[WITHDRAWN] Fading In and Fading Out: Negatives and Positives in the Afterlives of the Photographic Documentation of Ephemeral Site Specific Installation

In the 1980s, three very large scale site-specific installations occupying the entire architectural envelope of three distinct and highly significant abandoned buildings in post-industrial Montréal were created by Martha Fleming and Lyne Lapointe. Entirely ephemeral, all that remains of the site-specificity of these projects are their photographic documents. This presentation seeks to trace some of the changes in meaning and value of these photographic documents over time, and the ways in which the existence of these photographs, and their own changing status over some thirty years, have altered the contents, contexts and conceptions of these artworks, the artists and the communities in which they are embedded. How does a photographic record become 'archival', vintage, historic – indeed, how does an image of an artwork become a work of art in itself? When and where are these images visible or absent? What effect does this process have on the temporal, spatial and memorial nexus specific to installation art and urban interventions?  

The three site-specific works in question are: Project Building/Caserne #14 (1983, abandoned firehall, rue St Dominique); Le Musée des Sciences (1984, abandoned beaux-arts post office, rue Notre Dame Ouest); and La Donna Delinquenta (1987, abandoned Corona Theatre, rue Notre Dame Ouest). Though very different from each other in theme, all three of these major projects were forms of activist urbanism, feminist epistemology and post-studio art practice rooted in their 1980s contexts. What kinds of heritage of these significant activities exist, and where might it be located? What role does photography play in its 'location'?    

The paper will elaborate briefly on the position of these works in the artistic and urban contexts of their time, and move on to address the use of photography both within the works themselves and as documentary records of the works. I will outline some of the highly controlled ways in which we commissioned and took photographs of these works, as well as tightly managing, at the time, the distribution of these images and the contexts in which they were reproduced. These attitudes and precepts changed over time, and we began to use, reference and reproduce these images differently as time and space opened up between us and the 'events' that we had created. Concurrently in the intervening years, and perhaps even as a correlative, photography itself has been subject to huge shifts in production and consumption as it moves from analogue to digital. And yet the materiality of these particular photographs themselves remains: in the current climate, that very materiality has come to increase the value – in so many senses of the word – of these images, their substrates, their technics, their content and their meanings.

Participant
University of Reading