Time Present
International Photography from the Deutsche Bank Collection in Singapore

It is a journey through time in several respects. Encompassing some 80 works, “Time Present – Contemporary Photography from the Deutsche Bank Collection unfolds an international panorama of contemporary photo art at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM). The exhibition, which will travel to museums across Asia, shows for the first time the wide spectrum of international contemporary photography that Deutsche Bank has collected in the course of three decades.
From Bernd and Hilla Becher to new, global positions such as the Indian artist Dayanita Singh and the Moroccan Yto BarradaTime Present traces the development of the Deutsche Bank Collection from the 1980s to the present. Just as young German photographers (Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Thomas Ruff) were collected long before their international breakthrough, today the collection focuses on up-and-coming art centers in Asia, Africa, and South America. The exhibition brings proponents of the Düsseldorf School together with U.S. artists such as Philip-Lorca diCorcia, recent African photography, and contemporary Asian artists, including Liu Zheng and Cao Fei.

A fundamental idea of the show is that photography simultaneously contains the past, the present, and signs of the future. The title, taken from a poem by T.S. Eliot, should be seen in this light. Under the motif-related guideline “Time,” works from four decades are united in four sections or “chapters.” These works document the development of the collection and at the same time touch on fundamental issues concerning the relationship between photography and time.

“Time Exposed” brings together positions that deal with photography as a temporal medium. They question the border between the static and the moving image, between objectively and subjectively perceived time. “Time Exposed” is an ambivalent term, one that the Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto uses in reference to his own work. He speaks to the process of exposure with this term, as well as to photography’s ability to convey the inconceivability of time. That is how Sugimoto captured Rosecrans Drive-In, Parain 1993: one exposure lasting the length of a film and producing a single image. What remains is a white screen that becomes a symbol for the time stored in a photograph.

Susan Derges and Sigmar Polke on the other hand, thematize the fluid and magical alchemical aspects of the photographic development process itself. Klaus Rinke and Tokihiro Sato both combine performative action and photography to probe space and time.

The subject of “Today Is the Past” is photography as a “trace of reality,” as a medium that brings personal and collective history closer, makes it readable. Like the Bechers, many photographers today undertake the preservation of forensic evidence, but with very different methods of archiving, narrating and remembering—and they express their doubts about the reliability of the path. The washed out contours of missing family portraits that once hung on a bleached out piece of wallpaper are all that appear in Yto Barrada photos. In his refugee portraits, the Italian based Albanian artist Adrian Paci uses cardboard sets to replicate apartments in former home countries. The loss of cultural identity, home, and belonging are all recounted, as if on a stage. In Boris Mikhailov’s sepia toned prints, 1980s Ukraine seems strangely distant. The trace of the moment that is captured by photography is in no way preserved; rather it is always a symbol of forgetting and disappearance.

In reference to Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment,” “A Moment of Intense Concentration” is devoted to the field of tension that exists between documentation and staging, the moment capable of containing an entire story. The spectrum spans from Magnum photographer Zohra Bensemra’s emotionally charged images of civil war, to Shirin Aliabadi’s report-like series Girls in Cars, for which she photographed cars on Teheran’s streets from the front, and Andreas Gursky’s Singapore Stock Exchange I. Gursky’s large-format pictures also suggest that the situation has been taken in intuitively, though in reality they were digitally reworked in an elaborate process. In this sense, one could well apply something that the art critic Birgit Sonna wrote about Andreas Gursky’s work to many of the artists represented in this section, “it’s not the moment that is decisive, but rather the point of view that is the measure of all things artistic.”

The struggle to come to grips with pressing social themes is a point of departure for contemporary photography in formulating hope and fear for the future. This is also the theme of the fourth and final chapter of the exhibition, “My Future Is Not a Dream”. Cao Fei worked in a light bulb factory on the Pearl River Delta for six months for her 2006 video and the accompanying photo series Whose Utopia. During that time she organized workshops with young employees, who were invited to relate their own dreams for the future, and to act these out as performances in the factory.

Like Cao Fei, many contemporary photographers thematize the feelings and living situations of youths, and the conflicts of global consumer culture, individual longing, tradition, and faith. They combine various media like video, performance and photography to renegotiate identity, role models, and social values. Miwa Yanagi let young women age artificially for her series My Grandmothers, in which sitters portrayed their vision of themselves in 50 years time. Artists like Kader Attia, or Hasan and Husain Essop on the other hand, appropriate the pictorial language of romantic landscape painting in their photographs to thematize the political, religious and economical demarcations between the West and Africa:  their youthful protagonists turn their backs to the viewers. In an uncertain gaze cast out across the ocean, reality and fiction, history, now and future, all overlap.

Time Present  
Contemporary Photography from the Deutsche Bank Collection
October 3, 2014 – February 8, 2015
Singapore Art Museum

March 21 – May 10, 2015
National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai, India