Allan Sekula

Sekula, who had grown up in the Los Angeles harbour town of San Pedro, was learning that the maritime world, far from being a realm of pleasure cruises and play, was riven by struggle and class conflict. Since then much of his extraordinary body of experimental work has been devoted to chronicling the social, economic and political dynamics of life on the oceans. His latest exercise in hydropoetics, a cine-essay entitled The Forgotten Space that he co-directed with Noël Burch, uses the statistic that 90% of cargoes today are carried by ship as its cue to develop a wide-ranging thesis about containerisation, globalisation and invisible labour.[…] “The sea is all about slow time – things move slowly, there’s a lot of waiting – and as such it contradicts all the mythologies of instantaneity perpetuated by electronic media.” ” Sukhdev Sandhu interviews Allan Sekula (Guardian: 2012)

While his photographic work has sought to renew the documentary tradition, Sekula’s practice as a theorist and historian of photography has been equally crucial to his search for a way beyond the habitual lapse of the discourse of documentary into either a scientistic objectivism or a romantic and expressive subjectivism. Sekula stands as one of very few contemporary artists – matched only, perhaps, by his early interlocutor Martha Rosler – to have continually and convincingly resisted the conventional division of labour between practitioner and critic.[…] [T]he renewed attention to the economic subject in Fish Story ­may be considered as a challenge not only to the shortcomings of an embodied identity politics. Sekula’s project also contested the concealment of the world of production by the art world’s attachment to the fatalistic orthodoxy of a ‘simulationist’ world of endless, autonomous image-proliferation. […] The counterpart, then, to the familiar post-industrial and postmodern visions of social reproduction founded on service labour, the creative industries and the fashioning of consumer experiences in the advanced societies of the North has been the ebbing visibility of material production over the last thirty to forty years in those same countries. While commodity chains have proliferated exponentially, their links have become both more numerous and more fragile as a result of such trends as the dissociation of brand ownership from factory ownership, and the relocation of factory work to ad hoc, clandestine Export Processing Zones in the global South as well as subterranean sweatshops in the North. One significant consequence of this has been the expansion of an ever larger industrial labour pool for capital’s ever more itinerant hand to grasp, and the rapid growth of a global reserve army of labour; an underpaid ‘precariat’ whose insecurity is the flipside to the cherished autonomy of the cosmopolitan freelancer.” Bill Roberts (Tate) on Fish Story (1995)

Screen shot 2014-12-18 at 17.32.03


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