SITUATIONS statement

As every citizen with a smartphone, laptop or tablet knows, photography is becoming increasingly ‘distributed’. Driven by the vast replicative power of digital algorithms, photographs now move with tremendous speed across a wide variety of devices and platforms. The distinction between the still and the moving image is becoming increasingly blurred. At the same time, digital vision is now profoundly social, implicated in many areas of human activity. Certainly, this is having an impact on practice as younger artists in particular work with a range of media and no longer easily describe themselves as photographers.

In our daily work we find ourselves speaking more of the photographic than photography, of photographic media, rather than the medium. This poses a challenge for a photography museum with a distinctive, but significantly analogue history. We are convinced that Fotomuseum Winterthur needs to react decisively and that this means far more than simply re-embracing a rather out-dated ‘digital turn’.

On 10 April 2015 Fotomuseum Winterthur launched a new exhibition format titled SITUATIONS, which allows us to react more quickly to developments within photographic culture. The role of SITUATIONS is to define Fotomuseum Winterthur’s vision of what photography is becoming, at the same time offering an innovative integration of physical exhibition space and virtual forum. Using tags and clusters as a mode of curatorial classification the aim is to integrate the real and the virtual in relation to exhibition in a new way.

Numbered consecutively, a SITUATION may last a few hours, or two months, and might be photographic imagery, a film, a text, an on-line interview, a screenshot, a photo-book presentation, a projection, a Skype lecture, a performance etc. It might take place in Winterthur or perhaps in São Paulo or Berlin and be streamed on our website. The idea is to construct a constantly growing archive of SITUATIONS, reframing the idea of exhibition in relation to new technologies and both our local and global audiences.

The SITUATIONS programme is organised around key clusters: the first was Relations (SITUATIONS #1 to #8), examining the changing social ontology of photography in relation to digital culture. Seeing Machines (SITUATION #9 to #19) explored the way that technologies of seeing are increasingly devoid of human agency, the unprecedented power of algorithmic vision developing a new mode of ‘seeing’. Formats (SITUATION #20 to #22), the third cluster, dealt with lost and changing visual formats and the implications of these medial transformations for an examination of art and photography. Vanishing (SITUATION #23 to #27), explored the transitional moments inherent in the act of vanishing and asked how, and in what way, these moments are marked by the dynamics of (re-)configuration and (re-)appearance. Witnessing radical transformations in the production, distribution and consumption of images that migrate across mobile and interactive displays, the fifth cluster, (in)stability (SITUATION #28 to #31), revolved around moments of (in)stability in the history and contemporary experience of photography and film. Play (SITUATION #32 to #38) looked at new play practices and platforms – artistic game modifications, the gamification of photography, or new forms of social online interaction – that have emerged in the digital realm, questioning, in turn, how new parameters of game/play challenge the agency of the players. Proletariats (SITUATION #39 to #41) examined the potential of artistic strategies of representation to deconstruct the complex imbrications of labour, subjectivity, gender, and social positioning. The eight cluster, Filter (SITUATION #42 to #53), examined the politics of images, questioning the hierarchies of social power and value systems that are inscribed into their production, selection and circulation and that are deeply embedded in media technologies and their representations. The Re-enactment cluster (SITUATION #54 to #58) exposed the photographic representation as a process of creation rather than of reproduction of reality. Revolving around the theme of Flesh, the tenth cluster (SITUATION #59 to #67) looked at the interfaces where the gaze meets the body, where they both intersect to question their transforming nature. The cluster Placeholder (SITUATION #68 to #79) dealt with photography as an object of information and exchange, entangled in circulatory processes, cultural semantics and social structures that determine its understanding. This was followed by the cluster Fact (SITUATION #80 bis #89), which set out to inquire photography's crucial role in the current debate around a 'post-truth condition'. What are we to make of photography's claim for the factual in a time when images and information circulate uncontrollably across digital networks and social media platforms, reproduced, manipulated and put in new contexts in an ever-increasing pace?

Each cluster can be searched and reordered by visitors in the SITUATIONS online archive using a system of tags. Over time, new clusters and combinations – and new virtual exhibitions – will emerge.

The current cluster (SITUATION #90 to #100, from 23 September 2017) is Immersive. Both the history and the present of visual culture are informed by advanced media that draw the viewer into their own visual worlds in different ways. Photographs, films and virtual realities can absorb our perceptions and at the same time curtail our awareness of the real environment. This latest cluster is devoted not only to the immersive expansion of photographic media and practices, but also to the state of the immersive as a core form of our mediatised perception of the world around us. Today, we have digital infrastructures, networks and multi-layered, interwoven visual worlds through which we constantly navigate with our smartphones and touchscreens. We live in data clouds. Our identities are morphing into profiles made up of preferences, searches and links, which are increasingly eluding our control.