Little did I know my last gallery experience pre-Lockdown was a portent of things to come. The Deutsche Börse show in 2020 featured the work of Mohamed Bourouissa and my review included a piece of augmented reality that transposed itself into the space. Now 12 months on that at-a-distance experience is all we have by way of a gallery going event. This year's Format Festival was virtual and the gallery dedicated to the to the pandemic was is a particularly poignant site-specific setting for the work.
I joined a tour where some of the photographers spoke about their work as we were guided by a hidden, dextrous hand around the space. The selection was really interesting. I had an immediate response to Chris Hoare's Street Cleaners in Bristol. The images play on their hi-viz appearance but the low visibility of their appreciation. It's a well made point. Ironically when I see a street cleaner my heart sinks as I feel they've just swept away a moment of detritus, a piece of history of our times. Whether it's another Deliveroo receipt or a broken Corona bottle, they're all potential representations of the mundane that in future we'll look at with different eyes.
It was great to see Jaskirt Boora's Birmingham Lockdown Stories featured having found her book very moving. These documentary style pieces were then bridged into more personal responses in Playing Their Part by Shaista Chishty, juxtaposing representations of people of colour in the context of World War 2 and the pandemic. It's a valuable perspective on the wartime spirit that's been evoked over the last twelve months.
The other piece I responded to was Field by Jemima Yong transforming the observed into something more symbolic, combining the consequential images of isolation and social distancing into a piece of performance art. Evoking for me Hayahisa Tomiyasu's TTP project it's a much more significant piece as the context of it is a profound commentary of life lived now. Do watch.
Virtual galleries do present challenges, comparable in a way galleries in the real world - as we've come to call it - do in terms of accessibility. However the opportunity to hear photographers talk about and show their work to potentially a global audience should not be ignored. The last year has and continues to expose me to work I would not have had the opportunity to before so it's one, at least, upside to our current life.
Indeed, it may become a habit.