When you hear or read the phrase “world record”, what comes to mind?
That’s the question more than 600 artists and curators are exploring during the regional biennial FotoFocus 2022, a month-long series featuring more than 100 art exhibitions, installations and events centered on photography and lens-based art. . This year’s biennial, which takes place in October, is the Cincinnati-based nonprofit’s sixth iteration and represents the largest event of its kind in the United States, according to FotoFocus.
FotoFocus was founded in 2010 with a mission “to inspire conversations about the world through the art of photography”, and it launched its biennial in 2012. Kevin Moore, Artistic Director and Curator of FotoFocus, says CityBeat that more than in other artistic media, photographs can lead to discussions about what interests people. This makes the Biennale – a flagship nonprofit program, which also supports other lens-based arts programs, exhibitions and artists in Greater Cincinnati – an ideal opportunity to engage with topics that surround us at through art.
“One of the things I think FotoFocus does so well is that we do things quickly. If you’re trying to do contemporary exhibits – things that relate to what’s happening in the world – museums plan two or three years ahead. By the time they cross the finish line, there’s been about 50 more shots or some major upheaval in a country or some kind of climate issue,” Moore said. “A year ahead [of the biennial]we try to think about what is really going to be on our minds when we get to that point.
This year’s theme considers the broad portfolio of photography of life on Earth. Under the “world record” banner, audiences can expect to see artwork that sparks conversations about nature, science, climate change, humanity, energy and utopian visions and dystopian images in nature, according to a FotoFocus release.
Moore says the theme has a double meaning: the planet has recently experienced environmental events that broke world records, but also, photography and lens-based art record the world through the documentation of people and events. He says it’s important to remember that the “world record” is also about “social life”.
The FotoFocus Biennale’s “program week” runs from Sept. 29 to Oct. 11. 8. It includes not only art exhibitions, but also talks, screenings, receptions, tours, and panel discussions with artists, curators, and collaborators at museums, galleries, and other venues in Greater Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, Dayton, Oxford, and Columbus. Locally, there are more than 50 participating venues, ranging from the Cincinnati Museum of Art, Center for Contemporary Art and Taft Museum of Art to Wave Pool, Michael Lowe Gallery and Somerset. Many exhibits will remain on view throughout October and beyond, but key lectures and panels – including a keynote address from Makeda Best, curator of photography Richard L. Menschel of Art Museums from Harvard – will take place during this first week.
Some of the local performances sum up the theme of this year’s biennale.
Moore and Best organize Online: Risk and Faith Documents (September 9-January 15) at the Center for Contemporary Art, a series of photographs that “address a range of topics, spanning performance and the body, climate change, power, colonialism and identity, heritage and the territory”, according to a description . Two other exhibitions will be presented at the CAC to coincide with FotoFocus: Images to Build On, 1970s-1990s (September 30-February 12), which is a photographic exploration of the interconnected LGBTQ+ movements of the 20th century, and Baseera Khan: Weight on History (September 30-February 12), a solo exhibition that uses video, photography, sculpture and performance to explore “capital, politics and the body,” according to one description.
Other major museums are also participating in the biennale this year, with exhibitions organized by FotoFocus at the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Taft Museum of Art. The CAM will go up natural world (September 30-January 15), a collaborative exhibition of photos, film, textiles and more from artists David Hartt and John Edmonds, poet Jason Allen-Paisant and curator Nathaniel M. Stein. The Taft Museum of Art Craft and Camera: The Art of Nancy Ford’s Cones (October 1 to January 15) will explore the innovative photographic works of Loveland resident Cones, who was alive from 1869 to 1962. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center exhibits “Free as they want to be”: artists engaged in memory (September 30-March 6), which “considers the historical and contemporary role that photography and film have played in remembering the legacy of slavery and its aftermath and examines the social life of black Americans,” according to a description.
““Free as they want to be” a lot of it has to do with how we remember things, how artists deal with historical artifacts to maintain history,” says Moore.
Moore is also a curator Ian Strange: Disturbed House (October 1 through December 9), which will be on view at SITE 1212 and the Art Academy of Cincinnati Annex. Strange is an internationally acclaimed Australian artist and photographer whose work incorporates elements of film, architecture and site-specific structures. According to FotoFocus, he is known for his “provocative transformations of damaged or abandoned homes” and worked with students from the Cincinnati Academy of Art and the Hamilton County Landbank during a three-month residency for this exhibit.
disturbed house showcases locally produced photographic works, drawings, film and light-based architectural interventions, including a site-specific installation at the Art Academy Annex, to generate conversations about how concerns Environmental and economic changes have changed the populations of Cincinnati neighborhoods over time.
Moore says the exhibit will be “very striking.”
In northern Kentucky, The Carnegie will present a group exhibition titled These things are related (October 1 to January 28), curated by the site’s exhibition director, Matt Distel. Distel explains that part of The Carnegie’s curatorial mission over the past few years has been to introduce and integrate local artists into the broader art industry. The FotoFocus Biennial provides a unique gateway for this to happen.
Distel brings together five curators from Minneapolis, Atlanta, Columbus and New York to select artists to showcase alongside those working in the Cincinnati and Covington area. The exhibition will include a wide range of photographic styles from observational to photojournalistic to historical and sculptural, reflecting the range of curators and artists themselves.
“The way we felt like we connected to the ‘world record’ was kind of a cross intersection of travels, [with] curators conceptually, physically and artistically cross a vast geography, which occupies a good part of the Midwest and the South,” he says.
This year’s biennale also includes a first-ever collaboration between FotoFocus and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. sun dogs is a live program that will take place at the Music Hall from October 14 to 16. Four composers (Daniel Wohl, Arooj Aftab, Rafiq Bhatia and Dev Hynes) and two filmmakers (Josephine Decker and Apichatpong Weerasethakul) have created three compositions which will be performed by the orchestra while their accompanying films are screened on stage. The composer Wohl tells CityBeat each of the three pieces explores extra-sensory ideas – a recording of things felt but unseen.
Although sun dogs is a paid event, many of the venues included in the biennale are free and open to the public. FotoFocus also offers a Passport which can be obtained for free from the organization’s website and includes access to October’s exhibitions, members-only events and FotoFocus biennial program week. The website also offers descriptions of each exhibit and a map to help you plan your experience.
The events highlighted here only scratch the surface of the FotoFocus Biennale; hundreds of artists and curators contribute to a wide range of artistic experiences. The expansive nature of the biennial aims to spark endless conversations on a variety of topics, which Moore says is always the goal of photography. As he described in an April 2022 article for CityBeat, “You don’t show art as some sort of solitary, contemplative experience. You show it to have a conversation.
The 2022 FotoFocus biennial runs throughout October, with core programming running from September 29 through October 29. 8. Info: fotofocus.org.
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