A True Date with a Palm Tree

A new series, ‘A True Date with a Palm Tree’ (2019) looks at the historical migration of the Date Palm tree and its colonial and anthropological significance in botanical, and archival photographs, while interrogating its place in landscapes of political uncertainty- in particular in the wake of increasingly closed migration policies. The project combines a series of photo etchings with photographic C-type prints, and photographic transfers layered on coloured wood open frames. In addition, an edition of 50 visual essays in newspaper form have been printed. Extracts of that visual essay can be read below.

 

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Alien and invasive species‘ (2019) Photo etching on wooden hand coloured support, C-type print on90 gsm paper, and tracing paper print on wooden hand coloured support

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‘Palm Reading’ (2019) Composite photo etching, C-type print on 90 gsm paper, and tracing paper print on wooden hand coloured support

 

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Fronds (2019) C-type photograph, two photo etchings, each on hand coloured, wooden, open frames, layered.

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To-ing and Fro-ing (2019) Salt print and photo etching on open coloured wood frame

A TRUE DATE WITH A PALM TREE

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50 Newspapers, Visual Essay (2019) A True Date with a Palm Tree, Victoria Ahrens (2000 words)

In a hidden corner of Burgess park, South East London, dates grow from orange fronds under a fanning palm tree in the middle of a tiled water feature in Chumleigh Gardens. No one very much goes there. It is empty, and on a hot Summer’s day, I come across this peaceful place. Built in response to a site where alms houses used to reside before the Second World War, in 1995 a multicultural garden “was designed “to reflect the area’s diversity” (Bridgetonowhere.org.uk, 2019). This Palm Tree sits at its centre, presiding over the African, Oriental, Mediterranean, Islamic and English Garden. With their dates and coconuts, wax and oils, palm trees have come to colonize the four corners of the world. Native to the Middle East; spread by the Romans as far as the Mediterranean; taken and transplanted by early Spanish colonialists from the Canary Islands to the Americas and distributed by European botanists to and from colonies in Asia, Africa and the Antipodes, and back to Europe, palms have become the symbol of successful uprooted-ness: synonymous with tropical views, pre-lapsarian lands, and exotic holidays.

 

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My grandfather was particularly fond of them. It is next to a Palm tree that he stands in this silver print from his archive of Buenos Aires at the turn of the century. A self-portrait, his Leica camera positioned, arms crossed, hat titled to the right. It is not, however, his shadow that looms, but the fronds of another palm- a triffid head making its presence known, foreshadowing the photograph, in place of the photographer. My grandfather was tall, dapper, dressed up to the nines and keen on gardening, on looking after plants and trees that reminded him of nostalgic memories of his native lands, of Europe. Curious then that he chose the palm tree to frame this image. Centred behind him, the shadows of the palm leaves cascade all around, becoming a shadowy garland, a victory wreath, tentacles of a living species embracing the soil.

 

A Date Palm at palermo

H.R Ahrens- A date palm at Palermo, (a self portrait) Buenos Aires, Argenting (c. 1930)

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Note the palm trees on the left, he wrote on the back of this photograph.  Why was he pointing them out all the time? What did they mean to him? I will never know. Yet there he is again, in a garden in Palermo, in Argentina- el ingles, the Englishman, with his accent, taller than most others at that time at two metres, like a palm tree himself (not these small bush-like ones) but long limbed, with large hands, and a coconut head. He stood out; so do the palm trees, in this landscaped garden, with its manicured pines and geometric features. By 1910 the Phoenix Canariensis was “listed in the catalogue of plants at the botanical garden of Buenos Aires”[1]

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H.R. Ahrens, ‘Note the Palm Trees on the Left’ (a self portrait) c. 1930, Buenos Aires, Argentina

 

Palm trees, of course, are not trees at all. They can be dated back to fossils that are 80 million years old, from the late Cretaceous period. They are dinosaurs of the plant world and have a multitude of variations. They are considered to be the most important plant species in economic and historic terms. Palm oil, for instance, can be found in all of our basic household products, from medicines, to face creams, to cooking oils. Palms permeate our world, invisibly present.

 

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I have some indoor palms that inhabit my sitting room. Two areca palms. Colonial reminders of other landscapes, fronds that span out, increasingly, to find the sun that dapples the wooden floors through the open windows. They are small versions of Dominican palms, bearing tropical seeds. I speak Spanish to them, to remind me of other places, to create a dialogue through space and time with their variegated, feathered leaves- a kind of palm reading. They curve upwards, butterfly palms in multiple stems, that open out into fans, open handed. Dypsis Lutescens, evergreen in the grey sunless Winter, these and other species settling in for the duration. I care for them and tend them lovingly. These palms remind me of my childhood in Buenos Aires, of my grandfather, of afternoons sitting under them in a park in the city to get out of the scorching sun. I long for them in the cold of Winter. Some say they are ‘going native’ here in the UK. Climate change is ensuring they proliferate. Fashions and indoor gardens dictate their popularity. I think of the artists who depicted them, and how relevant they have become: Ed Ruscha’s Palm Series; John Baldessari’s Overlaps; Sigme Polke’s Palmatum (1968)- American visions of palm lined, sun soaked boulevards in California. No longer alien and invasive, but actively cultivated now in the UK, they have found their place inside the house, as ‘plant-pets’ to look after, to talk to. They provide company, oxygen, the semblance of an outdoor experience amongst the urban brick environment.

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In the end, though, my grandfather, uprooted, sent half way round the world to fulfill models of colonial economic expansion[2], understood his status, and translated this through these and other self-portraits he took in gardens in Argentina: alien, yet settled; foreign yet native. In this photograph (above) the palm tree and the man, over time, are becoming one, the silver print degenerated, blending both into a seemless white imprint-  the palm tree perhaps symbolizing a victory of sorts: the alien taking root, going native, the colonizer as criollo, born and bred, beginning to feel at home. These species of migration, next to their native counterparts, are now part of the imagined views of these places, the longed for ‘other’ of tropical beaches, of hot climates, of Robinson Crusoe and Lord of the Flies. Like the only surviving Mauritian Hyophorbe Amaricaulis palm, however, they are also at times endangered and unsustainable in equal measure. Palm hearts, delicacies that ironically rip out the heart of the palm species. Palm oil plantations decimating the soil.  In a climate of considerable push back on migration policies, nevertheless, these emigré species, aliens of another time, colonial left overs, ‘breadcrumbs’[3] of the Columbian exchange, migrants with roots, are, at least for now, here to stay.

 

 

[1] Carlos Thays, El Jardín Botánico de Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires: Jacobo Peuser, 1919) p. 163

[2] My grandfather worked for the Vesty meat company in the port of Buenos Aires, importing and exporting meat

from Argentina to Europe, in particular corned beef that was given to soldiers in the first and second world wars.

[3] Norris, A. (2014) Ten Surprising facts about Palm Trees, Earth Matters [online] https://www.mnn.com/earth-   matters/wilderness-resources/stories/10-surprising-facts-about-palm-trees (accessed 21/08/19)

 

 

 

 

Rock and a Hard Place (2019)

A series of photo etchings, folded and turned into stand alone book pieces- exploring the Fragmentation and erosion of our coasts, and their significance as places where land and sea jostle for authority. In the anthropocene, these Jurassic rocks hold the promise of our historical, geological and paleontological origins, while each fragment, as it disintegrates, carries that memory away with it, forgotten over time.

 

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Between a Rock (2019) Single photo etching, folded, free standing sculptural book piece (45 cm x 60 cm)

Rock and a Hard Place (2019)-Three sculptural photoetchings, folded, hand made book covers, 90 cm (w) x 45 cm (h)

This piece centres on notions of erosion and uncertainty. They are photo etchings I created in situ on the Jurassic coast of the UK, where the oldest fossils have been found, and the coast line crumbles inexorably into the sea. It continues my investigation into landscapes of disappearance, places where myth, history and memory collide. Creating this piece by exposing and developing the photographic plates on site, I explore the notion of the auratic translation of the image, in which each print in the edition is imbued with the markers of the place itself. They can be seen as three individual book arts, or sculptural etching pieces, or, as they are shown here, as a fragmented panoramic piece that works as a single installation.

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Out there (CMKY) hand coloured

layers1Salt prints and photoetchings of fragmented landscapes, are held together in open frames. These are then hand coloured, alluding to the history of early ‘colour’ photography, using cyan, magenta, black and yellow- the same separations used in printmaking processes today.

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Columbus Exchange (Not in my Garden) 2019

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Not in my Garden (2019) Photographic Print on copy paper, wooden sticks, projection onto the surface (26 seconds looped)

“At the time I could no more believe my eyes than I can now trust my memory.”
W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn
 
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Gaerd (2019), Digital transfer photographs on copy paper, wooden sticks
210 cm (w) x 1190 cm (h)

 

Projection of 16mm film onto folded paper substrate, 3 mins looped
SEED POWER
A new project exploring the cultural, social and political exchange between Europe and the Americas at the turn of the century and its impact on our encounter and relationship with plant matter, gardens and trees today. The contradictions of this colonial exchange and its implications have repercusions in the light of strict laws prohibiting the introduction of ‘foreign’ species into the Americas and vice versa- . A metaphor for immigration and migration issues today and an ironic and political look at the prohibition of species being brought back to their country of origin.

Another Land, Kingston Museum

 

 

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Lleva y Trae (2019) Acetate transfer prints on fabriano paper, analogue photographs (180 cm x 160 cm)

 

Los Orígenes (2019) reversed looped video, digitalised 16 mil, waterfall

 

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No lo contradigas, es la verdad (2019) Photo etchings, acetate prints (90 cm x 70 cm)

Another Land

Another Land is an exhibition and events programme showcasing experimental visualisations of place in art and design research. Bringing together practitioners from across Kingston University, the Royal College of Art and University of the Arts London, contemporary works and events have been integrated into Kingston Museum, engaging with themes of past and present, real and imagined, identity and community.

The exhibition and programme draw links between creative practice and anthropology, archaeology, architecture and geography, encompassing video, drawing, sculpture, installation, performance, photography and print. This is extended with a series of screenings of moving image works presented at the Stanley Picker Gallery, exploring concepts of human movement, environmental narratives and emerging worlds.

Another Land is generously supported by the London Doctoral Design Centre, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Kingston Museum and the Stanley Picker Gallery

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/another-land-exhibition-opening-and-private-view-tickets-57523184393

Biennale de l’Image Tangible, bit.20 Paris 2018 – Julio Gallery Space

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Biennale de L’image tangible 17 November-8 December

REVIEW of the show:

http://www.lecorridordelart.com/2018/11/laure-tiberghien-et-victoria-ahrens-la-photographie-comme-image-tangible.html

oeuvre de Victoria Ahrens
Photographic transfers, screen prints and wooden painted stands, 150 cm (w) x 120 cm (h)
READ more about it in this article

http://spaceinprogress.com/works/save-the-date-samedi-13-octobre-2018-17h-2/

oeuvre de Victoria Ahrens

 

Working with Julio Space in the 20th arrondisement in Paris, in a two person show for the Biennale de l’Image Tangible (2018) with Laure Tiberghien. Folded and transferred photographs of the Andes challenging the role of cartography in our sense of space and experience of place. The images juxtaposed as a single piece re create an imagined landscape based on actual photographs of the Altiplano of the Andes. These marginal spaces remind us of the failure to grasp the whole, as human perception takes in the view in small fragments. The sculptural triangular photographic pieces, re  narrate this experience and as stand alone, abstracted and transferred photographic fragments, can be positioned in multiple compositions to unite these into a single, layered view.

VIA arts Prize, Brazilian Embassy

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Pasos (2018) Digital Transfer prints, screenprint, wooden frames (250 cm  x 180 cm)

VIA ARTS PRIZE (Pasos, 2018)

The vastness of the Andes is one of South America’s most iconic and enduring panoramas. Photographing the Altiplano, I was drawn to it as a place where myth, memory and history collide. It was here that in 1818, San Martin set out to liberate the southern cone from Royalist rule, pitting his troops not only against colonial armies, but also against the sheer scale of the mountain itself. Franz Van Riel ‘s two metre oil painting ‘Paso de los Andes’ (1948) draws on this history, while his moutainscapes stretch out into white snowy peaks overwhelming the figures depicted. In my installation I create multiple views of the Andes as fragmented scenes that recall a sublime encounter with the immeasurable, and in so doing, create a dialogue through time with the past. Made up of printed film stills that abstract and pixelate the surface, and wooden supports that frame the view, they look to question the colonial gaze, the tourist encounter and our constant need to ‘take in the view’ from a single perspective. In this way I look to give them more human proportions, providing a multitude of possible encounters with the Andes in the space of the gallery.

 

Tierras áridas, La Nau Cultural Centre, Valencia, and Museo de Bellas Artes, Jaen SPAIN 2018-2019

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book piece 1close up book piece

 

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Resistant Grounds (2019)- Collaborative printed book: Victoria Ahrens, Altea Grau, Victoria Arney, Jo Love, Sumi Perera (60 cm x 30 cm)

including lithography, photo etching, relief and embossed print, etching and screen printed pages

Designed and crafted by Victoria Ahrens and Altea Grau

Tierras Aridas// Arid Lands

Collective publication project

Curator: Antonio Damian/ Antonio Alcaraz Mira

Project

An international Print project that reflects on new systems of production, diffusion and commercialization of book art editions.

Tierras Aridas takes the landscape as its concept, juxtaposing land with that of deserted spaces, abandoned or marginal spaces that conform to a dystopian imaginary. These spaces offer distances that are impossible to bridge or in the case of Mexico and the United States, opens up a different interpretation depending on which side of the border the artist inhabits.

The project proposal adopts, as a methodological model, assembled and collective publications designed to facilitate a collaboration by artists who live in different cities or countries. This project aims to promote the exchange of information and introduce us to different printmaking studios, associations, Schools of Art and Universities in Spain, Mexico (Oaxaca) the US (Phoenix, Arizona) and the UK (London).

AR(T)CHAEOLOGY: Intersection of Photography and Archaeology at NiMAC Nicosia, Cyprus -research project, and exhibition October 2018- January 2019

A year long project organised and curated by the International Association of Photography and Theory (IAPT), Cyprus- to explore the intersection between notions of archaeology, the archive, memory and memorial and contemporary photographic practice. A number of artists in dialogue with one another, addressing these issue in their practice were invited to participate in this project. The culmination of this was a publication, an exhibition at Nicosia’s Museum of Contemporary Art and a conference at the university exploring these concepts in relation to archeologies, writing and visual material in Cyprus, and across the world. My work explores the interstices between forensic anthropologists and places of disappearance through photographic archival images, C-type prints in a large scale and projections onto the surface of the image. In addition, a sound piece was created specifically for the exhibition in Nicosia.

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El Lugar Perfecto (2018) C-type photographic print, projection and sound piece 300 cm (w) x 110 cm (h)

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Publication of Ar(t)chaeology as presented at CAA in New York

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Sound piece

After Haroldo (2018) Sound piece, 7 minutes looped- readings from Haroldo Conti’s book ‘Sudeste’, layered with sounds of fishermen singing, river Parana, Argentina

Athens School of Fine Art – Wonderer

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Wonderer aims to establish connections between the U.K and Greece and considers how different cultural, philosophical and historical interpretations of our solar system can be re-imagined from a contemporary art platform.

Wonderer will also house 30 works that were successful in our Stars open call. These works, each of stars, have been selected by Fronteer and, as well as being beautiful pieces of work in their own right, will also help establish a cohesive and immersive exhibition.

Wonderer will be held at Athens School of Fine Arts from 17th – 20th May. The exhibition will form part of Platforms Project 18 – a renowned independent art fair that takes place yearly in Athens.

Artificial Things, ARB Cambridge

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This piece, Allá, is a press transferred photographic print of a double exposure on Japanese paper that explores the nature of landscapes as an artificial construct. It forms part of Victoria’s continued research into the experience of place as a fictional and narrative encounter. Using historic and contemporary alternative photographic processes she looks to hand made surfaces to explore and observe latent and haptic traces of the world around us. Notions of instability and uncertainty are translated into photographic pieces as an allegory for the passage of time and the failings of memory.’ from the catalogue at the Alison Richard Building exhibition, Artificial Things, curated by Shutter Hub. Open from the 3rd of November to the 19th of January.

LAPC, Ugly Duck, Alternative Photography exhibition and Royal Academy Summer Show

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Lightness of Being is a photo etching created from combining an analogue silver print positive with a digital photograph, which was then exposed and developed onto a metal plate in the landscape itself. Working in situ meant allowing entropic traces to become imbued on the surface of the plate, to mark my encounter with the disappearing landscape. The ephemeral beauty of the place belies its traumatic history as a place of political disappearances. In using both historic and contemporary processes I am looking to depict a new imagined landscape that creates a dialogue through time.

Part of the Analogue Festival London, exploring how analogue photographic, film and sound-based processes interact with digital technologies, curated by Melanie King and Diego Valente of the Alternative Photography Collective London.

In addition this print was exhibited at the RA Summer Show 2017. As an invited artist this year I was selected by Rebecca Salter to participate in the RA Summer Show. This piece was hanging in Room V of the Royal Academy. They were available in an edition of 25 each, 60 cm x 45 cm.

https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/summer-exhibition-2017

Burning with Pleasure #3, Photofusion and Seen Fifteen Gallery (September)

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BURNING WITH PLEASURE #3
Artists’ Books Exhibition

Exhibition Dates
1 – 16 September 2017 | Photofusion
8 – 30 September 2017 | Seen FifteenLaunch Party
8 September 2017 | 18:30 onwards | Seen Fifteen

From September 1-16, Photofusion will be co-hosting the third annual Burning With Pleasure. Curated by Archipelago, this is an exhibition dedicated to artists’ books. It will take place simultaneously at Photofusion and Seen Fifteen. Here at Photofusion, we will be looking at the different stages and steps artists take when developing their book projects. We will be exhibiting test prints and book dummies by Raymond Meeks, Highchair Editions, Rick Pushinsky, Lewis Bush and Artists Books Cooperative. Included in the exhibition will be a small number of our members’ dummies, self-published and handmade photobooks.
As a part of the programme, we will be hosting a book-making workshop with Artists Books Cooperative, a young persons’ bookmaking workshop led by Sayako Sugawara (ages 8-13), and an ‘In Conversation’ on book production and distribution with Magali Avezou, Christiane Monarchi and Lewis Bush. Also as a part of this programme, Magali will be available to review artists books, finished or in progress. These 40 minute advice sessions will be offered to Photofusion members for £25 (£30 for non-members).
For the sixteen days of this programme, the gallery will function as a reading room, so please come in, put your things down, don the white gloves, and explore the possibilities of this medium.
 

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River Dialogue, Victoria Ahrens (open book)

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The Lost Exploitation Journals, Victoria Ahrens

 

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The Perfect Place, the book