealed to the American art student Cindy Sherman as well as the Milanese Marcella Campagnano. Verbund collection manager Gabriele Schor emphasizes the poetic power of the works in addition to their combative and provocative nature.


Churches as art galleries

That artists have such an important place at France's most important photo festival is not a matter of course. “Where are the women?” asked the photography collective La Part des femmes in Liberation magazine in 2018. In its article, the group criticized the fact that in the history of the Arles Photo Festival the proportion of women had never exceeded 20 percent.


At the 50th anniversary edition in 2019, this under-representation finally came to an end. For the new festival director Christoph Wiesner, who took over the "Rencontres" during the pandemic, quality and a balanced gender ratio go hand in hand.

Photography as a crowd puller

While Vincent van Gogh's paintings gave Arles art historical fame, today photography acts as a magnet. In 2021, the summer festival attracted around 112,000 guests to the city on the Rhone. No wonder, since the festival has attractive exhibition locations such as former churches, palaces or a hospital.


A photo exhibition by the filmmaker Babette Mangolte is on at the Eglise Sainte-Anne. The French went to New York in 1970, where she became a chronicler of the innovative dance and performance scene. Mangolte's recordings convey the spirit of renewal that was expressed in the dance pieces by Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown and Lucinda Childs.


A personal exhibition in the Espace Van Gogh follows in the footsteps of the US photographer Lee Miller (1907–1977). It was in this hospital that the painter once recovered from injuring himself on his ear. The exhibition confronts Miller's fashion photography for Vogue and Co. with her war reports. Studio elegance is followed by Clash footage of mountains of corpses that Miller documented in the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps.

10 July 2022
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